The New York Jets were putrid in the red-zone during the 2014 season. With a touchdown scoring percentage of 36.17%, they were dead last in the NFL. There were a number of factors that contributed to their problems that must be improved in 2015 if the team hopes to be competitive.
Keep It Simple, Stupid
Marty Mornhinweg had a bad habit of getting overly creative the closer the Jets got to the end-zone in 2014. It became a petri dish of incompetence: two quarterbacks, Wildcat, double reverse passes…you name it. The problems started right out of the gate in week one, where two of the Jets first three red zone calls of the season involved using backup quarterback Mike Vick as a slot receiver.
There is no excuse for Geno Smith to fumble on this play but look at the design. Vick is in the slot, doing nothing because he is a quarterback playing wide receiver the defense doesn’t have to account for him. This looks like it might be a designed run based on Decker’s route at the top of the screen and the lineman moving to the second level. Jeff Cumberland also doesn’t help matters much here, if for some insane reason they were thinking of running behind him.
Despite a season of unmitigated disaster using these type of formations, Morhinweg kept right at it all the way through week 17. Despite Smith playing the game of his life, here are the Jets having Vick sub in at quarterback and handing the ball on a sweep to slot receiver Jeremy Kerley…and then of course breaking back out the reverse pass because why just play normal offense?
The complexity (more kinder way to put stupidity) wasn’t limited to reverse passes and The Wildcat. Here the Jets decide to have multiple lineman pull in a tight space, run behind Jeff Cumberland and ignore Chris Ivory despite running in between the tackles. The results are a combination of missed blocks, Jets tackling each other and yet another field goal attempt.
Unsurprisingly, the Jets found better results when they stuck to basics. Eric Decker is a big receiver, who has consistently found success in the red-zone throughout his career. Here is one of the most basic route combinations in football, with Decker working inside off a rub route from Jeremy Kerley. The result is one of the easiest touchdowns the Jets scored all season. Decker received 14 red-zone targets last year and caught 9, in retrospect considering who was around him, he probably should have seen even more.
There was a moment in week 2, when it appeared Mornhinweg had learned from his week 1 mistakes (before inevitably reverting back to incompetence). A fake inside handoff to your best back in an obvious running situation opened up enough space that despite Smith stumbling he was able to make it to the end-zone. Later, simply giving Ivory the ball behind somebody not named Jeff Cumberland manages to work wonders.
The One On Ones
The Jets actually ranked 16th in red-zone quarterback rating and had Smith finish 26/48 for 190 yards with 8 TDs, 1 INT, 1 rushing TD and 1 fumble lost, which seems surprisingly competent for finishing last in touchdown rate. We saw Smith’s fumble earlier and the interception below was outright awful decision making, regardless of the limited talent of the receiver he is throwing to.
The inability of receivers outside of Decker to win one on one matchups in the red-zone hurt the Jets. Here is another attempt to David Nelson, where he is unable to free himself up.
Simplicity close to the red-zone is not a bad thing. You are counting on your most talented playmakers with the most size to win their individual match-ups. The addition of Brandon Marshall should have a ripple impact on the Jets offense. Marshall himself, is a terror in the red-zone but he will create more favorable match-ups for Decker and Jace Amaro, who received the same amount of targets as Jeff Cumberland and Jeremy Kerley last season in the red-zone, hopefully considering his size and athleticism, that will change this season.
Avoid the double reverses. Avoid the Wildcat. Avoid the backup quarterback in the slot (sorry, Fitzy). Let Chris Ivory or your newly added power options like Stevan Ridley or Zac Stacy run behind Nick Mangold and James Carpetner. Let Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker and Jace Amaro play basketball with smaller defensive backs outside the numbers on rub routes, window routes and fades. I’d expect improvement from the Jets in the red-zone for 2015 simply because you can’t be any worse than they were in 2014.