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Jets counting on Joe Flacco’s veteran smarts to combat Dolphins’ endless blitzes

The New York Daily News - 11/20/2021

The Flacc Attack is back for the Jets after Robert Saleh gave Joe Flacco the nod over Mike White to start against the Dolphins on Sunday.

Zach Wilson is still recovering from the sprained PCL he suffered against the Patriots in Week 7. The Jets feel better about Wilson’s chances to start next week against the Houston Texans on Nov. 28.

White was the talk of town as some believed he could possibly become the long-term answer. But against the Bills, he tossed four interceptions in a blowout loss.

That led the Jets to start Flacco, who they traded for on Oct. 25. Saleh also cited Flacco’s experience against the Dolphins’ chaotic blitzing scheme as to why Gang Green is rolling with the former Super Bowl MVP.

“You can’t take this game for granted,” Flacco said. “I’m 14 years in now and I want to play now more than ever.”

White probably would have struggled against the amount of blitzing Miami does. In eight quarters of action, White has completed 40% of his passes against the blitz, with two interceptions and a passer rating of 37.6.

The Dolphins lead the NFL in defensive blitzes on 39.7% of snaps, and have totaled 123 quarterback pressures, second most.

And recently the Dolphins defense has finally shown signs of the unit that ranked in the top five in 2020.

In their past three games, they’ve held their opponents to 15 points per game. They contained the Bills offense until the last few minutes of the game.

They shut down the Ravens offense led by MVP candidate Lamar Jackson to 10 points on Thursday Night Football. Jackson finished with 266 yards of total yards with one touchdown, one interception, and was sacked four times. And the Texans only scored nine points.

The defensive scheme hasn’t always worked this fall, though. In the six prior games, Miami allowed an average of 32 points. But recent signs are showing the unit is closer to the 2020 version. And they’re seventh in the NFL in takeaways with 15.

So it makes sense to start Flacco, who has experience against that look. He faced that same scheme last year, although it wasn’t a good outing as the Jets lost, 24-0, on Oct. 18, 2020. He went 21-44 for 186 yards with an interception and took three sacks.

The Dolphins blitzed Flacco on 49% of his dropbacks. When he was faced with five or more rushers he had a passer rating of 45.

“It limits your offense to a certain extent,” Flacco said. “and it forces you to kind of make a guy miss or get the ball out of your hands quick and make sure you’re on top of everything, all the little details in your offense. I just, I think it’s one of those things that in football, the positive plays usually go to the aggressor.”

However, that was under a different coaching staff with different players so Saleh doesn’t care about those results.

“Last year is irrelevant. Completely different o-line, different receivers, different coach, different coordinator, different everything,” Saleh said on Wednesday. “Joe’s proven in this league, he’s played in the AFC North and he knows exactly what he’s looking at. He’s trained for this his whole life. Again, he’s a very steadying force, player, in terms of just his experience and knowledge and being able to get the ball to his playmakers.”

Flacco isn’t athletic enough to evade the pressure with his feet. So it’ll have to be with his mental processing ability with help from the Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur to call plays to combat the blitz.

“Joe has got the ability to process and get the ball in-and-out of his hands as quickly as possible,” Saleh said on Friday. “I have a lot of faith in Mike LaFleur and his ability to game plan with his staff and put players in position where there’s space to be had. But, again, it goes back to Joe’s experience and recognizing coverages pre-snap and knowing exactly where the ball needs to get as quickly as possible to, one, avoid hits, but, two, get the ball where it needs to go in space.”

Flacco’s been with the Jets for a cup of coffee this season and doesn’t have much chemistry with his weapons, but LaFleur isn’t worried about that because of his experience.

“He’s played so much ball that the cool part about him is when he steps out on the field, he’s seen it all,” LaFleur said. “Just little tweaks and stuff to the offense with cadences and all that kind of stuff or what he’s getting used to, but it’s cool. Joe, he’s been there before, so we expect some good stuff from him.”

The passing attack over the past three weeks has blossomed. It’s averaging 369 yards through air over that stretch with contributions from Josh Johnson, White and Flacco. The only issue is Johnson and White have tossed a combined seven interceptions.

The Jets can’t afford the turnovers, but the yard production must continue if they win to get their third win in Flacco’s first start of the year.

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