Jets’ shift to the run in second half was key to victory over Browns

The New York Jets managed to win a second game in a row, but it wasn’t without some difficulty. The first half was rough, as the Cleveland Browns got out to a 20-7 lead and the Jets offense — as well as quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick — struggled.

The Jets managed just six first downs, 106 total yards (only 30 of which were through the air), a 29 percent third down efficiency rating and a zero percent red zone efficiency rating. Fitzpatrick himself was a terrible, going 3-for-14 for 30 yards and a 39.6 quarterback rating.

The second half was much different, though.

The Jets ended up with 15 more first downs (mostly by passing), saw their third down efficiency rise to 47 percent, the red zone efficiency get to 67 percent, converted a fourth down, and added 297 more total yards to their first half tally.

Fitzpatrick added 198 yards and a touchdown, going 13-for-20 in the second half and, most critically, avoiding the late game turnovers which have marred his 2016 to date.

So, what changed?

It could be that the first half merely saw Fitzpatrick pressing. He made no bones about getting benched for Geno Smith and likely realized after he spoke out that he had just put an enormous target on his back. He didn’t exactly prove anyone wrong on Sunday, but every missed pass in that first half likely put pressure on him.

Would he be benched at the half? His performance didn’t exactly dismiss that notion and a lot of the media was speculating that would be the case. It could be that when he wasn’t benched, a weight lifted off his shoulders and her relaxed, playing better in the process.

Fitzpatrick also took a huge hit to the head early in the game and while he remained under center he might not have been quite right. Maybe it took a while for him to pull himself together again.

The thing is, all the issues he was having — underthrowing receivers, bad ball placement, shaky decision making — are all things we’ve seen all season. And at times his mechanics looked as awful as they ever have.

One thing is for sure: the Jets’ coaching staff actually made some in-game adjustments and ran the ball. In the first half the Jets ran a total of 12 times, including the scramble by Fitzpatrick when he took a shot to the head.

In the second half, the Jets ran 23 times. Three of those were Fitzpatrick runs or scrambles, but 20 were called plays to either Matt Forte or Bilal Powell.

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 30:  New York Jets Running Back Bilal Powell (29) carries for a 31-yard touchdown during the second quarter of the NFL game between the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns on October 30, 2016, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, OH. New York defeated Cleveland 31-28. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

As the Jets shifted to a more significant ground attack, two things happened.

First — and this became very evident late in the game — it kept Fitzpatrick from being in the position to make mistakes. It limited his overall impact in the game, especially in the fourth quarter when the Jets ran the ball 13 times compared to just six pass attempts (many of which fell incomplete).

Fitzpatrick is his own worst enemy late in games, and once the Jets had a slim lead they were not going to let it slip away because of the offense. Forte was hot, Powell was playing well — why take chances?

Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, it forced the Browns into a more reactive defensive look. When the Jets weren’t running, the linebackers could drop into coverage, the pass rush didn’t have to worry about containing the run and the safeties were free to assist the cornerbacks. Once the Jets started running the ball — and being effective with that — the safeties had to keep one eye on the backfield, the linebackers had to stay closer to the line and overall the defense had more to worry about.

It’s a very similar gameplan to what the Jets used to beat the Baltimore Ravens last week. Why they ever got away from it in the first place is a great question, but once they got back to it, they were very effective.

The Jets take on the Miami Dolphins next week in a critical divisional battle. The takeaway from the win against the Browns this week — which has to be absorbed before the Miami game—  is that the run has to be a consistent part of the offense.

That’s because it not only takes some of the pressure of Fitzpatrick by keeping the defense honest, but it covers some of both his weaknesses as a quarterback and the Jets’ limitations on offense overall.

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