Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur pushing right buttons

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After the Jets got obliterated by the Patriots two weeks ago, the questions about offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur were swirling.

Is he in over his head?

Why can’t he figure out how to score points in the first quarter?

Is he going to ruin Zach Wilson?

The noise was getting louder. But after the Jets had 511 and 486 total yards of offense in their past two games, LaFleur has moved way down the list of worries around the 2-6 team.

The first-year offensive coordinator seems to have found his groove. He has moved upstairs to the coaches’ box after calling the first six games from the sideline. He has gotten more aggressive with passes on first down. He has mixed in some trick plays. And he has done it all with his second-string and third-string quarterbacks and without No. 1 wide receiver Corey Davis.

Mike LaFleur
Mike LaFleur
Bill Kostroun

“We’ve improved in a number of areas, for sure,” LaFleur said. “I’m pleased with just the speed at which we’re playing. You could really see it in the Cincinnati game and I thought you could see it [against the Colts on 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.”

The Jets have rolled to 997 total yards over the past two games, the third most in a two-game span in franchise history, according to the team. They gained more in a two-game stretch only in 1985 and 1981. The 812 combined net passing yards against the Bengals and Colts are the second-most in franchise history. The most came in 1967, with Joe Namath at quarterback.

LaFleur was one of head coach Robert Saleh’s most critical hires, since Saleh’s background is on defense. The two have known each other for nearly 20 years, dating back to when LaFleur was a teenager and Saleh worked with his brother Matt as a low-level college assistant coach.

Saleh said LaFleur has not suddenly gotten smarter, but players have gotten more comfortable in the system, which has helped the offense operate better.

“He has been getting a little bit aggressive,” Saleh said, “but at the same time, I think everyone is starting to understand what’s being asked of them and he’s starting to understand where he can put his players and he’s understanding what he can ask of his players. So, it’s just kind of a growth that’s happening with a young offense, young coordinator. But he hasn’t gotten smarter, he is a very, very smart young man. Like I said, everyone’s figuring it out all at the same time.”

The most noticeable difference in the past two weeks has been what Saleh prefers to call “creative plays” instead of trick plays. LaFleur did not dial up any in the first six games. Against the Bengals, he called three and against the Colts there were two more.

“We’ve had the creative plays in, but you got to get a flow going,” LaFleur said. “You got to get some first downs. And it’s been, like we’ve talked in here, we’ve had six to eight plays in the first quarter of, it seemed like four games in a row. And you just don’t get into that flow. And if you get down a couple scores early, and next thing you know, there’s three minutes to go in the second quarter, and now when am I going to call that trick play?”

LaFleur also has come out throwing the ball. In the loss to the Patriots, he took criticism for starting the game with two runs on the way to a three-and-out. That was the Jets’ sixth straight game without a point in the first quarter this season. Against the Bengals, he let White sling it, opening the game with five passes. On Thursday, he opened with four passes.

LaFleur said it has not been a change in philosophy, just better execution.

“We have tried to throw them, but we just haven’t gotten those third-down conversions that give the chains moving,” LaFleur said. “Yeah, we have thrown the ball a little bit more early on, no doubt it looks more aggressive. But, at the same time, I think there has been other games where we try to be aggressive. It just hasn’t worked out.”

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