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Analyzing NY Jets OC Mike LaFleur’s favorite routes to call


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Here is a look at how often Mike LaFleur called each route type for the New York Jets' wide receivers in the 2022 season.

By  Michael Nania  01/10/2023

What are Mike LaFleur’s tendencies when it comes to dialing up different route types?

As the New York Jets ponder whether to keep offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, I thought it would be interesting to look back at some of his 2022 play-calling tendencies. In this particular study, I want to focus on the types of routes he dialed up. Which routes did he like to call the most often? Which routes were lower on his priority list?

NFL Next Gen Stats tracks route data. They categorize every route run in the league as one of 13 different route types:

Flat

Slant

Cross

Out

In

Hitch

Corner

Post

Go

WR Screen

RB Screen

Angle

Wheel

For the purpose of this study, I chose to focus solely on wide receivers, since they are the focal point of most passing concepts. I figured including tight ends and running backs would muddy up the data since it would add too many safety-blanket routes into the mix, distracting us from the information we really want to know: What routes are being prioritized by each team.

So, all of the data we will see in this article includes only routes run by wide receivers.

Let’s take a look at the Jets’ tendencies and how they stack up across the league.

NY Jets OC Mike LaFleur’s route tendencies

Seen below is a breakdown of the percentage of the routes run by Jets wide receivers that were categorized as each route type. I ordered the route types from most-used to least-used compared to league average, based on where the Jets rank in their frequency of using that route.

Example: The Jets’ WRs ran a total of 1,838 routes, per NGS. Of those 1,838 routes, 202 of them were “out” routes – a rate of 10.8%.

Out: 10.8% (6th) – NFL Average: 9.7%

In: 12.0% (7th) – NFL Average: 10.5%

Slant: 7.9% (11th) – NFL Average: 6.8%

Cross: 11.0% (12th) – NFL Average: 10.7%

Go: 25.0% (14th) – NFL Average: 24.1%

Post: 8.9% (14th) – NFL Average: 8.6%

Corner: 5.4% (15th) – NFL Average: 5.4%

Screen: 2.9% (15th) – NFL Average: 3.1%

Flat: 2.4% (29th) – NFL Average: 3.4%

Hitch: 13.5% (30th) – NFL Average: 17.7%

I have defended LaFleur in the past. But these numbers concern me. They summarize some of my main criticisms of LaFleur and exemplify why I would completely understand if they decide to part ways with him, even if I do think he gets too much flack at times.

Regarding the numbers seen above, my main complaint is the Jets’ middling usage of slants and crossers. When LaFleur came in, it was expected that his offense would emphasize routes that put the Jets’ playmakers in a favorable position to make plays after the catch. Slants and crossers are among the best routes for doing that. But the Jets used these two routes only slightly more than the league average. I would have preferred to see the Jets rank top-5 in both routes.

Instead, the Jets’ bread-and-butter routes were outs and ins. Many of these were run by Garrett Wilson, who excelled with each route type, so that makes their reliance on those routes somewhat understandable.

However, I’m not sure those were the best routes for this Jets team to focus on. Out routes and in routes (or dig routes as they are sometimes called) take some time to develop, which means you need a good offensive line for them to work. Obviously, the Jets did not have that this year. It seemed LaFleur remained too reliant on long-developing routes despite not having an offensive line that allows those routes to work.

This is the main reason slants and crossers would have worked better as the Jets’ go-to routes. Since they are quick in-breaking routes, these can develop a bit faster than your typical out route or in/dig route. If the Jets depended more heavily on slants and crossers, it would have decreased their reliance on a weak offensive line. The OL’s struggles could have been hidden a bit more.

Plus, these routes could have been a great way to feed Elijah Moore the football. All year, the Jets had problems with getting Moore the football. Moore often won his downfield routes but did not get the ball due to either bad protection or bad vision from the quarterback. Giving Moore a larger diet of slants and crossers would have made it easier for the Jets to get the ball in Moore’s hands.

