Bill James used to say that any statistic that is never surprising is never interesting, and any statistic that is always surprising is probably wrong. I was thinking about this as I looked and saw that over the first two games, Football Outsiders not only ranked the Jets passing offense as having been the best in the NFL, but far better than the 2nd best team (the Falcons).
There are two ways to think about such a shocking claim; the first is to ask if it's right or wrong, and the second is to see if there is anything that this statistic is pointing to that we might have missed during Sunday's seemingly horrific performance. In terms of whether I believe that the Jets passing attack has really been that good, I'll skip the suspense and say of course not. But as I tried to think about what the stat might have been picking up on, it occurred to me that there are four things about the Jets' passing offense that we might not pay as much attention to if we look at only the traditional stats that might be more important than one might think.
Let's start by looking at some traditional stats. Over the "year," Sanchez's Bills' performance is still making his general stats seem pretty decent. He has a 95.0 QB rating, in part because he's had 7.5 yards per attempt, despite having a pretty pathetic 53.7% completion percentage.
Those unusual stats point at the first thing we might forget; Sanchez might not have completed a lot of passes on Sunday, but when he did complete them, he got lots of yards. Of the ten (oh dear) passes he completed against the Steelers, seven were for first downs (or a TD). Including the Bills' game, his yards per completion has been about 13.5, which is second only to the Giants. Part of the reason he's done so "well" of course has been because he's missed a lot of short passes, but he does seem to have improved in terms of throwing down-field.
A second odd detail which Football Outsiders might have been picking up on, but which we might not be able to count on repeating in the future were penalties. The Steelers were called on five penalties for 67 yards when the Jets passed; because of this, the Jets actually got 205 yards from passing attempts. Of course, some of those penalties were rather bizarre, and so we can't expect that necessarily to happen, you know, ever again. Incidentally, all five of those penalties got first downs, meaning the Jets picked up 12 first downs from passing,
Two other things, however, might be more indicative of some actual quality. The first is that though the Jets finally gave up a sack in Week 2, their pass protection has still been outstanding. Over two weeks, they've only given up 9 yards on sacks. This might not show up in terms of QB rating, but it does demonstrate that the Jets' passing attack can at least avoid losing yardage.
The other big risk to passing, of course, is giving up interceptions, and there again, Sanchez has largely avoided that problem.
Again, this doesn't make the claim that Sanchez did - well - on Sunday, but it might not have been as horrible as it seemed. Why, then, did it feel so surprising? I would suggest that one big reason was expectations --- after the Bills game and that first drive, we began to wonder if we were seeing a legitimate NFL QB emerge. As bad as Sanchez was, though, we should note that it was far from his worst game in his career. In fact, according to QB rating, he had four games in 2011 with a worse rating than the Steelers' game, and according to ESPN's QBR, NINE games in 2011 which were worse. (Think about that; according to that metric, this game last year would have been above-average for Sanchez. Is the stat that bad or are our memories that warped?) What might have been the difference? Those 0 interceptions. In a game, where the passing attack seemed to just not work --- he couldn't connect with receivers, he missed necessary throws, they dropped passes. Yet, he didn't turn the ball over and even managed to complete a few big passes. Was it enough to win? Not even close. But this - might - be a sign of some substantial progress.