Allow me to introduce myself: I am a 3rd-generation Jets fan who grew up near Shea Stadium in Queens, where my grandparents would go to see the Jets play during the 60’s. Oddly enough, my grandmother was a bigger fan than my grandfather, even though she grew up in England and only came to the states after WWII. Without giving away my exact age, I will say that I was born in the early 70’s, and while I do not remember a lot about the Jets from the 70’s and 80’s, I do remember that Mark Gastineau was my favorite player until he threw his career away so he could marry a Hollywood starlet (that’s how I remember it, anyway :-)).
Suffice it to say, I am not a “bandwagon” fan—I watch every minute of every game, every week, no matter how badly the team is playing. Had I been at the game against San Fran, I would not have walked out at halftime like so many others did. Before I moved to Denver, Colorado in 1997, I had season tickets for the ‘94 - ’95 and ’95 - ’96 seasons, neither of which were successful. I remember sitting in the endzone side where Marino faked the spike and scored the winning TD for the Dolphins, and it was like a stake in the heart. But no matter what happened during those seasons, I was there for every game, until the final seconds ticked off the clock, and even though I live somewhere else now, I still watch every game until the bitter end. Like so many other lifelong fans, I bleed Green and White.
I am telling you this because I know what your reaction will be to what I’m about to say next—fans shouldn’t be armchair-quarterbacking, we have no idea what it’s like to be a coach in the NFL, and we have no idea what goes on in the locker room or in players’ heads. Yeah, I get that. I realize that even the most diehard fan hasn’t earned the right to tell you how to do your job. But we are connected to the team, just like you are—the team’s triumphs are our triumphs, and we feel their pain when things aren’t going well. NFL games are played for the enjoyment of the fans, which makes us the backbone of our team. So I am hoping you will listen when we tell you that we are seeing some things on the field every week that do not make any sense, even to the layman’s eye.
Case in point: in the recent game against New England, we made it to the 2-yard line on runs from both Greene and Tebow. It was 3rd and 1, so we didn’t need to get the score, we just needed a 1st down. Even though our running game had been working, and we only needed 3 lousy feet, Tebow was pulled off the field, and a pass play was called, which was unsuccessful and we had to settle for 3 points instead of 7. In my opinion, and the opinion of many fans, this is where the game was lost. Had we scored the TD, nothing that happened after that would have been as relevant as it turned out to be.
Now, I am not a Tebow fan by any stretch of the imagination—living in Denver, I got to witness Tebowmania first-hand, and frankly, it was a nightmare. The guy’s got heart, but he’s way over-hyped for his level of talent at QB. But when you put him in the game, in any capacity, and he’s being successful, at least keep him in there to finish the series. If he hadn’t picked up that 1st down against NE, well then we’d have been no worse off than what actually happened, but he had been successful up until that point, so there really was no reason to think he couldn’t have gotten the 1st down, or even the TD.
There are several other things us fans have been seeing this year that have us scratching our heads:
The swapping of Sanchez and Tebow on the same drive, or even the same series. After all the hype Tebow has gotten as being our “secret weapon”, the biggest issue now is that every time he steps onto the field of play, the opposing team is expecting (and usually ready for) a trick play. Yes, he’s had some limited success with fake punts converted for 1st downs and such, but those are rare compared to the number of plays he runs. We need to get more creative with the use of Tebow, and if he’s being successful on a drive, leave him in there. Conversely, if Mark is being successful on a particular drive, don’t upset his rhythm by pulling him out for one play. More often than not, that one play results in either no gain or a loss of yards, which then leaves a hole Mark has to dig out of.
Playcalling: this one really has us scratching our heads. The most puzzling example is the scenario mentioned above from the NE game, but almost equally as puzzling is why we continue to call running plays with Greene up the middle when it was clear pretty early on in the season that the offensive line wasn’t creating the holes needed for such plays. The most successful run plays, even from our layman’s eye, are those around the outside, yet those types of runs are rarely called. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result, then Mr. Sparano should be checked into Bellvue for a psychological evaluation.
