For all the chatter about who will be the Jets' starting quarterback when the AFC East-leading Buffalo Bills come to MetLife Stadium on Sunday, perhaps one of the most significant decisions came a few weeks ago when offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur hopped on an elevator and pushed the No. 6 button to head upstairs before the game against Cincinnati.
Since then, the team's first-year OC has been pushing all the right buttons where the offense is concerned.
Instead of calling plays from the sideline, as he had in the Green & White's first six games, he sat down in the coaches box high above the field for the past two games. The results were a revelation.
"I always wanted to be up there," LaFleur said on Friday. "That's where, right when I first got here, that's 100 percent where I was going to go. It's what I've always felt, just watching Kyle [Shanahan] in 2016 and being up there the last two years in San Francisco, I feel like everyone sees it a little bit better up there.
"I think the reason for some of the success on offense is just the execution that is happening with our guys. Again, they're playing faster, they're playing freer. To me, it's more, again, the challenge, I think our assistant coaches have done just an absolute awesome job of, again we're simplifying our game plans, I just feel like guys are just as we're in Year 1, we're getting to Game 5, we're getting to Game 6, there's a lot of carry over week-in, and week-out, they're running the same routes over and over. Yeah, it's all window dressing with motions and jet sweeps and all that, but our guys are just, again, getting a lot more comfortable with this offense and you're seeing it."
The same can be said for LaFleur's comfort level.
He started the season on the sideline, mostly because rookie QB Zach Wilson said he preferred being able to speak with LaFleur face to face during the action. When Wilson was injured in the game at New England, backup Mike White got the start against Cincy, throwing for 405 yards and 3 TDs. LaFleur's play-calling was a bit more creative, and his relocation did not go unnoticed.
"He's staying up there," HC Robert Saleh said after the Bengals game. "He [LaFleur] just felt like it would be a good time to go up and call it from upstairs." After the next game, Saleh said: "I want to say this delicately, Mike is a very, very smart young man. An incredibly smart young man."
The OC was again upstairs at Indianapolis last Thursday night, and again the offense was productive, first with White (who left the game with a right-arm contusion), and then with the backup to the backup, Josh Johnson who threw for 317 yards and 2 TDs.
"I'm pleased with just the speed at which we're playing," LaFleur said. "You could really see it in the Cincinnati game and I thought you could see it yesterday [Thursday]. The easy answer is what the receivers, how much faster they're playing. When you're playing faster, you're freer and you're able to go, kind of show the talent you have."
With No. 1 wide receiver Corey Davis out the past two weeks because of injury, rookie Elijah Moore has begun to find his comfort zone, grabbing 13 receptions for 149 yards and 2 TDs. LaFleur has also gotten a bit bolder in his play-calling. What some people might call "gadget" plays, Saleh tweaked the terminology, calling them "creative." By any name, the plays have generated yards and points.
"We've had the creative plays in, but you got to get a flow going, you got to get some first downs," LaFleur said. He added: "When you get that flow and you feel like you got the defense on the heels a little bit, and sometimes it's going to be the right time, sometimes it's going to work. I guess over the last weeks, they've kind of worked."
Before the Jets began their weekend off, Saleh said that Wilson (PCL strain in his right knee) and White would be back at practice in the week ahead of the Bills game. The HC would not tip his hand about who in a QB room that also includes Johnson and the recently acquired Joe Flacco would see the field against Buffalo. Yet, Saleh and LaFleur said it is significant that Wilson has been able to take a step back, watching the Bengals game from on high and the Colts game from the sideline and going to school on the performance of his QB teammates.
"There's something positive to be able to sit back, watch some veterans play and kind of just take a deep breath," LaFleur said. "I do think this will benefit him in a lot of ways.
"I do think just him seeing that, again, he's going to be aggressive. He's an aggressive kid and he's a very talented kid. So, it's not going to look like Josh, it's not going to look like Mike. We don't expect that, we just want him to play within the offense. If it's there, rip it. If it's not, check it down and let's go."