I have been thinking about the summertime, before the lockout ended. Every team had a story, and it went something like this for the Jets. "Will Mark Sanchez be able to take that next step?" That's pretty much been the year long theme. Is he getting better, by how much, and will he ever improve his completion rate?
I think he has gotten better. Matter of fact, I know he has gotten a lot better. There are some doubters of him, and some who say it is the offensive coordinator. All of that is immaterial, what I'm concerned with is after the play starts, who is making plays, and who isn't.
This is my analysis of what the dysfunction is with the NY Jets offense. How it is chugging along one week and tripped up the next. Also, I'm going to include my opinion of how to fix it. If you don't like stats, please bare with me, for I am trying to get to bottom of what has been a season long question.I used ESPN.com for my statistical analysis, for one simple fact. They have number of times targeted and and number of receptions for every receiver. The question I have been wondering, to get to the point is this. Sanchez has always been a sub 60% passer. Is it his fault, or his receivers fault, play calling or a combination? Most likely it's a combination, but this is what I found.
QB's with a large (over 6 feet), and talented #1 WR complete more passes. Even mediocre QB's or QB's of Sanchez caliber, when they have a good big #1 option, that receiver is usually catching around 60%of the passes targeted for him. In case you were wondering Santonio Holmes is catching 51% of the passes thrown his way (targets 92 times, 47 catches=.5108). Holmes is a good player, and good receiver, but is he #1 WR? He might be, or he might not just due to his size.
Here's what other guys targeted most on their teams are doing. It's a slice of #1 targets of very good receivers both over and under 6 feet, and with both great, average, and less than average QB's.
Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona) 124 targets 65 receptions 17.8 YPC, with 20 plays of +20 yards. He is only catching about 52% of the time he is targeted. However, the big thing is every other receiver on the team is catching near 60%, because he is drawing double teams. He is also not catching short high percentage balls, as his YPC shows. His QB has been average, or in the same tier as Sanchez percentage-wise and QB play-wise.
Steve Smith (Carolina) 119 times targeted 72 receptions 18YPC and 27 catches of 20+yards. This guy is in the size category of Holmes, his QB is in the completion range of Sanchez (59%), but he is catching the ball 60% of the time it is thrown his way, and also he's catching home runs and not quick slants and still getting a good catch/target rate. Incidentally, there is not one player on the Panthers who is under 50% catch/target ratio on the team, probably because of him.
AJ Green (Cincinnati) 99 targets with 61 catches. Do the math 60% completion to the #1 receiver on the team. 16.5 YPC and 19 plays of 20+ yards. This is important because this guy is a rookie, his QB is a rookie, and they are still finding a way to complete passes at 60% to the main threat in their passing game. He is of course 6'4 and larger than Santonio.
Pierre Garcon (Colts) 62 receptions on 117 targets. He is catching only about 52%, same as Sanchez to Holmes. Here's the thing though. The Colts QB's are terrible. They are the worst in the NFL, and they are comparable to what the Jets are doing on offense. If you factor in that every receiver on the Colts is catching about 55% of the passes thrown his way, besides Garcon, it makes it worse. Garcon is about Holmes size.
Brandon Marshall (Dolphins) 70 catches on 126 targets. 14.6 YPC and 17 catches of 20+ yards. Here's another big receiver. Point to be made here is the Dolphins have a woeful WR unit. He is the only real threat, and until the past 3 weeks they had lackluster QB play as well. That means bad QB play, no other WR's for defenses to really worry about, and he is still catching 56% of his passes. That doesn't even account for 20 or so passes that he's dropped! Of course he is around 6'4, and a large target, or a good first option in the passing game.
Last guy of the night. Wes Welker. I know this is a bit of a stretch because he is catching balls from one of the best QB's ever, but facts are facts. The guy is a shrimp. He's 5'8, maybe 5'9 in heels. He catches passes year in and year out from first the Dolphins and now the Pats, and he's been doing it for years. 104 catches on 142 targets. That's a staggering 73% of the time the guy catches the ball when it's thrown his way, and he's the shortest guy on the field.
