The Jets built a po­tent of­fense the ‘wrong’ way. Is it enough for the play­offs?

The Washington Post Sunday - - WASHINGTONPOST.COM/SPORTS - BY CHASE STU­ART Chase Stu­art writes about the his­tor­i­cal and sta­tis­ti­cal side of foot­ball at his site, foot­ballper­spec­tive.com.

The Jets are 4-1, one of seven teams this year with zero or one loss. New York is one of the sur­prise teams of the 2015 sea­son, and while the de­fense de­serves much of the credit, the Jets also rank sev­enth in points scored and eighth in to­tal yards. But per­haps the most in­ter­est­ing part of the Jets’ of­fense is the unique way it was con­structed.

The Jets have used seven con­sec­u­tive firstround draft picks on de­fense, and many of the re­cent of­fen­sive picks have failed. New York has con­structed the of­fense in a man­ner that runs counter to what’ s usu­ally con­sid­ered the“right” way to build a fran­chise. Rather than build­ing the foundation from within, the Jets have pieced to­gether this of­fense by ac­quir­ing other teams’ vet­er­ans.

Dur­ing the 2013 draft, the Jets sent the 109th over­all pick (a fourth-rounder) to New Or­leans for run­ning back Chris Ivory. Be­fore last sea­son, New York went af­ter the top wide re­ceiver on the free agent mar­ket, sign­ing Eric Decker to a five-year, $36.5 mil­lion dol­lar con­tract. Some crit­i­cized the Jets for pay­ing so much money to a No. 2 wide re­ceiver, but the Ivory and Decker ac­qui­si­tions were two of the high points of John Idzik’s ten­ure as gen­eral man­ager.

Then, this past off­sea­son, New York traded the 142nd pick (fifth round) to Chicago for Bran­don Mar­shall and a sev­enth-round pick. A day later, the Jets traded a late-round pick to Hous­ton for quar­ter­back Ryan Fitz­patrick. Now Fitz­patrick is the team’s lead­ing passer, Ivory the lead­ing rusher, and Decker and Mar­shall the two lead­ing re­ceivers.

It’s rare for a team’s top passer, top run­ning back, and top two weapons in the pass­ing game to all come from other teams. In fact, the 2015 Jets will be­come just the sec­ond team in the past 10 years to meet those cri­te­ria, and just the 12th since 1970. The ques­tion now is whether this core can sus­tain this high level of play.

Fitz­patrick, Ivory, Mar­shall and Decker are all off to ex­cel­lent starts. Fitz­patrick ranks fifth in ESPN’s To­tal QBR, Ivory leads the league in rush­ing yards per game, Mar­shall is third in re­ceiv­ing yards per game and Decker has caught a touch­down pass in ev­ery game he’s played. But all four were avail­able only be­cause their pre­vi­ous teams deemed them ex­pend­able, while most other teams didn’t ex­press much in­ter­est.

Fitz­patrick had his best sta­tis­ti­cal sea­son in 2014, rank­ing six thin ad­justed net yards per pass at­tempt, but the jour­ney­man quar­ter­back had a 37-56-1 record as a starter for five dif­fer­ent teams prior to 2015. As a re­sult, the Tex­ans let him go. Mean­while, the Jets have sur­rounded him with

ta­lented wide re­ceivers, a strong run­ning game and a great de­fense, and he’s proven ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing strong num­bers in that en­vi­ron­ment. Other than an ugly game (for both him and the team) against the Philadel­phia Ea­gles, the se­cret maybe that Fitz­patrick has gen­er­ally been placed in fa­vor­able sit­u­a­tions: In New York’s four wins, only 18 of his pass at­tempts came when the team was trail­ing.

Ivory ex­celled in New Or­leans as the power back in a pass­ing of­fense. He came cheaply, how­ever, be­cause of dura­bil­ity con­cerns. Those is­sues were not un­founded—Ivory missed all of train­ing camp with the Jets in 2013 and missed the Ea­gles game ear­lier this sea­son — but when healthy, he dis­plays all the skills he flashed while with the Saints and more.

Ivory is one of the game’ s best power back son a per-play ba­sis, ca­pa­ble of break­ing both tack­les and long runs. He has a ca­reer av­er­age of 4.8 yards per carry but is fi­nally re­ceiv­ing the work­load of a star back.

The Bron­cos were never go­ing to be able to re­tain Decker given the salary cap dol­lars al­lo­cated to the rest of the of­fense. Some teams shied away from him, con­cerned he was the prod­uct of play­ing in a Pey­ton Man­ning of­fense and op­po­site su­per­star wide re­ceiver De­mary­ius Thomas.

But in 19 games with the Jets, he’s caught 92 passes for 1,201 yards and nine touch­downs. Given that New York is one of the most run­heavy teams in the NFL—in those 19 games, the Jets have at­tempted 580 passes, roughly one sea­son’s worth of throws for an av­er­age team — that makes Decker a more-than-ca­pa­ble start­ing wide re­ceiver in any of­fense.

Mar­shall was only avail­able to the Jets af­ter he wore out his wel­come in Chicago, which came af­ter he wore out his wel­come in Mi­ami, which came af­ter he wore out his wel­come in Den­ver. But first-year Coach Todd Bowles has been able to get the best out of Mar­shall with lim­ited dis­trac­tions. Mar­shall just be­came the first Jets re­ceiver since Hall of Famer Don Maynard in 1969 to record four con­sec­u­tive 100-yard re­ceiv­ing games.

The Pack­ers and Ben­gals are both un­de­feated and have each built their teams largely through the draft. That model has un­der­stand­ably been praised as the best way to con­struct a ros­ter, but the Jets have shown that there is more than one way to build an of­fense. Now, will it con­tinue to thrive over the re­main­der of the sea­son?

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