Ryan Fitzpatrick, receiver combo driving New York Jets' offense


The New York Jets' defense was expected to fuel a playoff run in Todd Bowles' first season at the helm, but it has been the solid contributions of a blue-collar offense that has Gang Green in position to nab a postseason berth with four games remaining on the schedule. With New York heading into a pivotal Week 14 matchup with the Tennessee Titans, I thought it was a good time to dig into the All-22 Coaches Film, to see how the Jets' offense has quietly become the catalyst of their playoff run.

Here are three observations after studying the tape:

1) Ryan Fitzpatrick and Chan Gailey are a perfect match.

Matching quarterback to scheme is one of the biggest challenges facing offensive coordinators around the NFL. Play designers will craft route concepts around the quarterback's strengths to give him the best chance of succeeding against the complex tactics defensive coordinators employ to disrupt the rhythm and timing of the passing game.

In New York, the marriage between Fitzpatrick and Gailey has given the Jets the ability to sneak into the playoffs behind a red-hot offense that's beginning to create headaches for opponents. The Jets have scored 28 touchdowns in 41 red-zone drives -- a red-zone success rate of 68.3 percent, the best mark in the NFL. In addition, the Jets rank 11th in scoring offense (24.6 points per game) and 10th in total offense (365.3 yards per game).

Those numbers won't necessarily put Gang Green's offense in the same class as some of the most explosive units in football, but they do represent a drastic improvement for a group that languished near the bottom of the charts in most offensive categories in 2014.

I came away from my study of the All-22 Coaches Film believing the Jets' offensive success stems from Gailey's ability to build game plans around Fitzpatrick's talents as a quick-rhythm passer. The 11th-year pro is completing 60.1 percent of his passes with a 22:11 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and he's posting the second-highest passer rating of his career (88.1) directing an offense that features a host of empty and spread formations.

From a schematic perspective, the utilization of empty formations in particular creates clearer passing lanes for the veteran. By spreading five eligible receivers across the field in various 3 x 2 alignments, the Jets are able to force defenses to declare their intentions (blitz or cover), which allows Fitzpatrick to make quick pre-snap reads and play aggressively from the pocket. In addition, using quick routes from empty formations neutralizes the pass rush (the ball comes off before the pass rush can collapse the pocket) and allows Fitzpatrick to target a favorable matchup on the perimeter.

In the Jets' Week 12 win over the Dolphins, the Jets again used an empty formation to create a big-play opportunity on a quick-rhythm pass. In the play below, Gang Green is aligned in a 3 x 2 formation, with Brandon Marshall positioned as the slot receiver on the left. He is running a corner as part of a "smash" concept (snag-corner), with running back Bilal Powell executing a snag route. When Fitzpatrick reads man coverage on the outside, he immediately targets Marshall on the corner for a 17-yard touchdown (TO VIEW THE PLAY, SCROLL LEFT TO RIGHT ON THE IMAGE BELOW):

Fitzpatrick's combination of experience and skills is ideally suited for a game plan that features an extensive amount of empty formations. The veteran has logged enough snaps to quickly decipher coverage at the line when eligible receivers are spread across the field in various 3 x 2 alignments (the linebacker opposite the running back on the outside equals man coverage; cornerback opposite the running back equals zone coverage). In addition, the 3 x 2 alignment makes it easy to identify possible blitzes when six defenders are within the box. Given the hot routes that are frequently built into the quick-rhythm concepts, Fitzpatrick rarely runs the risk of getting hit, based on his ability to identify and target the correct receiver against the blitz. Thus, it is not a surprise the Jets have only allowed 17 sacks on the season (second-least in the NFL) and kept their starting quarterback out of harm's way.

In the play below, from the Jets' win over the New York Giants in Week 13, the Jets motion Bilal Powell into the slot to create an empty formation. The motion provides Fitzpatrick with a chance to decipher coverage before the snap. He sees the linebacker follow Powell across the field, indicating man coverage. The Jets have the tunnel screen called to Powell, which is the perfect call for man coverage. Powell works back to the middle behind the blocks of three offensive linemen, creating a huge crease between the hashes. With a clear path to the end zone ahead, Powell waltzes in for a 25-yard score (TO VIEW THE PLAY, SCROLL LEFT TO RIGHT ON THE IMAGE BELOW):

Later in that game, the Jets are aligned in an empty formation, with Eric Decker positioned as the WR3, as you can see in the play below. He is instructed to run a "dig" (12-yard square in) behind the under route from Kenbrell Thompkins. Fitzpatrick will read the reaction of the linebacker and make the throw based on the high-low read. When Jonathan Casillas creeps up to attack Thompkins, Fitzpatrick delivers a dart to Decker for a 16-yard gain (TO VIEW THE PLAY, SCROLL LEFT TO RIGHT ON THE IMAGE BELOW):

With Gailey also using a number of concepts (bootlegs and the quick game) designed to get Fitzpatrick a few layups in the passing game, the veteran is playing like a franchise quarterback for the Jets.

2) Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker are one of the top WR duos.

Every game, all season

There are a number of terrific pass-catching combos in the league -- including the Steelers' Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant, the Broncos' Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, the Lions' Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate and the Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd -- but there isn't a better one-two punch than Marshall and Decker.

That statement might shock some observers who haven't paid attention to the Jets receivers this season, but the numbers jumped off the stat sheet as I started researching their impact. Marshall and Decker are tied for first in the NFL in combined receptions (142) and touchdowns (18), while also ranking third in receiving yards (1,863). Those numbers certainly represent tremendous production for an offense that ranks 15th in passing yards.

From a scouting perspective, Marshall and Decker are ideal complements on the perimeter. Marshall serves as the Jets' WR1, commanding most of the defense's attention as the focal point of the passing game. He is a big-bodied pass catcher with long arms and superb receiving skills. Marshall expands the strike zone with his size, strength and range, which makes it easy to for Fitzpatrick to target him on fade routes along the boundary against one-on-one coverage. This is particularly effective in the red zone, when teams are willing to leave defenders in isolated coverage on the outside.

In the video below, from the Jets' Week 12 matchup against the Miami Dolphins, Fitzpatrick targets Marshall on a back-shoulder fade against Brent Grimes. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Marshall easily boxes out and snags the "alley-oop" over the top of the undersized Pro Bowl defender:

Fitzpatrick seems increasingly comfortable targeting Marshall on 50-50 balls -- and the perennial Pro Bowler, who already has seven 100-yard games in 2015, is on pace to finish with the sixth 100-catch season of his career.

Decker, a sixth-year pro, is a big-bodied playmaker with strong hands and extraordinary ball skills. He is an ideal "chain mover" on the perimeter, exhibiting terrific route-running skills. Decker's ability to win against one-on-one coverage (man or press) makes him a reliable option for Fitzpatrick to target in key situations. The 6-foot-3, 214-pound Decker has converted 71.2 percent of his receptions into first downs, which is critical to the Jets' success on third down. While looking at the All-22 Coaches Film, I've been most impressed with his versatility as the Jets' WR2. Decker will align on the outside as a "Z" (flanker), but also play as the "F" or "H" (slot) in spread formations. Given his ability to win outside the numbers or between the hashes, Decker has been a vital contributor to the passing game.

In the video clip below, from the Jets' Week 10 tilt against the Buffalo Bills, the Jets position Decker as the WR3 in an empty formation. He runs a seam down the hash against man coverage to exploit the middle of the Bills' two-deep coverage. Fitzpatrick sees Decker working free down the hash and delivers a dart for a 31-yard touchdown:

Few expected the Jets' offense to lead Gang Green on a playoff run, but the Marshall-Decker combination is quietly creating chaos for opponents unable to match up with the big-bodied tandem on the perimeter.

3) Chris Ivory's blue-collar running skills add balance to the Jets' offense.

Plenty of attention deservedly heads in the direction of Fitzpatrick, Marshall and Decker -- but Ivory has been one of the offense's unsung heroes this season. The sixth-year pro has powered the Jets with a hard-nosed running style that allows the team to jump into "grind" mode in the middle of games. Ivory excels at finding creases between the tackles, exhibiting balance and body control through arm tackles. He has amassed 24 runs of 10-plus yard runs (fifth-most in the NFL) in 195 rushing attempts, which speaks volumes about his ability to find seams on inside runs.

While I was studying the All-22 Coaches Film, Ivory's balance, body control and lateral cutting ability jumped off the screen. He displays an uncanny ability to execute multiple moves in succession while also flashing exceptional strength running through contact.

In the video clip below, from the Week 12 win over Miami, Ivory not only runs through a hit at the line of scrimmage, but he powers through multiple tacklers on the way to a 31-yard score:

New York's offense leans on a power-based running game to close out contests, and Ivory's workmanlike running style gives the Jets a physical dimension that's needed to win down the stretch. Given the team's 5-0 record when Ivory logs 20 or more carries, the Jets would be wise to continue relying on the 6-foot, 222-pounder in the pivotal AFC matchups that dot their schedule the next few weeks.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.



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