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20 Nov 2012

Any Given Sunday: Jets Over Rams

by Rivers McCown

Rex Ryan's typical defensive game plan, if you haven't seen the Jets on TV in a while and have forgotten the back-to-back AFC Championship game appearances, is to confuse the quarterback with a series of elaborate zone blitzes. This Sunday, the St. Louis Rams and Sam Bradford were swallowed whole by Ryan's scheme.

After an 13-play opening touchdown drive, Bradford spent the better part of the next three quarters running for his life. Free rushers were coming from every direction, and the Rams offensive line -- which isn't good to begin with -- struggled mightily to keep the pocket from getting muddy. Even on four-man rushes.

Bradford managed just 173 yards passing on 44 attempts, which is part of the reason why he was only sacked once. The Jets contained the Rams short-passing game rather easily, and Bradford's deep ball was about ten yards too deep for most of the game. By the end of the game, when fourth down popped up, the Rams were throwing wide receiver screens rather than trusting Bradford to get the ball out. Yes, you read that right, in fourth-and-long situations near the end game, the Rams called a pair of wide receiver screens. That was the game plan. St. Louis' offense was like a slow Eels song: stripped down, depressing, and hitting the same few chords over and over again.

The Jets offense was sputtering on all cylinders for most of the game as well, but Mark Sanchez came alive in the fourth quarter. An early fake wideout screen enabled him to hit a deep-ball touchdown to Chaz Schilens in the second quarter, and the Jets were able to pile on some points late in the game by continuing to take advantage of St. Louis' defensive tendency to play on their first read. Sanchez pump-faked a couple of players open to keep drives going, proving more competent than he has been for most of the season.

I know that it's really easy to scapegoat coaches for the problems of the team. I also know that Ryan's boastful banter and inability to keep the Jets locker room in order is a big problem, both because the players don't always seem focused and because it seems like the media circus never ends. But I came away from this game marveling at how great of a job he was doing schematically. Top-to-bottom right now, without Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes, the Jets might have one of the five least-talented teams in the league. They don't have a single above-average skill player, they don't have a single quality pass rusher, and outside of Antonio Cromartie, their secondary is pretty weak. Yet they're still 4-6, within hailing distance of the playoffs in a down AFC.

Although he had more instantaneous success, Ryan reminds me of Gary Kubiak in a way. For years, Kubiak managed to build quality offenses without much investment on the offensive side of the ball. Heck, even when he was saddled with David Carr, he realized Carr's limitations fast enough to have him lead the league in completion percentage. The fact of the matter was that the defense was coordinated by bad coaches and there were concrete problems in the secondary that were never addressed.

Even despite all the chaos on the defensive side of the ball without Revis, the Jets have the ninth-ranked defense by DVOA going into next week's games. While Ryan definitely has his warts, that's a pretty masterful performance under the circumstances. There are massive problems in New York still: Sanchez has stagnated and his contract is fully guaranteed for next season, Shonn Greene has not panned out, and the Tim Tebow/Tony Sparano Wildcat facade has been all but useless this season. (More on that in a bit.) These are all problems that call for real investment on offense: hiring a renowned offensive mind and spending heavily on new weapons to fix things. Hiring Wade Phillips and signing Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning did wonders for the Texans. It's implausible to think that the Jets will be able to solve all their problems in one offseason like Houston did, but firing Ryan would probably create more problems than solutions.

It is best not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, the saying goes. And no NFL coach is closer to being louder than a baby...

By the VOA

Welcome to minus world. There is no escape. All you can do is wait for time to run out.

NYJ -4.2% -32.7% -14.3% 14.3%
STL -34.6% -0.9% 4.0% -29.7%

The Jets had their second-best defensive performance of the season by DVOA, and the Rams, well ... they were also on the field sometimes. Daryl Richardson looked pretty good! Yeesh, what a mess.

Call of the Game

Jeff Fisher showcased some early aggression by going for it on fourth-and-goal from the two on the first drive of the game. The Jets not only failed to cover Brandon Gibson in the middle of the end zone, they also failed to cover the guy next to him in the middle of the end zone. Not even a skittish Bradford could miss a pair of wide-open targets like that.

Because of this decision, the Rams were within one score for the entirety of the first three quarters. That's actually quite an accomplishment given how poorly their offense played.

Spotlight on: Tim Tebow

"Well, when isn't the spotlight on Tim Tebow?" (collects air high fives.)

OK, seriously though, let's talk about what Tebow has meant to the Jets this year. He has played 65 offensive snaps (14 percent) and 59 special teams snaps through Week 11. In contrast, Sanchez has played 625 offensive snaps, or roughly 90 percent of all Jets offensive snaps. (There's not a neat intersection of percentages here because Tebow has been used as a running back, a wide receiver, and even a tight end at times.)

We've marked Tebow down for 30 runs thus far, and he has a -28.7% DVOA (30th among 34 qualifying quarterbacks) and a -29 DYAR (dead last among qualifying quarterbacks). He hasn't even thrown 10 passes yet, so he doesn't qualify there, but through Week 11 we have him with a 8.4% DVOA and 12 DYAR on his eight attempts. Of course, there's a little bias built into that in that two of those attempts were fourth-down conversions that he completed on fake punts. Strip those out and he only has three successful pass attempts: a nine-yard completion to Dedrick Epps (that Epps fumbled) against Miami in Week 4, a five-yard completion to Jeremy Kerley on second-and-6 against Seattle in Week 10, and a two-yard completion to Kerley on second-and-1 in that same Seattle game.

