Blueprints of the Final Four: What Can New York Jets Learn?

Cole Patterson examines the blueprints used by the NFL Conference Round Finalists and how it could be applied to the New York Jets.

It seems all too convenient, doesn’t it? The tried-and-true blood feud between Team Manning and Team Brady renewed on National Football’s second biggest stage. The decades old rivalry between the Bay and the Pacific Northwest looks to play out like a slobber-knocker of old. The Networks, Roger Goodell, and his legion of referee-minions couldn’t have planned it out better.

Well, take off your tin-foil caps and crawl out of your bunkers. Let’s be honest, if any of us really believed in some great football-fixing conspiracy we wouldn’t be watching and you most likely would not be reading this article. The truth is, the four teams that will be playing for Super Bowl dibs come next weekend share some very similar traits. Perhaps there is a blueprint that championship caliber teams follow that the New York Jets could follow to field a winner in the coming years.

Of the four teams entering the Conference Championships (Broncos, Seahawks, Patriots, 49ers) there seems to be two blueprints. The first blueprint would be the elite quarterback with an offense, defense, and scheme tailored to their strengths. The second would be the balanced team with a stout defense and efficient offense.

Elite Passer Blueprint: The Broncos and Patriots

  1. The Quarterback: It may be easier said than done (and some franchises seem to have all the Luck) but both the Patriots and Broncos have managed to arm themselves with elite arms. Brady and Manning are unquestionably the pinnacle of the quarterback position and make their whole team better. Both have mastered their craft, consistently throwing receivers open and forcing pre-snap mistakes.
  2. Customized Offense: You can praise Josh McDaniels, Mike McCoy, and Adam Gase till the cows come home but Brady and Manning are the ones calling the shots. With that in mind, both team’s de facto GMs – Elway and Belicheck – have tailored their offense to fit the quarterback. The talent at the Broncos skill positions is so profuse that you might mistake their squad for Joe Schmoe’s fantasy football roster. Many will point to Brady’s exodus of talent this offseason but, let’s be real, the man clearly has a type. No, not DeCaprio’s throw-away supermodels, but possession and slot receivers. Edelman, Amendola, and Gronkowski (the Patriot’s leading receivers) all have exceptional body control and a mastery of the route tree. They use these attributes to get open on every play and allow Brady to play the pitch-and-catch football he loves.
  3. Customized Defense: Before being paired with those dang spotlight stealing quarterbacks, Bill Belichick and John Fox were some of the NFL’s brightest defensive minds. With those brilliant noggins the two men have built defenses to help support Brady and Manning. The formula to beat one of these elite passers is to run the ball, milk the clock, and keep them off the field. However, more often than not, the will take advantage of this opportunity and take a lead. When this happens, the opposing team is forced to switch tactics and start slinging the rock. With this in mind, the defensive personnel and scheme are made to stop the pass. Pass rushers are at a premium and the linebackers and defensive backs have to be athletic and fast enough to keep up with opposing pass catchers. Outside of the massive exception of Vince Wilfork, the Patriots and Broncos defenses pretty much stick to this blueprint. The best example of this strategy may be the Colts defense from the Manning Era, featuring Freeny and Mathis.

Balance Blueprint: The Seahawks and 49ers

  1. Defense First: The defensive side of the ball is the identity of both teams. The unit sets the tone of the game and comes to play week in and week out. The front sevens sport elite level talent that are able to both stop the run and rush the passer. The secondaries routinely shut down the passing game and play an integral role in run support. Much like the offenses of Denver and New England, names like Willis, Smith (both), Bowman, Clemens, Wagner, Sherman, and Thomas sound like they belong on a Madden Fantasy roster, not just two teams.
  2. Ball Control Offense: To some, this label may seem insulting. Think about it though, Seahawks and Niner’s drives are not explosive. They are methodical. Gore averaged a healthy 4.1 yards per carry and Lynch at a 4.2 pace. They were the essence of consistency this season. Tate and Boldin, two very similar players, led the teams in receptions and yards. Both sport some of the most reliable hands in the game and made hay on intermediate routes. Kaepernick and Wilson threw only eight and nine interceptions respectively, displaying great awareness and decision making. Neither quarterback is a world beater, but with a solid supporting cast at the skill positions and protection from their offensive line, both have brought their teams to the next level.
  3. Management: Trent Baalke and John Schneider are the front office envy of the NFL. They managed to transform two middling teams into elite clubs in an incredibly short amount of time. Solid scouting and drafting, complimented by smart free agent spending, have made them the epitome of consistency. They built their respective teams with depth in mind and spread the talent throughout the roster. It seems like every time one star falls, another emerges (see Walter Thurmond III and Dan Skuta).

