After totaling 109 receptions for 1,502 yards and 14 touchdowns while playing alongside a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver and catching passes from a journeyman quarterback in 2015, you can’t blame New York Jets’ wideout Brandon Marshall for entering the current campaign with meteoric expectations.
But through the first five weeks of the season, things haven’t been going well for Marshall and the 1-4 Jets. Starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick hasn’t looked anything like the revitalized veteran who almost led Gang Green to the playoffs in 2015, running back Matt Forte’s production has fallen flat following a promising start, and wide receiver Eric Decker has been sidelined for the rest of the season with a torn rotator-cuff.
Losing Decker is a direct hit to the heart of New York’s tight end-less offense. While Marshall is obviously an over-qualified target on every inch of the field, Decker often acted as Fitzpatrick’s security blanket, catching 10 of the 15 touchdown receptions he totaled last season in the red zone. Minus the Minnesota product, Quincy Enunwa’s role will undoubtedly increase, but beyond him, rookies Jalin Marshall, Robby Anderson, and Charone Peake are Gang Green’s only other options.
While Enunwa has obviously exceeded expectations with a team-leading 37 receptions, the Jets’ trio of rookie receivers have combined for just 14 receptions and zero touchdowns thus far. When added to Forte’s recent struggles and running back Bilal Powell’s mediocrity, it’s easy to see why offensive coordinator Chan Gailey sounded understandably uncertain about his rookie pass-catchers while speaking to the media earlier in the week.
”I don’t know. You have to put them [Anderson, Peake, and Jalin Marshall] out there and try to put them in a position where they can be successful and evaluate from there,” said Gailey via the New York Post. ”It’s a step-by-step process. They have to be multiple-type players. They can’t be one-dimensional. It’s going to be a step-by-step developmental process with each one of them [to discover] what they do well and get them in the right spot.”
One of the many benefits that come with starting a pair of Pro Bowl-caliber receivers such as Marshall and Decker is that, ideally, one can always draw coverage away from the other. Fitzpatrick often capitalized on that advantage and it was crucial to last season’s offensive success. But without a proven target to draw coverage away from Marshall, he too will suffer from Decker’s season-ending injury.
This week, the Jets have been dealt another date with a team that’s known for wreaking havoc on an opponent’s passing attack in Monday’s match-up at the Arizona Cardinals. Coincidentally, ex-Jet and current San Francisco Forty-Niner Jeremy Kerley [8 rec, 102 yds, 1 td] is the only player to total more than 100 yards receiving against Arizona’s top-five pass defense, while top targets such as New England Patriots‘ pass-catcher Julian Edelman [7 rec, 66 yds], Tampa Bay Bucs’ receiver Mike Evans [6 rec, 70 yds, 1 td], Buffalo Bills’ route-runner Robert Woods [6 rec, 51 yds], and L.A. Rams‘ wideout Kenny Britt [4 rec, 82 yds], have all been held in relative check.
Four quarters of pressure from elite defenders like Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson and safety Tyron Mathieu would’ve given Marshall a headache even with Decker by his side. But Fitzpatrick will now be relying upon Enunwa and New York’s inexperienced rookie receivers to help, and the former Ivy-Leaguer made it clear that timing is just as critical as running the right routes while speaking to the media earlier this week.
”When I have to throw on anticipation, I have to throw with trust,” said Fitzpatrick via ESPN.”That’s going to be a big part of it, is just communicating to those guys, whether it’s through a throw in practice we can talk about or, as we’re installing plays, where they’re expected to be and at what time they’re expected to be there.”
Currently in the midst of what’s arguably the toughest stretch of their schedule and dragging through the depths of a three-game slide, the Jets have also had plenty of problems on the defensive side of things. But the lofty expectations that surrounded this team during the off-season had little to do with defense, and entering Monday Night’s clash in Arizona, Gang Green’s once-potent passing attack is powering the NFL’s 17th-ranked offense.
New York had been underachieving prior to Decker’s injury-fueled departure. But now that Decker isn’t returning and the team has been forced to turn to a handful of inexperienced options, not even Marshall and his suddenly-endless optimism can save the Jets.