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