Breaking Down Greg McElroy's First NFL Action for New York Jets
There is a quarterback controversy brewing in New York—oh, wait, that's been brewed now for about eight months.
The main character in this controversy, though, has become Greg McElroy.
Let's forget the rhetoric of the controversy; and break down his performance in Sunday's game and see if we can sort through the performance to find out whether McElroy should be the starter in Week 14 and going forward.
Did McElroy's presence provide them with some schematic advantage? Certainly not; he didn't do anything Mark Sanchez is incapable of doing. What he did, though, was effectively manage the game and give his team a chance to win, which is more than Sanchez could say before he came out and more than he's been able to say in many games this year.
The Jets ran McElroy on a few naked bootlegs to try to make the read simpler for him. That was the case on his touchdown throw.
The Jets came out in their jumbo set with two backs and three tight ends. The formation screamed run, and the Cardinals were ill-prepared to defend anything else with all 11 defenders in the box.
That's why, the moment it wasn't a run, it was a guaranteed touchdown.
The Cardinals attacked the line of scrimmage hard, leaving the entire right side of the field wide open. McElroy could have walked in for the touchdown, but he took the easy touchdown pass instead.
Give credit to the play design, which limited the likelihood of a costly mistake (worst case scenario on this play is the Cardinals sniff it out and McElroy throws it out of the back of the end zone) and capitalized on their success running the ball earlier in the drive and Arizona's subsequent aggressive defense of the run.
But McElroy certainly deserves credit. As we've seen from Mark Sanchez this year, hitting open receivers isn't always a given.
When they're that open, though, it's hard to miss.
Did McElroy's presence provide the offense with a new energy? It certainly seemed to; the surge up front was much better overall in the second half than the first half. They rushed for 56 yards on 16 carries (3.5 YPA) in the first half, and had 121 yards on 27 carries (4.48 YPA) in the second half.
Some of that credit goes to the switch from Shonn Greene to Bilal Powell, who had 36 yards on five carries in his first full series at running back in the game, and McElroy's first series at quarterback.
It's easy to see that the team played better when McElroy went in than it did with Sanchez at quarterback. That being said, not all of it was because of McElroy, and some of it was in spite of him.
His stat line on seven throws may have been better by comparison to Mark's, but were it not for a highly suspect illegal contact penalty against the Cardinals that wiped away a bad interception, you have to wonder if there would even be a quarterback controversy with McElroy right now.
Just look at how covered Stephen Hill was when McElroy threw him the ball.
I know Sanchez has made some bad decisions, but McElroy's throw to a double-covered Hill ranks right up there with many of Mark's most egregious mistakes this year (except, you know that mistake).
Hill's oversell of the illegal contact wiped that mistake clean away.
That wasn't the only time Hill would bail McElroy out on the day.
Hill made a remarkable catch on 3rd-and-6 on a ball was thrown entirely too high, even for the 6'5" receiver.
The wide receiver was wide open on the out route.
Despite that, it still took an incredible effort to make the catch.
It was probably the product of some jitters in his first NFL action, but he can't expect to be rescued by an incredible catch annually. This is an easy one to learn from—he just has to settle down. If he had led Hill into the throw a bit more, it wouldn't have taken one of Hill's most acrobatic catches since this gem at Georgia Tech.
But McElroy wasn't brought in to make dazzling throws with pinpoint accuracy; he was brought in to manage the game, and he did exactly that, as we saw on the drive following the touchdown.
McElroy had no one open, so he did the wise thing and moved around to buy some time for his receivers to get open. When that didn't happen, he did another wise thing with a dump-off pass to running back Khalil Bell.
What happened next is far from his fault, as Kerry Rhodes came back to haunt the Jets for a third time in the game (two interceptions off Mark Sanchez, forced fumble) by forcing a fumble.
Again, this is no fault of McElroy's. In fact, he made the veteran decision, instead of trying to fit it into a covered receiver, he took the "sure play" of a checkdown.
McElroy's performance was just enough to ensure that there is a quarterback controversy for next week's game. In managing the game, he gave himself a chance to be the starter next week, but was far from dominant enough to ensure that will be the case.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand or via team press releases.
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