Will Mark Sanchez and the Jets reap the benefits of an improved running game?
As we approach the 2013 season, you won't hear too many pundits referring to the New York Jets and success in the same sentence. I'm not here to tell you that they'll contend for a playoff spot either, but there is a ray of hope for respectability. With Rex Ryan's usually solid defense, it all will depend on the offense.
Behind the league's top offenses, you will almost always find elite quarterback play. But with good coaching and a solid running game, you can hide average signal-callers (See: 49ers with Alex Smith). Whether it's Mark Sanchez or Geno Smith under center, average play is all that one could ask for.
With the additions of Chris Ivory and Mike Goodson, we should see a much better running game in New York. While that won't magically make the quarterbacks into elite starters in this league, Mark Sanchez was much more effective as a passer when Thomas Jones was around. If the Jets are going to win games, they'll need to establish the play-action pass to hide some of their many weaknesses.
In the past few years, Mark Sanchez's ineffectiveness has been well-documented. That being said, I think there hasn't been enough talk about the running game's failures and how that affects the quarterback.
Sanchez's career high QBR came in 2010, with a rating of 48.0. In that year, he committed 18 turnovers, the lowest total in his career by four. Also in that year, the Jets rushed for 2374 yards at an average of 4.4 yards per carry.
In 2012, his worst statistical season, Sanchez had a QBR of 23.4 and committed 27 turnovers. The rushing statistics? They ran for 1896 yards at an average of 3.8 YPC. That doesn't tell the whole story, but it certainly is a factor in his failures. Sanchez is no world-beater, but with a solid rushing attack, defenses give him more leeway and the passing game opens up.
In this video below, the Jets have a 1st-and-10 on the Oakland 24-yard line. With a four wide receiver set, the Raiders have only six men in the box. Off the snap, only four men rush the passer and everyone else drops into coverage.
This leaves Sanchez with five receiving options and seven defenders covering them. As you can probably guess, it doesn't end well for the Jets.
In this video, though, we see the 49ers running the play action for a successful gain. Matt Millen does an excellent job of explaining both the fact that it is predicated on a strong running game and that it creates more space for receivers. Please check it out.
The play-action pass won't just be helpful to the winner of the quarterback competition, though. The Jets also have a serious talent deficiency in pass-catchers. Between Santonio Holmes's linear decline in production since 2009 and the question marks that are Stephen Hill and Kellen Winslow, the Jets are lacking.
At this point, I'm inclined to say that none of these players truly impose fear upon opposing defenses. If the running game and play-action pass are not there, then we're looking at one of the worst offenses in the NFL. However, if they can establish both of these, then those receivers should find themselves blanketed by coverage less often.
This certainly puts a lot of pressure on Mike Goodson and Chris Ivory. Can they carry the load? On 256 career attempts, Ivory averages 5.1 yards per carry, while Goodson averages 4.5 yards per carry on 160 rushes.
These samples are small, but they indicate that both players have the talent. On this play from 2012, Ivory shows off the speed and power that teams look for in a featured running back. Goodson, on the other hand, has shown a great talent for catching the ball.
This combination should provide a balance for the Jets offense that hasn't been there since Thomas Jones. I expect rushing numbers to go up significantly from those of Shonn Greene, leading to more success on the play action and consequently better-than-expected results for the offense.
Most news has called for doom and gloom for the Jets this year, but these low-key acquisitions may just surprise a few teams in September and beyond.