FROM THE ARCHIVES: New York Jets Kickoff Return: Failure Is An Option

The New York Jets tried to use new acquisition Percy Harvin to execute a spectacular special teams play: a lateral to a hidden player in the end zone on a kickoff return. But, being the Jets, the only thing spectacular was the failure.

The New York Jets made a splash two weeks ago, acquiring wide receiver and kick returner Percy Harvin from the Seattle Seahawks. Much of the post-trade chatter focused on why Seattle would part with such a dynamic playmaker, eventually honing in on his off-field clashes with teammates. Others wondered how the Jets would use Harvin, and whether he could be a difference-maker on a team in dire need of offensive weapons.

With Harvin also a special teams asset, there appeared to be an opportunity for him to beam a ray of sunshine on an otherwise gloomy Jets season. Unfortunately for Harvin, if his special teams coach, Thomas McGaughey, draws up a play that literally no one on the field is able to execute, it minimizes the potential positive impact he might have.

Nearly seven minutes into the 3rd quarter, the Jets trailed Buffalo 27-17 after a 36-yard field goal by Bills kicker Dan Carpenter. On the ensuing kickoff New York sets up in a standard return formation:

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Circled in yellow are the eleven members of the Jets return team. They position five men along the 50-yard line, a four-man diamond formation between their own 15- and 25-yard lines, and two returners deep in the end zone including Harvin on the left. Take a moment and count the New York players on the field. (We have done so, but another set of eyes is never a bad thing).

Immediately after the ball is kicked, the Jets begin a flurry of activity:

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On the far left of the still, the outside man in the Jets front line begins an inward move to try to block the L3 of the Bills. On the other side of the formation, three Jets back up towards their own end zone as they look to set up for blocks. Near the top of the frame, two other Jets depart the diamond formation, positioning for potential blocks later in the play.

Meanwhile the Jet circled in yellow, Calvin Pryor (#25), starts a meandering route. His journey will take him nearly the entire way across the field and almost back to his own goal line, covering over sixty yards in the process. The purpose? To eventually block for his teammate circled in red, T.J. Graham (#10), who is now lying down in his own end zone. While it may be difficult to see him at first glance, our highly skilled image enhancement specialists were able to zoom in on the player in order to identify him:


Graham, who for the remainder of this piece will be referred to as The Chameleon, is attempting to deceive the Buffalo Bills by blending into the green FieldTurf of the Jets end zone. This is a slight variation on the middle school play, “Tony gets down on his hands and knees and barks like a dog, and when everyone is looking, I’ll hit Matt in the end zone for the touchdown.” How will an NFL team react?

As the play continues it quickly becomes apparent that the Jets have left nearly every player on the left side of the field unblocked:

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At this point, four Bills defenders are completely free on the left side of the field, with only the L3 being met by a Jets player. Pryor is continuing to head back towards his own end zone as tries to cover every square inch of territory between him and his own goal line. And just inside that goal line, The Chameleon continues to lie in wait for an unsuspecting Bills team.

The Jets have now officially begun the process of going from bad to worse. This still shows the Bills defenders continuing to move down the field:

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While a blocker attempted to impede the Bills’ L3, that Jet is now five yards behind his intended target after serving as a glorified speed bump. There appears to be one Jet in position to make a block on these defenders (near the left hash marks inside the 30-yard line), and two other Jets from the original diamond formation preparing to move upfield to make wedge blocks from their own 5-yard line.

Pryor is now 20 yards downfield from where he started, and nearly 15 yards further to the right of the frame. He is roughly halfway to his potential block, and to this point has not accomplished anything other than running across the field. Meanwhile, The Chameleon has remained firmly planted on the ground, waiting for the right moment to reveal himself and surprise the Bills.

The Bills are not surprised. At all:

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As Harvin begins to bring the ball out from nine yards deep in his own end zone, there are still five unblocked Bills heading towards him. The would-be Jets blocker ‒ near the 30-yard line in the previous still ‒ is now at the 20-yard line and appears to have whiffed on his attempt. Harvin may have a potential seam for a return, as one of the Bills defenders was forced out of his lane, creating a crease up the left hash marks ‒ if the two-man wedge is able to provide a key block.

On the other side of the field, nearly 25 yards away, Pryor has nearly completed his long and arduous journey. He is almost ready to contribute to this play, except that yet another Jet has missed his block. Pryor now has two Bills coming straight toward the area he hopes to protect. This is not an ideal situation for someone who has just run fifty yards. Still hidden in the vast wilderness of the green FieldTurf, The Chameleon lies undetected on the right side of the end zone.

It’s a trap! The next frame shows Harvin pulling up at the goal line, as The Chameleon has finally revealed himself to the rest of the world:

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Pryor has missed his block on the right side of the field, which means that there is now a Bills defender within five yards of The Chameleon. Harvin is now a man without a plan. He cannot execute a lateral back to The Chameleon without it being intercepted or off-target, or having The Chameleon tackled for a safety.

While the Jets clearly did not execute anything properly to this point, some credit has to be given to the Buffalo backside defenders. Instead of pinching down and getting sucked in towards Harvin, these Bills stayed in their lanes and were able to disrupt the play.

Two Bills in the middle now notice that Harvin has pulled up, and begin to work back to the right side of the frame. The decoy worked! Except for the fact that there are still five unblocked Bills defenders bearing down on Harvin thanks to yet two more missed blocks. The number of Jets that actually executed successful blocks on this play is somewhere between one and two, depending on how stringent you want to be with grading. The yellow question mark in the middle of this still indicates that I have absolutely no idea what this Jets player has been doing for the entire play, as he has not made contact with any Bills player nor moved more than 15 yards throughout this sequence.

While the Jets blocking did them no favors, the bottom line is a play like this has to be executed perfectly in order to be pulled off. This next still shows the play as Harvin is tackled at the Jets 3-yard line:

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Circled in yellow are the five Jets players who are nowhere near the ball. The Jets have committed half of their kickoff return team to an assignment that never materialized . This simply makes no sense. If the Jets were convinced that this play was going to be deceptive there is no need to waste all these players on the opposite side of the field. The Bills should have naturally pursued Harvin. But the Jets, rightly so, did not believe that this play would deceive the Bills. As such, they had to devote a massive amount of resources to an event that never occurred. Then they attempted to execute a play they did not even believe would work during an actual NFL contest.

Last week, when analyzing the St. Louis Rams and their creativity on their fake punt return, I mentioned that special teams coordinators tend to prioritize simply catching the ball and holding onto it as a success with any yardage gained a bonus. In this case, with Harvin receiving the ball nine yards deep in his own end zone, he needs to get to the 20-yard line to justify taking the ball out. So while Harvin was able to technically advance the ball 12 yards, the net yardage from where he was supposed to be was a minus-17. That is unacceptable from a special teams unit. Here is the end zone view:

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And, the sideline view:

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Creativity is a great thing for NFL coaches. However, there are three principal reasons why this play failed. First and foremost: poor execution. Nearly everyone failed at the primary responsibility of any NFL player – do your job. Second, the play drastically misallocated blocking resources. There are five players who accomplished absolutely nothing on this play. Lastly, Harvin bringing the ball out of the end zone from nine yards deep was the final nail in the coffin. That makes this play one of the NFL’s biggest disasters this season: the New York Jets Kickoff Failure.

Follow Chuck on Twitter @ITP_ChuckZ.

Chuck Zodda knows the importance of staying in your lane, how to fake a punt return, thehumanity of punters, proper placekicking technique and the Jets.

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