FLORHAM PARK (N.J.) -- The quarterback called, and the playcaller called.
The New York Jets were three-and-out kings in their first six games. Weeks 8-9 saw 64 points and 997 yards respectively. This has sparked debate about why they have become a functional NFL offense.
Is it better with Zach Wilson as their rookie quarterback? Wilson missed the previous two games due to a knee injury. Is Mike LaFleur, the offensive coordinator, smarter from a higher position?
Football rarely is a "one-answer-fits-all" sport. It's too complicated to be so simple, and there are many reasons for the mini-turnaround.
Yes, LaFleur made subtle adjustments to his playcalling. Yes, Wilson's replacement quarterbacks, Mike White, and Josh Johnson have done a better job of running the offense than Wilson. Although some may argue that the offense inflated its garbage time statistics last week in their blowout loss against the Indianapolis Colts (which is true), it should also be noted that Wilson and Co. had plenty of opportunities to do so in the first six games.
LaFleur said, "We've improved a number of aspects, for sure." He was under heavy scrutiny following a historically poor start.
While rookie Zach Wilson is out (center), quarterbacks Mike White and Josh Johnson have been able to execute the Jets offense better. Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
With the help of John Benton, LaFleur has simplified the offense. The defense faces the NFL's best-ranked defense Sunday (1:05 p.m.). ET, CBS), with the Buffalo Bills in town. LaFleur, like his four rookies, is still learning.
Robert Saleh, a head coach for the first time, stated that he is a coordinator who is working with a team of first-years. All of this takes time. They're doing an amazing job on offense.
Let's take a look at the surge that occurred recently:
* Location, location and location: LaFleur wanted to call plays upstairs for the past two games. However, he started his career on the sideline as Wilson preferred. This was, in retrospect, a mistake.
He has a better view from the coaches' box and doesn't have to spend time with Wilson between games. He can concentrate on his play script, and leave the face to face coaching to Matt Cavanaugh, senior offensive assistant, and John Beck (Wilson's personal quarterback coach).
LaFleur did not see the change as an improvement but admitted that everyone is seeing it a bit better up there.
It would be quite a surprise to see LaFleur again on the field.
* A faster pace: According to LaFleur who stated, "I'm happy with just the speed that we're playing."
Timing and pace are the foundation of all offenses. Wilson was inexperienced and the offense performed like an engine without a spark plug. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Jets averaged 28.1 seconds per possession in the first six games. This is 15th. They have reduced it to 25.8 seconds with White and Johnson (third).
Wilson has more game experience than White, but White has more experience in the league, having been there since 2018. It's evident. Everything moves quickly, whether it's in the huddle or in the pocket. Wilson is slower than Wilson in making decisions, getting through his readings and checking downs quickly.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats the time-to-throw times are very telling. White took 2.63 seconds, Johnson 2.79 seconds, and Wilson 3.10 seconds. The NFL is big on fractions.
Wilson's difficulties are not unexpected. This is the reality of being a rookie quarterback. According to Saleh, the Jets now have to pay "the rookie tax".
Elijah Moore, Jets receiver, has 13 catches for 151 yards and two touchdowns over the past two games. Andy Lyons/Getty Images
* Wider receivers: LaFleur has changed his approach after being criticized for using too many tight, end-based personnel packages. His usage of "12" personnel (1RB/2 TE/2WR) has fallen to 18% in the last two games from 32%.
There has been an increase in the number of "10" personnel (1RB/0 TE/4WR), which is a rare grouping that was used over the first six games. This means that there is more speed on the field, with usage increasing from 1% up to 13%. It is interesting to see that this change took place without their top wide receiver, Corey Davis (hip). This has opened up more opportunities for Elijah Moore (rookie), who has 13 catches and 151 yards, as well as two touchdowns, in the two previous games.
LaFleur was kind to the receivers, praising their speed and playing faster. You're more free and able to go faster when you play faster.
The Jets are more talented at tight end than they are at wide receiver. They are finally playing up to their strengths.
* Aggressive playcalling (sort of): LaFleur is now a modern-day Mike Martz. He has discarded his past tendencies and adopted a bold, wide-open approach that includes elements of trickery.
LaFleur commented on LaFleur's aggressiveness, "Yeah," he said.
Although it may seem like they are passing more with White and Johnson than usual, the truth is that not much has changed. Although there has been a slight increase in pass plays (63% to 69%), some of it could be due to the Colts being so far behind. The first-down passing rate is almost the same.
The sudden revelation of gadget plays has made a difference -- there are now four, in fact, in the last two games, as opposed to zero in the first six. We have seen laterals, backward passes, mostly involving White, runningback Michael Carter, and wide receiver Jamison. Crowder. The best part? They all worked.
Saleh stated that they are creative plays and not trick plays. But has he been a bit creative? For sure."
White is likely to start against the Bills as Wilson needs another week to heal from his injury. If the offense has another big day, two things will happen: They will stamp their offense as legitimate and there will be a quarterback controversy.