New York Jets Second Half Offensive Deep Dive

Joe Caporoso with a deep dive on the New York Jets offense heading into the second half of the season

The New York Jets have put together a surprisingly productive nine games on offense this season. No, the statistical numbers aren’t impressive (11th in rushing yards, 26th in passing yards, 21st in total offense and 27th in points per game) but remember what their personnel is. This a team with a rookie second round quarterback, an extremely beat up and thin group of tight ends and receivers, a running back group that is just now rounding into shape and a slightly above average at best offensive line. When they’ve been bad, they’ve been really bad which has hurt their statistics but they answered the bell for 30 points in upset wins over Atlanta and New England, along with 27 points in last week’s upset over New Orleans. What have we seen so far and what can we expect over their final seven game playoff push?

After the New Orleans game, many people are rushing to the conclusion that the Jets are ready to embrace their 2009 formula. The Jets are going to turn Geno Smith into game manager rookie Mark Sanchez, have him throw less than 20 passes per game and hand the football off like crazy. I wouldn’t bet on that. Unlike previous seasons, the Jets are game plan specific and have an offensive coordinator who has an idea of how to utilize his shifting personnel on a weekly basis. By halftime against the Saints, the Jets were without their top two tight ends (Winslow, Cumberland) and top two wide receivers (Holmes and Kerley), while relying on a group of pass catchers who had all recently signed.

Yes, it is encouraging to see Chris Ivory get rolling the past few weeks. If he can stay healthy (a major if), he can be a legitimate lead back and handle 20+ carries per week. Bilal Powell is a more than competent backup who can chip in 8-12 touches per week. A strong running game is a young quarterback’s best friend but I don’t expect Marty Mornhinweg to simply dial up 35-45 handoffs each week regardless of the opponent or situation. I would look for a big final seven games from Ivory in the lead back role but there is still going to weeks where he isn’t the focal point of the Jets offensive attack.

As for Powell, the Jets need to get their screen game going again and he can be a big part of that. He also can help keep Ivory healthy by continuing to be productive with his touches. There is no reason to give Ivory 30 carries in a game unless he is really rolling, Powell can adequately replace him for a few series each half. The Jets need both backs healthy and fresh down the stretch run.

In the passing game, the return of Santonio Holmes from a hamstring injury and Kellen Winslow Jr from his ALLERGY suspension boosts the talent and depth of Geno Smith’s receiving options. We are anticipating bad news about Jeremy Kerley which is a major blow, particularly on third downs but this team has done a nice job with the “next man up” this season.

Due to his continued struggles and the emergence of David Nelson, I would not be surprised to see Stephen Hill’s role continued to be minimized with the return of Holmes. Look for Nelson to still substantial time at the “X” spot (split end) in the Jets offense, working as the team’s primary possession receiver. Holmes can bump back into his traditional “Z” role (flanker), where the team’s top playmaker generally spends most of their time. On third downs, the Jets can put Greg Salas in the slot with Holmes and Nelson on the outside, or bump Holmes or Nelson into slot, where both have been productive before and put Stephen Hill on the outside. Hill may actually play better with a more limited role as he still has unique speed and size. Josh Cribbs should stay in his current role as a gadget/Wildcat player, who sees occasional work for wide receiver screens.

Salas will be a particularly intriguing player to watch going forward, especially with an expected absence of Kerley. We know Morhinweg liked his skill set in Philadelphia and he didn’t hesitate to throw him right into the action last week.

At tight end, Zach Sudfeld played well against the Saints and has a good skill set to be a productive receiving tight end. Mornhinweg has plenty of options here as both Winslow Jr and Jeff Cumberland are expected back in week 11 and the Jets still have Konrad Reuland on the roster (do not be surprised if he is cut shortly). Winslow Jr and Sudfeld can present match-up problems for defenses in a two tight end set, while Cumberland is going to have to battle back for a more prominent role. After his big showing against Atlanta, he has struggled to consistently catch the football and get open. He could very well end up just being a situational/role player down the stretch. Cumberland is a former college wide receiver who still has good size and speed, so Mornhinweg could split him out in certain formations instead of having him be an in-line tight end.

