The Jets got out to an inauspicious start in their first game of the year, against the Cincinnati Bengals. They lost a heart breaker on a last minute field goal, by former second round pick Mike Nugent. Many fans have turned their ire towards Ryan Fitzpatrick, so let’s examine the game for the QB of the Jets. One change from last year, there is a new section deemed “Sidekick Power” to illustrate instances where the majority of the positive outcome was due to a secondary player other than the QB.
The first play highlighted is actually a broken play. The initial call is for a run to the right side of the line, as evidenced by the down field blocking by the WRs, but the snap is low, and it throws off the timing of the play. Forte runs by Fitzpatrick, who is forced to improvise, and does a decent job of gaining positive yards on this play. He makes a defender miss, and gains about 4 yards on the play. Many times on broken plays, you will see a sack or at best an in-completion because the receivers are blocking on the play, thus not looking for a pass.
The Bengals are showing single high safety from the onset of the formation, but as they did many times during the game, the front line made various changes according to the Jets’ audibles. At the bottom of the screen, the CB across from Brandon Marshall has lined up with outside leverage, indicating that he’s expecting help on the inside, so Fitzpatrick rightly ascertains that Marshall will be open on the medium range slant route. The linebackers can’t close the gap backpedaling fast enough, and he steps up in the pocket to make a very nice throw. The ball is a bit behind Marshall, but he makes the catch. It’s a very good pre-snap read by Fitzpatrick, and a very good throw. The other thing to notice on this play is the man going in motion, and the reaction from the Bengals. They switched on assignments for this play, which is something the Jets fail to realize on a few plays later in the game.
The result of the play is an incomplete pass, albeit the Bengals were called for a penalty which resulted in a first down for the Jets. First of all, the Bengals again moved late in the play to get into their defense. They reacted in time for multiple plays, timing them perfectly, so the Jets might have to either speed up or slow down their snap times in the future. Jalin Marshall is lined up outside, and runs a deep in-route. The two Jet receivers are essentially clearing the lane for the throw on the right side, and they do their job. Fitzpatrick throws this ball right as Marshall is running by the defender. There is a good amount of talk about NFL QBs being able to “throw receivers open” around the time of the draft. This is a great example of this, because Fitzpatrick threw the ball where Marshall should be, assuming he’ll get open. The defender grabs Marshall knowing the chances are better to hold the WR, rather than risking an open TD pass.
This is a prime example of the evolution of Quincy Enunwa. Last year, Brandon Marshall was the target of such passes, but this year Enunwa scores the first TD of the season. This is essentially a pick route by Marshall, and there is a borderline argument to be made that he made contact before the pass was thrown. However, the penalty wasn’t called, and Fitzpatrick makes a great throw to Enunwa. On the other side of the play, notice the man in motion, and how the Bengals CBs switched on their assignments. The outside corner moved with the man, indicating man coverage, but they switched when they crossed another Jets WR. The Bengals did this constantly, and the Jets never adjusted. One of the main benefits of late movement is to have the defender off-balance at the snap, because he’s trying to keep up with the WR. The Bengals circumvented this by switching at spots (even in man coverage) and taking away some of the benefits of late movement.
Another play, another perfectly timed late adjustment by the Bengals. This pre-snap read starts off with a LB showing blitz, and a deep safety covering Enunwa. This is an easy hot route for the blitz and Fitzpatrick reads it. However, at the last second, the LB moves over to cover Enunwa, throwing off the hot route plan. Unfazed, Enunwa runs through the bump coverage, and gets open down the middle. The deep safety moves back, and the MLB comes out in coverage for the WR. Fitzpatrick makes a decent throw, and Enunwa makes an excellent hands catch over the middle knowing he was going to be hit immediately. Notice that the Bengals are only rushing four, and having everyone else fall back into coverage. Expect to see this type of coverage often because it’s a proven tactic against Ryan Fitzpatrick. Deep safety prevents deep passes, and the underneath LBs are trying to take away passing lanes. The middle of the field is wide open for runs, and Matt Forte is open for a screen pass as well. The defenses are betting they can close in on the screen pass receiver or Fitzpatrick scrambling before it’s a long gain. The Jets need to be successful in their screen pass game, and Fitzpatrick has to run more consistently to make defenses adjust.
This is the Jets second TD of the game, and Eric Decker makes a good catch with a defender draped all over him. This is excellent coverage by the defender and the Bengals have this play bottled up from their scheme. This is another example of the Bengals timing their movements perfectly to the Jets snap. Pre-snap, the Bengals show two deep safety with man coverage on the receivers. However, right before the snap, the safety on Brandon Marshall’s side moves up towards the line, which should have meant a one on one match-up for Marshall. Fitzpatrick has already made up his mind by then, and locks into Eric Decker. Decker runs a good route, and Fitzpatrick makes a back shoulder throw that is caught for the TD. This is also an excellent example of the route running from Decker, because the play calls for a back shoulder pass (especially with the safety protecting the inside route) and you can see the CB shading to the outside. However, Decker runs an inside slant first and gets the CB to commit inside before cutting back outside. He has now reversed positioning with the CB, and has placed himself in good position for the back shoulder pass. Had the CB been on the outside, a back shoulder throw would have been impossible, and any throw inside would have been dangerously close to the safety.
The Bengals performed a late movement again with perfect timing. This is just a circa-2015 throw and catch from Fitzpatrick to Marshall. Fitzpatrick locks into Marshall from the onset, and Marshall wins the one on one match up with the CB, and it’s an easy catch. Fitzpatrick does a good job of recognizing the one on one match up, trusting his star WR, and taking advantage of it. Now this was the first series of the second half for the Jets, and on the previous series, they hurt the Bengals with short passes, which led to a field goal. Notice how the Bengals adjusted by having a spy in for Forte on this play. Forte also has to get some credit on this play for picking up the blitz, because Ryan Clady for some unbeknownst reason decided to just run away from the defender right across from him.
Ryan Fitzpatrick runs for about 9 yards of this play, showing that he’s learning from the Bengals’ scheme. On this play, the Bengals again have a LB on Forte and drop everyone else back. They leave the whole middle of the field open, daring Fitzpatrick to run, and he takes advantage of this. This is a significant play because the defense is giving the Jets free yards, and they are showing they can take advantage. If the Jets do this on a consistent basis, defenses will have to change their game plan to have their LB stay closer to the line, which should open up passing lanes.
Late movement timed perfectly by the Bengals once more. The Jets spread them out again, and you see the open area in the middle of the field. Ryan Fitzpatrick steps up and delivers a great pass to Decker for a great catch. This plays happens on a 3rd and 5, so it was a clutch throw and catch as the Jets were driving down the field to take the lead.
Quincy Enunwa shows off his versatility with this play, with a tap pass from Fitzpatrick. This gets counted as a pass, but this is essentially Enunwa taking a hand off and running with the ball. This concept has grown within the spread offense lately, although it usually involves more nimble runners. Enunwa shows off good speed and vision on this play, which goes for 9 yards. West Virginia is famous for running this tap option play with Geno Smith and Tavon Austin in the past, so it’s good to see that Chan Gailey is incorporating some of the successful concepts from college. During “Gruden’s QB Camp”, I believe the play was deemed “96 Wanda” where Geno Smith had the option to run, tap it to Austin, bubble screen, or pass. The Jets kept it simple here and executed it as a tap pass all the way.
Up until Bilal Powell found his speed gear last year, this was the biggest weakness for the Jets on offense. They could not execute a good screen pass that went for big yards. Most successful screen passes meant it wasn’t intercepted. Matt Forte shows off his pass catching ability, speed, and vision in the open field to get 20 plus yards on this play. The second hero of this play is Enunwa, who goes in motion at the start of the play. He eventually gets matched up with a safety, and notice how the safety is not completely set at the snap. The Bengals were switching often to prevent this situation, but they didn’t have a choice in this instance. Enunwa’s first goal is to engage the LB, but he has to prevent him from seeing the screen. For this purpose, he runs an outside route, turning the hips of the defender. The defender no longer can see Forte setting up for the screen, and blow it up. By the time, the screen is set up, Enunwa engages the defender in blocking and effectively takes him out of the play until Forte runs by him (although the LB makes a good recovery and eventually helps tackle Forte), enabling the long run.
This is another screen, and another successful run. Notice how the safety adjusted his positioning right before the snap. Forte again does most of the work here, as he sets up perfectly for the screen and then gains positive yards as he runs to the sideline. You have to give the DT of the Bengals credit on this tackle, as he doesn’t give up on the play and makes a shoe string tackle on Forte down the field.
This is pretty much a team failure on this play. Pre-snap, this is an automatic TD play, as the LB (or safety) assigned to the RB is about 5 yards away from the line of scrimmage. The read would be to have the two outside WRs act as traffic in the middle and prevent the LB from catching up with the RB. However, the Bengals again make a late adjustment switch, timing it perfectly. The LB (or safety, hard to tell) switches from the RB to the WRs, and the slot CB who was covering the WR moves to the RB. Deep in the red zone, the Bengals played zone and won. Kellen Davis goes in motion before the play, which causes minimal movement on the other side. Bilal Powell also can’t break this open field tackle. This is more of a failure on the play call than anything, because the Jets played right into what the Bengals were baiting them to do.
