Chan Gailey, New York Jets Don’t Need Ryan Fitzpatrick
Ryan Fitzpatrickgate… (Do we have an official -gate name yet? Isn’t everything supposed to be somethinggate nowadays? I guess if anything it would be Beardgate) Beardgate is dragging on for far longer than anyone anticipated it would. The New York Jets have refused to budge on a new contract for Ryan Fitzpatrick, balking at the idea of paying him over $15 million per season. Fitzpatrick, fresh off a year when the Jets talked him up to the point that he couldn’t help but feel like a franchise quarterback, rightfully wants to be paid as much as possible.
The main reason Fitzpatrick thinks he can be paid, and the main reason the Jets think he is a good quarterback, is his touchdown-to-interception ratio.
In 16 Regular Season games, Fitzpatrick threw 31 touchdowns to 15 interceptions. 31 touchdowns to 15 interceptions seems like an impressive ratio on the surface. The quarterback threw more than two touchdowns to every pass he had picked off. It’s less impressive when you consider that nine quarterbacks threw more touchdowns than him during the Regular Season while only four threw more interceptions. Furthermore, only one quarterback had more interceptable passes than Fitzpatrick last year and he required a disastrous playoff performance to do so.
Not only was Fitzpatrick fortunate to keep his interception total so low, he was overly reliant on his supporting cast for his touchdowns. That 31 touchdown number is a testament to the quality of Chan Gailey and Brandon Marshall more than it is to the quality of Fitzpatrick as a player.
That is why the Jets have come to this impasse in negotiations.
Marshall had arguably the best season of his career last year. He dealt with drop issues, partly because of how his targets were arriving, but those issues were washed away by a tidal wave of impressive plays. Week-after-week Marshall would make spectacular adjustments to errant passes or offer his quarterback a wide catch radius to throw into. No cornerback could comfortably combat the Jets’ number one receiver at the catch point.
On each of these three plays, Fitzpatrick throws poorly placed passes. Two of those throws, the one against the Patriots and the one against Washington, actually favor the defensive backs rather than the receiver but neither defender shows off any awareness or ball skills to react. Marshall is able to adjust while the ball is in the air before making difficult receptions so that Fitzpatrick’s poor play doesn’t have any impact on the outcome. Those three bad throws result in 88 yards and three touchdowns without an incompletion.
Throwing to Marshall was a crutch that Fitzpatrick could rely on. A crutch that few quarterbacks in the league were afforded. His value was apparent on every route in any area of the field. His ability to high point the ball in the endzone stood out also.
On this play, Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden has perfect coverage on Marshall. Fitzpatrick flights the ball into the air, he doesn’t do anything wrong on the play but he doesn’t have to be precise either. He only has to put the ball in the air and let Marshall beat Haden. It’s not simply a case of Marshall reaching above Haden either. Marshall manipulates the defensive back by how he approaches the ball. He recognizes the flight early, but doesn’t attack it immediately.
Marshall waits as long as he can, keeping his arms down and freezing Haden in place, the cornerback can’t see the ball so he is relying on reading Marshall’s actions to know when it arrives. Because Marshall hesitates, he is able to snatch the ball out of the air without letting Haden get his hands near him.
The catch itself is pretty impressive too.
On this play, Fitzpatrick decides he is going to Marshall before the ball is even snapped. With a free release off the line of scrimmage, it’s easy for the wide receiver to post up the smaller cornerback and box him out for the football. All Fitzpatrick has to do is avoid throwing the ball past the cornerback. He essentially throws it to where the cornerback is standing, Marshall is able to stop and reach up for it while the defender is draped around his body.
This one is a contested catch, one that Marshall makes look especially easy.
Even when Marshall is perfectly covered, you can count the number of defensive backs in the league who have the size and strength to hold him off on one hand. Talent has never been Marshall’s issue throughout his career. He hasn’t always been fully focused on the field or a teammate who fit in with his locker room off of it. In 2015, he had no issues of the field and appeared to be fully focused on being effective on it. With his talent, that made him unstoppable more often than not.
Fitzpatrick was able to act like Matthew Stafford did so often with Calvin Johnson. Just throw a catchable pass and the receiver will go and win it.