With respect to pass plays, I have observed (and it is supported by statistics) that Mark is better in completing passes of between 21 – 30 yards than any other distance, with passes between 1 – 10 yards being a relatively close second. If you are unaware of the exact stats and are curious, here they are:
Passes thrown behind the line of scrimmage:
18/41 (43.9%), 143 yards (3.5 YPA), 0 TD, 2 INT, 32.9 QB rating
Passes thrown 1-10 yards:
85/136 (62.5%), 727 yards (5.3 YPA), 7 TD, 3 INT, 84.4 QB rating
Passes thrown 11-20 yards:
30/63 (47.6%), 527 yards (8.4 YPA), 1 TD, 2 INT, 68.7 QB rating
Passes thrown 21-30 yards:
9/22 (40.9%), 270 yards (12.3 YPA), 1 TD, 0 INT, 102.5 QB rating
Passes thrown 31-40 yards:
2/6 (33.3%), 69 yards (11.5 YPA), 1 TD, 1 INT, 77.8 QB rating
Passes thrown 41+ yards:
Given that this is Mark’s strength, why not play to that strength? To the layman’s eye, it appears that plays are being called by book, instead of on the fly, regardless of how the game is going. This, you might recall, was our biggest complaint about Schottenheimer last season, however, it is not looking like Mr. Sparano’s method of playcalling is much different.
Personnel: while I know you’re not solely responsible for personnel decisions, there have been some real head-scratchers over the past couple of years, not the least of which was the Wayne Hunter debacle. Wayne was not performing last year, so we fully expected that position to be the first one addressed during the offseason, yet it was largely ignored until the start of the season. And I could never figure out the motivation last year behind letting Edwards and Cotchery, two proven WR’s, go, while bringing in Burress and Mason. It was clear from the beginning that neither one was expected to have long tenure with the Jets, but Mason was a bust, pure and simple. Kerley has been surprisingly awesome this year, but it does appear as if the WR position was not a priority this year either, and we are now paying the price. How do you expect Mark to be successful, when every year he has to learn how to work with a new set of WR’s?
You’re probably reading this thinking that I’m just a fan and I don’t have a clue what I’m talking about. While that may be true regarding the inner workings of the team, and I’m not claiming I could be an NFL coach, there are things that are visible on the field every week that does not take a football expert to see. We all had so much hope after week 1, when we came out and destroyed the Bills. That game was nearly perfect from beginning to end. But that just makes what came after that game all the more perplexing. How could we have nearly defeated the Patriots in Foxboro, only to make such a poor showing in our own house against the Dolphins? The inconsistency in play from week to week is baffling, to say the least.
After the devastating loss to Miami, you stated that you’d be soliciting suggestions from your coaches during the bye that would help turn the season around. In the hopes that you are also willing to listen to suggestions from the fans, I will end this letter with a plea: please be the Head Coach I know you can be. I have felt in my bones from the day you were hired that you are the right man to lead the Jets to the Superbowl after a long string of coaching wannabes—please don’t prove me wrong. You have a love of the Jets unlike any of our coaches that came before you, and I truly believe you want to win [with the Jets]. But please, don’t let your ego get in the way of what you know is right for the team. I know you want to be a defense-first, ground-and-pound team, but you just don’t have the personnel to do it this year. Greene is not the answer. Give McKnight some more carries, and call plays that you KNOW will get some yardage—not ones that you think SHOULD get yards. Design the offense around your players’ weaknesses as well as their strengths—if Mark can’t complete short passes, don’t call them. If the running game gets more yards around the outside, then those are the plays you should be calling. Go with what ACTUALLY works, not just with what you WANT to work.
I am pleading with you as a lifelong fan: please don’t disappoint us again. Last season was heartbreaking to watch after coming so close in 2009 and 2010, and I don’t think any of us can stand to have our hearts broken again.
A Disappointed Fan