Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

30 Dec 2008

Any Given Sunday: Dolphins Over Jets

by Ned Macey

The "biggest" upset of the week was Oakland's win over Tampa Bay, but having just written about the Buccaneers, it seemed a little redundant to write another article on the fact that their run defense fell apart. (Although it should be noted that, as last week's article says, the run defense fell apart starting in Week 10, not when Monte Kiffin announced he was leaving, but the storyline is a much easier column to write, so nobody should be surprised).

Here, in addition to the brief looking forward that the linked article includes, I thought it would be worthwhile to remind people that Eric Mangini decided that he was better off with Kellen Clemens than Chad Pennington. When the Jets were 1-7 last season, Mangini turned to Clemens and benched Pennington. Pennington, who the year before had ranked seventh in DYAR and led the Jets to a surprise playoff berth. Pennington, who had nothing to do with the Jets having one of the worst defenses in the league at that time (i.e., pre-David Harris insertion).

Now, in the abstract the decision to bench Pennington was not an enormous mistake. The season was lost, and Clemens was "the future." But the same benching effectively ended the possibility of Pennington serving as the unquestioned starter of the team. A quarterback controversy would continue to rage. When Clemens played worse than Pennington the rest of the season, the Jets had a disastrous situation at quarterback. In that moment, the decision to acquire Brett Favre was a necessary move. Had Pennington stayed and started 1-2, the pressure to play Clemens would have been too intense. So, the Jets cut Pennington and gave up a draft pick for Favre. Favre finished this season with a -2.2% DVOA, very similar to the -1.2% DVOA he had in 2006. Pennington, meanwhile, finished seventh in DYAR just like 2006.

Like everything in Mangini's tenure, the quarterback moves were explainable, but like everything in Mangini's tenure, they did not work. The Jets finished 19th, 25th, and 19th in overall DVOA in Mangini's three seasons. The defense ranked 26th, 25th, and 16th in defensive DVOA. The offense ranked 14th, 25th, and 19th. Only six teams have not had an overall DVOA higher than 18th in the past three years: Denver, Oakland, Detroit, Arizona, St. Louis, and San Francisco. All except Denver (Ed. note: Not anymore) have replaced at least one head coach in that period (which raises a different article idea about the ultimate leader). Only San Francisco and Detroit have not had at least an offense or defense ranked higher than Mangini's best. (What else do Detroit and San Francisco have in common? They thought it was a good idea to hire Mike Martz.)

My own sense is that Mangini may be a perfectly adequate head coach, but after three years, he has hardly worked any magic. The Jets will suffer no damage by getting rid of him, but another team may find success with him. His main attribute is that he is smart. Well, my dad went to Wesleyan as well, but I wouldn't hire him to run my football team.

Posted by: Ned Macey on 30 Dec 2008

7 comments, Last at 31 Dec 2008, 12:39pm by Biebs


by B :: Tue, 12/30/2008 - 10:59pm

"All except Denver have replaced at least one head coach in that period..."
Not anymore. Heh.

by Sergio :: Tue, 12/30/2008 - 11:13pm

Miami was the #17 team in DVOA as of week 16 (6.8%). The Jets were #19 (3.9%). Media perception nonwithstanding, how is this an upset? Because of HFA?

Don't get me wrong, I love an article about my Phins, but...

-- Go Phins!

by Joe T. (not verified) :: Wed, 12/31/2008 - 12:14am

I think it was an upset since the Jets were "in control" of the AFC East and the Dolphins, despite their introduction of the wildcat, were very much under the radar until nearly the end of the season. Plus, it makes for better copy if Chad Pennington is out for revenge AS the underdog.

by Joe T. (not verified) :: Wed, 12/31/2008 - 12:15am

>Media perception nonwithstanding...

Sorry, missed that. I feel stupid now.

by hector :: Wed, 12/31/2008 - 3:11am

Although it should be noted that, as last week's article says, the run defense fell apart starting in Week 10, not when Monte Kiffin announced he was leaving, but the storyline is a much easier column to write, so nobody should be surprised).

I'm confused here. The Bucs didn't even play in Week 10, they had their bye. And isn't the issue that the *entire defense* fell apart at some point down the stretch, perhaps related to the Kiffin situation?

In Week 11 they held the Vikings to 14 first downs and 210 total yards, and while Gus Frerotte had a pretty rating that day, the Bucs also sacked him five times. Peterson got 4.5 YPC that day, which is at least under his average. The Lions had nine first downs and 207 total yards against the Bucs in Week 12. How bad could Tampa have possibly played on that day? I realize Kevin Smith gouged them on a couple of runs.

The last four weeks is where things got hairy for the defense as a whole; Tampa allowed 386 yards per week over that stretch and gave up 123 points. The Bucs had one and only one sack in each of their final five games, as well. Carolina embarrassed them on Monday Night Football, Philip Rivers shredded them in Week 16, and obviously the Raiders had their way last week. Maybe this was related to Kiffin's timing and maybe it wasn't, but I don't see the same line of demarcation that you do. (Yes, I'm looking at first-level stats on all this, but it's late and when the numbers are this hefty, it's hard to ignore, no?).

by Harris :: Wed, 12/31/2008 - 9:55am

"Had Pennington stayed and started 1-2, the pressure to play Clemens would have been too intense."

I never understand this theory. Pressure from whom? If it's pressure inside the organization, maybe this is true though I expect a head coach to have enough testicular fortitude to ignore that kind of pressure stick with his guy at QB. If it's from the media and/or fans, then so what? Any GM who signs players or any coach who assigns playing time based on the howling from the media or fans doesn't deserve his job.

"A little celery is always nice after a good pee."

by Biebs (not verified) :: Wed, 12/31/2008 - 12:39pm

I think part of the reason the Jets went after Favre was because Clemens was doing so poorly in camp. From what I remember, Clemens was throwing INT after INT in practices (something like 8 or 9 practices in a row he threw a pick), I believe the Jets CS wanted Clemens to beat out Pennington, similar to the Cardinals wanting Leinart to beat Warner in preseason.

There are rumors in some of the NY papers that the Jets like Brett Ratliff more than Clemens at this point. Obviously the Jets thought Pennington was done.