The New York Jets are struggling mightily right now. Some factors as to why are obvious: the schedule is brutally tough and does not recede in quality for a few more weeks while Ryan Fitzpatrick has seen the clock strike midnight and turned back into Ryan Picks-patrick. The Jets on offense have also been attacking their recent opponents without the full services of one of their best players; Eric Decker.
Decker has a partially torn rotator cuff. He was a non-factor in Week 3’s loss to Kansas City and then sat out Week 4’s loss to Seattle. The Jet offense has looked discombobulated without him. That puts added pressure on Brandon Marshall, a player that needs to step up his game for the duration of Decker’s injury to just keep New York afloat when it has the ball.
Matt Forte has been pretty good in the backfield, but that has been due more to his quantity of touches rather than quality. Instead, it is the passing game that needs to make big strides in order to get this team going, and Marshall is the key to that. He is one of the more formidable wide receivers in all of football but has yet to have a huge impact on this season.
Though he has seen a team-leading 39 targets on the season, Marshall has caught just 19 balls, trailing youngster Quincy Enunwa in that department. But Marshall’s good play coincides with New York’s. In the team’s lone win, Marshall had his best performance, catching six balls for 101 yards. In each of the other three games (all Jet losses), Marshall is averaging just 3.3 catches for 49.3 yards. He has found the end zone just once all year.
At 32 years old, the days of Marshall wreaking havoc in the opponents’ secondary may be behind him, but he is still a big-play threat who demands double teams against smaller defenders. He is just one year removed from a monumental season in which he eclipsed 1,500 receiving yards and caught 14 touchdowns. Without Decker running alongside him, there has been less open space for him to maneuver in, but the skillset remains intact.
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Decker’s injury has him labeled as week-to-week and questionable to play in Week 5. He is reportedly feeling better than last week, as one would expect, but it remains to be seen if he will be able to take the field. Either way, Marshall is the guy the Jets need to pick it up. He makes the rest of the pieces fall into place and, more importantly, makes Fitzpatrick look good slinging the ball around. To the other end of the spectrum, if/when Marshall cannot step up his game, the flaws of Fitzpatrick become more pronounced.
New York also has some issues on special teams with another injury; this one to return man Jalin Marshall. He was inactive for Week 4 with a shoulder issue that could keep him out longer than one game. Besides his role on offense, the young Marshall is even more important on returns. He took main kick- and punt-return duties through the first quarter of the season.
Jeremy Ross was responsible for the team’s only return chance last Sunday against Seattle. The previous week, Quincy Enunwa had a shot and made the most of it with a 54-yard scamper off a kickoff. Though Enunwa is an intriguing fit while Marshall remains out, the Jets probably don’t want one of their few healthy wide receivers returning kicks regularly, hence the signing of Ross prior to Week 4. Ross is familiar with the system and style of New York’s offense and return plays, so it’s a natural fit in the interim. He looked fine against the Seahawks. Fortunately for New York in this spot, the 2016 kickoff return rules make for fewer opportunities for return men anyway. There is no large drop-off to overcome because no one is getting enough chances to make a huge difference. As long as Ross holds onto the ball, something that Marshall did struggle with, he should be fine.