Moore finished the season running either a slant or crosser on 16.7% of his routes, which is below the position average of 17.5%. Outs (11.7%), hitches (16.9%), and go routes (25.5%) were his most common routes – none of those are YAC-facilitating routes.

I get that LaFleur and the Jets love Moore’s route-running skills and wanted to emphasize that this year, but Moore’s ability with the ball in his hands is just as impressive, if not more so. In 2022, Moore ranked second-best out of 88 qualified NFL wide receivers (min. 30 receptions) with 0.297 missed tackles forced per reception, forcing 11 missed tackles (15th among WR) on just 37 catches.

This is the part of Moore’s game that New York should have prioritized. The Jets should have scrapped the downfield routes and just said, hey, let’s force-feed this guy the ball.

Garrett Wilson was similarly stellar with the football in his hands. He ranked third-best among wide receivers with 0.265 missed tackles forced per reception, one spot behind Moore. Wilson ranked second among all wide receivers with 22 total missed tackles forced. As good as Wilson’s rookie year was, he could have been even more explosive if the Jets offense leaned heavier into in-breaking, YAC-facilitating routes like slants and crossers.

Another one of the most interesting takeaways from this breakdown is how closely the Jets tended to mirror the league-average usage rate for each route. Few teams in the NFL distributed their routes in a more ordinary fashion than the Jets.

Across these 10 route types, the Jets were an average of 1.1% away from the league average usage rate for each route (either above or below). In nine of the 10 routes, they went no more than 1.5% away from the league average. Their most drastic differential against the league average was the hitch route, which they used 4.2% less often than the league average.

However, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to employ a route distribution that is similar to the average NFL offense. This is more of a stylistic observation than it is a representation of good/bad. Some of the league’s best offenses rank similarly to the Jets in this same category.

Here is how all 32 teams ranked according to their average distance from the league-average usage rate across the 10 route types:

A higher ranking means the team remained close to the league average in most routes. A lower ranking means the team typically was far from the league average in most routes.

Titans: Average of 0.8% away from NFL average per route type

Browns: 0.9%

Commanders: 1.0%

Jets: 1.1%

Bears: 1.1%

Texans: 1.1%

Cowboys: 1.2%

Bills: 1.2%

Buccaneers: 1.3%

Broncos: 1.3%

Chiefs: 1.3%

Eagles: 1.3%

Chargers: 1.3%

Jaguars: 1.4%

Dolphins: 1.4%

Giants: 1.5%

Bengals: 1.5%

Seahawks: 1.5%

Panthers: 1.5%

Saints: 1.6% — NFL Average = 1.6%

Cardinals: 1.7%

Lions: 1.7%

Falcons: 1.7%

49ers: 1.8%

Colts: 1.9%

Patriots: 2.0%

Raiders: 2.1%

Rams: 2.2%

Ravens: 2.2%

Packers: 2.4%

Vikings: 2.5%

Steelers: 2.6%

There are a lot of good offenses that leaned closely to traditional route distribution rates rather than utilizing more extreme rates – such as the Cowboys and Bills. And there are a lot of bad offenses that leaned toward route distribution rates that strayed far away from the league averages – such as the Steelers and Rams.

So, again, it’s not necessarily good or bad to land on either end of the spectrum in this stat. It’s just a stylistic thing.

But I would say it depends on the team. Some teams would be better off utilizing a more unusual route distribution. Some teams don’t need to be unusual to be successful.

Teams like the Cowboys, Bills, Chiefs, and Eagles have the raw talent to beat their opponents without going too far outside of the box with their route calls. On the contrary, the Jets did not have the requisite level of talent to beat teams with a basic offense – specifically at QB and OL.

Considering the Jets’ talent deficiencies, I would have liked to see LaFleur be a little more unorthodox with his route distribution to try and scheme up some natural advantages that could have helped the Jets overcome their lack of talent at key positions. Specifically, I’ll go back to what I said earlier about slants and crossers. I think those are the two routes where the Jets should have strayed far away from the league average; using them significantly more often than the average team. That should have been the Jets’ identity.

