NYJ visits the New England Patriots with a team that’s no longer one-sided
If one ever undertook the frustrating quest of searching for their car keys repeatedly, only to eventually discover them in a spot they had previously examined multiple times, they would comprehend the prior state of the New York Jets offense.
The team and its fanbase had tirelessly scoured far and wide for an offense worthy of trust over several years, necessitating considerable time to accept the validity of their newfound success, especially when some of the most effective solutions had been right under the organization’s nose.
Numerous individuals remained skeptical about the Jets’ offensive prowess during the initial six weeks of the NFL season, primarily because several key contributors had previously played significant roles in underperforming offenses.
Could wide receiver Brandon Marshall maintain his exceptional performance, considering his prior association with the beleaguered Chicago Bears offense?
Did Chris Ivory possess the same level of excellence he exhibited, given his history with the Jets’ previous offensive struggles?
And then there was Ryan Fitzpatrick. How could anyone forget Ryan Fitzpatrick, who had some Ivy League connection? Am I right, or am I right?
When an NFL offense is diverse enough where taking away any one player doesn’t derail them, they’ve got something.
The issue with such a perspective lies in one of the concealed yet evident realities of football greatness: outstanding players may not appear exceptional in unfavorable circumstances.
The essence of individual players’ capabilities often becomes apparent only when they are part of a team with complementary elements that enable them to shine.
As the New England Patriots and the New York Jets crossed paths in their significant AFC East encounter last Sunday in Foxboro, it was evident that the Jets’ offense posed just as formidable a challenge to New England as their defense. This revelation, in itself, was noteworthy news.
Fantasy football enthusiasts were undoubtedly acquainted with Jets running back Chris Ivory, as were the individuals who had the formidable task of tackling him on the field and the coaches responsible for analyzing game footage and devising game plans.
However, to the casual NFL fan, when Brandon Marshall expressed high praise for his teammate, it left many puzzled.
According to teammate Brandon Marshall, “He’s already the best running back in the league right now.”
This statement, as reported by ESPN, raised eyebrows among casual fans. Marshall elaborated, pointing out Ivory’s speed, quickness, agility, vision, and endurance, asserting that Ivory possessed all these attributes.
While Chris Ivory’s statistics supported Marshall’s assertion, questions lingered. Was he indeed the best?
Was there an exclusive club, with the likes of Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, LeSean McCoy, and Arian Foster, that required a secret handshake for membership?
Could one join this elite group based on a few standout performances?
While Chris Ivory may not boast a household name, his performance on the field certainly does.
In the realm of running backs, it’s as straightforward as it gets: If Chris Ivory had received the same number of carries as those other running backs this season, he would have accumulated more rushing yards.
Upon reviewing the game footage, this assertion is beyond any reasonable doubt. His relative obscurity in the NFL doesn’t diminish the radiance of his on-field performance.
As is often the case with many players in the league, their true potential may not become apparent until the correct elements surround them.
The New York Jets have now found that balance, which has made it easier to recognize the latent talent Ivory has always possessed.
Ivory has excelled in various running schemes, displaying a versatile style that defies categorization as a “power back.”
He can gain yards even when the blocking isn’t ideal, consistently finishes his carries with a physical, fall-forward mentality, and combines quick footwork, vision, and unexpected speed.
Chris Ivory’s emergence serves as a reminder that football is a game of interlocking components.
The New England Patriots’ offense, for instance, has been challenging to defend not only because of Tom Brady’s prowess but also due to its diversity, with numerous viable targets.
When an NFL offense is versatile enough that eliminating one player won’t cripple it, they possess a significant advantage.
This isn’t to claim that the Jets’ offense has reached the level of the Patriots, but they now benefit from a game plan that doesn’t hinge on the success of a single player.
Numerous instances this season underscore the progress the Jets have made on offense, with none more conspicuous than their opening series against the Miami Dolphins in their London game.
The Dolphins had studied the game tape and initially chose to prioritize stifling Chris Ivory, evident from their formation on the first offensive snap, where they aimed to employ a numerical advantage in the box to limit his effectiveness.
When facing eight defenders in the box, the basic math dictates that there’s no room for two safeties deep down the field.
This situation wouldn’t have posed a challenge if it weren’t for the presence of wide receiver Brandon Marshall and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who can orchestrate the offense effectively.
Having Eric Decker as the #2 wide receiver, drawing the opponent’s second-best cornerback without the threat of a double-team, sets the stage for all four of these players to perform at a significantly higher level than they did in the previous year when they were in distinctly different circumstances.
This principle of Complimentary Football is akin to a foundational course where the synergy between these players is evident.
What truly elevates this pivotal play is Fitzpatrick’s adept manipulation of the single safety positioned in the middle of the field through his eye movement and shoulder positioning.
It’s a subtle yet intelligent move, though it inevitably invites the customary reference to Fitzpatrick’s alma mater, Harvard.
He holds the safety in place long enough to prevent a quick retreat, ensuring that the security cannot shift back across the field to defend Fitzpatrick’s intended target: Marshall, who is isolated on the backside for a fade route.
The outcome was a 58-yard completion to Marshall at the beginning of the game, which instantaneously prompted the Dolphins to reconsider their defensive strategy for the subsequent play.
With the Jets now positioned deep inside the red zone, the Dolphins promptly discarded their initial strategy of an 8-man defensive front.
Instead, they opted to double-cover Brandon Marshall on the backside, assigning the safety who would have otherwise been engaged in run support within the box to provide additional coverage, creating a more challenging environment for Chris Ivory and the Jets’ running game.
Employing down-safeties for double coverage becomes particularly delicate when they are tasked with doubling on the weak side, away from the tight end, and the side with greater run strength.
In the scenario in the image below, Chris Ivory initiated his run with an initial step toward the overloaded weak side.
However, given the evident numerical disadvantage on that side, the cutback was inevitably exposed to vulnerability. This vulnerability materialized as a 12-yard gain against the grain of the original play design.
Chris Ivory’s physical running style often leads observers to believe he’s more significant than his actual measurements, standing at 6’0″ and weighing approximately 225 pounds.
His remarkable capacity to not only identify a cutback opportunity but also execute it swiftly, maneuvering beyond the tight end’s block to the outside, highlights the two qualities that Brandon Marshall alluded to: Ivory possesses elite vision and exceptional quickness.
He concludes the run with the characteristic running violence that has become his hallmark, bulldozing through the safety assigned to meet him in the hole and gaining several yards after contact, as depicted in the image below.
This brief sequence of plays illustrates how competence across various positions places substantial stress on a defense, making it challenging for opponents to formulate effective game plans.
If the Patriots opt to load the box to stifle the run, the Jets possess a capable passer who can distribute the ball to a multitude of legitimate threats.
On the other hand, if the Patriots falter in defending against the run, Chris Ivory has demonstrated the capacity to amass over 150 rushing yards and control the clock. This outcome could be especially problematic for the Patriots, given their typically high-powered offense and desire to maintain possession.
The interplay of complementary components in high-caliber offensive football is now on full display in New York, adding an extra layer of excitement to this fierce rivalry.
Is it adequate to beat the formidable Patriots this weekend in Foxboro? Making such a claim may be premature. Nevertheless, the Jets have developed into a well-rounded team that poses a significant threat, not just on one side of the ball.