Four days after Baltimore, three days before Cleveland, Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur at his Thursday news conference got questions that were still on the minds of media and fans. Questions about the use of the Jets' tight ends in the opener and questions about pass/run balance going forward.
LaFleur agreed that yes, sometimes the tight ends are great safety valves for a quarterback.
But then, he said, "Sometimes the defense doesn't allow you to have great safety valves, so you need those tight ends to help in protection with the chips and stuff like that, so they're not going to be the primary receivers. I think every week is going to end up just being a little bit different."
Tyler Conklin, C.J. Uzomah and Lawrence Cager (with Jeremy Ruckert inactive) started out as a possible feature in the offensive game plan vs. the Ravens, which opened the first quarter with 13 personnel (one back, one WR, three TEs). But that didn't work out, the game plan direction shifted, and by game's end, the three tight ends combined had eight targets, four catches for 16 yards and the last-minute touchdown by Conklin.
Another problem — an age-old puzzle for OCs in the NFL — is that there's only one ball and five skill players who could do wonderful things with it on every offensive play.
"You want to get Conklin involved with the ball in his hands, you want to get C.J. the ball, you want to get Garrett [Wilson], you want to get Corey [Davis], you want to get Elijah [Moore], you want to get Braxton [Berrios] — you've got one of the better returners that did some awesome stuff for us last year with the ball in his hands," LaFleur ticked off his offensive weapons. "And you want to run the ball, you want to use Michael Carter and Breece Hall in the pass game. It's like 'holy crap.'
"So every week is going to be a little bit different and my job and the rest of the offensive staff's job is to put together the best plan possible and the ball's going to go where it goes based on what the defense is doing."
Head coach Robert Saleh and QB Joe Flacco addressed the balance issue Wednesday. The imbalance was at 26 pass plays to 16 runs before the Ravens opened their 24-3 lead. Then the passing game really kicked in as Flacco threw 36 times in the last 37 plays, 29 times in the last quarter alone, 59 attempts total.
"We were throwing a lot there at the end. I felt like the last two drives we had were like 30 plays each," Flacco said. "When you get in those 15-play-drive-type sequences, when you're in a two-minute mode almost, I don't think you quite realize it's 60 times, but you knew it was a good amount.
The tale of the tape: Flacco threw 62 times in two games as a Raven. He also had a 29-pass quarter in 2017. But he threw more times in Sunday's final quarter than any other Jets QB in any quarter since 1991. Even Vinny Testaverde, with his prolific dropback games in 2000 — the Monday Night Miracle win over the Dolphins and the Christmas Eve loss at the Ravens — threw a mere 25 times in each of those fourth quarters.
See the top photos from Thursday's practice leading up to the first road game of the 2022 season.
LaFleur agreed with Flacco about not knowing exactly how many times the Jets had passed in their opener but knowing it was too much.
"It's very few weeks that I've ever been a part of in the NFL that you're just like, 'We're literally going to throw the ball 50 times in the first half and run the ball five times.' That usually doesn't work," he said. "So the balance might mean 50/50 run/pass, or it might mean finding different ways to get those names that I just said, get them the touches and get that ball spread around so a defense can't lock into it."
Long story short, if LaFleur and his offense find the balance they seek against an improving Browns defense, the tight ends and everyone else will be involved to max effect.
"We've got to switch it up. We've got to keep them honest, with just mixing in different protections, different looks, getting the run game going, all those little things that can limit a pass rush," he said. "And they're going to make their plays, we know that. They're going to make you earn it. ... Because that's what Cleveland makes you do, they make you earn it.
"So our guys have got to be ready to do it every single play because the moment we have a hiccup, that's a lot of times against a defense like this when a drive ends. So our guys have got to be ready to play for 60 minutes, and I believe they will."