So far this year, the Jets have wins over the obviously troubled Titans and the rebuilding Bills, as well as a loss to Mangini's past mentor, Bill Belichick, and the Patriots. During that three-game stretch, the Jets scored an average of 20 points per game and converted an impressive 60 percent of their red zone visits.
But if the Jets play like they have over the past three weeks, don't expect to see them score early on Sunday. They've been just dreadful during the first quarter of all three games, failing to score a single point during the first fifteen minutes of action. But they've compensated for the slow starts by getting it going as soon as they trade ends of the field, scoring 40% of their total points in the second quarter.
After crunching the numbers and watching last week's game tape, here's the straight talk on the New York Jets offense and what to watch for on Sunday.
Chad Pennington's 2006 QB rating of 103, the team's average passing yards per game (250 yards) and average yards per catch (close to 8 yards per catch) are all fourth-best in the NFL. But the most important thing for you to know about Chad Pennington is that he's one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL right now on third down, so don't be surprised by the Jets' success in those situations on Sunday. Forty-four percent of their third-down passes are moving the chains, fifth-best in the NFL. And Pennington's QB rating of 128 on third down is third in the league behind only Peyton Manning and Green Bay's Brett Favre.
Pennington has only thrown one interception and taken seven sacks during the first three weeks. A key point about those sacks is that the average loss has only been 5.4 yards as the Jets quarterback minimizes those losses by staying up close in the pocket and getting rid of the ball quickly. After watching last week's game tape against the Bills, it was obvious that Pennington's low interception rate and 65 percent completion ratio are highly attributable to the Jets passing game philosophy. They show a propensity for play-action to set up the passing game and they emphasize screens and quick out passes to reduce the opportunity for error. The Jets will throw the occasional deep ball, but they really count on yards after the catch to make this offense move. This was best illustrated last week by the three-yard pass to RB Leon Washington who tacked on 44 yards after the catch.
The Running Backs
With Curtis Martin gone and three rookies on the offensive line (including first-round pick D'Brickashaw Ferguson) the Jets are struggling with their rushing, averaging a paltry 72 yards per game and 2.6 yards per carry on the ground. That puts them very close to being the worst in the NFL in both categories. It's so bad that in the Bills game, the longest run was eight yards and for the season they haven't generated a run longer than 11 yards. And their lackluster tandem of Kevan Barlow and Derrick Blaylock (who have combined for 75% of the rushing touches) aren't even making up for it as receiving threats out of the backfield. Over the first three weeks, Blaylock has caught five passes for 29 yards and Barlow just has one four-yard reception.
With that struggling running game it's amazing (I guess that's one word for it) that the Jets have committed to rushing plays 60 percent of the time on first down. Maybe they're just trying to figure out a way to get it right. With this commitment to the run on first down and their lack of rushing success, it's no surprise that they end up passing 62 percent of the time on second down and a whopping 86 percent on their third down attempts to compensate.
The Jets receivers have been fairly productive during the first three games. Laveranues Coles leads the NFL in receptions with 24 and is second for receiving yards (331) -- only three yards behind the league-leading Marvin Harrison. But while he's helping the team move the chains, he's not their top target when it comes to scoring situations. He has just one touchdown so far this season.
When it comes to scoring opportunities, you'll want to keep your eyes on the Jets' tight ends, Chris Baker and Jerricho Cotchery. Baker has just eight receptions for 54 yards, but 25% of his receptions are red zone touchdowns, so the Colts can't overlook him if the Jets are in position to score. The Bills made that mistake in the first half last week, failing to pick him up after he held his position on the line momentarily and then snuck across the goal-line for a quick pass from Pennington for the score.
You'll likely notice Cotchery more in this game than Baker. He has 219 receiving yards and two touchdowns, but his yardage is a bit deceiving considering 71 yards came on one play in the Patriots game. Still, he's a receiver that Pennington will look for throughout the game to make some big plays. Coles and Cotchery combined have only 39% of the receptions but have 68% of the Jets' receiving yards.
Although the kicker is technically a special teams guy, the offense counts on him to help them put points on the board. The Jets have Mike Nugent, a highly-regarded second-year kicker out of Ohio State to provide some points when their drives stall. But the straight talk on Nugent is that after successfully converting almost 79 percent of his field goal attempts last year, he's only made 1 out of 3 attempts this year, missing a pair in the season opener against the Titans from just 30 and 34 yards out. He also missed an extra point attempt in that game, but has made all six extra points over the past two games. Bottom line, if the Jets have to line up for a field goal of even just 30 yards, it's not a given that they're going to see three points go up on the scoreboard.