Instead, I don’t really know what the Jets’ offensive identity was. They operated like a basic NFL offense. And when you have a basic offense that features solid weapons but bad quarterbacking and blocking, you end up with a 29th-ranked mark of 17.4 points per game.

This article would be my case against keeping Mike LaFleur. I have already stated my case in defense of LaFleur.

I could go either way on the Jets’ young OC. If he stays, I’ll understand it, and if he goes, I’ll understand that as well.

It will be very interesting to see which way the Jets go. Perhaps the Jets decide to keep LaFleur while adding a veteran offensive mind to assist him – head coach Robert Saleh hinted at this in his Monday press conference. That would be a feasible path.

If LaFleur does stay in 2023, I will be keeping a close eye on the metrics we discussed in this article. Will he do a better job of molding the offense to his talent? Or will he continue to try squeezing square pegs into round holes?

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Funny, I remember reading a comment by @football guy not too long ago about MLFs unwillingness (or incompetence) to adjust the long developing routes ran by our WRs due to poor OL play/protection. 

And now we have Nanias article with the numbers to back that comment up. They need to run more slants and crossers due to the OL play and MORE importantly, as Nania mentions, to get the ball to our playmakers in space (Moore and Wilson). The numbers here, among other things he mentions, back up what we all saw on the field this year. 

MLF needs to make major adjusts and if they keep him hopefully the new position coaches & senior advisor make a difference. 

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3 minutes ago, bgivs21 said:

Funny, I remember reading a comment by @football guy not too long ago about MLFs unwillingness (or incompetence) to adjust the long developing routes ran by our WRs due to poor OL play/protection. 

And now we have Nanias article with the numbers to back that comment up. They need to run more slants and crossers due to the OL play and MORE importantly, as Nania mentions, to get the ball to our playmakers in space (Moore and Wilson). The numbers here, among other things he mentions, back up what we all saw on the field this year. 

MLF needs to make major adjusts and if they keep him hopefully the new position coaches & senior advisor make a difference. 

Yeah to me this is one more confirmation of what I thought I was observing this season.  MLF's schemes are at the very least ok but his play calling sux.   

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"I just know that they were running double-end cuts to the field every single time," Bynum said. "A lot of the big plays they got was that route, in-breaking from No. 1. That's a tough route for the corner, especially for his outside leverage, so I just shuffled in with the quarterback's eyes and as soon as he came off of No. 2, jumped into window No. 1 and that was the play."

Fire LaFloor

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36 minutes ago, bgivs21 said:

Funny, I remember reading a comment by @football guy not too long ago about MLFs unwillingness (or incompetence) to adjust the long developing routes ran by our WRs due to poor OL play/protection. 

And now we have Nanias article with the numbers to back that comment up. They need to run more slants and crossers due to the OL play and MORE importantly, as Nania mentions, to get the ball to our playmakers in space (Moore and Wilson). The numbers here, among other things he mentions, back up what we all saw on the field this year. 

MLF needs to make major adjusts and if they keep him hopefully the new position coaches & senior advisor make a difference. 

Marries his game plans until death do them part. The bigger question will be why. 

This coaching staff is very "pro-system"... That starts at HC, to the coordinators, down to the positional coaches who are in charge of readying the players. Look at last year... they did not adjust the defense because they want the players to perform within the system. There was a talent issue, but it also took the players we had some time to learn how to perform within the system and effectively communicate. This year they flipped the script. Talent influx is a major reason why, but a lot of credit goes to improved communication and attention to detail on that side. 

It sounds like MLF has taken blame for a lot of the things that went wrong, but he's pointing some fingers. Right now he's finalizing a plan presentation to clearly state how the issues get fixed, everything from staff changes to responsibility shifts to practice/regimen changes. How that's received probably determines whether or not he keeps his job (likely). Hiring a new Senior staff member to oversee the QB room has been in the cards, but more changes are coming and will be welcomed by MLF if he does keep his job. 

