Breaking Down the New York Jets' Innovative Offense Under Marty Mornhinweg

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Breaking Down the New York Jets' Innovative Offense Under Marty Mornhinweg
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

After Monday night's improbable win, quarterback Geno Smith has already been labeled as a star in the making for bringing his team back in the final minutes to pull off one of the biggest upsets of the 2013 NFL season.

While Smith certainly deserves the praise he has received for being able to get the Jets to a 3-2 record with a supposedly undermanned roster and his late heroics, he was put in a terrific position to succeed thanks to the creative innovations of offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. 

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

With the use of a plethora of formations and personnel combinations, Mornhinweg kept Atlanta's defense on its heels, forcing them to react to what was happening in front of them instead of dictating what the Jets were not going to be able to do, causing them to play a step slower. 

While Mornhinweg did not having an overpowering, dynamic threat at his disposal like the Falcons did with Julio Jones, he did have an array of versatile players at all of the skill positions that allowed him to be flexible in his personnel groupings and multiple in his formations and shifts. 

The Jets utilized everything form the read-option pistol to the standard I-formation, and it gave them the edge they needed in one of the most well-called games in recent history. 

Let's break down some of the more exotic formations and concepts Mornhinweg utilized during the course of the game.


The "Double Split" Pistol

Personnel: 31 (1 TE, 3 RB, 1 WR)

Just as a clarification, the pistol is essentially an I-formation with the quarterback in the shotgun and the running back lined up behind him. 

The advantages: There are two basic advantages to lining up in the pistol. First, the quarterback is able to take a shotgun snap while still being able to hand the ball off to a running back without the awkward side step that runners have to do when taking handoffs in a standard shotgun. The back can get a full head of steam built up and attack the hole as if it was any ordinary running play. 

The second advantage is that the defense is unsure of which direction the runner is coming from until he gets the ball, as the quarterback is blocking their view of the back. 

In this set, however, Mornhinweg takes the concept of confusion to a whole new level. With Chris Ivory lined up to one side and fullback Tommy Bohanon on the other, there is even more confusion for the defense. 

Will they hand the ball off to Ivory? Or will Powell get the handoff and run behind his fullback, just like in a standard split-I? Of course, there is always the possibility of the Jets performing a play action to catch the Falcons over-anticipating a run because of the numbers in the backfield. 

The downside: Simply put, the Jets are limiting their options in the passing game because of their numbers in the backfield. After all, for every additional runner in the backfield, the Jets must take a player off the field at another position—and it cannot be any of the offensive linemen or the quarterback. 

This not only decreases the chances of a player getting open while running a pattern—it limits what the Jets can do with protection as well. 

What the Jets eventually do is take both Ivory and Bohanon and use them as lead blockers for Powell. The play takes some time to develop because Ivory has to run to the opposite tackle, but it does give the Jets a bit of a numbers advantage. 


Tight Trips Bunch

Personnel: 12 (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR)

Most "12 personnel" groupings feature a singleback formation with two close tight ends, but despite the heavier personnel on the field, Mornhinweg elects to spread things out in an empty backfield.

The advantages: Trips bunch is typically used to beat man coverage. Why? Because out of this formation, setting up picks and rubs is easier than ever, and defenders have to fight through bodies of receivers and their own teammates to stick with their man.

This formation set is unique because it utilizes a tight end in the bunch (Kellen Winslow) and on the outside (Jeff Cumberland).

The Jets have set themselves up well for two reasons: For one, the Falcons do not respect Cumberland's ability as much as if he was, say, Tony Gonzalez. They have left him in one-on-one coverage on the outside against a smaller receiver.

The Jets were hoping that the Falcons would mistakenly leave a linebacker on him on the outside, but the Falcons smartly keep their defensive back in his natural position.

The other advantage is that Smith is set up well to beat any type of man coverage on the trips close to the formation. Powell, lined up on the opposite side, is drawing attention away from a cornerback. While Powell won't get open against this caliber of coverage, the Falcons are over-allocating their resources in this matchup. 

The downside: As with all empty backfields, there is no running threat, which allows the linebackers to instantly drop into coverage or blitz. Also, with no tight ends attached to the formation, the Jets are extremely limited in terms of what they can do with their protections. 

Ultimately, Smith winds up throwing a quick slant to Cumberland, who is able to beat his man and get the first down (after bobbling it).


Shotgun Read-Option

Personnel: 11 (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR)

Smith is much more of a passer than a runner, but he does have enough athletic ability to make plays with his feet when called upon. While I would not expect the Jets to adapt the option as much as the 49ers did last year, sprinkling it into an offensive game plan can generate a few big plays and give opposing defenses an extra dimension to prepare for.

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

The advantages: The basic thinking behind the use of the read-option is that it forces defense to play reactionary instead of aggressively. Instead of filling gaps and running lanes by reading basic keys like in a conventional run, linebackers and defensive linemen are forced to play a hair slower, as they are unsure of who is getting the ball and where they are going to go with it. 

In conventional runs, linebackers react to the movement of the offensive line to determine whether it is a run or a pass and which direction the play is going. In a read-option, defenders are forced to wait until the quarterback hands the ball off or keeps it before making a decision as to where to attack.

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
A team needs a true running quarterback, like Colin Kaepernick, to run the option.

The downside: The downsides of the read-option are less about schematics and more about whether or not this type of offense can be used on an every-down basis.

For one, a team must have a quarterback that is a true threat to run. A team like the Broncos would not be able to use this because no one would believe that Peyton Manning would risk his body by taking off on his own with it—even if he does, he won't get very far. 

There is also the concern about a quarterback taking too many hits. Sure, the Redskins were explosive thanks in large part to the use of the read-option, but it wound up costing them dearly after Robert Griffin III quarterback tore his ACL.

The Jets, however, are able to use the play effectively in a limited basis. Initially, this play starts out with just one back in the backfield next to Smith, but Winslow comes in motion to be next to Smith in the backfield before the snap. 

After the ball is snapped, Smith must read the unblocked defensive end to see whether he is going to follow Powell or Winslow, who are headed in opposite directions. 

Smith notices that the defensive end is favoring Powell and smartly decides to take it on his own. Because Winslow is out in front as a lead blocker, Smith is able to scamper for a good 10 yards. 

None of these innovations are going to make headlines or spark a debate on ESPN, but they clearly put the Falcons on their heels and gave Smith a tactical advantage. Plus, the Jets gave their future opponents plenty of extra homework to prepare for with Mornhinweg's variety of unconventional formations and personnel packages. 


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