Right Tackle: The Top Priority

FLORHAM PARK, NJ - AUGUST 07: Wayne Hunter #78 of the New York Jets walks off the field after practice at NY Jets Practice Facility on August 7, 2011 in Florham Park, New Jersey. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

James Walker had a good article yesterday about what the Jets should do for Mark Sanchez. He outlines four things to do. I agree with a lot of what he says, but I would like to go a bit deeper to talk about the choices the team has made, the best philosophy going forward, and what the most important priority should be, namely getting a stud right tackle.

Like every team in the league, the Jets want to have a successful 2012. There are essentially two paths to get there. The first is the franchise quarterback path. This one is simple, get a franchise quarterback.

Because of the way the rules are structured, this is a quarterbacks' league now. Defenders are encouraged to not be physical, which either allows receiver to get open or pick up a penalty, which leads to consistently huge gains if the team has a quarterback who can consistently be on target. Teams with these quarterbacks score a lot of blowouts, overwhelming lesser opponents with points. They keep their teams in games against better opponents. With a franchise quarterback, you can have holes and still be successful. These quarterbacks tend to not need offensive lines as strong because they get the ball out quickly and have a feel for where they can slide to buy more time. Their receivers don't need to be as great because they can fit the ball into tight windows. Their defense doesn't need to be great since they cut put up tons of yardage and points. If you happen to have any of these things, all the better, and the rest of the league should be afraid. The Packers, Patriots, Giants, and Steelers are examples.

The other way is more difficult. If you do not have a franchise quarterback, pretty much every other part of your team needs to be a major strength. Your offensive line needs to be good to buy the quarterback extra time. The receivers need to be better to create bigger windows. The running game needs to be really strong since these teams are not as strong throwing, both to move the ball and to control it so the other team does not get as many chances to score. If you run it heavily, the offense will not score as much as a passing team since productive run plays result in less yardage than productive passing plays. Thus the defense needs to be rock solid as well. You also need excellent special teams to produce good field position and make field goals since points are at a premium. The same goes for avoiding turnovers. Teams like this cannot make up for a mistake that leads to the opposition scoring in a snap of a finger like a team with a franchise quarterback. The 49ers, Ravens, and Texans are examples.

The Jets in 2009 and 2010 were another such example, but they showed the difficulty in maintaining this approach. Eventually they had to let key guys go due to salary constraints. Having a franchise quarterback gives you more leeway.

With this in mind, I was hoping the Jets would find a proven offensive coach with a track record developing quarterbacks who could really teach Mark Sanchez how to play the position. The whole plan in 2011 was that Sanchez was supposed to take steps forward and carry more of the load. It did not work out that way.

The hiring of Tony Sparano indicates the Jets are going to commit to the model of building a winner without a franchise quarterback. They are going back to the run game and defense. That does not, however, mean the quarterback is irrelevant. A non franchise quarterback is not asked to carry the entire load, but he is asked to carry some of it. There will be points in any game where the quarterback needs to hit a pass. There will be moments when the team is trailing late in games where the quarterback must step up. There will be a few games where the defense does not have it, and the quarterback will need to put up 30 points. Quarterbacks under this model are essentially behind a glass wall that tells you to break it open in case of emergency.

Back in 2009 and 2010, the Jets were so good elsewhere that they needed Sanchez to do little most of the time. That started with the run game. This is why getting a right tackle is a necessity. The Jets have announced they are going to be a smash mouth team. Your entire offensive line had better be very good if you are going to do this because these guys will need to work with a loaded box and everybody taking their first step in to play the run. I have seen some argue that the Jets do not need a star at right tackle. Yes, they do. They had better find one. I think this even trumps the defensive needs. Yes, a pass rusher and a safety are important, but Rex Ryan can coach around his defensive weaknesses. Say what you will about the defense the Jets had last year. It was fifth in the league. Don't believe the numbers? How were the Jets anywhere near Playoff contention the last week of the year with the offense they had? A star pass rusher and safety would be great, but even finding people who can do an average job in these spots might move the defense to the the top of the league.

Walker alludes to building an offense that suits Sanchez better. As much as I wanted a quarterback guru, the idea of taking him back to square one and making the offense simple is growing on me. Sanchez was pretty much a broken quarterback at the end of last year. Sparano's offense will be much less complicated and puts an emphasis on protecting the quarterback, frequently leaving extra blockers in. I think there is a model for success.

Sanchez reminds me a lot of Jake Plummer. They both make some incredible plays. Plummer is more athletic, but Sanchez is surprisingly nimble. They both seem to be at their best when things break down, and they have to improvise. They both had clutch moments. They both had big wins. Neither is an accurate pocket passer or strong at reading defenses. Both have killed teams with regular doses of horrible mistakes.

Plummer's best year was 2005 when he led the Broncos to a 13-3 record, a Playoff win over Tom Brady, and a trip to the AFC Championship Game. Mike Shanahan kept it simple. The Broncos had 542 runs against 465 passes that season. They limited Plummer's chances for mistakes. They gave him a steady dose of simple reads and high percentage passes with rollouts and bootlegs. They told him to avoid mistakes so he scrambled 46 times. He was not a touch passer so they did not ask him to make precision passes. He got it down the field and finished eighth in the league in yards per completion and yards per attempt.

I think the Jets need to do something similar. Keep it simple and try and make enough plays through the air with uncomplicated, high percentage throws. It only works, though, if the team can run it at will and take the pressure off the passing game. That is going to require a right tackle to blow somebody off the ball. The 2011 Jets were doomed because they were not equipped to play ground and pound when things went wrong in the passing game.

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