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2 hours ago, LIJetsFan said:

Or will he continue to try squeezing square pegs into round holes?

Why wait to find out?  Bring in someone else who doesn't do that. We already know how MLF operates. Risking a redo of 2022 would be an absurd decision.....   Saleh is a jerk if he keeps MLF.

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1 minute ago, FactsOnly said:

Fire LaFloor

Right or wrong, LaFleur has scapegoated Miles Austin for the lack of creativity with the WRs. He has pointed to the lack of a Senior QB specialist on the staff/asking too much of Rob Calabrese too soon as the reason for poor communication/habits among the QBs (with support from Saleh, whose already taken the blame for that decision). He's pointed to injuries along the offensive line/constant shuffling of the unit as the reason they couldn't be more creative/effective with their blocking and also why we've seen 2 years of communication breakdowns. 

The question is, what is he proposing to fix things that went wrong (communication, teaching/coaching, practice habits, regimens)? Simply hiring new faces isn't what the Jets want to hear. They want to know why the changes will lead to tangible improvements on the field, and Saleh will ultimately decide who stays, who goes, and who is brought in. For instance, if they decide they need more of a drill sergeant in the WR room to fix some of their issues (practice, precision, communication), Saleh will decide who is out there that is best fit to fix those issues - with the help of his staff and front office of course. He also may determine that shifting/reducing some of MLF's responsibilities will open up his ability to be more hands on with the WR group. He may decide that while the injuries to the OL were real, maybe John Benton didn't do a great job of coaching the guys to communicate properly. All this is TBD. We should know more soon. I think they'll want to have a good idea who they're bringing in before they get rid of anyone, so unlike TEN who fired their offensive staff on Black Monday, I think our staff changes could take more time. 

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The question for him is can he learn and grow ?  Can he self scout and adjust for his tendencies? GW called him out publicly twice. Just like Zach he’s been put on on notice according to comments by Saleh. The plan was for all these newbies to grow together.  There isn’t a lot of evidence that lafleur and Zach are growing individually, the idea that they will grow together is becoming a pipe dream. I change my mind on LaFluer like every day lol. You have to hope that Saleh can separate his friendship from his responsibility to have the best staff. 

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Perhaps the questions that should be asked of the offensive staff- what is the commitment level they have of themselves and how do they coach commitment and drive to the players? Are they putting in enough time and work as coaches? I doubt it.

Why do Elijah Moore and Denzel Mims run routes like they have the crab? Does anyone bring this up in film sessions? Do the Jets even have film sessions by position groups? Did anyone tell Moore to stop running backwards? Clearly not. 

Why did Berrios have his head up is ass all season?

Does Michael Carter watch film? What happened to his vision? Is he putting in the work? Why was he moping around all season like his dog died?

What happened to James Robinson? Why was he iced out?

And obviously the coddling of Wilson.

Instead of the nonsense of play calling and scheme, perhaps simpler things should be addressed first. 

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I actually think LaFleur's issues are more with designing run plays than passing plays.

I like that he gives his QB a touch more slants and outs than average, those are safer throws. Hitches are dangerous especially in the intermediate range and throws to the flat are kinda useless 

--

His running game though lacks some serious inventiveness. It is always an off-tackle zone run and all the motioning in the world in the backfield is useless since the defense doesn't have to pay much attention to it 

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10 minutes ago, football guy said:

Right or wrong, LaFleur has scapegoated Miles Austin for the lack of creativity with the WRs. He has pointed to the lack of a Senior QB specialist on the staff/asking too much of Rob Calabrese too soon as the reason for poor communication/habits among the QBs (with support from Saleh, whose already taken the blame for that decision). He's pointed to injuries along the offensive line/constant shuffling of the unit as the reason they couldn't be more creative/effective with their blocking and also why we've seen 2 years of communication breakdowns. 

