For the fourth straight year, the Jets have opened at home. Each time, the Jets have been blessed with the good fortune of getting to face one of the weaker teams in the league. And each time, the Jets have emerged victorious. Given that I spent half of my Sunday at the game, my week 1 analysis is going to be limited to the wonder that was Jets/Browns.
The optimistic view is that over 60 minutes, the Jets were pretty clearly the better team. New York averaged 4.3 rushing yards per play with 9 first downs, while holding the Browns to 3.7 rushing yards and just 5 rushing first downs. And, frankly, that’s pretty misleading, because Cleveland’s top two rushers were the team’s quarterbacks, who gained 58 yards on 8 carries, carries which came with a large cost: three fumbles. Cleveland running backs had 20 carries for just 46 yards.
Ryan Fitzpatrick had a couple of bad throws, but some very good ones, too. He finished with a 7.25 ANY/A average1 bolstered by zero sacks and a pair of nice touchdown throws. Brandon Marshall was a monster, catching 6 of 9 targets for 62 yards and a great touchdown on a fade pass, a play that Jets have long struggled to execute. But we’ll get to Marshall’s best play of the day later on. Chris Owusu appears to have won the WR3 job, and caught a long 43-yard pass, while Eric Decker made the most of his three targets, with one 22-yard catch and one 15-yard touchdown. The Jets passing game wasn’t good, but it wasn’t bad: against a pretty good pass defense, that’s a big improvement over what Jets fans have been accustomed to seeing.
The pessimistic view would note that Cleveland led 10-7 with two minutes left in the half, and that “7” was arguably the result of a fluke play. The pass defense was a bit inconsistent. There was the inexcusable 54-yard bomb from Johnny Manziel to Travis Benjamin on 3rd-and-20: either Antonio Cromartie got beat badly or there was a miscommunication between Cromartie and safety Jaiquawn Jarrett, but the wide receiver should never get behind the defender on 3rd and 20, and that goes double when the receiver is Travis Benjamin.
Collectively, Manziel and Josh McCown averaged a mediocre 5.49 ANY/A, and that ignores the duo’s three fumbles. Take out that one bomb, and they averaged an anemic 3.48 ANY/A over their remaining 34 dropbacks. Of course, the bar is low when facing Cleveland’s offense, so there are nits to pick: Cleveland was 8/16 on third downs (and 1/2 on 4th down), and gained 10 first downs through the air. It was hardly a perfect performance from what should be an excellent pass defense against an overmatched opponent.
The game largely turned on three plays:
- Calvin Pryor and Demario Davis send McCown fylying: This came on Cleveland’s first drive of the game, which was a mammoth 17-play, 90-yard drive that took 9 minutes and 59 seconds off the clock.2 But McCown couldn’t get that last yard, and the ball went out of the end zone, giving the Jets a touchback.
- Brandon Marshall saves the day: Tashaun Gipson picked off what was Fitzpatrick’s worst throw of the day, a long throw intended for Marshall but that fell far short. Yet, incredibly, Marshall simply took the ball from Gipson on the return, and the Jets scored their first touchdown of the season two plays later.
- Cleveland’s five second-half drives ended as follows: Interception, Punt, Fumble, Fumble, Downs. But the first drive of the half began in a promising manner: Cleveland picked up two first downs, including one on 3rd and 8. On the next set of downs, a Manziel scramble on 2nd-and-15 set up 3rd and 7 for Cleveland. If the Browns converted here, there was going to be a sense that not only does a Good Manziel exists, but that he was in the stadium that day. Instead, his pass for Brian Hartline was intercepted by Marcus Williams.
The Jets have been playing an SEC schedule the past few years, getting to warm up on cupcakes before getting to the meat of the schedule. In week 1, 2014, the Jets dominated the Raiders in a way the scoreboard didn’t quite reflect. The key word in that sentence turned out to be ‘Raiders’ as New York didn’t win again until November. This year, the additions of Marshall and Darrelle Revis give the team more top-end talent than they’ve had the past three seasons. Chris Ivory continues to play well, and Fitzpatrick at least brings a better ratio of ups-to-downs than quarterbacks of Jets past. A 21-point win marks New York’s biggest week 1 margin since 1997. At a high level, it was a very good day for the Jets.
The predictive value is less clear: the Browns are, at least on offense, terrible, and the Jets recovered all five fumbles in the game. That’s obviously unsustainable, but particularly notable given that the Jets recovered four Browns fumbles in week 1, after recovering seven opponent fumbles in 2014 and just two opponent fumbles in 2013. The schedule is about to toughen up, with a trip to Indianapolis and the London game against the Dolphins sandwiched around a home matchup with the Eagles. But so far, the Jets look like a competent team under Todd Bowles, a statement that hasn’t often been true the last few seasons. In Bowles’ first game with the team, the Jets matched their number of three-touchdown victories accumulated over the prior three seasons. That’s a pretty good way to begin an era.