Marshall’s presence also allowed Eric Decker to move into a more favorable complementary role. Decker could do to secondary cornerbacks what Marshall could do to the opponent’s best cornerback. That was less significant than the impact of Gailey’s play calling. Gailey runs a very quarterback-friendly offense. It’s an offense that is impressively designed but has only ever really been run by Fitzpatrick.
What Gailey does is simplify the quarterback’s reads by relying on smart route combinations. He will naturally put receivers in space using pick plays and screens that emphasize the ability of the player catching the ball rather than the ability of the player throwing it.
Gailey will regularly use motion to target specific areas of the field. Both of these plays result in easy short touchdown throws for Fitzpatrick because the offensive coordinator combines motion behind the line of scrimmage with a pick play outside. It’s extremely difficult for defensive backs to swap assignments in the split second they have to recognize and communicate with each other, so both receivers are wide open when they receive the ball.
This is a one-read play for Fitzpatrick. The receiver who lines up outside isn’t actually trying to release into his route on either play. If the quarterback holds the ball he will extend his route into the endzone, but his priority is to (legally or illegally) get in the way of the cornerback following the intended target across the field.
You would expect every single quarterback in the NFL to consistently make this play.
Gailey doesn’t just rely on a handful of favored pick plays either. He will attack the defense in different ways, while throwing the ball to different targets. In the first gif, Marshall was the receiver behind the pick of a tight end. In the second, Decker was the receiver behind the pick of Marshall. In this gif, Decker picks off the linebacker for Chris Ivory to catch the ball at the line of scrimmage. Ivory actually has to wait and reach back for the ball, it’s a poor throw from Fizpatrick, but the design of the play and its execution are so impressive that it doesn’t matter.
This fourth play is a cross between a pick play and a screen. It’s likely not a one-read play for the quarterback. The timing suggests that the outside wide receiver is actually running a route but will be made aware of the potential of this situation arising, a situation where he can make the key block to spring Marshall free down the sideline. Marshall had lined up as the inside slot receiver of the three options on that side of the field.
Very rarely will Gailey’s offense rely on isolated routes. He attacks the short and intermediate levels of the defense’s coverage so well because his route combinations consistently complement each other.
To this point, we have seen 10 of Fitzpatrick’s touchdown throws. None of the plays came with a high degree of difficulty, many were poorly thrown passes, but the statistical representation of these plays for Fitzpatrick are 10/10 for 129 yards and 10 touchdowns. Fitzpatrick has two more touchdown throws that come on screen passes.
Gailey doesn’t just rely on traditional screen plays where the quarterback holds the ball for a moment before asking his offensive linemen to get out into either flat ahead of his running back. He uses more action and different pieces to create more deception. Fitzpatrick will throw passes to the line of scrimmage rather than five or six yards deep while his eligible receivers become just as important as blockers.
On this play, Fitzpatrick adds 16 yards and a touchdown on a simple throw underneath to Bilal Powell. The screen is actually poorly executed as Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker miss their blocks and the safety over the middle of the field isn’t picked up at all. Powell remedies the situation by running away from that unblocked safety who takes a poor angle. Once he has turned upfield, the Titans defense shows off horrible effort so one missed tackle gets Powell into the endzone.
The Titans defense was one of many in 2015 that couldn’t react to Gailey’s offense. Fitzpatrick threw for three touchdowns, one of which was a 69-yard catch and run for Brandon Marshall who the Titans never covered at the snap.
This play was perfectly executed. Powell was again the receiver, this time lining up in the slot and motioning outside before working back in behind his tight end. His tight end sprung Powell free to catch the ball, but it was his offensive linemen who created the tunnel down the middle of the field for an all-too-easy touchdown reception on Third-and-15. Fitzpatrick added 25 yards and another touchdown with this simple throw.
On 12 plays, Fitzpatrick gained 12 touchdowns and 170 yards without an incompletion despite never having to make a difficult read or throw a precise pass.
If you’re relying on Fitzpatrick’s touchdown-to-interception ratio to sell him as a quality starting quarterback, you need to understand the context surrounding those numbers. Fitzpatrick wasn’t elevating his teammates with precise throws where he was able to exploit the defense because of his intellect, he was just another piece in an offense that wasn’t especially reliant on him. A turnover-prone, weak-armed quarterback who has major accuracy issues should never command big money, but especially not in an offense such as Gailey’s with the surrounding talent the Jets have given him.