Looking back on the New York Jets 2008 season is kind of like looking at one of those guys at the gym who only works out his upper body.
He's chiseled at the top and very defined, but he has the legs of an eight-year-old girl.
The Jets were in indeed chiseled at the top in 2008, but faded away as the season wore on.
Consider the fact that QB Brett Favre threw 15 of his 22 touchdown passes before Week Nine and just seven in the second half of the season and you can see why.
Although the team missed the playoffs, they weren't without their share of big plays. Breaking down those plays will help give us a better understanding of why they were successful and what the Jets can look to hang their hat on in 2009.
Favre threw 10 of 22 touchdowns from four or five receiver formations with those passes totaling 120 yards. What's even more eye-opening is the fact that four of his 22 strikes came out of a two receiver set with those passes racking up 118 yards.
This tells us that while the Jets offense was productive in spread formations (10 TD passes), they didn't always have to spread teams out to connect on big passes.
Case in point—the top two pass plays of the 2008 season:
Week One at Miami
The Jets line up in a classic I-formation, two receiver set with Jerricho Cotchery to the left. Brad Smith comes in motion from the right and Favre drops back and play-action fakes to Thomas Jones.
FB Tony Richardson stays in to block and Smith runs a square-in pattern in the middle of the field.
Cotchery runs a double-move deep down the field, essentially acting like he's running a post, then angling it back towards the sideline. Favre hits him [nearly] in stride and it's six points for Gang Green.
Week Four vs. Arizona
Late in the game, the Jets are faced with a 4th-and-1 from the Arizona 40-yard line. Gang Green comes out in a single receiver (Cotchery), two tight end, two running back formation.
Favre snaps the ball and fakes the hand-off to Thomas Jones. With the defense stacked against the run, there's no safety in the middle of the field. Cotchery simply runs a fly pattern and beats cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for the touchdown.
What we have are the Jets' two biggest touchdown passes of the season coming off play-action fakes in simple formations. In both cases the defense was respecting (and expecting) the run and in both cases Jerricho Cotchery was the main target.
Part of the reason the the Jets had success from play-action in 2008 was the productivity of their running game.
From my count all 20 of the team's rushing touchdowns were on runs either up the middle to to the right. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer obviously felt more comfortable running behind Nick Mangold, Brandon Moore, and Damien Woody.
Nine of their 20 rushing scores came on runs to the right with those carries totaling 216 yards. The other 11 went up the middle for a total of 128 yards.
I guess it's no surprise that three of the Jets top five plays were on the ground. Here they are:
Week Eight vs. Kansas City
Late in the first half the Jets have 2nd-and-4 from their own 40-yard line. They are lined up with three receivers, a tight end, and a lone back (Leon Washington).
It's a simple straight hand-off as Washington runs it up the middle and takes it all the way to the house for a 60-yard touchdown.
Nothing fancy here, just good old fashioned blocking with a dash of blazing speed.
Week 12 at Tennessee
With a 2nd-and-2 at their own 39-yard line the Jets line up with two receivers and a tight end to the left and one tight end to the right. Essentially overloading the left side as a deception.
They can do this because they have a ton of confidence in the right side of that line, and because they have Leon Washington.
Upon taking the hand-off Washington hesitates for a moment, allowing his blocking to develop, then turns it up and races 61 yards for the touchdown.
Week 13 vs. Denver
It's 1st-and-10 for Gang Green at their own 41. They are lined up in the 'I' with two receivers, two running backs, and a tight end. It's a similar to how they were lined up for the Favre-Cotchery strike in Week One.
Brad Smith comes in motion from the right and Thomas Jones takes the hand-off from Favre. Jones starts left then cuts it back right into a gaping hole along the line. After that it's smooth sailing—59 yards for the touchdown.
When you take a closer look at those five scoring plays you'll find that the Jets never had more than three receivers, in fact, in three of those five plays they lined up with only two receivers.
For the passing plays, Jerricho Cotchery was able to utilize his speed and get deep down the field against single coverage as the quarterback's play-action fakes sucked up the defense.
Of course, the offensive line deserves credit as well with their superb pass protection and excellent run blocking. Blocking that allowed Leon Washington and Thomas Jones to run free into opposing secondaries on numerous occasions.
As week look ahead to 2009, the quarterback (whether is be Mark Sanchez or Kellen Clemens) looks to be in good position to run a productive offense utilizing simple formations.
Gang Green has a solid offensive line in tact, so realistically, they have the ability to do whatever they want. However, as I've illustrated, they don't have to get fancy to be effective.
If the Jets can continue to get production from those types of plays and formations then they'll have a chance to fly even higher in 2009.