ARLINGTON, TEXAS -- The New York Jets have changed before our eyes. What we're seeing now on offense is different than what unfolded in September and October. Chris Ivory isn't the focal point anymore; it has shifted to Ryan Fitzpatrick.
The Jets have gradually altered their approach, becoming quarterback-reliant -- meaning they are like most teams in the NFL. The change was born out of necessity and because they came to trust Fitzpatrick for being more than a game-manager.
During the 4-1 start, the Jets rode the Ivory train with great success. At the time, the narrative was they needed Ivory’s production to win and that Fitzpatrick was a complementary piece, the kind of quarterback you didn’t want throwing more than 30 times a game.
Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey said at the start of the season that he wanted to operate a 50-50 offense and, in the first six games, the Jets’ pass-run ratio was 53-47 -- pretty close to perfect balance. Since then, the pass-run gap has grown wider. In the past seven games, it’s 61-39.
Why the change? Let's ponder a few reasons as the Jets (8-5) prepare to face the Dallas Cowboys (4-9) on Saturday night at AT&T Stadium.
Early on, the Jets leaned on Ivory because Fitzpatrick still was building chemistry with his receivers, Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. He was playing catch-up because he wasn’t supposed to be the opening-day starter. Geno Smith was being prepped for that role, but we all know what happened on that fateful day in August.
Ivory was invaluable during the transition period, but his production waned. That’s what happens in the NFL. Opponents adjust; they figure out how to stop your best guy. You have to make a counter move or else you fade away.
The Jets struggled with that concept for a few weeks, nearly ruining their season, but they found a new comfort zone. It’s all about Fitzpatrick now. It’s all about the passing game. Fitzpatrick, Marshall and Decker are putting up numbers the likes of which we haven’t seen in nearly two decades. They never threw the ball this well under Rex Ryan, that’s for sure.
They no longer need 100 yards from Ivory to win. He doesn’t have to be a monster, only a solid contributor. In some games, the threat of him in the backfield is enough to give the offense a semblance of balance, keeping opponents honest.
"He’s giving us what we need in our offense right now,' Gailey said. "He’s somebody they can’t say, 'OK, we just have to defend the pass.' That’s the best thing right now. They know he’ll go out and rush for 100 on them in a heartbeat."
That’s a telling quote from Gailey. Basically, he’s acknowledging Ivory no longer is Plan A. And that’s OK. They haven’t lost faith in him; they have simply built confidence in Fitzpatrick & Co.
The good teams learn to evolve over the course of a season. Heck, the New England Patriots do it on a week-to-week basis, depending on injuries and the opponent.
What the Jets can’t do is marginalize Ivory. That would be a mistake, considering the time of year. They will play cold-weather games in Week 16 and Week 17 against the Patriots and Buffalo Bills, respectively, and they will need a strong running game to thrive in the elements -- assuming there are elements. With global warming, who knows?
The point is, the Jets have changed. More than ever, this is Fitzpatrick’s team.