By Justin Henry (@jrhwriting)
Cold Hard Football Facts' Dr. Death
The 6-10 New York Jets of 2012 produced the worst Negative Pass Play Percentage in the NFL, according to the CHFF Offensive Hog Index: 12.22 percent of Jets dropbacks resulted in a sack or interception last season.
For a little perspective, only eight teams suffered a Negative Pass Play on 10 percent or more of dropbacks; the Jets were the only team above 12 percent. The top-ranked Denver Broncos suffered a Negative Pass Play on just 5.25 percent of dropbacks.
It doesn't take a Paul Brown to realize the correlation between worst-case scenarios involving quarterbacks, and the New York Jets. When Mark Sanchez handles 85 percent of dropbacks for your team, slapstick is likely to take place.
Starting 15 games (the outspoken Greg McElroy helmed the other, a win over the Cardinals), Sanchez, in 509 dropbacks, was sacked 34 times, the 11th most in the league.
The oft-maligned quarterback also threw 18 picks, tied for third most in the league with rookie Andrew Luck.
With 453 pass attempts, Sanchez averaged a pick 3.97 percent of the time. That's a pick every 25 attempts. With just 13 touchdowns, Sanchez connected to the end zone on only 2.87 percent of attempts.
These statistics don't even take into consideration the indelible memory of "Butt Fumble," when Sanchez made, quite literally, an ass of himself Thanksgiving night.
It was a rare time when Brandon Moore's booty was the catalyst for more internet searches than Amber Rose's and Kim Kardashian's womanly attributes combined.
It's hard to even hang Sanchez's woes on the offensive line entirely. D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold, and even Moore had quality years, which is an expectation of the former duo. Unproven right tackle Austin Howard improved game by game throughout 2012. Matt Slauson, at left guard, was even a serviceable pass blocker.
The blame would mostly go to the skill players around the line. Sanchez's career stats include more picks than touchdowns (69 to 68), a 55.1 completion percentage, and a sudden downtick in victories as his defense has battled injuries and other turmoil. That downtick also ties in with the devaluation of his supporting cast.
Sanchez, nor his new offensive coordinator, Tony Sparano, could seem to do much with the spate of wide receivers at hand. Second-year wideout Jeremy Kerley excelled most, with 827 yards and two scores. He was the only receiver (non-tight end) to clear 300 yards.
Santonio Holmes was lost to a foot injury after four games, though he still managed 272 yards (including a 147-yard performance vs. the Dolphins). Three other wideouts topped 200 yards: Chaz Schilens (289), Stephen Hill (252) and Clyde Gates (224).
So yes, a man who played only a quarter of the season totaled the third most receiving yards among wide receivers for the Jets. Had Holmes caught another 18-yard pass before being IR'ed, he'd have been second.
Starting tight end Dustin Keller was limited to eight games due to his own injuries, but still ranked third overall in receiving yards with 317. Keller gained more than 50 receiving yards in only three of those games.
Before you ask, it was Keller's surrogate, Jeff Cumberland, that ranked second on the team in receiving yards with 359.
The Jets' second best receiver in 2012 ranked 126th across the league in receiving yards.
With limited and inexperienced options to throw to, and with a new coaching system (Tony Sparano had taken over as offensive coordinator from Brian Schottenheimer, Sanchez's only previous coordinator), the offense had little room to expand, except in the way that an abscess expands.
Rectifying the Issue
Replacing Sparano is former Eagles offensive coordinator, and Lions head coach, Marty Mornhinweg. Mornhinweg served as offensive coordinator for the last seven years of his 10-season tenure in Philadelphia, working extensively with the likes of Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb, and Michael Vick.
Although turnovers piled up later in Mornhinweg's tenure, mostly due to Vick's rough play these past two seasons, the Eagles were able to maintain a productive offense all-around. Here's a look at how the Eagles ranked with Mornhinweg helping call the plays.
EAGLES UNDER MORNHINWEG
|Year||PPG Rank||YPG Rank||Sacks Rank||INT Rank|
Three times under Mornhinweg, the Eagles ranked in the top 10 in lowest interception total, and five times in the better half of the league. As for sack totals, that's a wild fluctuation; three times among the five worst, but also three times among the top ten in avoidance.
The fact that the Eagles were in the top 10 for points scored in five of those seven years is relatively encouraging for the Jets, although Mornhinweg's superior was the offensively-minded Andy Reid. However, if this form of "Martyball," which emphasizes dumpoff passes and a West Coast-oriented offense, can inspire positive play from the Jets passing game, that'll be a major victory.
