As we continue our look back at 2015 for the Jets, let us turn our attention to coaching. Todd Bowles and his staff surprised most by winning 10 games in year one. What were the best coaching moves the Jets made this season?
Moving Eric Decker to the slot
Before the season, many of us wondered how the Jets would utilize their talent at wide receiver. There was plenty of speculation that the Jets might move Brandon Marshall around to create favorable matchups. The Jets ended up not mixing things up that much. Ryan Fitzpatrick indicated the offense started to take off when the team simplified things personnel wise late in the season. One constant was heavy use of Eric Decker out of the slot. Decker was big enough to overpower the smaller defensive backs who typically play the middle of the field, and his crisp route running made him a difficult matchup for corners who had to defend the entire field rather than just the sideline.
Moving Quincy Enunwa to tight end
Part of good coaching is understanding the skillsets of your players and how to put them in the correct positions. Quincy Enunwa isn't a terribly explosive athlete relative to wide receivers in the NFL. He is relative to tight ends, though. He might not be fast enough to run by cornerbacks, but he is fast enough to get by linebackers. He also came from a run heavy option offense in college. In a system like that, receivers either learn to run block well or they do not play. These things along with a genuinely thin group of tight ends led the Jets to utilize Enunwa as an H-back. Do not be fooled by the team's roster website. Enunwa essentially functioned as a tight end this season. He ended up being a help when the run game worked.
Attacking on defense
I will admit that it is difficult to tell the exact gap assignments of the defense on a play to play basis. Still there was one point of comparison between the new defense and the old defense that popped up from writers who talked to the coaches.
Ryan ran a 3-4 defense, and so does Bowles. The primary difference is that Bowles plans to use a lot of eight-man fronts, and not ask his defensive linemen to be responsible for two gaps as often.
Penetration — as fast as possible — into the offensive backfield is paramount for Bowles. So he wants his linemen and linebackers to leave behind the "read and react" approach Ryan typically (and often successfully) used for his defense.
In a vacuum, I don't think one set of tactics is superior to another in football. Rex Ryan is certainly a brilliant defensive mind. With that said, the strongest unit on the team is the defensive line. Attacking roles give defenders a chance to utilize their natural ability and make plays. This might have helped Muhammad Wilkerson and Damon Harrison have career years and Leonard Williams have such a strong debut season.
Changing playing time by performance
It surely was a refreshing change to see the Jets reduce playing time for guys who were not performing this season. Quinton Coples, Demario Davis, and Jeff Cumberland were among the Week 1 starters who lost significant snaps as the season progressed. This was something lacking in past seasons. It felt like performance actually mattered.
Response to Houston
When the Jets lost to the Texans to fall to 5-5, it was their fourth loss in five games. Reports indicate Todd Bowles had an uncharacteristically strong reaction.
"Coach was like: ‘I’m not a loser. Ya’ll aren’t losers, either,’ " nickel cornerback Buster Skrine said. "‘Let’s get it done.’ "
He didn’t scream. He didn’t overturn chairs. He didn’t hurl expletives. But his anger was evident.
"It’s not like a yell, it’s like a stern talking to. Like, you know he means business," defensive lineman Stephen Bowen said.
"When Bowles is getting the message across, it’s powerful," Skrine added. "When you hear a little bass in his voice, he’s for real."
"I don’t think the players had really seen him like that," defensive lineman Leger Douzable said. "Him getting after us a little bit, I think that woke everybody up."
Later that week, Coples was cut, sending a stern message about a lack of performance. These things can go either way. Sometimes the team does not respond. The Jets did, though. Bowles knew which buttons to push, and the team went on a five game winning streak that put them on the cusp of a postseason berth.