Why it’s wrong to scapegoat NY Jets OC Mike LaFleur
Scapegoating Mike LaFleur is a lazy solution to the New York Jets’ problems
You know the old saying: When a play works, the coach is a genius, when it doesn’t, he’s an idiot. (I’m paraphrasing.)
Who cares about the thought process behind a show? Or the execution by the players? All that matters is the result. Successful game? OC is good. Unsuccessful game? OC is bad.
That’s not how coordinators in the NFL should be evaluated. And it looks like that’s what’s happening with New York Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur right now.
Now that the Jets have lost five straight games to fall from a promising 7-4 team to a 7-9 team that will miss the playoffs, Jets fans want someone to pay the price. And that’s right. An explosion of this magnitude cannot go unpunished. To stand still and not take responsibility for this disaster would be a foolish move for the franchise.
But LaFleur isn’t the guy who deserves the ax.
Many fans see LaFleur as a bottom of the barrel OC. This is an exaggeration in my opinion. LaFleur is far from perfect, but he is best categorized as an average coordinator rather than a bad one. I would put him in the 20 to 22 range out of 32 players who played.
With more reliable quarterback play, I think LaFleur could establish himself as one of the league’s best coordinators. I think LaFleur deserves a chance to show what he can do with a full season of competent quarterback play before he loses his job.
Some of LaFleur’s critics tend to condemn him without citing many legitimate reasons why he deserves it, other than the fact that the Jets’ offense isn’t working well. It doesn’t work that way. It’s important to apply context and dig deeper to understand what’s really going on. Does the offense fail because the play calls are ineffective? Or is the offense failing because the players aren’t doing a good job of executing?
When I watch film each week, I find myself blaming the offensive woes on the players’ execution far more than LaFleur’s calling. That’s not to say LaFleur doesn’t have his issues—he absolutely does, and we’ll touch on some of them later in this piece—but I see more instances of players dropping LaFleur than vice versa.
LaFleur’s main job is to create opportunities for his players to succeed. I think he’s a lot better at it than he’s given credit for. Watch the movie. When the Jets’ offense stuttered, it was usually because quarterbacks consistently missed open receivers, not because no one was open. LaFleur schemes that people open at a solid rate. New York has simply suffered from the NFL’s least accurate pass rush by a massive margin this season.
No team received worse accuracy from their quarterbacks than the Jets in 2022. Here are some of the Jets’ accuracy metrics as a team:
Above Expected Completion Percentage (Next Gen Stats): -5.4% (32nd) Adjusted Completion Percentage (Pro Football Focus): 69.4% (31st) Bad Shot Percentage ( Pro Football Reference): 22.6% (32nd) On-Goal Percentage (Pro Football Reference): 68.1% (32nd)
Quarterback accuracy is one of the few variables that cannot be controlled by the play caller. It’s the most important factor in determining the disparity between an offensive coordinator’s individual performance and the overall production of the passing offense, and since the Jets are the league’s worst team in that area, that means LaFleur is getting a raw deal.
Throughout the season, I’ve published film breakdowns featuring the best and worst of the Jets quarterbacks each week. Watch film from any of Zach Wilson’s worst games and you’ll see a bunch of open receivers that Wilson missed out on.
I have yet to release my Mike White film breakdown for the Seattle game, but you will see the same thing in that game. People were open all day, but White kept missing. Accuracy-wise, it was as bad as any of Wilson’s performances this year. White should have had a field day with the opportunities LaFleur prepared for him.
Here are plenty of open receivers drafted by LaFleur that White couldn’t hit, whether he misfired or didn’t see/pull the trigger.
To each their own, but when I see so many wide receivers missing, I can’t blame the offensive coordinator for the team’s lack of offensive production. LaFleur has opened up a lot of people. What more can it do?
I also think LaFleur had a good game plan in Seattle.
When we at Jets X-Factor were scouting the Seahawks before this game, one of the things we suggested is that the Jets need to feature tight ends a lot because of Seattle’s struggles stopping tight ends. We specifically mentioned CJ Uzomah, as he is a good YAC tight end and the Seahawks specifically struggled with allowing YAC to tight ends.
As it turns out, LaFleur and the jets went out and fed many targets at Uzomah. White just kept missing.
This has happened throughout the year. While there were certainly a few games where LaFleur was off the bench and made things difficult for his offense (losses at Minnesota and Buffalo are probably the prime examples), there were far more games where his play calling was effective enough to set the board. for an average-to-good offensive performance, but the center back fell short. Both the New England games, the Detroit game and the Seattle game are prime examples.
Another way the Jets’ weak defense hurts LaFleur is how it affects the running game. Because of the lack of respect for the Jets’ passing game, New York’s opponents have leaned heavily toward stopping the run on a weekly basis this season. Scheming a good run game has been difficult for LaFleur because of the constant numbers disadvantage in the box.
Aside from the numbers disadvantage, another problem is that defenders simply play more aggressively against the Jets’ run game than against the average team, as they are less afraid of what will happen if they get caught biting on a play fake. The goal of opposing front seven defenders against the Jets is to maintain their focus on going downhill to block the run game.
Despite those setbacks, LaFleur still had the Jets’ running game operating at an elite level when the offense was at full strength.
Before their season-ending injuries, the Jets called 90 plays in which Breece Hall and Alijah Vera-Tucker were on the field. New York ran for 503 yards in those 90 plays — a gassing 5.59 yards per attempt. That mark will lead the NFL this season.
In all other running games this season, the Jets have gained 983 yards on 255 attempts — a miserable 3.85 yards per attempt. That would rank 30th in the NFL.
LaFleur has struggled to find answers in the running game since losing his best rusher and best blocker. Any offensive coordinator would struggle to keep his run game afloat in this situation. But when LaFleur had the two main pieces around which he planned to build his offense, the rushing attack was dominant.
Mike LaFleur deserves one more shot
Bad defense has left LaFleur out to dry all year. I strongly believe that a LaFleur-led Jets offense could be a formidable unit with good quarterback play.
In fact, the Jets offense looked scary this year when the quarterback played well.
As I see it, the Jets enjoyed seven average or better quarterback performances this year:
Joe Flacco at Cleveland (Week 2) Zach Wilson at Pittsburgh (Week 4) Zach Wilson vs. ) Mike White at Buffalo (Week 14)
In those seven games, the Jets offense averaged 25.4 points per game and 377.6 total yards per game. Those numbers would rank seventh and fifth, respectively, among all teams in the 2022 season. New York also compiled a 5-2 record in those seven games.
Don’t get me wrong: There are many areas where LaFleur needs to improve.
He can be very stubborn about schemes – why did he use so many empty packs this year despite the lack of success?
He could do a better job of highlighting the strengths of his skill position players – why did it take so long to move Elijah Moore to the slot and Garrett Wilson to the outside?
He can make better in-game adjustments – why did he keep using red zone tricks against Minnesota when that’s not what got the Jets into the red zone in the first place?
I don’t think LaFleur is a “good” OC yet. Like I said earlier, I’d probably put him in the 20-22 range right now. He is in the middle level. But as a young OC that was hampered by a terrible quarterback and two devastating injuries, I think he has the potential to prove he can go much higher.
My opinion is that New York should stick with Mike LaFleur for one more year. Give him a reliable quarterback and see what he can do.