I stumbled upon this YouTube clip last night. It is a pretty famous video of Vince Lombardi diagramming the Packer sweep. Chris Berman plays it all the time on ESPN.
It got me thinking. Two years ago, I was fortunate enough to see the Broadway play about Lombardi based on David Maraniss' best-selling biography. When Lombardi is first hired by the Packers, he gathers his players and tells them their offense will be based on this play. They need to be able to run it successfully in all situations.
Over fifty years later, this is still a truth in football. Successful football teams are built around basic principles. One of them is deciding what a team's philosophy will be and building everything around that philosophy. Teams need bread and butter. They need to have something they can do successfully at all times. Then they build off that.
For the Jets, that involved the power run game from 2008 to 2010. They would run the ball to the right side of the line and pull the left guard. When they needed a successful offensive play, they could turn to this and expect a good result. It opened up other things. Safeties would cheat up to try and stop it, leaving easy throws on the outside when receivers were left one on one. Linebackers had to freeze, respecting the run, which gave tight ends running routes a head start.
Ask most people the reason Eric Mangini was fired, and they'll tell you Brett Favre. In truth, it had at least as much to do with Brian Schottenheimer leaning on an injured Favre instead of his good run game in 2008 and Mangini's refusal to correct this is a way Rex Ryan would do in the next two seasons when Schottenheimer leaned too much on the pass.
In 2011, the Jets lost this edge. Alan Faneca and Damien Woody were gone by this point. They were not replaced by similar talent. The Jets did not make up for the losses up front by adding a dynamic running back. The quarterback was unable to pick up the slack when he was asked to do more.
The Jets reached a crossroads after the 2011 season. They needed to make a decision on what they wanted to do with their offense. They had limited resources so they could not become good at everything. They really had to pick one thing they wanted to be good at doing.
My preference would have been for them to find a proven quarterback developer. Mark Sanchez has the physical tools necessary to play quarterback in the NFL. He can make all the throws. Simply having all of the tools does not make one a good quarterback, however. It has become clear the Jets overdrafted him. A quarterback who goes high in the first round should be polished like Andrew Luck. It's not a raw guy like Sanchez who needs to learn a ton.
I wanted the Jets to go out and find an offensive guru who could teach Sanchez how to play from the ground up. They would break him down, work on one thing Sanchez could do well, and build the offense around that. It is a quarterback league. The rules in the NFL benefit passing teams. Successful passes generate more yardage than successful runs.
The Jets did not go in that direction. They hired Tony Sparano. With that, they ceded any hope of making Sanchez into a special player. Sparano had no experience successfully developing quarterbacks anywhere. The hiring of Sparano was highly questionable at the time given how undynamic and unsuccessful his offenses were when he was head coach of the Miami Dolphins. His specialty was supposed to be on the offensive line, but the Dolphins were not good there. It's always a red flag when a coach's specialty is a weakness. There was no sign of a thorough search. There was no sign the Jets were looking for the best person who understood how to build a successful offense. The playbook Sparano has installed has confirmed all reservations. It is one of the worst playbooks I have ever seen. It is amazing how many times receivers occupy the same general area on passing routes or receivers are sent to spaces where they are easily covered and able to inflict minimal damage on the opposition when they could be doing something that would cause a defense greater problems.
It did make sense on a level, though. Sparano was a guy who liked to run the ball. It signaled a return to the power run game. The Jets would base things off the run. They did not think their quarterback was special so they would take the emphasis on the position and give him easier tasks by being a dominant rushing team.
It sounded great in theory, but work remained. To be a dominant running team, you need an offensive line that is strong in every position or a great stable of running backs if not both. The Jets had neither. They had somebody who was by any measure one of the worst right tackles in the league. Their left guard was not terrible but inspired nobody. He was part of the 2010 line, but he was the weakest link there. They really got away with having him there because of their strength elsewhere. The running backs were extremely limited. Shonn Greene's warts showed when he was given the starting job. Bilal Powell looked lost as a rookie. Even a big improvement would take him to average. Joe McKnight looked dynamic but had the build that told you he could only handle limited touches.