These formats seem to be the best ways to reach the ultimate goal. Many teams in the NFL have followed these blueprints to similar levels of success. The Packers and Colts seem to fit the Elite Passer Blueprint while the Panthers and Bengals follow the Balance Blueprint. Neither method is the be all and end all. Neither is without flaw. Yet, presumably, given their record of success, one or the other is a good place to start.

The New York Jets, as currently constituted, are already on the path of the Balance Blueprint. The defense is a safety or cornerback away from being elite. The offense desperately needs an infusion of skill position talent. Luckily, this offseason provides an opportunity to expedite the process.

With a potential starting quarterback in place the Jets can focus on arming him properly by taking a strong look at free agents like Golden Tate and James Jones and drafting a prospect like Eric Ebron or Marquise Lee. Adding one or two of these players, plus depth and potential players through the draft and lower-tier free agency, could give the offense an immediate boost.

With an already dominant front seven, the Jets can look to add talent to their struggling back end. Cornerback Alterraun Verner and Safties Jarius Byrd and TJ Ward highlight a deep free agent class of pass defenders. Even just one of these players could put this defense over the top.

Geno Smith throwing to Jeremy Kerley, Golden Tate and a rookie pass catcher with an elite defense to fall back on sounds a lot like the 49ers, Seahawks, and Panthers of 2013. Look for the Jets and John Idzik to follow this Balance Blueprint during the offseason as they continue their quest to build a perennial contender.



Author: Cole Patterson

Cole has attended American University in Washington DC and is currently completing a double major in history and global communications at Ramapo College in Northern NJ. He has served as an NFL Analyst for a local DC radio show, Fanatic Radio. He lives and dies with the New York Jets. Cole will help lead Jets coverage and analysis.

  • Lidman

    “The decades old rivalry between the Bay and the Pacific Northwest looks to play out like a slobber-knocker of old.”

    I didn’t realize a rivalry existed prior to last year, really.

    I think this is overcomplicated. Basically, you can win if you have

    -An all time great at QB, who’s ability to control the game, at the line of scrimmage, hides deficiencies they have in other areas. These deficiencies are a by product of the generally large cap figure the QB takes up.

    -An up and coming QB, who because he’s been drafted in the past couple of years, counts very little against your cap. This allows you to go out and more equally allocate your funds accross the rest of your football team.

    In the AFC, once Manning and Brady retire, it will be interesting to see if their front offices are able to rebuild without the presence of an all-time great QB. In the NFC, once these 2 young signal callers have to be extended, we’ll see if they, like Manning and Brady, can make up for the cap casualties that will ultimately be caused by their increased usage of their team’s salary cap.

  • glegly

    C’mon Lid, you don’t remember the classic AFC West v NFC West matchups where the Seahawks (back when they were in the AFC) played the Niners once every 4-5 years? They were BARNBURNERS!

  • KAsh

    This is too simple. Why are the Broncos and Patriots “Elite Passer” teams? Because they have elite passers. Why are the Seahawks and Niners “Balanced?” Because they do not have elite passers.

    When you get to the nuts and bolts of your argument, aren’t the Patriots a “Balanced” team? They have a great QB, but instead of surrounding him with weapons, they pump money and draft picks into the defense, while letting his most reliable weapons walk for downgrades from the junk yard. The defense has Wilfork, Meyo, Talib, Hightower, and most of Rutgers secondary (because Bill knows what his priorities are) and a ragtah bunch of guys on offense that include two lesser Welkers, two rookie receivers, a motley crew of castoffs at running back, and Gronk, who has know missed more games than he has played in the last year. The great QB maintains ball control and the coach is very harsh on fumblers, while at the same time the offense operates in short, steady gains. The management is extremely talented as they have fielded the most consistent Super Bowl contender for the past decade with cheap free agents and high draft picks.