For the offense to do this, obviously, they need personnel.
Up front, Slauson departed for the Bears, while Moore retired after signing with the Cowboys. Replacing them, respectively, look to be fourth year guard Vladimir Ducasse (who has just one start), and eight-year guard Willie Colon from the Steelers. Colon has played in only thirteen games over the past two seasons.
To fortify the ranks, New York drafted three linemen: third-rounder Brian Winters (Ducasse's understudy), fifth-rounder Oday Aboushi (behind Ferguson), and sixth-rounder Will Campbell (deep on the chart at guard/center).
At receiver and tight end, Braylon Edwards was re-signed in late July, but waived a month later. Fellow polarizing receiver Holmes is finally practicing again as of this writing, and looks to be on pace to play Week One. Hill and Kerley are currently penciled in as starters at wideout, while Cumberland is the man at tight end (following Keller's exodus, and subsequent gruesome injury, with the Dolphins)
Veteran Kellen Winslow will back up Cumberland. Winslow caught only one pass in the one game he played with the Patriots last year, before asking for his release. Prior to 2012, Winslow put together three straight 700-yard seasons with the Buccaneers, peaking with 884 in 2009.
Among the two main running backs, Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory, the most receiving yards either has gained in one season is 140, which was Powell's total last season. With Mornhinweg installing his offensive ideas, there will be far more screens, shovels, and other assorted short throws to push the offense ahead. After cutdown day, ex-Packers running back Alex Green was signed as well.
But despite all of this, the biggest elephant in the room is the Jets second round draft choice. Indeed, ESPN and NFL Network went into Code Red coverage when Geno Smith was drafted on April 26.
For the excessive hype Smith has received, the only windfalls have been stories about how bad he's looked in practice, followed by the payoff of his poor performance against the Giants in preseason. That would have been an even bigger story, if not for Sanchez injuring his shoulder in an unnecessary fourth quarter appearance, followed by Rex Ryan's confrontational press conference that followed. As it looks now, Smith will start opening day while Sanchez ails.
Breaking it Down
A handful of teams use the West Coast offense today. Among the ones who are doing so successfully are San Francisco (which transformed Alex Smith into a mistake-free leader before trading him), Cincinnati, Green Bay, Houston, and Washington. That's almost half of last year's playoff teams. Only the Packers among this group have a truly lousy offensive line.
As stated before, the personnel on the Jets line isn't terrible, but with Slauson and Moore gone, the DNA will change. Their replacements have started 13 games over the past two seasons combined.
The Jets join Chicago and Kansas City in implementing the West Coast for 2013. Do they have the horizontal game to make it work? Powell and Ivory have never played West Coast in the pros until now, but are each young enough that it's possible to adapt.
Sanchez and Smith, if nothing else, have a serviceable double tight-end set in Cumberland and Winslow that act as dual safety valves. Mornhinweg, alongside Andy Reid, took a fifth-round pick in Brent Celek and turned him into a reliable target, one that's averaged almost 60 catches a year over the past four seasons. The tight end portion of the offense will be emphasized thusly.
The receiving game is a mixed bag. Kerley carried the most weight last season, but somebody had to. Holmes was on pace for a good season (1088 yards if you curve him to 16 games), but his foot ended that abruptly.
There isn't an elite receiver on the team, but Mornhinweg's dealt with it. Except for Terrell Owens' year and a half of brilliance and headaches, McNabb never had a knockout artist until DeSean Jackson joined him for two years at the end of his Eagles tenure. This was the McNabb that made three conference title games with Todd Pinkston, James Thrash, and Freddie Mitchell.
In other words, Brian Westbrook was a godsend. Sadly, the Jets don't have a Westbrook archetype. At least, none readily visible.
While Geno Smith possesses the dynamic capabilities that McNabb in his prime demonstrated (as well as Vick in 2010-11), he's unpolished and undisciplined. He'll have to make do while Sanchez is out for X amount of time.
That's the reality here: there could be some serious building blocks in place for the Jets to benefit in the coming years with this offense. All they need is Smith to develop, and acquire a running back or two with versatile upsides, and the ceiling is elevated.
However, the way it's going now, Rex Ryan will very likely be fired at season's end if the Jets don't deliver. With that change could come other changes, including a possibly-unfair exit for Mornhinweg.
Then it's back to the drawing board once more.