It will be good for Smith to have veterans like Winslow and Holmes to work with during this playoff push. He got reps with them all summer and will likely lean on them in critical situations going forward. Smith also appears to have already built a high comfort level with Nelson, who is a savvy veteran that has a knack for making plays.

On the offensive line, the Jets have got a strong season from Austin Howard who is developing into a consistently solid right tackle. Nick Mangold has been good but is no longer an elite player at his position. Willie Colon has proven to be a smart free agent signing, despite his struggles with penalties, he has brought an attitude to the unit and been a quality starter. Brian Winters is going to keep having ups and downs as a rookie starter but seems to have enough talent to be a viable option to start opening day in 2014. D’Brickashaw Ferguson is having a disappointing season, which is surprising considering his strong 2012. Hopefully, he will improve these final seven games. On the whole, the Jets have a slightly above average offensive line right now.

As always, the overall success of this offense the rest of the season will be most dependent on the quarterback. Geno Smith is going to continue to have ups and downs. The key is that when he has an off week that he still manages to avoid turnovers, similar to the New Orleans game. Smith struggled all afternoon but had no fumbles and no interceptions, the Jets can weather a bad passing performance but they can’t weather multiple turnover games. Again, I wouldn’t bet on the Jets completely relegating Smith to the game manager role. There are still going to be weeks when Mornhinweg dials up an aggressive, pass heavy game plan. Smith is talented enough to handle that type of attack, he just needs to be smart with the football.

The Jets need to keep utilizing Smith’s mobility as well, particularly in the red-zone. He has three rushing touchdowns through nine games and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him finish with six to eight this year.

With the return of Holmes and Winslow, and the mid-season additions of Salas, Sudfeld and Nelson getting more comfortable with the offense in each passing week, the needle is pointing up for the Jets offense. They are going to be challenged the final seven weeks, as they face an elite Carolina defense on the road, an always feisty Ravens defense on the road and host a very good Browns defense. There is also two games left against the Miami Dolphins Three Rings Circus, who have a talented defense despite the Big Top Tent in their locker room.

Keep in mind at this time last year, we had Tony Sparano calling plays for Mark Sanchez, Shonn Greene and Mardy Gilyard…progress.

Author: Joe Caporoso

Joe Caporoso is the Owner and EIC of Turn On The Jets. His writing has been featured in the New York Times, Huffington Post, MMQB and AdWeek. Caporoso played football his entire life, including four years at Muhlenberg as a wide receiver, where he was arguably the slowest receiver to ever start in school history. He is the VP of Social Media at Whistle Sports

  • mike

    i spent the bye week watching the whole jets season so far on game rewind, and i’m encouraged at how the offense has improved steadily (except for the bengals game) despite losing key pieces almost every week. nelson and cribbs have been huge additions, they’ve each bailed geno out in very important ways, nelson making key grabs and cribbs giving the team much better field position. it’s really too bad that goodson got hurt and then indicted. he brought much needed speed out of the backfield and looked like he could’ve been a solid contributor.
    geno hasn’t lost a fumble since tennessee, he looks like he’s learned to be more careful with the ball, even as he’s scrambling more often. a few of his picks were miscommunications with his targets, and on a few he failed to read the defense he was given, but most of them have been just bad overly-aggressive decisions and poor situational football. hopefully that can be corrected going forward.
    the o line has been a jeckyll and hyde situation in both the run and the pass game. things have gelled a little bit since vlad the terrible got benched, but there are still too many free rushers and too many running plays just poorly blocked. winters has made plenty of mistakes, but he plays physical and with a healthy amount of confidence. overall i think he’ll be a solid guard for the foreseeable future. brick finding his old form would be a huge boost.
    generally it looked to me like a mixed bag on all fronts, but you’re right joe, and i actually think you understate the progress that’s been made. there is enormous improvement between this year’s offense and last year’s offense. there are big gains, lots of third and long conversions, and just so much more dynamism and competence. granted the 2012 jets ran the worst offense i have ever seen in my life, but regardless, the progress is hard to overlook.
    man, bye weeks are boring.

