Todd Bowles likes to bring pressure right up the middle, and the Jets have the weapons—and the experience—to make it work
1. Ryan Fitzpatrick has become easy to overrate. Such is the result of the Jets’ and his stubborn contract talks dominating the news for so many months. Fitzpatrick is lucky the Jets didn’t decrease their offer of $12 million after it became apparent that the rest of the league was not eager to hire him. Nevertheless, he’s a Jet again, and both sides are better for it. But understand why Fitzpatrick’s market was so soft. He is one of the NFL’s most inconsistent veteran QBs. His accuracy can be all over the map. Worse yet, so can his decision-making. He’s a decent-armed QB blessed and cursed with a gunslinger’s mentality. Or, in other words, he’s Brett Favre but with a fraction of the talent.
2. Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey has always known what Fitzpatrick is, and to Gailey’s credit, he’s always tailored his offense to accommodate him. Gailey employs a lot of spread formations, which widen the field and help minimize the risks that Fitzpatrick takes. Wider space means fewer defenders near the rocket balls he throws. Spread sets also mean quicker dropbacks and route timing. That’s another way to regulate Fitzpatrick.
3. The addition of longtime Bears running back Matt Forte adds dimension to New York’s spread formations. Forte is a very deft receiver not just out of the backfield but also from the slot and, if it’s a shorter route, on the outside.
4. Last season, the Jets went with empty backfield formations on about 20% of Fitzpatrick’s dropbacks. Most of these were technically out of four wide receiver personnel, though Quincy Enunwa, with the way he went in motion and aligned tightly to the formation, was often a de facto tight end. By the end of the season, defenses were treating him as such. Still, Enunwa brings versatility, which is augmented by Forte’s arrival. Both players can go in motion and line up almost anywhere. Who do defenses put on these guys? Linebackers? Safeties? Backup corners?
5. For all the flexibility of New York’s passing game, its two most important receivers are fairly static in how they’re deployed. And that’s a good thing. Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker are excellent fits in their respective roles. Marshall is the X-iso receiver, meaning he plays on the weak side, usually out wide. Double-teaming him here can be costlier. Decker is the slot man (57 of his 80 catches last season came here). He is excellent at finding zone voids and burning linebackers over the middle. He’s also very good on motion and stack concepts.
6. Now that most of this Jets defense has had a year in Todd Bowles’s pressure-intensive defense, expect even more overload blitzes. Bowles likes to bring pressure right up the middle. Besides this being the shortest path to the quarterback, it’s the hardest area for a running back to pick up a blocking assignment. (Stepping up inside, the back must make sure he doesn’t incidentally invade the quarterback’s space.) Plus, guards and centers are usually athletically inferior to offensive tackles. It’s difficult for them to pick up a safety or linebacker who is racing in at full speed. And it’s especially difficult against Bowles’s methods, where there can be two or even three defenders racing in.
7. When you blitz as aggressively as Bowles does, you need corners who can hold up one-on-one. Despite a midseason slump in 2015, 31-year-old Darrelle Revis is still up to the task. Expect him to continue shadowing No. 1 receivers outside. If Revis follows a receiver inside before the snap, then it’s man coverage. The only thing he does not do well is play zone from the slot. The Jets know this and craft their coverages accordingly.
8. It was surprising the way Muhammad Wilkerson’s long-term contract seemed to all of the sudden come together, but it wasn’t surprising that it did come together. The whole idea of drafting players, especially first-rounders, is to find guys who can become what Wilkerson has become. In other words, to find superstars. Wilkerson, with his long arms, bendability, raw strength and athletic burst, is the best pure defensive lineman in the league not named J.J. Watt.
9. Wilkerson’s running mate, Sheldon Richardson, is an interesting entity. Blessed with the same explosive traits as Wilkerson (just out of a slightly less imposing frame), Richardson became much more of a movable chess piece last season, relocating from his usual defensive tackle spot to outside linebacker, defensive end and even an inside roving joker. Expect to see more of that, as the Jets don’t have any natural resources off the edge.
10. The Jets’ first-round selection of Ohio State’s Darron Lee revealed a lot about today’s NFL. Essentially, Lee is a sub-package linebacker—a la Deone Bucannon, who played dime ’backer for Bowles in Arizona. Lee, at 232 pounds, is stouter than Bucannon (220 pounds), but there’s still a risk with putting that light of a frame in the run box. New York’s defensive line offsets much of that risk, though. (Especially given how many “bear fronts” Bowles uses with his D-line in order to condense the inside trenches.) The benefit of a player like Lee: he brings speed and dimension to blitz packages while also having the athletic wherewithal to cover tight ends and even scat backs.
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