The early season schedule has featured a slew of tough pass defenses. Predictably Ryan Fitzpatrick struggled badly. He has in recent years underperformed more than the average quarterback against good pass defenses and outperformed more than the average quarterback against bad pass defenses.
The first seven opponents the Jets faced in 2016 are ranked 27, 7, 9, 4, 19, 2 and 18 in passer rating allowed. Cincinnati at 27th in the NFL is a surprise, as that team has in recent years had a very effective pass defense. Given the Bengals' poor pass defense in 2016 Fitzpatrick's mediocre performance against them is not encouraging. On the other hand, Fitzpatrick torched the Bills' 7th rated pass defense. Struggles against Kansas City (9th), Seattle (4th) and Arizona (2nd) are not a surprise. Struggles against Pittsburgh (19th), Baltimore (18th) and Cincinnati are a bit of a concern. Some may say Fitzpatrick did not struggle against Baltimore, citing his high passer rating. Perhaps. I don't think he played well against Baltimore, but others may take a different view.
Now the Jets come to a very different slate of pass defenses. The only top 10 pass defense left on the schedule is Buffalo in the last game of the season. Only New England and Buffalo currently are holding opponents to passer ratings lower than the league average. Cleveland and Indianapolis rank in the bottom four in the NFL. Five of the final nine games on the schedule feature opponents with 20th or lower ranked pass defenses. In short, the rest of the games set up as an opportunity for Ryan Fitzpatrick.
If Fitzpatrick continues the trends of his recent seasons we will likely see the return of 2015 Fitzmagic for much of the rest of the season. This Sunday's game against Cleveland represents an especially good time for Fitzmagic to reappear, as the Browns are the 31st rated pass defense in the NFL in terms of passer rating allowed, yielding a whopping 107 passer rating to opponents. If Fitzmagic is ever going to reappear in 2016, this Sunday's game should be the start of it. Since Fitzpatrick has made a habit in recent years of outperforming against weak pass defenses, look for a breakout game perhaps similar to the Buffalo game in week 2.
The schedule sets up well for a return of Fitzmagic. If he can't take advantage of the Browns and their 31st rated pass defense then perhaps he never will regain his form. This game may be a barometer of what to expect out of Fitzpatrick the rest of the way. Will we see that old familiar Fitzmagic, or will we just see an old, worn out Fitztragic? The answers begin in Cleveland.