New York Jets Top Five – What Is Wrong With Running Game?

Joe Belic on the problems with the New York Jets running game

For a moment this past Sunday, I was floating on a cloud, and all seemed right with the world. There is nothing sweeter than knocking “big brother” off his pedestal and leaving our shared home with the victory.  Now, it’s time to come back down to earth and look ahead.  

The running game—or lack thereof—is one of many issues that needs to be addressed. 

How do the Jets fix it, and who’s to blame?

When attempting to construct a wall to protect their QB and open up running lanes for their RB, the last general manager used Band-Aids and glue where concrete and rebar were necessary.  As a result, Sam remains under constant pressure, and carrying the ball appears equivalent to taking a run at the gauntlet; however, the criticism shouldn’t stop with the former general manager. Clearly, Adam Gase, ownership, and the offensive line itself share the burden, but there is one additional matter in question. 

Is Le’Veon Bell himself a detriment to the rushing game? 

Bell’s lack of production is troubling, and in this week’s “Joe Jet 5,” I voice my concern. 

1) Le’Veon Bell, friend or foe? 

Although this doesn’t provide a complete picture, one metric I find useful when determining the impact of a running back is comparing adjusted line yards to open field yards.  According to Football Outsiders, “A team with a high ranking in Adjusted Line Yards but a low ranking in Open Field Yards is heavily dependent on its offensive line to make the running game work. A team with a low ranking in Adjusted Line Yards but a high ranking in Open Field Yards is heavily dependent on its running back breaking long runs to make the running game work.”

In 2016, the Steelers ranked third (4.68) in adjusted line yards and 25th in open field; in 2017, Pittsburg ranked seventh in adjusted line yards and 27th in open field. These stats appear to indicate that Bell’s success was largely due to a well-built offensive line.  

2) Bell versus Fournette

Let’s compare two of the worst run-blocking teams in the NFL, both of whom possess a high profile running back: the New York Jets and the Jacksonville Jaguars.

New York Jets

-According to PFF, the Jets rank 28th in run blocking with an overall grade of 50.7

-According to Football Outsiders, the Jets rank 31st in adjusted line yards (3.48) and 31st in open field yards

-According to Next Gen Stats, Bell’s 8+D% (which calculates how often a rusher sees 8 or more defenders in the box) is 20.28

-According to Next Gen Stats, Bell is 6th in EFF (efficiency) with a score of 4.42 (the lower the number, the more of a North/South Runner) 

-Le’Veon Bell: 449 rushing yards, 3.1 Y/A, and 2 TD, 44 receptions, 276 yards, and 1 TD

Jacksonville Jaguars:

-According to PFF, the Jags rank 30th in run blocking with an overall grade of 48.9

-According to Football Outsiders, the Jags rank 24th in adjusted line yards (3.87) and 2nd in open field yards

-According to Next Gen Stats, Fournette’s 8+D% is 36.21

-According to Next Gen Stats Fournette scored a 3.6 in EFF (which suggests a North/South running style)

-Leonard Fournette: 831 rushing yards (tied for 5th in the league), 4.8 Y/A, and 2 TD, 40 receptions, 295 yards, and 0 TD

3) What do these stats tell you? 

For me, the numbers prove unequivocally that one RB (Leonard Fournette) continues to produce despite subpar run blocking. Fournette ranks second in open field yards, averages 4.8 Y/A, and remains 5th in the league in rushing, all while working behind one of the worst run-blocking teams in the NFL, and seeing a significantly higher percentage of 8+ defenders in the box. 

4) Bell’s Approach

I don’t claim to be an expert on the X’s and O’s, but Bell’s running style doesn’t seem to be conducive to success with this particular personnel or scheme.  Yes, the offensive line is horrible, and the play-calling is suspect, but Bell’s technique appears to be a contributing factor. Many questioned whether or not Bell was a good fit for Gase’s system and, at the moment, the answer is no.  

5) Why? 

Bell had the good fortune of playing with an all-pro caliber offensive line in Pittsburgh, and his patience—as a runner—was a strength.  However, with this particular New York Jets OL, there isn’t time for restraint. Holes created close in a hurry and need to be hit with more urgency.  

From my perspective, Bell is more of a finesses player who bobs and weaves like a pro boxer in the ring, but this offensive line is not built for artistry. What this Jets running game needs is a fighter/bruiser who goes all out and attacks at the sound of the bell. 

I don’t want to be too hard on Bell because he’s been the consummate professional, but his 3.1 Y/A (last in the league) is hard to ignore. He’s only averaged four yards per attempt once this season, and that’s not going to cut it.  Bilal Powell could quickly produce the same numbers given the opportunity, and he doesn’t carry a $52.5 million price tag.

Adjustments need to be made by Bell and the coaching staff if the offense—as a whole—expects to improve.  Bell was, in part, signed to help Sam and speed up his development but, as of now, the lack of a running game will inevitably hinder that process.  Yes, Bell has been useful in the passing game, but they are paying him to be a complete player.