The question is, what is he proposing to fix things that went wrong (communication, teaching/coaching, practice habits, regimens)? Simply hiring new faces isn't what the Jets want to hear. They want to know why the changes will lead to tangible improvements on the field, and Saleh will ultimately decide who stays, who goes, and who is brought in. For instance, if they decide they need more of a drill sergeant in the WR room to fix some of their issues (practice, precision, communication), Saleh will decide who is out there that is best fit to fix those issues - with the help of his staff and front office of course. He also may determine that shifting/reducing some of MLF's responsibilities will open up his ability to be more hands on with the WR group. He may decide that while the injuries to the OL were real, maybe John Benton didn't do a great job of coaching the guys to communicate properly. All this is TBD. We should know more soon. I think they'll want to have a good idea who they're bringing in before they get rid of anyone, so unlike TEN who fired their offensive staff on Black Monday, I think our staff changes could take more time. 

I would take a hard look there.  JD has poured a lot of money into the OL, and with the exception of AVT, really hasn't seen much return on his investment...

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19 minutes ago, football guy said:

Right or wrong, LaFleur has scapegoated Miles Austin for the lack of creativity with the WRs. He has pointed to the lack of a Senior QB specialist on the staff/asking too much of Rob Calabrese too soon as the reason for poor communication/habits among the QBs (with support from Saleh, whose already taken the blame for that decision). He's pointed to injuries along the offensive line/constant shuffling of the unit as the reason they couldn't be more creative/effective with their blocking and also why we've seen 2 years of communication breakdowns. 

The question is, what is he proposing to fix things that went wrong (communication, teaching/coaching, practice habits, regimens)? Simply hiring new faces isn't what the Jets want to hear. They want to know why the changes will lead to tangible improvements on the field, and Saleh will ultimately decide who stays, who goes, and who is brought in. For instance, if they decide they need more of a drill sergeant in the WR room to fix some of their issues (practice, precision, communication), Saleh will decide who is out there that is best fit to fix those issues - with the help of his staff and front office of course. He also may determine that shifting/reducing some of MLF's responsibilities will open up his ability to be more hands on with the WR group. He may decide that while the injuries to the OL were real, maybe John Benton didn't do a great job of coaching the guys to communicate properly. All this is TBD. We should know more soon. I think they'll want to have a good idea who they're bringing in before they get rid of anyone, so unlike TEN who fired their offensive staff on Black Monday, I think our staff changes could take more time. 

Thanks for the info! Much appreciated. 

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I saw something on Twitter this morning that i had forgotten about and is pretty damming in retrospect- 

 

to paraphrase, it was a sign of the inept things to come with this offensive staff week 1 when they favored four TE sets featuring Cager over playing G Wilson and Hall. 
 

Add in the inability to utilize Moore, heck, even Mims to a degree, and it just seems we’ve got an OC who cannot adapt the system he runs to fit his players. And that is never a good sign. 

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4 minutes ago, peekskill68 said:

I would take a hard look there.  JD has poured a lot of money into the OL, and with the exception of AVT, really hasn't seen much return on his investment...

At the same time what do you expect when literally every tackle you had in training camp spent time on IR (Becton, Fant, Brown, Mitchell, McDermott) AND one of the two you brought in midseason also spent time on IR (Ogbuehi). Not to mention your best OL in AVT goes out for the season and his backup is dealing with nagging injuries all year. 

FWIW, the OL was performing well when AVT and Herbig were healthy. It went downhill when those two got injured. Couple it with losing Mitchell and Fant (Fant came back well below 100%) and Duane Brown playing with a torn rotator cuff at 37 years old, I don't think anyone should be shocked that the unit was bad down the stretch. 

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12 minutes ago, playtowinthegame said:

I'm sorry man, but Mike Lafleur needs to go. Keeping him is only about loyalty and not about winning. Let him go "rehab" in San Francisco. 

