New York Jets Week 5 Friday Musings

David Aitken with Friday musings on the New York Jets, talking secondary, Pittsburgh and Ryan Fitzpatrick…

In which we determine exactly how much blame Fitzpatrick merits to the nearest decimal…

That’s My Quarterback

BREAKING NEWS: Ryan Fitzpatrick has been awful as the Jets starting quarterback. But is it fair to blame him? Is it really the Jets’ fault for not seeing this coming? Isn’t it Chan Gailey’s fault for being the only coach to consistently give Fitzpatrick a chance? Isn’t it Brandon Marshall’s fault for picking that boat to sit in? Shouldn’t Robby Anderson know better than to run too far down the field if arm strength is a known limitation? Isn’t it Decker’s fault for always picking up a knock around this time of year? And if you’re serious about standing up to bullying Eric, what do you call what the Chiefs and Seahawks just did? If Quincy Enunwa wasn’t playing so well, Fitzpatrick would have felt pressure to look toward him instead of a wide open Brandon Marshall in the end zone. 

It was so much more simple last year. We wouldn’t need to scrutinize Fitzpatrick as the starter if Geno could settle his debts. If Harvard was such a great school, they would have taught Fitzpatrick how to be a better quarterback. When the Jets had their Todd Bowles “come to Jesus moment” last week, was he even home? Way to be there when we need you, Jesus.

The war between the Fitz truthers and the blame-anybody-but-Fitzers is the most Jets fan argument of all time. And at the risk of my sanity, I’ll hop in.

The Jets paid 12 million to bring him back. That’s not cheap, especially compared to the rookie contract the backup quarterback some have been calling for is making. But 12 million is not exactly big for a quarterback – it makes Fitzpatrick the 24th highest paid quarterback in the league, and that even flatters him when taken into account the handful of players on rookie contracts that would make more than him on an open market. It was a clear sign of commitment as a starter, but it’s a far cry from even the “Brock Osweiler money” Fitzpatrick probably thought he was going to get.

That is not to excuse bad play, but that is to say that the Jets aren’t really expecting him to be anything more than he was last year. Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2015 was a below average quarterback in yards-per-attempt, completion percentage, and turnover rate. He was a strong quarterback in terms of getting the ball in the end zone, and led one of the best red zone offenses in the league. So, if he’s still doing all of those things, it’s par for the course. Except, he’s not.

Let’s start with the bad. “Bad” Fitzpatrick is on steroids this year. His completion percentage is even worse than it was last year, where he was already one of the worst in the league. His Y/A is slightly down too, which was again one of the lowest numbers amongst starters last year. Joe’s passing game breakdown for Seattle has a clearer breakdown of just how much Fitzpatrick’s accuracy and decision making are killing the Jets right now. And of course, he’s already just 5 interceptions short of his entire 2015 total, where he yet again was amongst the worst in the league. Edward Gorelik’s breakdown of Fitzpatrick had him down for 35 interceptables over 2015. So far, he’s on pace this year for… brace for it… FIFTY-SIX. That’s 56. You’ve got 50, and you’re still not done yet. Add six more. Seriously Fitz, what the hell?

But the real killer is that the Jets were fair to expect Fitzpatrick to continue being strong in the red zone given the weapons quality (arguably even better than in 2015) and continuing to play with an offensive coordinator he has mastery status understanding with. But Fitzpatrick here, like he’s been everywhere else, has been awful. The Jets are down to 29th in the league in red zone efficiency with just 38.89% of opportunities ending in touchdowns.

Last year the Jets were in the top three, converting 66.04%. Yes, the Jets are playing better opponents on average, and this isn’t all completely on Fitzpatrick, but that’s an enormous swing. And how much of a culprit he is here is plain to see with the naked eye, whether it be the forced passes to covered players versus Cincinnati or the unspeakable horrors witnessed in Kansas City. Of all the bad qualities Fitzpatrick has displayed in other areas, if he was still strong in the red zone, the Jets wouldn’t be 1-3. They’d be at least 2-2, and they would have at least had a fighting chance in Kansas City.

