New York Jets 2015 Year in Review: A Step in the Right Direction
The New York Jets entered the 2015 season with several new faces and plenty of question marks to go along with them. After posting just four wins in 2014 -- their lowest total since 2007 -- the Jets revamped their front office, with head coach Todd Bowles joining the team from Arizona and General Manager Mike Maccagnan from Houston.
Lots of cap space left behind from the last regime left plenty of money for Maccagnan to go on a spending spree in the offseason, re-signing key players like Bilal Powell and David Harris, as well as revamping the secondary with Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, Marcus Gilchrist, and Buster Skrine.
However, the two most impactful acquisitions were via trade, where Maccagnan sent a 2016 fifth-round pick to Chicago for wideout Brandon Marshall and what became a 2016 sixth-round pick to Houston for veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. New York also got a steal in the draft when they selected Leonard Williams sixth overall, who many believed was the best prospect.
Even after the outstanding offseason, the Jets were still tagged a laughing stock when Geno Smith was punched in the face during a locker room incident, costing him a chance at the starting job. Once Fitzpatrick took over, he led the Jets to 10 wins, which included victories during five of their final six games. Unfortunately for the Jets, they needed that sixth to hold off the Pittsburgh Steelers for the final AFC wild card berth.
New York finished with a nERD of 4.44, good for eighth in the NFL, meaning they would be expected to beat an average team by about four and a half points on a neutral field. But their improbable run to the playoffs ended with a loss in Buffalo and meant their fifth consecutive year without a trip to the postseason.
What Went Right
The easy place to start with what went right is with the glaring improvement to the offense this season -- the Jets averaged 24.2 points per game compared to 17.7 in 2014.
The real stars of the offense were the aforementioned Marshall and Eric Decker. Marshall ranked fifth amongst wide receivers in Total Net Expected Points at 130.70. For those unfamiliar, Net Expected Points (NEP) measures how many points a player adds for his team based on expectation. In this case, we're looking at points added on both catches (Reception NEP) and rushes (Rushing NEP) to give us a Total NEP score.
You can read more about NEP in our glossary.
Marshall led the Jets in receptions (109), yards (1,502) and touchdowns (14), which all set or tied Jets franchise marks for a season. Decker also had a great season, ranking ninth in the NFL in Total NEP amongst wide receivers at 106.20. Decker also added 12 touchdowns, 10 of which came inside the red zone. The duo posted the highest NEP totals of any wide receiver combination in the league this season, and also set an NFL record by scoring in the same game eight times.
Another big part of the offensive production was Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick threw for a franchise best 31 touchdowns, and his 3,905 passing yards were the best since Ken O’Brien in 1985. Fitzpatrick also posted a Passing NEP of 81.20, the best season a Jets quarterback had since Chad Pennington in 2006.
Although the offense produced on a high level, the defense was not to be outdone. New York ranked sixth in schedule-adjusted Defensive NEP (-20.16), and first overall in schedule-adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP (-47.27). The run defense allowed 83.4 yards per game and a league low four rushing touchdowns. The run stuffing corps was led by Muhammad Wilkerson (led the team with 12 sacks and 11 tackles for loss this season), Damon Harrison (fourth on the team in tackles), and rookie Leonard Williams.
The strong run defense allowed the secondary to feast on quarterbacks to the tune of 18 interceptions, tripling last season’s output. The 30 total takeaways tied for third in the league, and only trailed Carolina and Arizona.
The Jets also had some good fortune when it came to scheduling this season. Going into the 2015 campaign, New York had the eighteenth hardest schedule in the NFL according to win percentage. Once all the games were played, they were calculated to have played the easiest schedule, aided by playing a last place schedule and the two worst divisions in the rotation, the AFC South and NFC East. The Jets went 8-3 in games against those opponents.
What Went Wrong
While the Jets had many bright spots in 2015, there were a few downfalls that left them just short of qualifying for the postseason.
Though New York was tied for seventh in points per game allowed (19.6), they went 1-6 in games where they allowed 22-plus points, 22.8 being the league average. The Jets also struggled in close games, going 4-5 in contests decided by seven points or fewer. If there was one situation where Fitzpatrick struggled, this was it -- he threw six interceptions in the fourth quarter when there was a seven point margin. This includes the three interceptions thrown in the final game at Buffalo and the two he threw Week 11 at Houston.
Another black eye for the Jets this season was the lack of production from their tight ends. Jeff Cumberland and Kellen Davis combined to be far and away the worst tight end group in the league according to Total NEP -- the duo finished with a combined 8.33 Total NEP. The next worst team, Houston, finished with 35.02. The average between them was 16.8 points below the average for tight ends this season.
While part of this deficiency can be attributed to the outstanding seasons by Marshall and Decker, there was still room in the offense, as the Jets had a set with at least one tight end on the field on 223 of 525 (42.5%) of their offensive snaps with Fitzpatrick under center. This only led to 8 catches for 95 yards and just a single touchdown between the two.
Coming off their first double-digit win season since 2010, the Jets will be focused on taking the next step and qualifying for the postseason this year. However, they have some key free agents to lock down and other depth chart voids to fill before getting there. According to overthecap.com, the Jets are expected to have approximately $21.6 million to spend this offseason.
The most important name on the list is defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson. The Jets have said they plan to use their franchise tag on Wilkerson, but with the star lineman coming back from a broken leg suffered in Week 17, the $15 million price tag may be steeper than they would prefer. The two sides with have the opportunity to discuss a longer deal once the franchise tag is signed.
New York will also have to turn their focus to re-signing defensive tackle Damon Harrison, who had 72 tackles and was an important part of their top rush defense.
The Jets started their offseason by releasing Antonio Cromartie, which will save the team $8 million, and will give them more freedom in free agency.
On the offensive side of the ball, New York will be turning their focus to Ryan Fitzpatrick. After setting career marks in passing yards and touchdowns, Fitzpatrick will be a commodity in the free agent market. With quarterback being such an expensive position, Fitzpatrick should have plenty of suitors and the Jets will have their work cut out to keep him.
Running backs Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell, and Stevan Ridley are also free agents this offseason, meaning the Jets will need to make a decision whether to re-sign any of them or look elsewhere. Ivory was a Pro Bowler in 2015 after posting his first season over 1,000 yards in his career. Powell was more of a factor in the passing game toward the end of the season, posting 25 receptions and 227 yards in his last four games.
The road to the playoffs is expected to be tougher in 2016, as New York plays the eighth hardest schedule (.531 win percentage) in the NFL. The schedule rotation has them facing the AFC West and the NFC West, including games at Kansas City and at Arizona, as well as drawing Indianapolis and Baltimore.
The new regime under Bowles and Maccagnan was able to turn a mediocre roster into a playoff contender. Now the job starts to turn a playoff contender into a Super Bowl contender.