To build a successful offense and have that capability to do that one thing well, the biggest focuses of the offense had to be on the offensive line and the running back position. The resources were limited
Instead, the Jets did the opposite. Remember how the hiring of Sparano meant they were taking emphasis off the quarterback position? They gave that quarterback a big contract extension, ensuring more resources would be tied up in him over the long term. Some of the limited resources were used up guaranteeing that terrible right tackle's contract. Nothing was done over the offseason to upgrade either the offensive line or the running back position.
You could have made the case the trade for Tim Tebow was an attempt at that at the time. Tebow would add to the power running game with a special package of plays. Time has told the story. The Jets had no coherent plan to add him into the mix.
How did the Jets use their Draft picks? Not to help in these critical areas. They waited until the sixth round to add a running back and an offensive lineman. Neither are currently on the active roster. They invested three picks, including an early one to grab a project wide receiver with great measurables. Stephen Hill might yet be a great receiver, but it was a curious decision. Again, the team's resources were limited. If the philosophy was to be a passing team based on vertical gains, it would have made sense. If the team had starting receivers in place and could afford to bring Hill along slowly and perhaps have him as a cost-effective replacement for a free agent starter in two to three years, it would have made sense. For a team like the Jets that had signaled it was looking to be a run first team, it signaled a lack of philosophy. Teams should build their draft around players who fit what they are trying to do, especially if they do not already have in place players who fit what they are trying to do.
The Jets went into battle this season without the necessary resources to succeed. Their failure to invest at right tackle proved fatal when Wayne Hunter imploded in his preseason debut. The Jets were caught with their pants down and had to turn to the undrafted scrap heap pickup Austin Howard. Howard has played better than anybody could have asked. He has come on as of late in particular. The Jets turned to Howard out of necessity, however. Maybe they saw something in him. But if they were going into battle with him, it is worth wondering whether some of the early growing pains could have been avoided had he gotten more work with the first team during the offseason to get him more comfortable. The Jets failed to plan in this area.
Why does all of this matter? Because what we have seen on offense this year was months in the making. It was made by a refusal to commit to a philosophy. Along the way, we have seen plenty of signs the people in charge failed to plan and had no coherent vision for the offense to create something the team could do well. The Jets were never going to be a dominant rushing team entering the year. They didn't get the offensive line or running backs to complete that vision. They did not have a gamebreaking receiver they could lean upon to consistently beat coverage and force the ball to. They certainly did not have the kind of quarterback who could scan a defense, identify which of his five receivers was open relative to the coverage, and deliver an accurate ball. This offense was built around nothing.
This isn't about rehashing the perplexing the offseason, however. The Jets are looking at some serious decisions a few weeks from now about whether to retain those in charge of running things. Some people say the general manager, the head coach, and others in important positions should be fired to punish them for a disappointing year. This is short-sighted thinking. Over the past few years, Sean Payton, Tom Coughlin, Lovie Smith, and others would have been dismissed under this logic. They to varying degrees have rewarded their teams for giving them another opportunity.
The question should be whether the people in charge have what it takes to fix what is wrong. Will they have a vision and a plan to correct things? The past can be instructive. It can show whether these people are responsible for the problems that exist and their thought process or lack thereof for dealing with problems.
A year ago, the Jets set their offense up for failure. They failed to create the most obvious and basic condition for success on offense, finding one thing to build the offense around. This offense has nothing it can count on for success. The coach running the offense has no idea how to create circumstances where the offense could. That is why it is a bottom tier unit. These aren't second guesses. They were obvious at the time. If we could see these things from sitting on our couches, the people running the Jets should have been able to see them in Florham Park. It surely does not speak well of this team's ability to fix problems. For you see, some have cited Payton, Coughlin, Smith and others as examples for why the people running the show deserve a second chance. The problem is without understanding the decision-making that led to the problemsre, these comparisons are as hollow as the claims people should be fired as punishment for a bad season.
This offense was set up for failure from the start. Forty-two years after his death, Vince Lombardi could have told you that.