Much has been made of the New York Jets new look backfield for 2014. Chris Ivory put together a strong 2013 season, pushing 4.6 yards per carry. Enter Chris Johnson: an explosive playmaker with an unbroken string of 1,000 yard seasons. This tandem was expected to provide a formidable one-two punch out of the backfield. But the Jets added an unforeseen piece to the puzzle this offseason when they listed Bilal Powell as a starter along with the aforementioned Ivory and Johnson. What does Powell offer as the third head of this three headed monster?
Powell in 2013
Powell wasn’t expected to be much of a factor in 2013 either. John Idzik acquired fresh legs in Ivory and Mike Goodson. They were expected to provide a similar dynamic to that of Ivory and Johnson. However, due to suspension and injuries, Powell was forced into a starting role. Nobody knew exactly what to expect from the sophomore back but he performed with his opportunity.
Powell saw more touches than Ivory in the first six games of the season and a higher yards per carry in three. In week three Powell exploded against the Buffalo Bills with a 27 carry, 149 yard game; good for 5.5 yards per carry. He ended the season with 176 carries, only six less than Ivory.
Scouting Bilal Powell
Even with Ivory healthy, Powell continued to see a near equal share of the snaps in 2013. What did he provide that Ivory could not?
Powell excels as a pass protecting back. On many of his snaps Powell stayed in to block and displayed toughness and consistency. With the Jets dearth of pass blocking tight ends, Powell was relied on to assist the tackles and chip edge rushers. He proved to be a reliable last line of defense for the Jets quarterbacks.
Here Powell is lined up to the right of quarterback Geno Smith. Watch as he sets his feet and stun the unblocked outside rusher with a quick jab.
Powell actually saw 10.55% of the Jets pass attempts go his way in 2013; in the same range as LeSean McCoy, Knowshon Moreno, and Shane Vereen. When targeted Powell gained an average of 5.24 yards – more than Ray Rice or CJ Spiller. He also hauled in 34 of his 50 targets, once again displaying his dependability.
There are many examples of Powell providing a much needed outlet for his distressed quarterback. Here, Powell squeaks out of the backfield as Smith faces a heavy interior rush. Powell turns at the exact right moment to bail Smith out.
Here, Powell breaks free from the traffic at the line of scrimmage, runs with Smith on a forced bootleg, and takes the pass in the flat for thirty five yards:
The theme with Powell has been dependability. While he doesn’t have the explosiveness of his backfield counterparts, Powell brings a workman mentality to his job. Where Ivory and Johnson tend to be boom or bust in their production, Powell brings a steady yards per carry.
Most importantly is Powell’s lack of injury history. With Ivory’s habit of nagging injuries and Johnson’s surgically repaired knee, Powell’s normally clean bill of health will help him see the field. He will almost certainly provide relief for an ailing Ivory or resting Johnson at some point in the season.
Powell in 2014
One can safely expect Johnson to eat into Powell’s hearty number of passing down snaps from last season. Johnson adds a dimension of explosiveness in the pass and screen game that Powell simply does not have.
That being said, Powell proved last season that he deserves a role outside of “talented back up” in this offense. Johnson, Ivory, and Powell each provide a different element that Marty Mornhinweg will be sure to utilize.
Look no further than Mornhinweg and Brad Childress’ 2003 Philadelphia Eagles offense that went all the way to the NFC Championship game. Brian Westbrook, Correll Buckhalter, and Duce Staley provided the quintessential “Three-Headed Monster” that proved effective in the West Coast system.
The New York Giants found success with their own version of the “Three-Headed Monster.” Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward, and Ahmad Bradshaw, or “Earth, Wind, and Fire,” helped fuel the Giants offense to their 2007 Super Bowl. In 2008 both Jacobs and Ward surpassed the 1,000 yard mark.
More recently, the high octane New Orleans Saints offense (known more for passing than its ground attack) sustained itself off a three pronged attack of their own: Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles, and (our very own) Chris Ivory. This combination is reminiscent of what the Jets expect to field in 2014 featuring: Chris Ivory as Chris Ivory, Chris Johnson as Darren Sproles, and Bilal Powell as Pierre Thomas.
With the Jets fullback situation not being ideal (sorry T-Bo) one may expect a backfield combination similar to the wishbone, with Powell and Johnson bookending the quarterback. Because both can run, catch, and protect this formation would keep opposing defenses on their toes.
Here is an example from the 2013 season of a similar formation. The Jets show a three wide out set with Powell and Ivory split in the backfield:
In the end, there are numerous examples of Three-Headed attacks succeeding at the NFL level. The New York Jets have the personnel to accomplish it this year but whether they can execute it is still up in the air. Bilal Powell is vital to the result.