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Is Jet Motion Sweeping the NFL?

By: Andy Cooper

Jon Gruden consistently makes bold claims during Monday Night Football broadcasts while using his fiery personality to drive his points home. Not surprisingly, his emphatic delivery often prompts viewers to poke around for holes in those boasts.

So when Gruden claimed the jet motion offense has been on the rise across the NFL during last week’s Monday night matchup between the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings, it became only natural to do some digging. After all, a play like the jet sweep still feels a bit gimmicky and unusual.

As it turns out, Gruden was right all along.

According to STATS X-Info data, use of the jet motion offense is up 36 percent league-wide from last season. Using jet motion simply means an in-motion player is heading toward the quarterback at the snap. The ball does not have to be handed off to that player – usually a wide receiver – meaning fakes and screens or even regular handoffs to the running back still end up being results from jet motion formations.

The jet sweep is the play most associated with that type of motion. Here’s an example from the New England-New Orleans matchup in Week 2. Brandin Cooks runs for a big gain to help set up Tom Brady’s 19-yard touchdown pass to Rex Burkhead.

The jet motion the Patriots used on the Cooks run no longer is that uncommon. NFL teams used jet motion an average of 1.71 percent of the time in 2016, but that average is up to 2.33 percent this year. That might not seem like a big jump on the surface, but take a look at the chart below. Only 11 teams are using jet motion less on average than last year, and even then the percentage points are not that far off.

Green Bay is using jet motion a decent amount after not using it at all in 2016. Denver’s percentage is up considerably from last season, and New England is using jet motion almost double the amount of plays on average.

Last season, Washington used jet motion on 1.18 percent of its plays under then-offensive coordinator Sean McVay. That’s what makes the Los Angeles Rams’ league-leading 8.32 percent jet motion use so stunning in the 31-year-old McVay’s first year as the Rams’ head coach this season.

The presence of the versatile Tavon Austin likely has plenty to do with that significant jump under McVay’s watch. Originally, McVay admitted having trouble implementing Austin into L.A.’s scheme other than to return punts – something he no longer will be doing after losing his third fumble of the season on a muffed punt in last week’s 16-10 loss to Seattle. He muffed another, but the Rams recovered.

But Austin has added a dangerous dimension to the Rams’ offense, which ranks fifth in the NFL averaging 382 yards per game after finishing dead last in total offense last season. STATS X-Info data reveals Austin has lined up in four different positions on his 60 snaps – 23 at slot receiver, 19 at running back, 16 at outside receiver and two at tight end.

“I might not be producing that much with the ball in my hands, but my fakes, my jet sweeps, it’s doing numbers, and that’s the main thing about it,” Austin said earlier this season.

Todd Gurley explained that Austin’s use in the jet motion as a decoy has helped him drastically improve in the running game. Gurley is averaging 4.1 yards per carry compared to 3.2 last year, and his seven touchdowns (four rushing, three receiving) have already surpassed his total scores from 2016.

Quarterback Jared Goff also is succeeding after a very difficult seven games as a rookie last year, completing 61 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and three interceptions – two of which came just last week against Seattle’s tough defense.

The scheme implementing jet motion – specifically Austin’s role in it – by McVay and offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur has provided more space and opportunities for each of the Rams’ main offensive players. And even the threat of a jet motion play creates other chances.

Here’s Austin’s 27-yard touchdown run from last week, when Austin lined up at running back and remained stationary until the snap.

“A lot of times you talk about keeping your gap integrity as a defense, and it’s predicated on where guys are aligned,” McVay said earlier. “When you’re flying a guy fast across the field, it causes some conflicts in your run fits and guys get out of gaps, or they’re looking at it or you might regulate some different things that you’re doing. You don’t know if it’s coming, and there’s some complements off that.”

Scoring is down in 2017 – teams have combined for 368 offensive touchdowns compared to 389 through five weeks last season – as defenses adjust to tired schemes coming from recycled offensive coordinators. And to McVay’s point, running an offense that keeps multiple defensive players thinking is paramount to moving the ball with regularity.

Installing more jet motion appears to be a major reason for the Rams’ 3-2 start after they went a dismal 4-12 last season, when their solid defense performed even better than it has this year. It’s only logical to attribute the addition of jet motion to the basis for the Rams’ turnaround, and other teams have implemented it more often.

Looks like Chucky was right after all.