This will be the second installment in an I don't know how many part series over the course of the offseason taking a look at some of the concepts in Chan Gailey's offense.
You might remember two decades ago how the Pittsburgh Steelers made a unique imprint on the NFL. On passing downs, they started spreading the field with four and five wide receiver sets and sticking their quarterback in the shotgun. It was very unconventional. These looks are now not just common on passing downs. With the rise of the passing game, they are a staple of NFL offenses. Pittsburgh's wide receivers coach and later offensive coordinator Chan Gailey was one of the driving forces behind the innovation. Gailey is the new offensive coordinator for the Jets.
The better a view a quarterback has of what the defense is doing, the easier it is to make presnap reads. The quarterback can adjust his strategy on a play. He might even see something that allows him to determine where he is going to throw the ball before the snap and get it out quickly.
This effect also plays itself out after the snap. It requires less of the quarterback dropping back. See if you can clear out a path in front of your television. Now take five steps back*. Can you even pay attention to what is happening on the TV? Now imagine having to decipher what eleven different men are doing in that time frame. Imagine needing to figure out what combination is blitzing, the coverage underneath on a given play, and the coverage over the top. In addition, imagine needing to also remember the play your team is running and contextualize what the correct option is based on the things the eleven players are doing. And imagine at the very end of this that you need to be ready to throw to your first option or move to the next one. No wonder teams are going more and more to the shotgun. It at least eliminates some of the movement dropping back and gives the quarterback more of a view for this exceptionally difficult task.
Heck, why don't all teams always operate out of the shotgun all the time if it makes things easier for the quarterback? It also comes with certain drawbacks, namely making it more difficult to run effectively.
If you start under center, the back gets a head of steam and closer to the ball running forward as he receives a handoff.
On runs out of the shotgun, the back has much less momentum and is further behind the line when he gets the ball, and the defense realizes it can converge on him.
This is what makes things tricky. The goal is to help the quarterback. It is one thing if you have a guy like Aaron Rodgers who can shred a defense and lift an offense by himself. The Jets do not have that luxury. They are probably not going to be able to lean solely on their passing game. The run game is another thing that can ease a quarterback's burden. Run the ball effectively, and the defense becomes much more limited. The pass rushers have to slow down a half step because if they charge up the field too quickly there might be a handoff. The defense might have to simplify its coverages because a safety has to drop low to support the run, leaving less options to do exotic things on the back end.
You want to help the quarterback. The shotgun does that, but it also weakens the run game, something else that helps the quarterback. There is going to have to be some degree of ability to execute from under center.
Here is an example of a play the Jets are going to need Geno to execute. Jeff Cumberland appears to be his primary read here.
Geno gets to the top of his drop. This is where the ball should be coming out, and there is a lane to put the ball to Cumberland.
Geno doesn't pull the trigger, though. He holds onto it, and runs himself into a tougher throw, which sails incomplete.
How quickly do windows close? You might know that it took Geno an average of 3.10 seconds to throw after the snap last year according to PFF. That was the second slowest rate in the league. The fastest was Peyton Manning at 2.24. Think about that. The difference between the fastest and the second slowest was less than one second. That's how quickly windows close in the NFL. That's the difference between a quarterback who can successfully read a defense and one who can't. And that shows you the ground Geno needs to make up.
Gailey's offense might make things easier on Geno putting him in the shotgun regularly, but he is still going to need to learn to execute on a much higher level than he has in the past, particularly under center. I think it's easy to pin all of the blame for a quarterback's struggles on a coordinator, but think about what I just said above. Is it really that easy to train a quarterback to be able to drop back, read the pass rush, read the coverage, and physically make a throw that quickly? On some level, it seems impossible to teach. Maybe a coach can make a difference on the margins, but it is really up to the player to make things click.
Shotgun will likely be a key feature of this offense. It will likely help Geno Smith. It alone is not going to fix the problems. That is up to Geno. The Jets will still need to be able to execute passes from under center to prevent the defense from keying on the run when the quarterback does go under center.
We can talk about offensive line play. We can talk about receivers.Any quarterback will be better with good line play that gives receivers extra time to shake free. Any quarterback will be better with receivers who create separation. That really isn't at issue. The question is whether the quarterback can make plays HIMSELF such as the one we saw above. A team might need X number of successful plays on offense to win. The quarterback might need to make Y number of those plays. The Jets haven't gotten that over the last few years. The mechanics of this are going to require the Jets to hit on these plays that fall on the quarterback and for some of them to be the difficult passes from under center to make the run game easier.
On some level, Geno's inability to show he can execute from under center after two years of work are disconcerting. I don't think you can just write concerns off, but he has another chance this year and more time to learn. For the Jets' sake, he will need to get better. Gailey's system might make things easier to some degree, but much of the burden still falls on Geno.
*I bear no responsibility if you broke anything.