NY Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur has been the subject of significant criticism over the last few weeks following the team's late-season collapse, spurred on primarily by a struggling offense.
The Jets lost their fifth consecutive game on Sunday while extending their touchdown-less streak to a whopping eight quarters. They've scored just four touchdowns over the course of the last five weeks.
Despite the offense's ineptitude, head coach Robert Saleh defended his assistant coach on Monday. Saleh urged fans and reporters to look at the bigger picture and even compared LaFleur's situation to the one he was in during his time with the San Francisco 49ers a few years ago.
Saleh's defenses ranked 25th and 28th in the NFL in his first two years in San Francisco before the unit finally found its groove in 2019, thanks in part to an influx of talented players. Saleh sees similarities between his situation and the one involving LaFleur and the Jets' offense.
"I've been in (Mike) LaFleur's shoes. It would've been very easy for Kyle (Shanahan) to fire me, very easy to say, 'You know what? We went 4-12, you're the scapegoat, get the heck out of the building.' But to his credit, we sat down ... he committed to me, and the rest is history."- Robert Saleh
NY Jets head coach Robert Saleh defended Mike LaFleur on Monday
The excuses and justifications for the offense's struggles are obvious. The Jets received likely the worst quarterback play in the NFL this season, and you could certainly argue that was the case last year as well.
Jets quarterbacks have ranked dead-last in quarterback rating and completion percentage in both of LaFleur's years as the team's offensive coordinator.
On top of that, the Jets have been forced to overcome a slew of offensive line injuries and the loss of their best offensive player, Breece Hall. It's difficult to properly assess LaFleur's performance with those variables.
Of course, he isn't free from criticism either. LaFleur has taken some heat for Zach Wilson's lack of development and for the team's struggles in the red zone. There are valid concerns.
While there's been some speculation that LaFleur could be fired and rendered a scapegoat, it seems more likely that he returns next season. That said, his seat certainly warmed up over the final portion of 2022.
Saleh has known LaFleur since the latter was a teenager. He's best friends with LaFleur's brother and the younger LaFleur was the first assistant Saleh brought with him to New York after he was hired as the team's new head coach.
There's a history between the two, and Saleh is known to be loyal to his staff. However, if the results on the field don't improve, the Jets might be forced to make some changes.
For now, Robert Saleh is shielding his young assistant from criticism, but that tactic won't work forever. The Jets' offense must improve in 2023.