Thursday, March 29, 2012

NFL Rumblings; Part 2. What is Going on in New York?

I’ve been asked by a handful of people over the last few weeks as to why I am yet to write an article regarding the New York Jets’ strikingly unorthodox off season.  I don’t really have an answer to that aside from the fact that writing said article would inherently mean that I must seriously attempt to understand a collection of moves that have befuddled many New Yorkers and NFL fans across the country.  Do I include myself among the perplexed?  Well… uh…  I am confused – that I know for certain.  Any other feelings I hope to resolve by the time I sign off. 

In looking at the Jets’ offseason, the most relevant developments surround the quarterback position.  But, before I get into that, let’s look at some of the things the Jets have done well since their cross-hallway rivals took home the Lombardi Trophy.

1. Kept their top picks.  There was absolutely no way that Peyton Manning was going to sign with New York.  In fact, it’s hard to imagine any team ranked lower on his list of potential signees with the exception of the other team that calls the Meadowlands home.  If the Jets wanted to acquire elite talent like Manning via trade, it would have certainly cost them the number 16 overall pick, which is by far their best draft slot in the Rex Ryan era.  By advancing to the conference championship game his first two seasons, the Jets drafted later than teams that had 11 or 12 win regular seasons since the draft order for postseason teams is dependant on how deep they go in the playoffs and not based on their regular season performance.  Although neither of New York’s past two first round selections have reached national-accolade status, two year pro, Kyle Wilson, improved drastically in his second season and is probably one or two more removed from a pro bowl.  Last draft’s top NYJ choice, Muhammad Wilkerson, already has three more sacks to his name that previous pass-rusher-turned-bust, Vernon Gholston.  I like what they’ve done under Rex and hopefully the improved position will work in their favor.

2. Re-signed Sione Pouha.  Everyone’s favorite you-know-by-his-name-he-was-born-to-play-D-line guy, Pouha was actually one of the Jets’ best defensive players last season in which he emerged as the unquestioned leader of the defensive line with the departure of Shaun Ellis and Kris Jenkins.  Pouha is a classic Rex Ryan type guy and this has absolutely nothing to do with their mirroring physiques.  The loss of Jim Leonard in the secondary hurt and it was imperative that New York maintain some of its defensive veterans.  
Landry's physical style of play will fit right in with what NY is
trying to do on defense.   
3. Signed LaRon Landry.  This was the best move made by the Jets.  The departure of the aforementioned Jim Leonard meant the Jets had a potential hole in the secondary.  For four million dollars they got a fine deal.  Landry is a good, potentially great strong safety.  He hits very hard and is good in coverage.  From Leonard to Revis to Wilson to Cromartie, Rex Ryan has made his affinity for secondary talent well documented.  Landry, who made consecutive Pro Bowls in 07 and 08, should fall right in line with those listed above.  If he can maintain good health there is no reason to think he can’t return to that form.    

Alright, I’m feeling more optimistic about next season than when I began writing this column…

The decision to extend Marc Sanchez’s contract has to be one of the most downright moronic moves I have ever witnessed a front office make.  You can tell me it was done to settle some locker room tension.  You can tell me the Jets extended Sanchez’s contract so they could “get it out of the way.”  You can tell me it was a reward for making the AFC Championship game two out of three seasons.  Yet, strangely enough, none of these reasons have anything to do with his ability, which is really the only reason athletes should be getting paid.

You cannot convince me that this was an individual performance-based extension and you certainly cannot make the case that it was for noteworthy improvement.  Did Sanchez post career highs in 2011 for passer rating, completion percentage, passing yards, and touchdowns?  Yes.  However, he still ranked just 23rd in rating and 28th in comp. percentage.  Those numbers are up four and one respectively from his second season.  Likewise, Sanchez’s increased yardage and touchdown totals were only because of his career high number of attempts.  Completely ignore the fact that he lofted 18 interceptions and coughed up six fumbles, which are numbers that are too high regardless of how good one may be in every other department. 
As part of Mark's extension, he is encouraged to dress as comfortably
as possible to all practices and team meetings.  Said Mark, "Have
you ever noticed how annoying it is to try to throw a football under a
blanket?  My arms get SO COLD!"
At this stage in his career, Sanchez has been an adequate leader who seems to elevate his play to some extent in meaningful moments.  He has been fortunate enough to play with an elite offensive line and defensive for the duration of his career as well as in a system that stresses the running game.  For Sanchez optimists (my self included, I think), the prevailing mantra has been: let’s just give it some time; it is certainly too soon to abandon hope.  But even the most gung-ho Sanchatics cannot make a real case that he is anything more than a potentially operable quarterback.  Therefore, much like it is too soon to proclaim Sanchez a bust, it is also certainly premature to extol Mark as the future of the team to the tune of 3 years and 40 million dollars with 20 guaranteed. 