This play of course if infamous to anyone that watched the game. The Jets are desperately trying to move down the field for a last second FG, and Brandon Marshall makes a terrible drop. Marshall does a good job of finding the open spot in zone coverage, and Ryan Fitzpatrick finds the open area as well for what should have been a completion to the 50 yard line. Fitzpatrick does throw the ball slightly behind, but any NFL WR should come up with this pass.
The first play of horrible day from Fitzpatrick is this fairly simple pass to Marshall. The Jets have a quasi run fake here, and then Fitzpatrick locks in on Marshall and fires the ball behind him. This is the type of play that got Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith in trouble, with a DT dropping back into coverage, to take away the slant route to Marshall. Fitzpatrick has no reason to fire this pass early because if it’s on target, it might be an interception. He could have easily waited for Marshall to take two more steps for an open passing lane, especially considering he had a clean pocket. Contrary to popular belief, Fitzpatrick struggles at times because he locks into player pre-snap with pre-determined throws. He’s not great at scanning the field, and it shows up in this instance. This is a horrible throw to Marshall, and it’s a positive outcome that it landed in-complete.
This is another play in which Fitzpatrick is locked into one receiver, Marshall again, and fails to notice the match ups elsewhere. Even in a zone coverage, Marshall is double covered here, as there will be an underneath LB, and a CB over the top. The Jets send Kellen Davis in motion to that side, but that doesn’t make any difference at all to the left side of the play. Where it does make a difference is the safety over the top, moving more towards the left before the start of the play. This would mean that it’s less crowded for Eric Decker, who is open for a TD pass on the inside slant route. Fitzpatrick, however, is locked in on Marshall, and it ends up as an incomplete pass, although this is another throw that could have been intercepted. He was one of the leaders for the most intercept-able passes (passes that likely could have been intercepted, but were not) last year, and he’s starting where he left off.
Another play, another locked in throw to Marshall. This is a major theme with Fitzpatrick, and it’s on display again on this play. Pre-snap, it’s man coverage on Marshall on the outside, but the Bengals are playing the run here. Quincy Enunwa has inside release on a slant play, which should be an easy TD as he runs further into the end zone. It’s a clean pocket, so Fitzpatrick has time for him to clear the under-neath LBs, but instead he chooses to throw it up to Marshall. While these throws did work last year, they were more the results of great WR play.
This is another play, where Fitzpatrick misses an easy TD. On this play, Kellen Davis goes in motion and the Bengals barely flinch. Against all odds, Davis finds himself wide open for an easy TD catch, but Fitzpatrick decides to go towards Marshall coming off a screen he set for Davis. It would have been an OK read, had the pass not sailed over his head. Fitzpatrick has no reason to sail this pass, as he has a clean pocket and can step into this throw. He also has a wide open option as well that he ignores. Fitzpatrick also has Forte as an option out of the backfield, with hope that he can break an open field tackle. There are three legitimate options on this play, and Fitzpatrick picks one of them, but completely screws up the throw. There is a shallow LB in his throwing lane, but Fitzpatrick has enough time to wait on Marshall clearing this lane if it was an issue.
Maybe Fitzpatrick has been hanging around Hackenberg for too long, because this is a bad short pass to the RB. The Jets have them spread out, and once again the Bengals make a perfectly timed last minute adjustment. This is the biggest cause of failure on this play, and another testament to the Fitzpatrick locking into receivers theory. Pre-snap, the read is simple, there are three receivers on the right side, with three defenders. The safety lining up over Forte is a good 10 yards away from him, at which point all they have to do is have the two WRs block their defenders and it’s open space. However, the Bengals completely blow this up, but moving their LBs (who were showing blitz) into coverage, and the LB chases down Forte. The pass is also bad, because Forte has to turn around to catch the pass, slowing down his momentum. The Bengals baited Fitzpatrick into this throw, and he fell for it hook, line, and sinker.
