Two weeks ago, just prior to the Washington game, I wrote a piece wondering why the Jets wouldn’t tailor their offense to suit the skills of Mark Sanchez the way that the Denver Broncos have tailored their offense to suit Tim Tebow’s skills.
And lo and behold, what happens? Starting in Washington, but really letting it rip this week against Kansas City, the offensive game plan was a masterpiece suited to highlight everything Sanchez does well and minimize the chances for mistakes.
It’s a Festivus Miracle!
All kidding aside, this is the type of game plan I have been waiting all year for.
Recall, if you will, all the chatter at the beginning of the season of how this would be the year Sanchez would take the great leap forward—a reasonable assumption to make, given that it is his third year and the Jets had added some nice pieces to the offense.
But starting with the three-game road losing streak in Week 3, everything went off a cliff. Nick Mangold got injured and the offensive line fell apart, the run game just wasn’t clicking and the Jets were pressing and playing from behind (meaning they had to throw a lot)—a recipe for disaster if there ever was one.
All the pundits wringed their hands and pronounced the Jets' season over and Sanchez overrated.
So Rex Ryan made a course correction. The Jets would go back to their ground and pound roots. This worked to an extent. But Sanchez kept pressing and throwing picks. The run game still wasn’t that great. The long pass game was non-existent. The Jets won some games, but eventually melted down at Denver—the rock bottom of the season, as far as I am concerned.
No one was more excited than I when the news broke this summer that Tom Moore was hired to be an offensive consultant for the Jets. Sanchez needed to take his game to the next level, and I could think of no one better to cast a fresh eye on the Jets offense than the mastermind who directed the Colts' offense for the last few years.
So it came to pass that Moore reviewed game tape on a weekly basis, giving his feedback to the coaches in Florham Park, and generally offering a fresh point of view. All good.
So why hasn’t there been more improvement since? A couple of reasons. The offensive line problems cannot be overstated. Sanchez has taken horrendous hits all year long. He got skittish, the playcalling didn’t change to adapt to the new reality and problems surfaced everywhere.
Moore is not dumb. I am sure that he can see the potential upside of Sanchez—it’s tremendous. I’m sure he can also see that Sanchez is not like his previous star pupil, Peyton Manning. They have two completely different styles of play. But somehow there has been a disconnect between the feedback I am convinced he is giving to Ryan and Brian Schottenheimer and what is actually getting called on the field during games.
Listen, I’ve been plenty critical of Schotty, but there is no question that he wants what is in the best interest of the team. He’s in a tough spot. He has to call plays that he thinks the offense can execute given the current personnel while factoring in the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing defense, down and distance and time remaining in game. And he has to incorporate whatever new wrinkle Ryan wants to see that week. All in real time. I’m not excusing him. It’s just not as easy as it looks.
I think Sanchez looks at the playcalling in a completely different way. I’ll explain.
Sanchez gets the play (or plays) radioed into his headset. He tells the team the play in the huddle. They break, Sanchez goes to the line and then I believe he does two things: He looks at what the defense is presenting and determines if he thinks the offense can execute whatever Schotty has called. Then he looks for where the pass rushers are lined up. Not necessarily in that order. Can you blame him after the hits he has taken this year?
It’s self-preservation versus execution, and when you try to do both, you do neither one well.
I think that is the root of the accuracy issue.
Look, Sanchez can throw the ball. If you lined up a receiver on a practice field, 20, 30 yards away and gave Sanchez 10 balls, he could hit the guy on the numbers every time. I think that the real root of the “accuracy” problem is timing.
Offensive plays are basically a form of highly stylized choreography. When everyone is not dancing in step, the whole thing falls apart. People start tripping and missing their cues. Routes are run wrong or late. Sanchez is throwing to the spot where he thinks you will be and not where you are and the next thing you know, you’ve committed a turnover.
When everybody is in step, it is a thing of beauty. When you’re out of sync? Disaster. There’s a reason that Sanchez identifies so strongly with all those Broadway shows. It is very similar to running offensive plays. You know, minus the 250-pound defenders bearing down on you. Don’t believe me? Listen to Sanchez tell it himself.
