Chris Ivory Playing Key Role In Jets Hot Start

While it was easy to predict an improved effort from the New York Jets this season, it is safe to say they have exceeded expectations and emerged as a clear cut AFC playoff team through just five weeks. It has been no surprise that the play from the defensive side of the ball has lived up to its billing thus far, ranking second in total defense, second against the pass and eighth versus the run. 

Adding a head coach with a background in defense like Todd Bowles, while simultaneously acquiring Darrelle Revis will do that for your squad. Yet, somehow it is the Gang Green offense that is deflecting  the attention away from the defense, and it is all thanks to a formerly undrafted running back who has finally gotten his chance to shine. It took me time to hop aboard the Chris Ivory bandwagon, but if you have not done so just yet, there certainly still is time.

Many die-hard NFL fans remember Chris Ivory from his beginning years in New Orleans with Sean Payton and Drew Brees. He had a few moments in his three years as a Saint, a breakout game or two that might have put you over the top in fantasy for the week. However, for the remainder of his time in the Bayou, Ivory played second or third fiddle in the New Orleans backfield in an offense that in recent memory has not been very halfback friendly. 

Since Payton has been the head honcho, the Saints have become a heavy passing offense. So, for a young and unheralded back like Ivory, he never consistently was given enough opportunities to make a mark. He would have to wait until he was traded to the Jets for a fourth round pick, an investment that made it clear New York obviously believed he had some talent. 

Boy were they right.

Although Ivory's name is really just gaining traction now as he begins to explode, he was quietly effective in these last two seasons as a Jet. He respectively totaled over 800 yards in each season while averaging close to five yards a carry in 2013. The problem was that Ivory was a part of an anemic offense with Geno Smith and Rex Ryan at the helm. 

That was a disaster waiting to happen and which did, so often Ivory was overlooked as a real threat on a joke of a team. The Jets plain and simple were hard to take seriously, nonetheless any sort of offensive skill player on their roster. Splitting carries in a committee running game was certainly no help to Ivory's development either. Sharing touches with guys like Bilal Powell and Chris Johnson will do that to anybody. Ivory of course still has to share the occasional carry, but he has finally emerged as the alpha dog in the running game this year. What makes his performance in 2015 so electrifying is the fact he is passing his test with flying colors.

Pro Football Focus has Ivory as their third best back through five weeks with an overall mark of 85.2. According to PFF, he has played better than big names like Marshawn Lynch, Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson, and Eddie Lacy, and he certainly has passed the eye test. Ivory is a tough, physical runner with deceiving speed who just finds a way to churn out yards, especially after contact. He is once again averaging five yards a pop every time he touches the ball, but the difference is now he is impacting the game even when he is not receiving carries. 

The Jets have produced some big plays down the field despite having Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, and it all starts with what Ivory has been able to do. He is putting the Jets into favorable down and distances on early downs, and that enables New York to take shot plays down the field to a dangerous one-two combo of Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker

Ivory can set up the second and shorts, giving offensive coordinator Chan Gailey the ability to open up the entire playbook. Most significantly, it takes enormous pressure off of Ryan Fitzpatrick to convert 3rd and longs, who has historically been a turnover machine. 

To be clear, this offense is just a little above average thus far (14th in total offense and 12th in points), but there is no doubt it would be a lot worse without Ivory's production. Everybody's job on offense is easier right now thanks to this bowling ball of a running back Gang Green was lucky to acquire a few years back. For the time being, Ivory has the Jets ranked seventh in rushing, and this should have fans very excited. 

An elite defense paired with an elite running game is one of the oldest recipes to winning out there, and the 2009 and 2010 J ets were a perfect example of just that. Despite Mark Sanchez being the quarterback of those teams, New York came a game away from the Super Bowl twice thanks to utilizing the same formula of building a successful running game and terrifying defense. Although there is a lot of football still left to play, the Jets probably won't be making a Super Bowl run in the AFC. That being said, Ivory and the defense have them on track to make the playoffs as a wildcard and perhaps make some noise.

I thought this quick stat was pretty impressive and humorous. Through five weeks, Ivory has rushed for 314 yards, good for 13th in the NFL. The catch is that Ivory missed one week with an injury against Philadelphia and this past week the Jets had a bye. So, for all you math majors, that means Ivory has only played in three games in 2015. And he still ranks in the top 15. Very impressive. If this article cannot convince you that Chris Ivory is the real deal, maybe Brandon Marshall can. Per ESPN, Marshall said the following about his teammate: "He's already the best running back in the league right now," just watch the tape: speed, quickness, agility, vision, endurance. He has it all." 

A little favoritism? Maybe. 

Far fetched? A little. 

Either way the point is well taken. Because by year's end, the words out of Brandon Marshall's mouth may not look so foolish after all.

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