There are similar tales of guys in Philly like Desean Jackson, who has been ridiculed for not playing hard, and is still catching nearly 60% of passes targeted to him. His QB Mike Vick, is also a sub 60% passer like Sanchez, but finds ways to keep feeding his # 1 target, and doing it well.
That was a bit long winded, but you get the point. Every team seems to be passing more efficiently, and better to the #1 receiving target on their respective team, the Jets are dead last. It doesn't matter if the QB is worse, the receiver is not as talented, or the team is not as good. For some reason nearly everyone has been doing it better than Sanchez to Holmes. Until this can be figured out, this team is destined for up and down QB play, and stretches of good offense to shaky offense, to turnover prone offense. I've isolated the reasons below.
The Jets don't have a legitimate #1 wide receiver. I can't tell you if it's Sanchez's fault, or Holmes isn't getting separation from DB's like he used to, but I can tell you this. Sanchez has targeted Holmes 92 times, Keller 90 times, and Burress 86 times. There is NO #1 wide receiver. While it is great to have balance on a team, there is also no chemistry when there is not a go to guy on every play. There is also not a player that is opening up things for the other receivers. Here are the totals so far.
Holmes has 47 catches on 92 passes thrown at him (51%). Dustin Keller has 50 catches on 90 passes thrown his way (56%). This is respectable, but as a tight end you would want him catching higher percentage passes. The worst offender is Burress who has been targeted 86 times and only caught 38 passes(44%) . That's terrible. What that means is if you throw the ball at him 10 times he's only going to catch 4! 4 passes from a guy who's 6'5 and the biggest receiver on the field. While he's caught 8 TD's this doesn't mask the fact that he's not getting separation, and doesn't fight for the ball. Why even bother targeting him through the course of the game? He only seems interested if it's a pass in the end zone.
Those are the stats. No lies, no opinions. Just plain old here it is. Sanchez will only be as good as the guys he has to throw to, and the plays he has to work with. Don't get me wrong, the receivers aren't bad, they just aren't clear cut #1 wide receivers that Sanchez can grow with, and throw to on a consistent basis and know he's going to come up with first down over and over.
There are several teams in the same boat as the Jets. The Bears, Packers, and several other teams don't have a superstar #1 receiver either, but they do 2 different things to up the completion percentage. The Packers spread the field and don't use a lot of bunch formations, they find the hole in the defense and throw there. As a result it can be argued that Jordy Nelson,Donald Driver, Greg Jenning, or James Jones, are all the main man in Green Bay. The Bears had Jonny Knox and Earl Bennett, but Cutler was still completing passes. Neither of those guys did anything statistically. He did it by hitting a guy named Matt Forte on almost every other pass. The Pack spreads you out, and the Bears check it down or send the back out in motion. In case your wondering Matt Forte is the most targeted receiver on the Bears with 76, despite being the featured back. How did he do? He caught 70% of his passes and had 10YPC.
The Jets need to do both of those things and they will be just fine. The latter is the best choice. Shonn Green has been targeted 35 times and caught 27 passes for 7.1YPC. Tomlinson targeted 45 times and caught 32 passes with a 12.2 YPC and 66% completion rate. Joe McKnight has been targeted 16 times and caught 13 with a 11YPC. Combined the 3 running backs have 6 plays of 20 or more yards.
This is where the offense needs to go. This is where Mark Sanchez's lost completions are hiding. This is where the Jets offense does not stall. A QB can pass to a back when checking down, and only get 2 or 3 yards. However, a QB can pass to a back as a designed play on a rollout, and hit him in the flat. An offensive coordinator can start with a 2 WR I formation and when the defense guesses run, they can shift the TE out wide, or bring the RB out of the backfield and line up at reciever. These are all cheap and easy ways to get mismatches that are never used by the Jets. Because of the receiving talent at running back, defenses would have twice as much to game plan for, if 1 of every 3 passes was going to a running back, instead of a quick slant to Holmes. Instead of keeping that RB in to block because Hunter stinks, do the opposite. Have that running back chip the defensive end, and then run out into the flat for a wide open catch and run. This single change change will give the offense a spark.