Since last season ended the Jets have added more than a few pieces to their offensive unit through both free agency and the draft. Wide receiver Eric Decker from Denver, running back Chris Johnson from the Titans, tight end Jace Amaro from Texas Tech and slot receiver/returner Jalen Saunders all figure to have an immediate impact. Wide receivers, Jacoby Ford of the Raiders, Shaq Evans of UCLA and Quincy Enunwa of Nebraska also have a chance to contribute. This group buttresses the returning unit featuring Geno Smith, Chris Ivory, Jeremy Kerley, Jeff Cumberland, Bilal Powell and David Nelson. Newly acquired Michael Vick lurks in the background should Geno Smith not show improvement. Stephen Hill still has all the measurables to be a top receiver but his head, hands and knees need to show significant improvement before that can happen.
The first personnel grouping we will look at is the “11” grouping. Simply, that means that there is 1 tight end, 1 running back and 3 receivers in the formation. In this scenario we can assume that Jace Amaro will be the tight end, Chris Johnson the running back, and Eric Decker, Jeremy Kerley and either David Nelson or Jalen Saunders as the wide receivers. When a defense sees this formation it should be thinking pass because there are 5 viable receiving targets on the field. With the defense back on it’s heels this is a good formation to run draws to Johnson or sweeps to the side with Decker and Amaro who both can run block in space. In the passing game you can have Amaro test the seam taking the safety with him leaving Kerley open behind on a slant. Then you can have Nelson or Saunders run a 15 yard in or hook route leaving Decker as your deep threat locked in one on one coverage. The Jets can choose to keep Johnson in to pass block or leak him out into the flat to get him the ball in space. Just one of many possibilities from this formation.
The “12” grouping has 1 running back, 2 tight ends and 2 running backs. There is a lot of versatility that comes out of this set. This is where having a matchup nightmare at tight end helps and Cumberland has the ability to challenge defenses as well as long as he catches the ball. In this formation you can have Amaro and Cumberland on the field at the same time or you can have one of them and a lineman such as Dakota Dozier as a tackle eligible for running plays. Either Ivory or Johnson could play at running back depending on down and distance. This grouping obviously has Ivory up the middle written all over it as it is a tight formation that with 2 tight ends that leaves the defense with 7 defenders vs 7 blockers in the box thus removing their normal advantage. Now the defense can bring a safety into the box to stop the run, giving them an 8th man in the box, but that makes the defense vulnerable to play action where the Jets can attack the middle with Amaro and Cumberland up the seam with at least one of them on a linebacker as well as giving Decker and whichever other wide receiver one on one coverage on the outside. If Johnson is the running back this is a good formation to run a screen pass with so much pressure on the linebackers and safeties already.
Dec 29, 2013; Nashville, TN, USA; Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson (28) carries the ball against the Houston Texans during the second half at LP Field. Tennessee won 16-10. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports
The “13” formation is a jumbo set that screams run. One running back, 1 wide receiver and 3 tight ends usually means run. It is most often used on the goal line or late in games to run out the clock. With the addition of Jace Amaro, Eric Decker and Chris Johnson it doesn’t have to be used in that fashion. If the Jets use Zach Sudfeld as the 3rd tight end then there are 5 legitimate receiving options in the lineup. Throwing out of this formation successfully a few times will get defenses to back out of stacking the box to stop the run and help the running game. Even if they brought a lineman eligible as the 3rd tight end to be an extra blocker they still have 4 receiving targets that could get separation quickly with beneficial match ups.
There are also some very interesting things you can do with 2 running back sets that feature both Johnson and Ivory. For one, you can run the option out of this with Ivory up the middle and Johnson the pitch option for Smith. For another, you can run screen passes and fake screen pass draws that defenses would bite on considering you have an actual speed threat in Johnson to make them adjust. There is potential for trick plays such as reverses and flea flickers due to the varying options all over the field. 2 tight ends, 2 running backs and Decker at wide receiver has all types of possibilities such as a fake screen to Johnson thrown back to Amaro on a TE screen or even line the unit up in a 5 wide spread formation to get mismatches out wide. You could even run a QB draw from that set with the defense so spread out.
This is the difference in having upgraded skill position players who have shown the ability to get open. There are many more options for Marty Mornhinweg to use and he can be more creative as well. Decker and Johnson together averaged over 120 receptions the last couple of years, Amaro had 108 in college and Saunders averaged over 60 receptions at Oklahoma, including torching Alabama for 75 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Sugar Bowl.
This is just a sampling of what the offense has the capability to do. I realize that this offense isn’t perfect and is not going to morph into the ’98 Vikings or the ’07 Patriots. However, it is clear that the Jets do have more playmakers than last year and should be a better offensive team this year.