Despite the small sample size, these numbers are largely in line with what we recorded last season. Tebow was dead-last in rushing DYAR among quarterbacks in 2011 as well, and though he finished ahead of a few guys in passing DYAR and DVOA, he also had the lowest completion percentage in the NFL -- and it wasn't particularly close.

Based on this, I think it's fair to say that Tebow has been more effective on special teams than he has on offense, given that he's converted three fake punt attempts so far. However, I also think it's fair to say that the Jets have not maximized the value of Tebow with how they've used him.

The option reads, the Tebowcat, plain old quarterback draws, there are many ways to utilize Tebow as a runner. The issue is that we have a pretty good sample size of running plays that say defenses aren't having problems stopping that. That's not to say that Tebow's legs aren't a threat, or that he isn't a very capable scrambler -- he's made some good plays with his feet -- but putting him in a system where he is asked to run the ball on nearly 80 percent of his offensive touches is a self-defeating prophecy no matter how many third-and-long plays you keep him out of.

To be worth these snaps (and, ultimately, a roster spot), Tebow has to be able to throw the ball. Since he's not particularly accurate or successful underneath, he especially needs to be able to throw the deep ball. Using Tebow's reputation to lure the defense up and take some shots deep, then trying to adjust his throws and runs to try to continue attacking weaknesses, is called "a game plan." Using him sparingly, and primarily as a runner despite the mountains of evidence that proves that isn't effective, is a discarded script for Pinky and the Brain.

The Jets are likely staring down a lost season. Sanchez has not improved meaningfully in the last few years, and the only reason to jettison him now is to declare him a sunk cost. Should they reach that point, any realistic viewpoint of Tebow's statistical record should conclude that he's likely too inefficient to be an NFL starter. But given the fact that Sanchez has been just about as ineffective as Tebow was in 2011 (-22.7% DVOA for Tebow, -20.9% DVOA for Sanchez this season), there's probably not much lost in giving him a few more games to prove it. Or giving Greg McElroy a chance.

Or doing anything besides what Sparano has done so far, because this current slate of events is not good for anybody involved. All it's done is create an echo-box of two-yard runs that keep the Jets from figuring out what their next move is.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 20 Nov 2012

9 comments, Last at 21 Nov 2012, 1:04pm by In_Belichick_We_Trust


by Bjorn Nittmo :: Tue, 11/20/2012 - 4:23pm

Wow -- the Rams on the losing side of an AGS. That probably hasn't happened since 2003. Quite the dropoff from the potential articles on Jags over Texans or Browns over Cowboys.

by Myran (not verified) :: Tue, 11/20/2012 - 4:39pm

Agree completely. Tebow's success comes from forcing opponents to consider him a runner and then eventually completing a low percentage bomb.

Why not throw him in on every third and long? Low expectation of success. Scrambles better. Hits bombs more. Hides his deficiencies in a low expectation scenario.

by Myran (not verified) :: Tue, 11/20/2012 - 4:40pm

Also won't disrupt the offense as much. If he fails, Sanchez is already off the field anyway. If it works, who cares if the offense was 'disrupted', because he just converted a low percentage down and distance.

by Bonzer (not verified) :: Tue, 11/20/2012 - 11:57pm

"With the sixth pick of the 2013 NFL Draft, the New York Jets select Quarterback..."

by Dean :: Wed, 11/21/2012 - 9:15am

...whichever one the Eagles don't take at #5. Or more likely, one of them trades up.

by Podge (not verified) :: Wed, 11/21/2012 - 11:14am

"Over Rams"

Yes! We're back as an actual vaguely cromulent team, not a punchline.

I'm glad we lost now.

by someguy (not verified) :: Wed, 11/21/2012 - 12:54pm

The Jets have tried to add talent on defense in recent years, but most of the players have not panned out too well. In particular corenerback Kyle Wilson is rather disappointing. Lately, it seems like they get the most talent from signing or trading.

People should hold off judging the Jets wide receivers. While there have been drops, it is hard to catch when they have no confidence in where the ball will be. Sanchez has trouble just throwing to a running back 10 feet away. Sometimes the throw will be at their feet, sometimes behind them, sometimes they have to jump... Even the Chaz Shillens touchdown catch was pretty off target.

Thanks for talking about Tebow. There is a lot of noise about him, but no one actually says anything worth repeating. A little analysis is nice to hear. They should really have him throw a bomb or two each game. Or do something creative. I cannot think of a worse way to use him than what they are doing now. Some running guru Sparano is. His wild cat success with Miami can probably be attributed to his offensive coordinator there.

by In_Belichick_We... :: Wed, 11/21/2012 - 1:00pm

I vote for Norv Turner to be the Jets OC next year.

by In_Belichick_We... :: Wed, 11/21/2012 - 1:04pm

The Jets got what they deserved. They needed an OC so they went out and hired a HC that can't develop a QB. That is exactly what the Jets need, right?
What in Sparano's career made the Jets think he could improve Sanchez? Was it his stellar QB record in Miami?