If football guy is correct, it looks like he's already designed his scape goat(s).  If his superiors buy into the injuries along the OL as a reason for constant communications breakdowns, then why doesn't this happen as badly to the other 2 dozen teams with injuries on their OLs?  

MLF has lots of f'kn excuses.   Although it's unlikely to happen, I still say to fire or demote him. He's awful and now he's ducking the blame.

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This exercise conceptually makes sense to me, except I don’t think it works entirely in a vacuum. I see things slightly differently, though admittedly maybe not correctly.

I think one of the huge problems with this offense is that, in addition to the poor offensive line, there aren’t receivers who threaten defenses vertically down the field.

Because of the bad offense bouillabaisse created by lack of downfield threats at receiver, poor quarterback play, and substandard line play, defenses play aggressively against the Jets since they don’t have to worry about being beaten over the top.

With defenses playing aggressively, they can have tight coverage in the quicker developing patterns, which makes those less effective. To compensate, they run *some* slower developing stuff to at least try to keep defenses on their toes, but it’s ineffective and it just feeds into that cycle more.

Having Hall as a big play threat made things easier, I think they need to add something outside as well.

Playcalling was certainly suboptimal and I would’ve liked to see Moore more involved but I don’t think just calling the shorter YAC friendly routes would’ve fixed the offense. This collection of talent just doesn’t threaten defenses.

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Just now, derp said:

This exercise conceptually makes sense to me, except I don’t think it works entirely in a vacuum. I see things slightly differently, though admittedly maybe not correctly.

I think one of the huge problems with this offense is that, in addition to the poor offensive line, there aren’t receivers who threaten defenses vertically down the field.

Because of the bad offense bouillabaisse created by lack of downfield threats at receiver, poor quarterback play, and substandard line play, defenses play aggressively against the Jets since they don’t have to worry about being beaten over the top.

With defenses playing aggressively, they can have tight coverage in the quicker developing patterns, which makes those less effective. To compensate, they run *some* slower developing stuff to at least try to keep defenses on their toes, but it’s ineffective and it just feeds into that cycle more.

Having Hall as a big play threat made things easier, I think they need to add something outside as well.

Playcalling was certainly suboptimal and I would’ve liked to see Moore more involved but I don’t think just calling the shorter routes would’ve fixed the offense.

I think this nails it. They don't have a downfield threat and though I like Mike White, that's going to likely be a limitation he's always facing. Zach has the arm for it, but he doesn't have the downfield accuracy, and we built our offense with a bunch of slot-sized guys playing with Davis and Mims being duds as downfield threats. Plus our o-line can't block effectively for the run game we want, which hurts our play action and hurts our ability to run slower developing plays.

Hence my personal stance that we're more than just fixing the QB away, although that'd be the biggest thing that would help immediately.

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3 hours ago, LIJetsFan said:

It seemed LaFleur remained too reliant on long-developing routes despite not having an offensive line that allows those routes to work.

That has been my main criticism of Lefleur all season. Poor OL blocking and yet he called a lot of long-developing routes.

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24 minutes ago, Jets Voice of Reason said:

I think this nails it. They don't have a downfield threat and though I like Mike White, that's going to likely be a limitation he's always facing. Zach has the arm for it, but he doesn't have the downfield accuracy, and we built our offense with a bunch of slot-sized guys playing with Davis and Mims being duds as downfield threats. Plus our o-line can't block effectively for the run game we want, which hurts our play action and hurts our ability to run slower developing plays.

Hence my personal stance that we're more than just fixing the QB away, although that'd be the biggest thing that would help immediately.

Yeah, I agree. I also see MLF was just let go, which is fine.

I look at Detroit and think the Jets need a Jared Goff. He’s not winning them a Super Bowl, but puts up top ten numbers when the supporting cast is good. They’re in an awesome spot to develop a young QB there. The Jets muddy how ready the offense is with bad QB play but I think it’a obviously not there yet.

That said, I think in addition to OL they really need more playmakers.

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