If your star is better at tap dancing than ballet, don’t try to open with Swan Lake.
Missed in the accepted media narrative about Sanchez’s failure to become a pure pocket passer is the fact that he has shown a ton of improvement this year. But it’s hard to remember that when he throws another back-breaking INT.
So where am I going with all of this? The last two weeks Sanchez has played some of his best football. In particular, Sunday against Kansas City was sparkling.
You know what else has been going on the last two weeks? Moore has been sitting in the booth. Live. In person.
The Jets have gone to great lengths to clarify that Moore is not calling the plays. Schotty is calling the plays. Technically. No, really. You can see Sanchez and Schotty communicating on field. But you cannot tell me that discussions about play calls are not happening between the booth and the sideline. I think that is part of the cause of the plays sometimes getting in late.
What has been the result? Suddenly, the playcalling throughout the game has been tailored to what Sanchez is really good at. In no particular order: rollouts, bootlegs, play-action, short passes out of the backfield to the running backs, the occasional long ball. Up-tempo offense.
Sanchez having the freedom to move in the pocket makes him much less skittish and able to keep his eyes down the field. It keeps the defense guessing. Remember back when the Jets went to Oakland and the Raiders told the media that they could predict exactly what play was coming from the Jets offense? That was awful. That’s fixed now. There is lots of variety.
Speaking of variety, let’s give a shout out to CBS’ great production crew, who caught a shot of Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress trotting off the field when the Jets were right down on the KC goal line early in the game. The minute I saw that, I screamed at the TV, “Mark with the bootleg! Mark with the bootleg!” And sure enough, Mark with the bootleg! I think that is my favorite play the Jets call.
All the previous play action and running set it up and KC completely bit on the beautiful fake handoff on what they thought was an obvious run play up the gut. Sanchez rolls into the end zone untouched.
In a beautiful bit of synergy, calling plays that work to Sanchez’s strengths (mobility, play-action, quickness) has opened up the running game. I used to hate those series of “up the middle for two, short pass incomplete, up the middle for one, punt.” Ugh. But now that the bootlegs and rollouts are fully embraced, the defense isn’t quite sure what is going to happen.
Suddenly, Shonn Greene looks like LaDainian Tomlinson 2.0. Greene is catching those beautiful soft touch passes for screens as he’s coming out of the backfield, the kind that LT is a master of. I’ll bet LT has been working with Greene on that. Defenses playing the Jets now have to be alert for both those guys, to say nothing of traditional power runs and any kind of crazy rollouts by the quarterback.
I’m christening this new offense Ground and Pound and Move Around.
Finally, finally, the Jets have been broken of the silly idea that Sanchez should be a QB in the mold of a pure pocket passer. They loosened the reins and look what happened. You tell me the last time the Jets put away a game at halftime. The results speak for themselves.
It’s not perfect. There is still plenty to work on. Sanchez was sacked again after two weeks of his jersey staying clean. But at least once, I saw him go down the way Manning does. Recognize the pass rusher is on top of you and go down. Who cares if you look like an idiot? However, Sanchez did get pile driven into the turf again at one point, and that is not good.
Sloppy mental play is still happening best exemplified by having to call a timeout on the very first offensive play of the game! That’s just plain embarrassing. That is on everyone: coaches, players, everybody. Making sure there are 11 men in the huddle is football 101. Sigh. The mental mistakes need to get cleaned up, along with the stupid time outs and everyone still needs a better understanding of situational football.
This week in Philadelphia will be a real test. The Eagles are unlikely to make the playoffs (it would take a miracle and a ton of help), but they are dangerous. The Jets' defense will have their work cut out for them. The Jets' offense needs to build upon the tremendous job they did against the Chiefs.
The Jets have the good fortune this week to fly under the radar (and when have we ever said that?) because Pats-Broncos is going to suck all the air out of the room.
That’s just fine with me. This is a business trip. Go into Philadelphia and take care of your business. Clean up the mistakes and keep the momentum going.
It may seem a little late in the season to revamp the offense. But who cares as longs as it’s working?
What’s that line from Moneyball? “Adapt or die.” The Jets are adapting.
Better late than never.