When an offense, and really an entire team, goes south, it’s very easy to blame the starting quarterback. He’s the center of attention. Coaches rarely yank players at other positions during the middle of a game due to poor play, and if they do, the casual fan doesn’t really notice.
But when Jets’ coach Todd Bowles pulled quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in the fourth quarter of Monday night’s latest loss for New York, it caught people’s attention. Let’s not sugar coat it, Fitzpatrick has been bad. He’s completed just 57.0 percent of his passes and averaged just 6.5 yards per attempt. Those numbers are bad even by Fitzpatrick standards. He hasn’t posted numbers so low since 2009.
What’s worse, he has just five touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Fitzpatrick is on pace to surpass his total amount of picks from last season by about the midway point of the year.
The grades at Pro Football Focus rank Fitzpatrick 34th overall out of 35 qualifying at the position this season. Only 49ers’ signal caller Blaine Gabbert has a lower grade.
Despite the fact Bowles re-committed to Fitzpatrick as his starting quarterback after Monday’s loss, with three other quarterbacks on the active roster, it appears to only be a matter of time until a change is going to be made.
But Jets fans can’t expect things to go much better even with a different guy under center because New York’s offensive problems this season go far beyond the team’s weak quarterback play.
Fans may forget that the Jets’ offense featured the leading rusher in the AFC last season in Chris Ivory. When Ivory gained 80 yards on the ground, New York went 5-2 last season and when he didn’t, they were 5-4. In their only win this season, Jets new starting running back Matt Forte had 100 rushing yards. The other game in which the offense performed well was Week 1 against Cincinnati. New York outplayed the Bengals in many aspects, but a missed field goal and a blocked extra point and late turnover cost the Jets the game. Forte ran well that day too, gaining 96 yards on 22 attempts.
Since then, however, his yards and attempts have steadily declined. He averaged under 1.93 yards per rush against Seattle and then 2.11 yards per carry Monday night versus Arizona. The Jets have fallen to 21st in the NFL in rushing yards per game. In 2015, they were ranked 10th.
As fellow TPS writer Andrew Garda eloquently pointed out, the offensive line has been an issue too. Center Nick Mangold and guard James Carpenter have both scored good grades according to Pro Football Focus, but the team’s tackles have been atrocious. Pro Football Focus have given both left tackle Ryan Clady and Ben Ijalana poor grades and rank them outside the top 55 offensive tackles in the league through their first six games. But unfortunately even the offensive linemen doing well, Mangold and Carpenter, are better in pass protection than run blocking. So even though that should help Fitzpatrick, it hurts him in the long run because he’s facing more third-and-longs because of his line’s inability to run block and Forte’s struggles to take advantage of the little room he does have.
Lastly, missing receiver Eric Decker is a big underlying reason Fitzpatrick has sputtered this season. Decker played in Fitzpatrick’s six interception game against Kansas City, so his absence can’t be blamed for that awful performance. But since Decker left the lineup, Fitzpatrick has completed just 58.2 percent of his passes, averaged 6.27 yards per attempt, two touchdowns and four interceptions.
Excluding the awful Chiefs game, Fitzpatrick completed 62.3 percent of his passes, averaged 8.16 yards per attempt, threw touchdowns and one interception with Decker this season.
Without his No. 2 option, Fitzpatrick is forcing the ball to Brandon Marshall far too often, and it gives the Jets offense no balance, especially without the ability to run. Forte isn’t even a part of the passing game, as he has just seven catches for 25 yards the last four weeks. He was unable to gain a yard on a key third-and-1 play in the second half versus Pittsburgh two weeks ago, and he dropped a third-and-1 pass Monday against Arizona.
Decker underwent season-ending shoulder surgery to repair his rotator cuff, and while he was under the knife, he decided to undergo hip surgery too. He’s done for the year and could miss the beginning of next season.
The Jets can change quarterbacks if they want, and actually a strong argument can be made to do so. If they don’t believe a Chiefs-like turnaround (Kansas City started 1-5 and won its last 10 games this season to make the postseason) is possible, New York should use the rest of this season to determine who is the team’s future starting quarterback.
Fitzpatrick won’t be back, but whether it’s Geno Smith, Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg is still to be determined. Even if the Jets can cross another one of those three names off the list of potential future starting quarterback, that would be helpful.
But a quarterback change won’t suddenly turn this offense back into its 2015 form. The Jets have far more problems than Fitzpatrick.