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Thursday, March 20, 2008
Faneca will pay off all over the field

By Mike Tainer
Football Outsiders.com

Forty million dollars may seem like a lot of money to spend on a 31-year-old left guard, particularly for a young team with multiple needs. But free-agent acquisition Alan Faneca doesn't just upgrade one position for the Jets. He upgrades at least four.

Two seasons ago, the Jets sandwiched veteran left guard Pete Kendall between two rookies, left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold. The two youngsters had great seasons, and the Jets finished in the middle of the NFL pack with 34 sacks and an Adjusted Sack Rate (explained here) of 6.6 percent, 17th in the NFL.

Alan Faneca
Alan Faneca allowed just two sacks last season.
Kendall held out in 2007, forcing a trade. The Jets filled the void with Adrien Clarke, Will Montgomery and Jacob Bender. As a result, the team's sack total jumped from 34 to 53 while their Adjusted Sack Rate climbed to 30th in the NFL. Clarke and company allowed six of those sacks (Kendall allowed just three in 2006), but Ferguson and Mangold also regressed, and the inexperienced Jets line made far too many mistakes. According to our game charting data, the Jets allowed 13 sacks by untouched defenders, tying them with the Seahawks (whose quarterbacks dropped to pass 61 more times) for the highest total in the league. Many of those easy sacks resulted from miscommunication on the left side of the Jets' line.

The drop from Kendall to committee was also evident in the team's rushing stats. The Jets finished 11th in the NFL in Adjusted Line Yards (explained here) for runs off tackle in 2006 but dropped to 31st in 2007. The Jets were more effective in runs up the gut, but most of those runs were shaded to the right side, where Mangold and reliable right guard Brandon Moore could apply the double-team. The Jets' running game became lopsided as a result. The team ran up the middle or to the right on 72.1 percent of all rushing plays, the highest rate in the NFL, and the team ran off right guard a league-high 101 times. Ferguson and Mangold were the future of the offensive line, but the Jets were often forced to run away from them last season.

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So take that $40 million and prorate it across three positions. Faneca won't just fill a gap at left guard; he'll also help two promising, young linemen reach their potential. Faneca allowed just two sacks last year, and the Steelers allowed just seven sacks by untouched defenders, so he'll improve line cohesion while keeping his own man off the quarterback. Damien Woody, who signed a five-year, $25 million deal to replace Anthony Clement at right tackle, provides further reinforcement for the Jets' offensive line. Now that the Jets can field five competent blockers, opponents can't expect them to run most of their plays in the same direction.

Jets quarterbacks won't complain about the extra beef. Chad Pennington has lost most of his mobility and cannot endure another season of 2.9 sacks per game. If Kellen Clemens earns the starting job, he'll need even more support. Young quarterbacks, despite their athleticism, are sacked more often than veterans, and shell shock can quickly turn a prospect into a journeyman. With Faneca and Woody in the lineup, the Jets won't endure incidents like their first pass against the Patriots in Week 15: defender Richard Seymour shrugging off Clarke, injuring Clemens, and forcing an interception that led to a touchdown. So take a little bit off the top of Faneca's and Woody's signing bonuses and write it off as a health insurance premium for Clemens.

Faneca and Woody won't see the final seasons of their five-year deals, and neither will be very good by 2012. They don't make the Jets Super Bowl contenders this year. But if they stabilize their positions and help Ferguson, Mangold and Clemens become players who can help the team for the next decade, the Jets will be happy they spent the money to get older and wiser on the offensive line.

Mike Tanier is a contributing editor at FootballOutsiders.com and co-author of the upcoming book Pro Football Prospectus 2008.