One of the great cliches that gets attached to almost every journeyman veteran quarterback in the NFL is “game manager.” If you last in the year for a decade or so, it is assumed you are a smart quarterback. Even if you don’t have a lot of playmaking ability, you have the ability to make decisions appropriate relative to the score and time of the game. At the very least, you do no harm.
It’s an easy storyline for sportswriters and analysts. It sounds good. A veteran player must know how to play the game. How else does he stay in the league for a long time if he doesn’t have top end talent.
Whether its true or not, it makes for easy content.
If you listened to many over the course of the offseason and the first six weeks of the season, you would think Josh McCown is a savvy operator who might not make the big play but avoids the big mistake. It hasn’t quite panned out that way, and Sunday it finally came back to hurt the Jets.
Let’s take a look at the fourth quarter.
11:21 left; Jets 28 Dolphins 21; 1st and 10; Jets 25
The Dolphins had just scored to cut the Jets lead to a touchdown. This was an important drive for the Jets. A nice long scoring drive could put New York back in control of the game. A nice gain on first down could help build a little momentum.
The Jets run a simple slant/flat route combination on the left side of their formation. Robby Anderson runs the slant. Austin Seferian-Jenkins heads to the flat.
What a smart veteran game manager does: Understand it’s first down and 10. A completion here with a moderate gain is a win. Seferian-Jenkins is open and has shown some ability to run after the catch. Dump it to him.
Maybe he breaks something big. If not, you at least gain a few yards and avoid getting behind the sticks.
What McCown does: Try to force the ball into a tight window for Anderson that falls incomplete.
In truth, this wasn’t a TERRIBLE decision. Anderson probably could have come up with this ball.
Still, the correct throw here is to Seferian-Jenkins. That is particularly true on a first and 10 play where the objective is just to have a positive play.
10:30 left; Jets 28 Dolphins 21; 3rd and 10; Jets 25
After a penalty and a 5 yard run, the Jets found themselves facing a third and long. The Dolphins decided to rush three and play coverage.
What a smart veteran game manager does: Understand that the Dolphins are rushing three. This is a time to stay composed. With only three pass rushers, there is going to be time to scan the defense, and with eight in coverage, it might take some time for a receiver to break open.
Sure enough, there are matchups for a patient quarterback to exploit. The play ends up pitting Jeremy Kerley against a linebacker going across the field. You have to love a receiver against a linebacker in coverage.
Just hang in there long enough, and you can lead Kerley up the field for a first down.
A defensive lineman dropped into a short zone to momentarily clog the window, but Kerley is going to get past him. And that lineman ends up occupied by Robby Anderson anyway.
Heck, if you don’t want to throw to Kerley, there’s a window to hit Austin Seferian-Jenkins and give him a chance to get up the field to make a play.
What McCown does: Abandon the pocket early and scramble left even though almost all of the receivers on this play are to the right. Take a sack. I can’t guarantee either option detailed above necessarily nets a first down. It would require nice execution. I can guarantee you this decision took the chances of getting a first down from higher than zero to zero.
4:24 left; Jets 28 Dolphins 28; 3rd and 6; Jets 40
The Jets were forced to punt after the third down sack detailed above. They got the ball back for a critical drive that faced a third down. Unfortunately, the Jets had a lot of issues getting lined up. There was clear confusion here. The play clock was also winding down.
What a smart veteran game manager does: Call timeout. There is zero chance of this play being successful if the ball is snapped. This is a critical third down snap with the game tied and under 5:00 left in the fourth quarter. This play is just too important to snap the ball when nobody knows what is going on.
What McCown does: Snap the ball. The Jets aren’t ready and aren’t in the right protection. Miami gets two free runners at McCown, and the play results in a sack. It wouldn’t have even mattered if by some miracle the Jets hit a big play. They got called for a penalty because McCown didn’t wait for all of his receivers to get set before the snap.
Maybe you can quibble about some of the other plays in this article, but you can’t say anything about this one. It was an abominable decision by McCown to snap this ball instead of taking a timeout. Even a delay of game penalty would have been better than snapping the ball.
0:47 left; Jets 28 Dolphins 28; 1st and 10; Jets 15
The Jets got the ball back with less than a minute left in regulation. With three timeouts, there was a legitimate opportunity to put together a drive to get a game-winning field goal.
McCown has Jermaine Kearse running a 15 yard out pattern, but the Dolphins are playing zone to take away the route.
Getting the ball to Kearse means putting the ball into an impossibly small window.
We can argue back and forth on various things about McCown all day. Nobody would ever argue that McCown is oozing with arm talent, though, and you need arm talent through the roof to hit this pass.
What a smart veteran game manager does: Literally anything other than try to make this throw to Kearse. The Jets have three timeouts here. You don’t need to work the sidelines. You can wait to see if something comes open over the middle of the field. You can check down to Matt Forte. You can throw it away and live for second down. You can even just give yourself up, take the sack, and play for overtime.
Trying to make this throw to Kearse is high-risk low reward. If you complete it, you’re still around 40 yards away from legitimate field goal range with 40 seconds to go. That’s fine and dandy if it’s a low risk pass, and the chances of completing it are good. This is a very high risk pass, though. The odds of completing it are low. And if things go wrong, you probably lose the game.
What McCown does: Attempt the throw to Kease and lose the game.
$6 million can buy you a lot. What it hasn’t bought the Jets is a smart game manager at quarterback. Believe it or not, the cliche doesn’t always fit just because a player is a veteran.