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The Keith Carter Edition
We’re almost through January, which means as of Wednesday, we can start saying NFL free agency is next month.
Congratulations to the Chiefs and Eagles for making the big dance. That always seemed the most likely matchup.
Over the coming weeks, we’re going to be focusing on those free-agent names that could be of interest to the Jets.
Today we’re going to focus on the Jet’s new run-game coordinator and offensive line coach, Keith Carter.
Monday’s TJW edition is free for everyone, but if you like what we do here and want to support the newsletter, please consider hitting that subscribe button to upgrade your membership.
Former Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur has found a new home. He’s been hired as the LA Rams news offensive coordinator under Sean McVay who is a disciple of the Shanahan system. It’s likely that McVay will still call plays in LA, but MLF will be a big part of game planning. It’s the perfect role for him at this stage of his career after a turbulent two years in New York.
You could fill a small book with the “hot takes” that Aaron Rodgers will follow Nathaniel Hackett to New York. I’ve taken a bit of an exception to some of them, like this one from Brandon Tierney. Apparently, if you care about building for sustained success instead of trading away multiple high-draft picks for a QB whose best days are behind him, you’re “irreparably twisted, jaded, and self-loathing”. I’m never a proponent of the theory that there is only one avenue to success, if you want Rodgers at any cost, I respect that. I’m not against getting Rodgers, but there definitely is a cost balance to analyze when trading for a soon-to-be 40-year-old QB.
For what it’s worth, I spoke with someone on Saturday about the Jets QB situation, the same person who advised me the Jets had requested interviews with Bevell and Hackett before it was widely reported. His exact message was “Fans think it’s Rodgers all the way, it’s not. Jets are as heavily involved in discussing Carr as they are Rodgers, maybe more so, Jimmy too”
Former Jets and current Seattle QB Geno Smith has been named Comeback Player of the Year and Most Improved Player by the PFA Writers association. Geno’s had an outstanding year, and it’ll be interesting to see if he can maintain that performance next season.
A PFN report surfaced on Saturday evening around some common themes in the player exit interviews: “Several players were critical of LaFleur’s game planning and inability to make halftime adjustments. When it comes to Wilson, several players said the second pick of the 2021 NFL Draft is not the quarterback to lead the franchise moving forward — they feel the team should stick with Mike White or trade for a veteran.” PFN don’t have the best reputation for reliable news, so make of that what you will.
When the announcement came through that the Jets had hired Keith Carter as their offensive line coach and run game coordinator I was pretty happy.
Anyone who follows the NFL closely will know the Titans have had one of the best-rushing attacks over the last 5 years, and while a lot of that has to do with Derrick Henry, their blocking concepts deserve a lot of the credit as well.
Carter started his NFL career on Pete Carrol’s staff in Seattle as an offensive quality control coach, and his time with the Seahawks overlapped with Jets head coach Robert Saleh, which probably doesn’t help the “he hires his friends narrative”.
Carter also spent time with current Jets defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich in Atlanta, so there is a lot of familiarity with the coaching staff.
We’re going to mainly focus on his time with Tennessee where he was hired by Matt LaFleur who was the offensive coordinator for the Titans in 2018. LaFleur came from Atlanta and he had seen the Job Carter did there and decided to bring him over to Tennessee.
We’ll look at everything, but considering he’s been brought in as the run game coordinator we’ll start with the Titan’s success on the ground over the last 5 years.
In preparation for this article today I actually enrolled and completed the official “Keith Carter - Outside Zone Play, Action & Run Action Pass: The Titan Way” course, so you can’t say I’m not committed to trying to deliver some insights to the TJW audience, much to the annoyance of my extremely patient wife!
First of all, let’s just take a look at what the run offense produced in Tennessee over the last 5 years before we get into some of the conceptual aspects.
While you can never fully guarantee the influence that Carter had on these numbers, the one thing we can say is that Keith Carter knows what a successful run game looks like and 2022 was the first year where the Titans did not have a top-10 rushing offense in any category.
It’s also worth noting that in 2021, Derrick Henry was limited to 8 games, yet the Titans still had a top-10 rushing attack in terms of yards per game, rushing first downs, and touchdowns.
2022 was a very strange year, it wasn’t a bad year for the Titan’s run game with them just outside the top 10 in yards per game and touchdowns. But, it wasn’t as efficient or as dominant as we’ve seen over the years. In my mind, a lot of that can be attributed to the offensive line.
Heading into week one of the NFL season, the Titan’s offensive line looked like this:
LT - Taylor Lewan
LG - Aaron Brewer
C - Ben Jones
RG - Nate Davis
RT - Nicholas Petit-Frere
Aaron Brewer and Nicholas Petit-Frere were the only guys who managed to stay healthy through the year, with Brewer playing almost every snap and Frere appearing in 90% of all snaps. Nate Davis and Ben Jones only appeared in 65% of snaps and Taylor Lewan lasted just 64 snaps on the season.
Ben Jones is one of the best centers in football and it was noticeable when he was out of the lineup. It also didn’t help that Roger Saffold moved on to Buffalo this off-season, he was one of the better guards in football at generating movement and opening holes for Henry.
Todd Downing took over from Arthur Smith as offensive coordinator in 2021 and by most accounts, he kept the same offensive system in place. This is to say that in terms of the running game, the Titans were a heavy zone outfit.
