Friday, October 8, 2010
Updated: October 11, 12:49 PM ET
Sanchez and Schotty making Gang go
By Rich Cimini
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets will enter Monday night on an offensive tear. It's their best three-game streak since some old dude named Favre was running things in November 2008. They went from near-crisis (see: opening night) to near-juggernaut quicker than a LaDainian Tomlinson jump-cut.
How did it happen? Talent, of course, but there's more to the story than that. It took flexibility and an open line of communication between Mark Sanchez and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. The result is a streamlined version of the offense and a less-is-more philosophy that is allowing the talent to shine.
"You're seeing our guys play faster because they're not thinking as much," said Schottenheimer, whose group will take on the rugged Minnesota Vikings in prime time at New Meadowlands Stadium.
The evolution actually began before the season, and it continued through the postmortem of the Week 1 debacle against the Baltimore Ravens. Since then, the Jets have scored 28, 31 and 38 points without arguably their best receiver, Santonio Holmes, who will make his Jets debut Monday night after serving a four-game drug suspension.
"This offense, playing the way we are, we're capable of winning the Super Bowl," said tight end Dustin Keller, one of the keys to the turnaround.
Analyzing the transformation, you can point to three key changes:
1. Schottenheimer's system is predicated on motions and shifts, a feature designed to confuse defenses and create favorable matchups, but he determined before the season that it didn't suit Sanchez's game. So he scaled back significantly.
If the offense moves and the defense moves, making it harder for Sanchez to get a pre-snap read. The pre-snap motion takes Sanchez out of his comfort zone.
"He likes to play at a fast tempo, and shifts and motions tend to slow you down," Schottenheimer said. "We still have them in [the playbook], but you're not seeing the major stuff."
2. The morning after losing to the Ravens, Sanchez asked Schottenheimer to eliminate the "kill" calls from the game plan. In that game, Sanchez received two options on every play. His job was to pick the best play based on what he saw at the line of scrimmage. Pick one, kill the other.
Sanchez, who passed for 74 yards, was tentative. As a result, so was the entire offense. This outcome was a classic case of a coaching staff over analyzing an opponent and trying to get too cute.
"We're morons for doing it, but that's what happens when you have five months to prepare for a game," said Schottenheimer, taking the hit.
Sanchez, no longer a timid rookie, wasn't afraid to speak up. He requested only one call per play, vowing to throw a safe, check-down pass if the play was well defended. According to Schotteneheimer, Sanchez told him, "I'll make it right for you."
And he has. Sanchez owns the fourth-highest passer rating in the league at 105.3, some 45 points higher than Monday's opponent, the Vikings' Brett Favre at 60.4.
3. The coaching staff has streamlined the weekly game plans, including a half dozen fewer plays than usual. That has been a big help, according to players who believe it has led to improved concentration.
"We don't have to trick anybody," one player said. "We're good enough to just line up and beat you."
Schottenheimer finds himself repeating calls more than in the past, often deferring to Sanchez's favorite plays. In last week's 273-yard rushing performance against the Buffalo Bills, the Jets did most of their damage with two running plays -- an outside stretch and an inside lead.
Some coaches are too stubborn to make changes, forcing square-peg players into round-hole systems. Schottenheimer isn't like that.
Obviously, Sanchez's improved decision making and maturity have been major reasons behind the dramatic turnaround. Consider that in his last nine games (covering 549 plays), he has committed two turnovers (two interceptions in the '09 playoffs). His 2010 interception slate is clean.
"It's been a fun little ride we've had going," Sanchez said. "I don't think about it too much. I don't want to beat my head into a wall [saying], 'Oh, I can't throw an interception.' They're inevitable."
Sanchez is growing up and so is Keller, who is a matchup nightmare for defenses. On Monday night, the Jets will face their toughest defense since ... well except Baltimore, and you know how that turned out. The Jets said they believe the Vikings have the best front four in the league, but that hasn't dampened their confidence.
If the game evolves into a shootout, and if Favre re-discovers his old magic, it could be a shootout, the Jets are up for it. Imagine that: Sanchez, Keller & Co. going back and forth with Favre and Randy Moss. A year ago, the Jets would've run scared from that kind of confrontation.
"I think we definitely have the weapons and mentality to keep up or surpass them," Keller said.
They've come a long way in three weeks.
Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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