  • KAsh

    I also do not believe that Geno will be a simple game manager because that is not what Mornhinweg likes to work with. But the trend concerns me.

    If you forget Atlanta and everything that came before it – this should not be that hard as this was more than a month ago – Geno has been downright pedestrian. He has shown next to nothing in the last month. He has 1 touchdown and 5 INTs in the last four games. His average yards per attempt has dropped from nearly 10 yards in the three games against the Bills, Titans, and Falcons to 6.1 yards in the four games since. Shots down the field used to be his bread and butter; now they have disappeared in place of screen passes and short slants and crossing routes to Kerley and Nelson. And this would not be as upsetting if his completion percentage went up, but it went down, 66.2% vs. 55.2% for the same time frames.

    These drops have coincided with the absenses of Holmes and Winslow. Let’s hope their return will bring back the Geno of a month ago. But the Geno of the past four weeks has been more tentative and risk-averse. He was awesome throwing the ball against the Falcons; he has not impressed lately.

    People have been harping on too much about holding down turnovers, praising the lack of interceptions and managing the game. We should be encouraging him to pick apart defenses and throw touchdowns and learn from interceptions. We are sapping his confidence by taking the ball away from him; we should boost it if we do not want to stunt his growth (and need to replace him in three years).

    I expect the Jets to pick up their aerial attack over the last seven weeks. We will be facing some suspect secondaries in the Raiders, Ravens, and Bills. I hope that if we are averaging three yards per carry in those games, we do not hold Geno back.

  • David

    The Jets need to be in that “What aspect of our offense is doing the best right now” week in and week out. If Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell are running the ball well (like the New Orleans game, then keep running it down the opposition’s throats.

    If Geno is passing well, making smart decisions, and not turning the ball over (like the Atlanta game), then let him pass.

    The Jets are never going to be an offensive powerhouse in the mold of teams like Denver. So, use the aspect of your offense that is doing the best at that particular point in time and keep doing it until the opponent stops you.

  • Angel

    @KAsh – Once again, right on brotha. Geno has been below average lately but I think you can pin that on the injuries. I just hate to hear all the blind praise heaped on this guy… Personally, I can handle the ‘excuses’ about Holmes, Winslow, Cumberland and now Kerley being hurt affecting his performance… not to mention the inconsistent O-line. Those of you worshipping at the altar of Geno need a reality check.

    Also, this up coming stretch of games does not look nearly as “easy” as it did at the beginning of this season. We have some TOUGH opposition ahead. I think the polyannas are in for a rude awakening.

    That being said, if the Jets show improvement, there is no reason to believe they can’t make the playoffs. If they play as the have been playing–this is an 8 – 8 team.

  • Lidman

    Think Mangold and ‘Brick have certainly played below their standards. I also think have Vlad there, for 4 games, and now Winters for 5, has had an impact on their performance. Both of those guys have had some nice moments, but overall they’ve been sub-standard. Geno also holds the ball too long (to be expected) and I think he should ‘tuck it and go’ more often.

    Look, if this is a playoff team, they need to improve the offense over 2nd half, in all phases. I think losing, at Carolina, is likely. I think beating Oak and Cleveland, at home are MUSTS. So, after that, they need to win 3/4 from Buff, Miami (2x) and Baltimore (3 of which are on road) in order to lock themselves a playoff spot. None of the 3 have a winning record. None of the 3 have an elite level QB/passing game. NYJ boast the best unit (their D) of any of these teams. Winning teams..playoff teams…win these games.