Is this a mirror image of the last play? The Bengals make a perfectly timed adjustment at the last moment, and they have a LB chase down the RB. It’s the same exact read as last time, and similar result. Infact, the Jets have the exact same route tree as the last one, just in reverse. This indicates a pre-snap audible from Fitzpatrick, after he sees the coverage. The Bengals were baiting him again, and he fell right into it, again. It would behoove the Jets to call an inside slant from the RB instead of an out route, because the LB rushing over would have all his momentum heading the other way, and the middle of the field was open all day. A couple of batted down passes, may have influenced Fitzpatrick into calling audibles away from the short middle of the field though.
On this play, Jalin Marshall goes in motion before the snap, and runs a deep crossing route across the zone. He finds a seam in the zone, and Fitzpatrick finds him open as well. However, this is just a horrible throw that Marshall doesn’t have a chance at catching. The Jets get bailed out here with a penalty on the hit, but it doesn’t excuse the throw. Fitzpatrick could have hit Marshall earlier in the route tree, but hesitated, and paid for it. The Bengals bring an overload blitz on this play, and Forte does a good job of taking out one blitzer, but another one has a free run at Fitzpatrick. The ball should have been thrown quicker, when Marshall is first looking for the pass.
This play shows some semblance of an adjustment. Remember the failed passes to the RB before? Well it’s the same exact formation, and same exact reaction from the Bengals. However, they show their hand early on this play. To show how much the Bengals were switching, as soon as they realize they showed their hand, they switch coverage on the RB. Fitzpatrick points out the “Mike” LB prior to the snap, and of course he’s the one that just switched to cover the RB, while the previous man covering the RB switches to the “Mike” LB. However, the Jets didn’t audible to a RB pass in this case, most likely learning from the baits they fell into before. Decker is open for an easy pass, but Fitzpatrick misses the pass as he fires it low and behind the receiver.
Another bad decision by the QB on a crucial play. The Bengals show blitz at first, but move back, eventually just rushing four. However, Fitzpatrick seems to be locked in on Enunwa, running the crossing route on this play. The RB is open for a pass, and the outside WR (which looks like Jalin Marshall) is also open on the out route. This is a critical passing down, and Fitzpatrick makes the wrong decision and costs the team a first down. This is another case of the Bengals adjusting, in this case, the LB drops back into the middle after showing blitz. Fitzpatrick looks like he assumed a blitz and followed Enunwa to what he thought would be an empty area, but it wasn’t the case.
Now this is the desperation last drive, right after the Marshall drop. However, this is another example of Fitzpatrick locking into a WR and not looking at other options. On the left side of this play, he has two options open for good yardage. Matt Forte down the sideline has a LB on him, and if he makes the catch, can easily go out of bounds as well. Instead Fitzpatrick looked towards the middle and Decker, and then made a bad throw as well. It”s desperation time, so there can’t be too much blame on the QB here, but he has to make better decisions than this, when there were other options open. Even pre-snap he has to read a LB backing off Forte 10 yards away as his go to throw. There is a chance the CB covering the WR could jump the route, but that would mean an open seam route for the WR.
The final pass of the game, and a horrible interception as the cherry on top. This is the same exact analysis as the last time, he has a LB on Forte down the sideline, and man coverage on a WR. Instead, Fitzpatrick is locked on Decker and makes a horrible mistake. When Fitzpatrick throws this pass, Decker has just begun his cut, so he is trying to “throw his receiver open” but fails to account for the CB under cutting the route. At this point, there were other options which were safer, especially considering the whole middle of the field was open and he could run for a first down and live for another down after a quick spike. Another possibility is that Charone Peake (or at least it looks like Peake) is by his defender on the outside, with a safety over the top. Why not just take a shot down the field with a WR against a safety instead of taking such a risk for a 15 yard gain at best? It’s a bad decision and a horrible outcome.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is not an elite QB, and I don’t think the sternest of Fitzpatrick fans would disagree with that statement. He is an average QB that can take advantage of weak defenses because he has arguably the best pass catching options in the game. The Bengals are not a weak defense, however, and therefore he struggled. On too many occasions, Fitzpatrick locked into his first read and paid for it. The Bengals had his snap count timed almost perfectly throughout the day, and they baited him into predictable audibles too many times. This was a bad game offensively for the Jets, although they were two Nick Folk kicks away from winning this game. Fitzpatrick needs to improve his ability to scan the field moving forward, and he needs to be willing to run more often to offset defenses that are dropping LBs into coverage more often than not. It’s not a good start for the Jets, but hopefully, they recover against the Bills.
Fitzpatrick Grade: C-
What grade would you give Fitzpatrick?
Edit: A previous version of this article, misidentified No. 47 as Trevor Reilly instead of Kellen Davis. Thanks to CaryCarl40 for pointing this out in the forums.