They ran some outside zone.
They ran some split zone with outside and inside (pictured) reads.
Passing out of that inside zone condensed formation is also one of my favorite concepts. It works so often and I was surprised to not see the Jets use it more last season.
The Jets have already been running a version of the outside zone under Mike LaFleur, so if Nathaniel Hackett brings that within his playbook (he will), he already has an offensive line coach who has extensive knowledge of the system and players who have some experience with the concepts. Although I wasn’t a fan of the Hackett hire, pairing him with someone like Carter who was coaching a line that dominated opposing defenses in the run game (especially back in 2020 when he had the most talented line in his tenure) was a good idea.
Carter Coaching: There are no trail hands, both hands engage and both hands come at the same time. One on the breast plate, one in the armpit on man reach.
Although if you believe the PFN article highlighted in the Quick Throws section, people around the league aren’t quite sure: “some were extremely harsh on the hiring of Carter, and as one source told PFN on Saturday, it seems as if the Jets have a “death wish” with the hiring of both.”
Coach Carter has always said that he believes in the outside zone and among all the reasons, the most important is:
Creates space both horizontally and vertically. More than any other blocking scheme.
The foundation of the Carter model is effort and he picked that up from Pete Carroll when he was in Seattle. He said that was the first thing Pete Carroll asked all his coaches to relate to the players first and foremost: “If someone has a shitty effort play, we are on them constantly”
One important topic that Carter addressed in his coaching course was that while the technique is vitally important, it’s not the most important aspect that he relates to his linemen. Style of play is more important than technique, and that starts with your speed off the ball, your physicality, and the way you finish.
COACH CARTERS POINTS OF EMPHASIS
Speed off the ball
First meaningful contact
Drive block on an angle
Knock them off the spot
Play on their side of the LOS
I wanted to share a couple of Carter’s drills that put into practice some of the elements listed above.
First we’re going to start with the wave drills which is all about speed and drive, maintaining attachment through change of direction. Coach Carter expressed a desire here to not have a base but to keep the speed and drive going. That’s mainly on an outside zone run, but even on the inside zone they still preach keeping those feet churning forward but with an “athletic base”, slight difference but drive is absolutely one of the key things you should take away today, regardless of if it’s outside zone, inside zone or gap concepts.
Then a more traditional man reach drill which is about angle, hands and eye placement and drive off the line. The drill below is the most repped drill in the Coach Carter system, with him going through this at least twice a week through the season.
Then what you want to see is it work in a game situation, look at the LT here and the drive block on an angle, lower body, hand placement, everything. Practice makes perfect.
One thing that really stuck out from the course is the trust between the RB and the offensive line. The line can do its job but they need to trust that the running back will make the right decision. If the defender hits out, the back needs to come in, if the defender comes in, the back needs to hit out. Breece Hall showed consistency in his decision making which gives me confidence in the productivity of this offense going forward.
Below you have an example of a combo block with a 3 step read. Basically the guard powers off the line, once he sees the RT has secured his block he climbs to the second level.
Run-blocking-wise, I have no concerns about the impact that Carter will have. From the coaching clinic to the Titans film, it’s abundantly obvious that he will be a real asset in the run game.
In terms of pass protection, there are more unanswered questions.
From 2018 to 2022 the Titans were one of only 5 teams to have a sack allowed percentage of 8%+ (8.67%) and in 3 of the five years the team finished 28th or lower in terms of team pass-blocking rating according to PFF. The 25.2% pressure percentage allowed over the 5 years is also the 7th highest in all of football.
I have no doubt that the Jets envision being a run-first team, but if they want to win the ultimate prize, they’ll need to protect whoever the QB is at a much better rate than the Titans have over the last 5 years.
You also can’t write an article about Keith Carter without mentioning the comments of Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan who commented on Carter after he was fired:
“Keith and I have had a very up-and-down relationship, and I think it’s ended at a much higher point,” Lewan said. “When Keith first got there, the way he came in and the way he was trying to act towards everybody, like very disrespectful… very authoritative, but in a very like dictatorship-type of way.”
Having a good relationship with the players is key, you don’t have to be best friends but you do need them to respect and respond to you. It sounds as though Carter came in a little heavy-handed and then slowly earned their trust, saying their relationship ended on a “much higher point” is a good sign.
“I just wish he focused a little bit more on taking care of the older players,” Lewan added. “I think Ben got a little bit more of that towards the end, and then I kind of did this year. But those practices are hard and they wear on your body and they wear your tires out really fast and you could see it towards the end of the season sometimes,”
Lewan did go on to say that he believed Carter had done a good job overall and he definitely deserved another NFL gig, but maintenance is something we’ll need to watch.
Right now we don’t know who will be playing on the line, but we have AVT coming back from injury and we have Mekhi Becton coming back from two years’ worth of injuries, slowly building them up will be imperative to avoid injury, and with the Titans suffering a lot of injuries and the Jets being prone to injuries, this is something we need to monitor.
Speed, physicality, toughness and finish. Those are the four keywords when it comes to Keith Carter’s coaching philosophy. He’s a perfectionist and if he doesn’t see the effort the linemen are gonna hear about it, if they have some bad reps with sloppy techniques, they’re going to hear about it, but if they put something dominant on tape then they’re going to be praised as well.
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