You can make excuses for Fitzpatrick’s limitations to the extent that the Jets were comfortable with them to a certain level, where there was trust that the supporting cast could elevate that level of player and clinical performance in the red zone would keep the Jets in most games like it did last year. But this isn’t “limited journeyman quarterback” Fitzpatrick. This is a dumpster fire.

Basket of DeploraBowles

Paralleling Fitzpatrick’s race to match his interception total of last year is the increased frequency of big plays being given up defending the pass. Last year the Jets gave up 11 pass plays of 40+ yards through 16 games. Through 4 games this year, the Jets have given up 7. There’s nothing more deflating than the kind of drive the Jets gave up that led to Seattle’s first touchdown. They’re pinned at their own 8. In just 3:30 minutes and a drive that essentially amounts to just four pass plays, the Seahawks are in the end zone.

There is no easy fix here. Take the entire back seven or eight, and how many positions are better than last year? Technically Skrine replacing Cromartie as the team’s second corner has been fine, and Darron Lee has been active although still clearly rough around the edges. How many are clearly worse? Calvin Pryor, Darrelle Revis, Marcus Gilchrist. There’s been no next step from Pryor, Marcus Williams or Lorenzo Mauldin. Revis and David Harris, a top two cornerback and a top ten inside linebacker respectively in terms of pay rate, are ordinary players. As nice as the short-term fix the big spending for 2015 was, the Jets have too much of the salary cap assigned to “ordinary” right now.

Yet as a collective unit, calling the Jets defense ordinary is being incredibly flattering. According to Football Outsiders, the Jets pass defense is 31st in the league in defensive DVOA. And the Jets are a lot closer to 32nd (Detroit) than they are 30th. Calling them the worst in the league through four games isn’t a stretch.

So what can be done differently? There’s a “are things too complicated?” narrative building, but I can’t buy this being the source of consistent big plays given up. The complete edition of Bowles’ defense worked in Arizona, and this secondary is a veteran group. These aren’t a bunch of rookies struggling with the complexities of an NFL playbook. There’s clearly adjustments to be made, but I don’t think a reversion to the K.I.S.S. philosophy is one to make. For one, the Jets remain one of the most blitz-heavy teams in football, blitzing Russell Wilson over 50% of the time last Sunday. Not only is it not necessary given the concentration of talent the Jets have up front, but it is just nonsensical given the current struggles in the back end.

Rely on your three first round picks to win up front, as they should be able to do. I’m not saying to completely cut off from the blitz, but surely the play calling can be more varied and opportunistic with blitzes rather than being commonplace.

Players that are underperforming should also be feeling the heat. Perhaps more snaps for Rontez Miles and Antonio Allen are in order, as well as Juston Burris at corner. How about Josh Martin or Mike Catapano taking away some of Mauldin’s opportunities? Without competition and a threat for places, there’s always room for complacency.

On to Pittsburgh

First, the good news: Pittsburgh is the lowest ranked pass defense the Jets have played thus far in terms of defensive DVOA, ranking 17th. This is much more in line with what the Jets were used to facing in 2015, where only New England, Houston and Indianapolis were in the top fifteen in pass defense DVOA. The Jets should be able to move the ball against Pittsburgh. Surely if Fitzpatrick is still a sputtering disaster in this game, there’s no way he can continue to start. But he shouldn’t be.

The bad news is that the Jets are playing terrible pass defense and are lining up against one of the best offenses in the league. Sure Pittsburgh is occasionally prone to some out-of-character disastrous performances (see Baltimore late last year, the Jets in 2014), but the blowout loss to the Eagles in Week 3 already seems like a wakeup call given how strongly the Steelers handled the Chiefs.

Playoffs are already dwindling away at a rapid pace, but a loss here would practically be the end. At 1-4, with losses to three probable playoff teams, the Jets would be in a nightmare position in terms of tiebreakers even if they find a way back to record respectability. That’s one reason this game is so important. The other is that in my mind it is more winnable than the one that follows, the Monday Night Football game in Arizona. The Cardinals have not gotten off to a strong start either and could be without their starting quarterback, but this Jets team hasn’t proven to be able to overcome the across-country hangover and most importantly the Cardinals are still an outstanding pass defense. The Jets should be able to move the ball against Pittsburgh, and for that reason they have a shot. Against Arizona, I’m not so sure.

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