How the New York Jets Can Get Back to the Super Bowl
Jets fans don’t need me to tell them that their team isn’t very good. Four straight non-winning seasons, a massive question mark at the most important position in football and a brand new coaching regime doesn’t exactly scream “Super Bowl."
But it’s the NFL, and teams can turn things around pretty quickly. What about the Jets? What do they need to do to get back to being contenders and potential Super Bowl champions?
Geno Smith isn’t the answer. During his rookie campaign, Smith finished dead last within numberFire’s Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which describes the number of points a player adds or loses for his team versus what’s expected. Here’s a little more background on NEP:
Every single situation on the football field has an expected point value; that is, how many points an average team would be expected to score in that situation (given down, distance-to-go, and yard line). For example, the Chiefs may be facing the Pittsburgh Steelers, with a third-and-two on the 50-yard line. That's a ton of variables, but luckily, numberFire has data from the past dozen years of every single play, so most situations have come up at least once. According to our data, an average team may be "expected" to score 1.23 (estimated number) points on that drive. However, Jamaal Charles reels off a 32-yard run to bring the Chiefs into the red zone, increasing the "expected" point value of the next play to 4.23 (still an estimated number) points. Jamaal Charles then gets credit for the difference, in this case 2.96 points, as his NEP total. That's Net Expected Points.
Since passing is often more efficient than running the ball, you'll usually see running backs with negative NEP per play scores, meaning that they are losing their team expected points every time they touch the ball. Receivers and tight ends, meanwhile, will usually have high, positive NEP per play scores, since receivers don't touch the ball unless it's a high-yardage completion. Quarterbacks can be in the middle, either positive or negative: completions typically help their score, while incompletions lower it. So when you're looking at NEP, it's important to look at the numbers based on position. Expected points do not take score and time left into account like win probability, and as a result, are a better measure of pure efficiency (since teams will alter their game plan significantly based on score and time).
It would make sense to see a rookie quarterback struggle, but Geno Smith did a little more than struggle in 2013 –- since 2000, his -68.55 Passing NEP was the ninth worst by a rookie quarterback. For some context, since the turn of the century, the average NFL starting quarterback accumulates +42.00 Passing NEP per season. Throw in a normal passer into Smith’s situation two years ago, and you’d expect a 110-point swing in the Jets’ favor throughout the course of the season, or 6.90 points per game.
Given how rookie quarterbacks of Smith’s caliber have fared in the NFL, there just wasn’t much hope.
Smith showed some improvement this past season, but he was still very much a below average passer. And without a rather fluky meaningless game against Miami, Smith would have finished as one of the six passers with a negative Passing NEP total in 2014.
If the Jets are serious about getting back to the Super Bowl, sitting in Quarterback Purgatory isn’t exactly the best move. The problem, however, is that 2015’s draft class isn’t loaded with quarterback talent, so they may not be in a position to really do anything immediately with this important piece to the Super Bowl puzzle.
Wide Receiver Help
Some portion of Geno Smith’s lack of success could be credited to a poor supporting cast. If you watched the Jets closely this year, then you probably saw Eric Decker as an above-average pass-catcher who made some plays but couldn’t stay healthy.
Well, according to numberFire analytics, Eric Decker’s 2014 season was the fourth best one by a Jets wide receiver since 2000. That’s how mediocre the situation has been for New York.
Decker was admittedly underrated this season, maybe because we watch a fantasy football-driven NFL, and his numbers were inconsistent and tough to predict. But in terms of NEP, Decker actually ranked 20th in the NFL at the wide receiver position, which should give Jets fans a little bit of hope.
Aside from Decker, the wide receiver situation in New York is kind of a mess though, especially if (or when) the team parts ways with Percy Harvin. Jeremy Kerley ranked as the second-best Jets wide receiver this past season if you don’t consider Harvin, but his Target NEP –- which measures the number of points added or lost versus expectation on all targets –- was -10.11. Yes, that’s a negative number, and that was sixth worst in the NFL.
There is Jace Amaro, who showed promise as a rookie pass-catching tight end. But among 30-plus reception players at the position this year, Amaro’s per target NEP of 0.53 ranked 18th of 25.
The passing game in 2014, when adjusted for strength of schedule, finished with a 12.91 Passing Net Expected Points total. Again, a lot of that was weighted heavily by a big Week 17 performance, and it was still roughly 33 expected points away from the 16th-ranked, average Miami Dolphins’ passing attack.
Passing efficiency wins in today’s NFL –- anecdotally, seven of the eight most pass-efficient offenses made the playoffs this year. The Jets need to work on that.
Where’s the Secondary?
A huge reason the Jets weren’t able to find sustained success in 2014 was because of the team’s secondary. According to numberFire’s Net Expected Points metric, New York, when adjusted for strength of opponent, surrendered roughly 59 more points through the air than they should have this past season -- throw in an average secondary, and you’d expect the Jets to save roughly a field goal and a half worth of points per game.
From a run-stuffing perspective, they weren’t much stronger, but they have more pieces up front for sustained success. The secondary, meanwhile, will need to be bolstered in order to become a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Like passing efficiency, pass defense effectiveness is vital to team success in today’s pass-happy NFL –- it shouldn’t surprise you to find out that New England and Seattle both ranked in the top four at defending the pass in terms of NEP.
Bowles to the Rescue?
As you’d expect, a lot needs to be done to a 4-12 team in order to get them to the Super Bowl. A change in coach was needed, and Todd Bowles’ experience in coaching studly defenses should help. During his two years in Arizona, the Cardinals had the 7th- and 13th-best pass defenses in the NFL, per numberFire metrics. Obviously personnel plays a big role there, but his experience coaching in the secondary should help one of the team’s biggest deficiencies.
The key to this team getting to the Super Bowl is going to surround how the new regime handles the quarterback situation. Geno Smith, as the numbers point out above, doesn’t appear to be the guy who’s going to take the Jets far into the playoffs.
And that’s clearly the most important piece to the Super Bowl puzzle.
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