And then came Tim Tebow.

It’s hard to think of a scenario where this is a good move.  Then again, it’s hard to think of a scenario where it is a bad one.  Tebow gives the Jets options – and options are never a bad thing.  Tebow puts pressure on Sanchez to perform, but wasn’t one of the leading reasons for the extension to assuage him?  Tebow is a positive locker room presence, but why do the Jets seem to think that winning the battle in the locker room will win the battle on the field?  And what about that so-called rivalry with the Giants (although I’m sure most Giants fans would say there is no rivalry until the Jets achieve success, much like Yankees fans feel towards Mets fans)?  I hope I’m right when I say media members suggesting the move was made to steal the media attraction away from the G-men is nothing more than an erroneous self-fulfilling prophecy. 

These plans are probably unlikely to work.  Some are overly optimistic and/or theoretical.  Yet, as I said before, I still don’t know if this is a bad trade if these are the motivations behind it.  Confusing? Yes.  Detrimental to the team?  Probably not.

That is, of course, unless the Jets attempt to run what I fear they will.  Unfortunately for me, this is the only reason behind the trade for which the Jets have offered any confirmation.

September 11, 3:08 PM: @Late_Nightt (me):  Attention NFL coaches: the wildcat is dead, it's a carpet for my tv room

I get the Sparano aspect; it was Tony who initially brought about the wildcat on that fateful day against New England.  I also get that Tebow’s option-style offense was effective last season, most notably in his Thursday night shocking victory over the Jets.  However, this still cannot make me understand why something that has gone extinct for the most part around the league can be not only revived, but taken to a whole knew level in terms of its fixation in an offensive system. 

Rex Ryan has suggested that Tim Tebow could get around 20 (20!) (20!) (20!!!!!!!!!!!!) plays out of a wildcat formation each game.  There’s a reason nobody does it anymore; it doesn’t work.  There are a very limited number of plays that can be run out of the wildcat.  Most consist of the following parts: (1) pre-snap or immediately after the snap motion from a wide receiver or runner, (2) a handoff (fake or real) or a counter run… That might be it.  Granted, with Tebow or a capable passer taking the snap, the possibility for a pass is always present, but even still the number of wildcat plays that end up being runs vastly outnumbers those that conclude with a pass.  And if, for the Jets in 2012, wildcat runs do not outweigh wildcat passes, then doesn’t that suggest that Tebow is a more capable passer than is Sanchez?
If the prospect of seeing this 20 times a game doesn't excite you...
it means you still have a pulse.  
In other words, if the Jets end up frequently passing out of the wildcat, why use it in the first place?  Sure, the defense will have trouble anticipating the play if runs and passes are intermixed, but how is that any different than any play out of any formation that has a running back?  Why take Sanchez out of a rhythm that God knows how long it takes him to find?  If pushing the reset button on the locker room is paramount, why run an offense that makes the wide receivers (and likely catalysts for trouble) nothing more than decoys? 

And, most baffling of all, why would a team want someone whose throwing motion gets shit on more than a rest area toilet seat take throws away from a 40 million dollar quarterback?  

Ryan has never been praised for his offensive genius, but this is just plain stupid.

I don’t think the wildcat should ever be used, but I could live with five plays a game.  If Tebow can make those five count, who can argue against acquiring him?  The question is, will we start to want more than five?  More than ten? More than twenty?  Maybe by week 17 Tebow will be the unquestioned starter and the decision to acquire him will have saved the season.  Sanchez will be robbing the bank, but at least the Jets will have their quarterback of the future. 

Or, maybe I’m totally over thinking this whole thing.  Tebow was an impulse buy and nothing more.  He’s a flashy pre-owned coupe on sale in perfect condition that you just couldn’t leave in the lot even though you drove up in a new beamer. 

I mean, after all, we’re talking about the Jets.


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