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The New York Jets are struggling.
They enter Week 11 with a 2-7 record. Life the past four weeks has been difficult. After giving up 54 points to the New England Patriots back in Week 7, Gang Green rebounded with a win over the Cincinnati Bengals spearheaded by backup quarterback Mike White.
Mike’s Magic did not last long, as the reserve quarterback was injured early in a Week 9 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Although Josh Johnson played well in relief, the organization turned to White for their Week 10 game against the Buffalo Bills.
White finished that outing watching from the sideline after throwing his fourth interception. This time it was Joe Flacco coming on in relief, and the veteran completed all three of his passing attempts for 47 yards and a touchdown. Giving him a perfect NFL Passer Rating of 158.3 in the short appearance.
(This is where you can insert an argument against NFL Passer Rating if you so desire).
Now, a lot of the issues in New York are on the defensive side of the football, as the Jets defense has allowed 32.9 points per game, placing them dead last in the league. But this week, the concern is on the offensive side of the football, as New York faces a Miami Dolphins team that, thanks to an array of blitz packages and simulated pressure looks, harassed Lamar Jackson last Thursday night in an upset win over the Baltimore Ravens.
Is Flacco’s experience a solution to this problem?
The organization apparently believes so, as Flacco will get the start on Sunday. Not White, despite his performance against the Bengals a few weeks ago that saw his jersey end up in Canton. And not second-overall selection Zach Wilson, who is not fully healthy after injuring his PCL in the Week 7 loss to the Patriots:
BREAKING: In a surprise, the Jets are planning to start Joe Flacco vs Miami, source tells ESPN. Zach Wilson still not 100%. Flacco’s experience likely a big factor in the decision, facing blitz-heavy D. #Jets
— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) November 17, 2021
Working in Flacco’s favor is the fact that he saw this Dolphins team last year back in Week 6 of the 2020 season. That is during a stretch where the Dolphins were playing themselves into playoff contention thanks to a bevy of pressure looks on defense, similar to what we saw Thursday night.
It is also during a stretch where the Jets were driving hard to the top of the draft board, as that Week 6 game would be their sixth-straight loss
Working against Flacco?
How he played that day.
Flacco completed 21 of 44 passes for 186 yards and an interception, for an NFL Passer Rating of 50.0 (there’s that argument again) and an Adjusted Yards per Attempt of 3.20. So while he might be familiar with the blitz packages and simulated pressures the Dolphins will bring to the table this weekend, familiarity with and success against are two different things.
Flacco saw them early, starting with New York’s first third down attempt of the game. Facing a 3rd and 7, the Jets put the ball in Flacco’s hands while Miami shows pressure up front, mugging both A-Gaps. The Dolphins indeed blitz, playing Cover 1 in the secondary. Flacco tries to throw a vertical route to Breshad Perriman, but the pass is underthrown and left to the inside, and Byron Jones deflects it away:
On the Jets’ second third-down situation of the game, Miami still got pressure on the quarterback, but this time with a twist. They walk down a single linebacker, Andrew Van Ginkel, into the left A-Gap before the snap. But when the play begins, he drops into coverage. The problem? A slot blitz off the right side, combined with pressure on the interior, forces Flacco to try and bail the pocket and evade the sack. A late throw downfield sails out of bounds, and the Jets punt again:
On New York’s fifth possession of the game Flacco threw his interception. Facing another pressure look, the Jets try and shore up their protection, keeping the tight end and the running back in to block for the quarterback. Miami initially looks to play coverage here, as linebackers Kamu Grugier-Hill and Jerome Baker drop off the line. But when they see the tight end and running back are staying in to block, they join the wave of rushers trying to get after Flacco. The quarterback drifts away from him and to his right, attempting a throw to Jeff Smith, running a crossing route. Flacco attempts the throw from an unsettled base, and without enough velocity on the pass, Xavien Howard has time to cut under the receiver and snare the interception:
By the time the first half was drawing to a close, the Dolphins had built a 21-0 lead, and the Jets were just trying to get into Miami territory for the second time all game. To that point in the contest, the Jets had six offensive possessions, 25 offensive plays, 47 total yards and zero points.
They would punt yet again at the end of this seventh possession. Facing a 3rd and 4, the Jets again put the fate of the ensuing down in Flacco’s hands. This time, the Dolphins not only show pressure pre-snap, but they send the house, playing Cover 0 behind it.
With running back La’Mical Perine having a free release out of the backfield, and the Dolphins playing zero blitz, Miami springs two free rushers at Flacco, defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah and safety Bobby McCain, both off the right edge.
The result? Here is how the pocket looks when Flacco hits the final step of his quick three-step drop from a shotgun alignment:
Flacco is forced to check the ball down to Perine on his swing route, and hope that the running back can pick up the yardage after the catch.
Things do not turn out that way:
This was the story of that October afternoon for Flacco, against this Dolphins defense and their pressure looks. Now, we are a year removed from that day, and some of the faces and names have changed.
Still, it was not like Flacco had the magic answer for those packages a year ago. Ultimately, this decision to start the veteran might be more of a referendum on where Wilson and White are at this point in their careers. So while Flacco has seen these looks in the past from the Dolphins, as we outlined earlier, there is a difference between familiarity and success.