    P.S. Where do the Giants fit into these models (two Super Bowls built on the deep ball and the pass rush)? Where do the Ravens fit in (middling offense and defense when they won last year)? Are the Rams a “Balanced Elite Passer” blueprint?

  • Dan in RI

    Nice analysis.

    I re-watched the last game of the season (Jets/Dolphins)a few days before watching the Seattle/Saints playoff game, and I thought the similarities between Geno’s game when he is on and Russell Wilson’s are really remarkable. If he learns not to turn the ball over–as he did over the last quarter of the season–Geno can become a very, very good quarterback.

    With a few more offensive weapons and a bit of help on the back end of the defense, next year could be really fun.

  • John X

    I’ll say this, the balanced teams have won three consecutive Super Bowls while the ultra-finesse teams are getting knocked off one by one. The blueprint has gotten away from those shared by NE, DEN, MIA, INDY, GB, DET, DAL, ATL, NO as they are consistently being beaten by the more balanced teams – SF, SEA, NYG, BAL, CAR and to a lesser extent SD and CIN. This is good news for the Jets. The league is adapting to the new pass-happy rules as balanced offenses coupled with strong defense are keeping these finesse teams off the field thereby neutralizing their advantages. Idzik recognizes this and is building a team that will combat this evil empire reaking of Arena football.

  • David

    Find a QB that doesn’t turn the ball over nearly as much as Geno and you would have been competing with New England and Denver for the #1 and #2 seeds in the AFC this year.

  • Lidman

    John X…

    If your QB takes up between 1/6 and 1/7 of your total cap space, it’s simply impossible to build a ‘balanced’ team, unless you’re drafting well every year (which nobody does). When I look at your ‘balanced’ teams list. Everyone of them, with the exception of the NYG, employs a QB that makes very little money, compared with the teams in the ‘finesse category’ (I don’t know why Miami is even included. The organization has 1 playoff appearance in the past 12 seasons). Luck doesn’t make a lot of money, but he’s also made the playoffs in each of his first 2 seasons on a team that went 2-14 before he got there.

    Take a look at GB. When they won the SB, in 2011, Rodgers was still very reasonably priced. That team had 15 guys go on season ending IR, yet still have the depth to have the 2nd best scoring defense in the league. Fast forward to 2 Sunday’s ago. Playing with a defense that was ill equipped to stop anyone, GB was still just a FG short in their playoff game v SF. When SF has to pay Kaepernick top tier QB money (which will be a big mistake..he’s a cog in a machine, not a guy who can win, consistently, bearing the brunt of the responsibility..just my opinion), they won’t be able to afford both Bowman and Willis. They won’t be able to afford all that DLine and OLine talent. Aaron Rodgers takes a beating, because GB can’t afford to pay top level guys on his line. So even GB, which never signs FA and builds from within (which is more cost effective) can’t consistently draft enough low cost talent, to offset the cost of the QB position. Look at Baltimore this year. Have to pay Flacco big money, lose Bolden, lose Kruger, lose playoffs.

    If Geno plays Tannehill-level football next year, and the NYJ get some more receiving weapons and spend to add a S and/or edge rusher, they’ll be in great shape to make a run with a ‘balanced’ team. The balance comes in cost structure.

  • Drew

    Lidman, you actually posted exactly the point I was going to try and make. I 100% agree with you.

    As important as it is to have an ‘elite’ QB, it is just as important not to overpay him. Look what happened when the Ravens payed Flacco, the Cowboys paid Romo, the Gmen paid Eli, and when the Jets paid Sanchez. It can be seen all over the league. Overpaying a QB can cripple a franchise.

    Tom Brady, as much as I hate him, only has a cap hit of $10 million a year! This allows that Pats to pay for a supporting cast. They pay to keep their talent (Wilfork, Solder, Gronk) and they pay to have depth.

