The New York Jets' turnaround started with a math analogy.
After losing to the Houston Texans last month, Todd Bowles announced a back-to-basics approach on offense, saying they needed to return to algebra after an unsuccessful foray into trigonometry. The Jets scored only 17 points in each of their back-to-back losses to the Buffalo Bills and Texans, apparently botching their cotangents and cosines.
On Monday, Ryan Fitzpatrick spoke candidly, if not specifically about the change and how it needed to occur. The Jets quarterback, explaining the slump, said "we were just trying to reinvent the wheel. We were putting people in a bunch of different positions and situations. I think that was hurting me more than helping me, just in terms of my decision-making."
Fitzpatrick didn't offer any details on the changes, lest he reveal any secrets to the opposition. He said many of the plays and route combinations are the same as before, revealing only that the wrinkles are of the pre-snap variety. He said they're "getting guys in certain positions that I'm comfortable with. That's probably the best way to put it."
After some detective work, my hunch is that he's referring, in part, to Brandon Marshall and where he lines up. In fact, he's not moving around the formation as much as he did before the five-game winning streak.
Here's my theory: I think the Jets were so freaked out by their Week 7 loss to the New England Patriots, who held Marshall to four catches, that offensive coordinator Chan Gailey started scheming up ways to free up his No. 1 wide receiver. That's what you'd expect any coach to do, but maybe he got too cute. He started relying on deception instead of letting the player's talent solve the problem.
The statistics back it up. Comparing Marshall's before-and-after numbers, you'll see he's lining up on pass plays more frequently on the outside as opposed to the slot -- from 73 percent of the time to 83 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. It's not a dramatic shift, but there's no doubt the Fitzpatrick-to-Marshall combo has become more efficient and productive than ever. Whatever they did -- there's probably more to it than this -- is working.
A breakdown of Marshall's past 10 games:
PRE-WINNING STREAK (Weeks 7 to 11)
Total routes: 193
Slot (left and right): 53
Wide (left and right): 140
Total targets: 54
Catches/yards: 25 for 289 yards, three touchdowns
WINNING STREAK (Weeks 12 to 16)
Total routes: 204
Slot (left and right): 34
Wide (left and right): 170
Total targets: 50
Catches/yards: 39 for 576 yards, six touchdowns
Unfortunately, I don't have a statistic for motion/shifting, but I suspect Marshall is moving around less than before. Basically, the Jets are saying to defenses, "We're not trying to fool you. Here's Brandon; now try to stop him." I'm sure the back-to-algebra approach has resulted in other tweaks as well. For instance, I can tell you that Eric Decker is getting more time in the slot than pre-winning streak -- an increase from 61 to 68 percent of his total routes.
You have to give credit to Gailey for adjusting on the fly. A lot of coaches are stubborn and refuse input from players, but he was willing to scale back the offense. He, too, has admitted they tried to do too much, leading them down a bad road.
Don't underestimate the Gailey-Fitzpatrick relationship, which dates to 2010 in Buffalo. This is their fourth year together, a rarity in the ever-changing world of the NFL.
"We just have a great feel for each other," Fitzpatrick said. "He knows me so well. I think our philosophies line up, just in terms of the way to attack a defense. I think he plays to my strengths as a player and often times now I can kind of anticipate what's coming in or what's going to be called. He'll ask my opinion and see if I like a play or don't like a play."