Last week we broke down the film on New York Jets new addition Brandon Marshall. Today, we are going to look at his counterpart in the starting lineup, Eric Decker, who is about to enter his second season with the team. In his debut year, Decker battled nagging injuries, horrific quarterback play and suspect playcalling en route to 74 receptions, 962 yards and 5 touchdowns. Let’s review how he succeeded last year, where he struggled and how he will fit into next year’s offense…
Decker hit 63 yards or more in 8 of the 14 complete games he played in for the Jets last year, finishing particularly strong in the final quarter of the season with a 89, 100 and monster 221 yard game in December. In seven games last season he had a reception of at least 24 yards, despite leaving a handful of big plays on the field. Decker is a sound route runner, who is an underrated athlete with very good size. He has more big play capability than he is given credit for but can struggle at times with consistency catching the football and creating separation on top flight cornerbacks. Regardless, Decker brought a solid, consistent level of production in a dreadful offense throughout 2014. He should be poised for a bigger year in 2015 with an All-Pro caliber receiver opposite him from the beginning of the season and hopefully a more logical offensive system in place.
The Big Plays/The Production
Putting Decker in movement pre-snap and aligning him closer to the formation helped lead to a good amount of his receptions in the intermediate and deep passing game. He has an excellent ability to lose his defender or find a soft spot in the zone when navigating across the field. On the three plays below, he either motioned in towards the line of scrimmage or began aligned within a yard or two of the tight end before the ball was snapped. When working across the field the field or on his out-cut, he was able to create separation by picking the perfect path to take behind linebackers and in front of the safeties.
Decker’s foot speed and strength is an underrated part of his game, which allows him to handle press coverage. On the first touchdown, he is again aligned tight to the formation, this time off the tackle instead of the tight end. On the second touchdown, he is able to beat Sam Shields from a traditional Z split. Both plays he is able to use a hard stick move to the inside, followed by a swim move to the outside to create the necessary separation.
Finally, one of his biggest strengths is his route precision. He shows tremendous patience on the first route, setting the cornerback up, sitting in the chair at the top of his route and showing strong hands by reaching back for an errant Mike Vick pass. On the bottom, he is able to get just enough space on now teammate Darrelle Revis for two big gains. First, on a deep seven route, where he does just enough of a stick at the top of route and is able to accelerate through the cut. He again shows strong hands by attacking the ball at the highest point. Second, he sticks to the outside and breaks sharply inside, again showing very good acceleration through the cut which prevents Revis from breaking on him before the throw.
The Missed Opportunities/The Struggles
Decker easily should have surpassed 1,000 yards last season but that isn’t solely because of the 7 quarters he missed with a hamstring injury, bad quarterbacking or shaky play-calling. He left a pair of huge plays on the field. These are not “easy” catches but plays that need to be made by an above average starter, which is exactly what Decker is. There were a handful of other 50/50 balls that Decker did not come down with throughout the season, If Decker is going to become a 1,100-1,200 yard receiver here with 8-10 touchdowns, he needs to make these types of plays.
Decker’s consistency catching the football can be frustrating. He has naturally good hands but has too many lapses of concentration that lead to drops. On the first play. he allows the football to get into his body and is already looking to run up field before securing it. On the second play, he doesn’t look the ball in and is shifting focus to his feet near the sideline too early. Decker has had a drop rate that skews on the higher side throughout his career and that trend continued in 2014.
One final issue is working back to the football. Darrelle Revis is able to squat on his route here and break up the deep curl route because Decker tries to play basketball, instead of planting and working hard back to his quarterback. The bottom play is a brilliant one by Charles Woodson but Decker could have helped prevent the interception by not waiting for the football to arrive to him.
In last week’s article we discussed Brandon Marshall’s productivity in the slot and it isn’t out of character for Chan Gailey to move his receivers around and get a bigger body in that position. David Nelson caught 61 passes for Gailey in a season while working primarily from the slot. Marshall is obviously an immensely better player but it is fair to wonder if he could be used in a similar way in many different formations, while Decker is frequently motioned around the set and used in different tight alignments like Stevie Johnson used to be for Gailey. Decker is likely to spend less time in the slot than Marshall or Jeremy Kerley but should see more pre-snap movement and will benefit from the extra attention Marshall receives wherever he is lined up, particularly in the red-zone. It would be surprising if he didn’t surpass his 5 touchdown total from last season and get himself over 1,000 yards.