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Football Scientist: A John Madden-esque fix for the Jets' offense

1/4/2011

One of the main problems with the Jets' passing game this year has been their inability to hit deep-out and comeback passes. According to my game tape breakdowns, Mark Sanchez has attempted to throw to receivers running these routes 31 times this year. He completed 15 of the passes for 287 yards and gained an additional 11 yards on penalties (21 gained on defensive penalties but 10 given up on an offensive pass interference).

That equates to an adequate 9.6 yards per attempt total (nine YPA is usually the median mark for routes at the medium depth, 11-19 yards), but it is skewed by the first Miami matchup. Two routes of this nature led to 98 yards and a touchdown in that game. Take that one contest out of the mix and the Jets have gained only 200 yards on 29 throws of this nature, or a mediocre 6.9 YPA total.

Sanchez is known to have a strong arm, so this lack of productivity on what should be a bread-and-butter vertical route for New York was rather puzzling and called for a deeper look into the issue.

There isn't a consensus answer as to what the problem is, but a pass in the second Dolphins game might have offered a clue as to a possible way to improve.

Early in the first quarter of that contest, Sanchez threw a deep-out/comeback route to Santonio Holmes. There were two significant issues on the play.

The first is that the timing of the route was very far off. Sanchez was in a shotgun formation and once he received the snap from center, he took a five-step drop.

In a perfect world, the quarterback would throw the ball as soon as he reached the last step, but Sanchez couldn't do that because the route took longer to run than it took him to get to that fifth step. Holmes looked as if he was trying to lull the Miami defender by taking him time to get up to speed, but it didn't work at all (and really isn't a good idea anyway). This led Sanchez to have to step up into the pocket before launching the ball.

Holmes' route running also was at least partially responsible for issue No. 2. Sanchez looked to be throwing the pass on a timing basis, meaning that he was putting the ball in the air as the receiver was getting ready to make his cut.

Sanchez did this but Holmes' route running meant the defender (Nolan Carroll) was in a perfect position to read his cut, make a burst on the pass and pick it off.

The fix for this type of problem could be as easy as making sure Sanchez takes the advice John Madden used to give his quarterbacks. When he coached the Raiders, Madden would tell his quarterback not to throw the pass until after the receiver has made his break. He believed this reduced errors on vertical routes. It would also force receivers to work harder to get open, as the QB was not going to throw to them unless they actually got open (as opposed to throwing to a spot and relying on the receiver to get there on time).

Sanchez has thrown after the receiver cut most of the year but he has displayed a habit of not following this advice on repeated occasions, especially when his receivers haven't run routes at full speed. Instead of forcing passes to those receivers, he should a) throw the ball elsewhere and b) yell at them to get in gear. That will eliminate a good number of his bad decisions and should improve their ability to stretch the field both horizontally and vertically.