Commentary

Jets' scheme leaves Sanchez suffering

QB won't last too long if Gang keeps bringing painful new meaning to 'Ground & Pound'

Updated: September 14, 2011, 4:43 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

For openers, the New York Jets took a walk on the wild side, letting Mark Sanchez throw the ball like never before. Sometimes you have to let 'er rip, and this was one of those times. But they can't live that way, and they know it.

If the Jets continue to throw 44 times a game, their quarterback will end up grounded and pounded. Sanchez was sacked four times by the Dallas Cowboys, and knocked down on at least three other plays in the 27-24 victory on Sunday. As Rex Ryan said, "Whoo, he was beat up." Beat up so badly that he was tested for a concussion; he claimed he's fine.

Sanchez isn't going to last a month, let alone the entire season, if he's exposed to that much punishment on a weekly basis. He needs to be protected in a balanced offense. Against the Cowboys, the Jets passed on 75 percent of their snaps, by far the most lopsided pass-run ratio in the Ryan era.

"I definitely don't want to be that," Ryan said. "I don't want those numbers to ever be like that."

The Jets aren't built that way. They pride themselves on being a physical team, not a finesse, pass-happy team. More than anything, their run-oriented style allows them to use play-action, keeping Sanchez out of obvious passing situations and harm's way.

The opening-night game plan, according to several players, was to attack the Cowboys' depleted secondary. Made sense, especially with the new talent at receiver.

The Jets wanted to maintain some semblance of balance, but they were stuffed on the ground by Rob Ryan's run blitzes and overloaded boxes. Even with his issues at cornerback, Rex's twin brother still was willing to take his chances with the ball in Sanchez's hands. Interesting.

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesMark Sanchez was seeing stars in Sunday night's wn over Dallas.

Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer adjusted and opened it up, turning the Jets into a version of the New England Patriots (minus the 500-yard passing day).

Unofficially, the free-wheeling Jets ran 38 of their 64 plays out of the shotgun.

They emptied the backfield on four plays, something they rarely did last season.

They covered the field with tight ends, using three tight ends on about a dozen plays. Hey, it worked, as Sanchez completed six of nine passes for 80 yards and a touchdown.

You knew they had crossed to the dark side when, on a third-and-2 in the third quarter, they used four wide receivers (another rarity) and threw the ball. (By the way, it wasn't a well-executed play, a 1-yard completion to Derrick Mason.)

By the end of the night, the Jets had accomplished a franchise first -- the first win in team history in which they didn't have at least 50 rushing yards or a rushing touchdown, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They rushed 16 times for 45 yards, a terrible 2.8 average.

Naturally, Schottenheimer is getting second-guessed on call-in shows, fans wondering why he abandoned "Ground & Pound," but he's in a virtual no-win situation. After last season's opening-night loss to the Baltimore Ravens, he got ripped for being too conservative.

At least the coaching staff demonstrated flexibility this time; that wasn't always the case last season. Ryan recalled one game in particular -- at the Detroit Lions -- when he was adamant about running at least 35 times. He shared that with the players.

As it turned out, the Jets couldn't run against the inferior Lions, finally ditching the game plan late in the game. Their stubbornness nearly cost them the game.

"That day, I learned, as a head coach, you have to be careful with statements like that, [which] wasn't in the best interests of the New York Jets," Ryan said. "We needed to adjust what we did."

Now they can make quicker adjustments, in part, because Sanchez has more experience. But that doesn't mean he's ready to sling it around the field 44 times a game. He committed two bad turnovers in a 14-play span over the third and fourth quarters, reminding us he's still prone to killer mistakes.

In the end, the Jets got the best of both worlds: They won the game and learned a valuable lesson: It's OK to walk on the wild side, if necessary, but you don't want to hang there too long.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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