    Peyton has always taken a huge portion of his teams cap space, which balances the playing field for everyone else. Luckily he is that good where he can still take his team this far.

    With the new CBA I expect the teams that ‘hit’ in the draft on a starting QB to have a small window of time win a Superbowl. Once they overpay that player, the window is closed. (If they are Peyton Manning good, they are the exception).

    Once Sanchez is off the books, the Jets are in such a good spot with Geno because we can pay for players to put around him (as long as we don’t overpay like we have in the past).

    Solid drafting now more important than ever because it provides talent at a low cost.

  • Lidman


    The point you make in your 2nd paragraph is easier said, than done. GMs/HC have a very short shelf life. So, in the Flacco example you make, while he isn’t worth the $/cap space Baltimore allocated to him, the demand/supply imbalance, at the QB position, forces GMs to pay these guys. Will be interesting to see the first GM to allow a ‘franchise level QB’ to leave, via FA, without having a real replacement. How long will that owner be patient?

    The new CBA certainly allows for teams to take some more risk/reward with 1st round picks, because it won’t ‘Jamarcus Russell’ you if you make a mistake on a QB.

  • David

    I think with any team, a little luck is involved too and the draft helps you out. For example, think about the two teams in the NFC Championship game: Their Franchise QB’s make a combined what, 1.8 million if that? The Seahawks have a “shut down” CB in Richard Sherman that they are lucky to be paying $700,000. That is where things go well and that is where the Jets have messed things up a bit over the years.

  • Lidman


    It’s a slow day at work, so I have time to argue/question. No doubt when you find an All-Pro or even Pro Bowl caliber player outside of round 1, it clearly affords you greater latitude in managing cap space.

    However, that’s not a strategy you can bank on, is it? These teams spend countless hours evaluating players. Taking out K and P, of the 25 1st team All-Pro this year, 12 were 1st rounders, 4 were 2nd rounders, 4 were 3rd rounders, 2 were 5th rounders and 2 were UFA. The large majority of the league’s best players are drafted high, the numbers tell us that.

    Sherman was a 5th rounder because he started, at Stanford, as a blue chip WR and requested to move to CB. Yes, the NYJ missed on him, but so did Seattle, in the 1st 4 rounds, as well as every other team.

    Finally, while they didn’t win a SB, the NYJ did give their fans exciting seasons in Rex’ first 2yrs. When you don’t win it big, it’s easy to criticize the cap killing moves made. However, I think you also need to ask, ‘if they didn’t take those roster risks would they have made 2 straight AFC Championship games?’

    If Seattle doesn’t win this year, they are likely going to have to reconstruct their roster. Earl Thomas and Sherman are likely going to have to be dealt with before the ’14 season. Combined they account for just under 6mm of cap space. After next year, Wilson and Bobby Wagner are up and they’re accounting for just under 2mm. Combined, the 4 of them are likely to command numbers that take up in the range of 35-40mm (and I think that is low). So, if they don’t get lucky, in the draft, the next couple of years, they could find themselves in a similar position the NYJ did in ’11. Lynch isn’t getting any younger. They don’t really have anyone you can say is a dominant threat, on the outside. Wilson, as solid as he’s been, hasn’t been able to carry the offense, on his own. Sure, he may be better than Sanchez, but it’s not as though he’s shown enough for us to believe he’ll reach the level of a Brees or Rodgers either.

    As for our NYJ, Harrison and Howard are both UFAs, who are producing more like 2nd/3rd rounders. Now Howard, will need to be paid something, but it’s not going to be commensurate with top RT and Harrison will be a value for at least another 2yrs. As I said above, if Geno can just progress to be Wilson, and they can add some WR/TE talent, and bring in a S or OLB, they could be in Seattle’s position sooner than we think.

  • Eddie

    Love this line, “No, not DeCaprio’s throw-away supermodels, but possession and slot receivers.” Aside from the laughs, I think there is an important point that might apply to the Jets even if they pursue the “balance” blue print over the “elite passer” model. The Jets have to find more offensive weapons, obviously, but also might want to tailor their signings to Geno’s style if they are going to commit to him for the future. Kerley’s athleticism might be a start, but we’ll need a lot more.