By Jeff Capellini
Odell Beckham Jr. poses a major matchup problem for the Jets.
Teams have struggled to stop the Giants’ superstar wide receiver all season, and it’s a safe bet Todd Bowles has spent the week preparing some kind of scheme to take some of the pressure off of his banged-up secondary.
Well, as luck would have it, I have a plan of my own, one that the Jets should consider if the idea is to counteract Big Blue’s great playmaker.
His name is Brandon Marshall. It’s time to fight fire with fire.
The Jets have the ability to match whatever the Giants throw at them Sunday. Beckham has certainly avoided anything resembling a sophomore slump, but Marshall has proven that he’s just as good now at 31 as he was when he was in his prime years.
Trying to blanket Beckham will likely be a losing proposition. The fact is the Jets have serious issues right now defending the pass. It is looking more and more like Darrelle Revis won’t play Sunday due to a concussion and that the knee injury suffered last week by promising youngster Marcus Williams may severely hamper his effectiveness, if he plays at all.
I wouldn’t put aging Antonio Cromartie on Beckham under any circumstances, but that just might happen.
Barring their inconsistent pass rush becoming something more between now and the opening kickoff, the Jets’ best chance to “neutralize” the Eli Manning-to-Beckham connection is for their own superstar receiver to match the Giants’ stellar wideout stride for stride, catch for catch and touchdown for touchdown.
With the way both Marshall and Ryan Fitzpatrick have been playing, it’s certainly doable.
Marshall has easily been the Jets’ best receiver since Keyshawn Johnson roamed opposing secondaries from 1996-99. Now that might not say much for the Jets’ passing game as a whole over the last two decades, but Marshall would be a star on any team. That’s the kind of respect that comes with five 100-plus catch seasons in 10 years in the NFL.
Mike Maccagnan overhauled the Jets during the offseason, but the steal of a trade he pulled off with the Chicago Bears that landed Marshall in green and white has defined his first year as a general manager more than any other move he has made.
The numbers don’t lie.
The Jets haven’t had a 1,000-yard receiver since Jericho Cotchery put up 1,130 back in 2007. Marshall has 931 in 11 games and, barring an injury or falling off the face of the Earth, could eclipse Don Maynard’s 1967 franchise record of 1,434.
Marshall may also break the single-season club records for receptions (Al Toon had 93 in 1988) and touchdowns (14, Maynard in 1965 and Art Powell in 1960) as he has 71 and 9, respectively.
Those are some pretty good reasons to keep chucking the rock to No. 15.
As much as Marshall has dominated opposing defensive backs with his physicality, impressive hands and nose for both the first down marker and end zone, Fitzpatrick has done his fair share of the heavy lifting as well.
This may seem like a crazy stat, but it’s true: the Jets have never had a quarterback throw 30 touchdown passes in a season. Fitzpatrick, of all people, could be the guy to do it. I say “of all people” because there are still a lot of fans who don’t believe in the journeyman signal-caller. They view him as at best a serviceable stop-gap option, and are always living in fear of the big turnover.
But Fitzpatrick has made his 11th NFL season count, throwing 20 TD passes in 11 games, including four last week — with no interceptions — in the rout of the Miami Dolphins. And when you consider he’ll be going up against a Giants defense on Sunday that is ranked dead last against the pass (309.2 yards per game) and tied for last in sacks (just 12 in 11 games), it’s not too hard to imagine Fitzpatrick finding Marshall repeatedly and the Jets scoring a bunch of points as a result.
The thing is, though, Marshall has not been Fitzpatrick’s only reliable target. Veteran Eric Decker has been a touchdown machine with eight in the 10 games that he’s played, to go along with 51 receptions and 700 yards. As I wrote earlier this season, Marshall and Decker have a chance to become the first Jets receivers to each surpass 1,000 yards receiving in the same season since Johnson and Wayne Chrebet did the trick back in 1998.
But it doesn’t stop there. The Jets’ receiving depth has started to emerge. Rookie Devin Smith finally got going last week by hauling in the first touchdown of his career and Quincy Enunwa has been effective since coming back from a four-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
I’m just wondering how the defense-starved Giants are going to cover all of these guys, disrupt Fitzpatrick’s rhythm, and stop running back Chris Ivory, who had a bounce back effort last week, and now sits just 234 yards shy of his first 1,000-yard season.
If Marshall does his thing and effectively cancels out Beckham, the Jets should be in pretty good shape. They have a better running game and defensive front seven than the Giants, showcase a quarterback that isn’t afraid to spread the field, and have to be highly motivated considering their precarious position in the AFC wild card race.
And let’s not forget the fact that the Jets haven’t beaten the Giants in 22 years and are constantly reminded of how they are the little brother in this town and are just leasing their space at MetLife Stadium, regardless of what the building’s deed says.
Sure, the Giants still have Manning, but their West Coast offense under coordinator Ben McAdoo has not lived up to what it was last season, mostly because of problems running the football and a lack of a consistent second receiving option after Beckham.
Considering that the Jets have the league’s third-ranked defense, including the top unit against the run, the one-trick pony-type of offense the Giants trot out there might play right into the hands of both Bowles and defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers. And when you add in the fact that the Jets average 24.7 points per game, their most since 2008, the Giants’ inability to stop anyone might force Manning to chuck and duck all afternoon.
So, yes, Beckham will get his, but if the Jets are smart they will stay as far away from conservatism as humanly possible and ride Marshall for all he’s worth.
The Jets finally have an offense worth writing home about.
Gentlemen, choose your weapons.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet