The Jets exasperating offensive performance vs. the Bills reminded me of a scene from one of my favorite films, Stanley Kubrick's classic black comedy Dr. Strangelove. After realizing General Jack D. Ripper ordered an irrevocable and unprovoked nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (played by Peter Sellers) utters in a helpless and astonished tone, "I would say, sir, there is something dreadfully wrong… somewhere."
We all know something is wrong with the Jets offense. Explaining why is a touch more difficult. If you watched Sunday's CBS telecast, you'd come away thinking there is only one reason for New York's struggles. The loud and uninformed broadcast duo of Gus Johnson and Steve Tasker couldn't stop talking about it: Chad Pennington can't throw. He's physically incapable of throwing a football. (These two apparently missed his 57-yard TD bomb to Laveranues Coles vs. Cincinnati).
It's moot now. Pennington has been benched in favor of second-year man Kellen Clemens. NFL quarterbacks are paid to get their team into the endzone and win games. The Jets have done neither this season. However, if you think the Jets will turn into a vertical passing team with the strong-armed Clemens you may be mistaken. They simply do not have enough outside weapons to consistently stretch the field. Coles and Cotchery aren't burners, and the Jets utterly refuse to make opposing defenses guard the middle of the field where a tight end like Chris Baker could do damage.
The Jets philosophy is horizontal, not vertical. Furthermore, it is illogical to believe Mangini and Schottenheimer continued to start Chad during the first half of this dreadful season even though he's incapable, as some have said, of throwing a ball 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. If you believe that you essentially are blaming the coaches of trying to lose.
Arm strength has, is, and always will be the most overrated aspect of quarterbacking. Browning Nagle, anyone? He could throw a football a mile but gazed at opposing defenses as a fifth grader would a trigonometry exam. Do you like Drew Brees? He doesn't throw darts. Joe Montana crafted arguably the most brilliant career of any QB without stinging the hands of his receivers or regularly throwing deep. Those 49er teams of the 80s slanted and skinny posted their way to the Super Bowl.
You'd expect to hear fans moan and groan about Pennington's inability to zing the ball, but professional broadcasters and astute football observers should know better. The New York Giants won two Super Bowls playing in the same windy Giants Stadium by playing great defense and running the ball with "smash mouth" efficiency. No one ever confused Phil Simms with Daryle Lamonica.
Successful quarterbacks read and anticipate defenses well, throw the ball on target to allow the receiver to pick up yards after the catch, and avoid turnovers. You don't get style points for airing it out 75 yards in the air.
On Sunday, Tasker also made an issue of the Jets not handing off the ball enough to Thomas Jones (16 carries, 70 yards). Soon after, Jones was stopped dead on a 3rd and 1 in the opening minutes of the 4th quarter. The Jets aren't that great at running, either.
Talent and philosophy. The Jets lack enough of the former and need to tweak the latter.
The Jets don't need to go bombs away, but a change in the current approach is vital because it's not working. Firstly, Schottenheimer should scrap the shotgun formation and diversify the passing attack. We've seen enough out routes to last a lifetime. It's Coles and Cothery or bust every Sunday.
Secondly, the game plans should make a priority of getting TE Chris Baker more involved in the passing game early in games. The Jets must begin attacking the middle of the field, the shortest distance from QB to receiver. Baker would thrive and the stifled offense would get some breathing room.
Thirdly, they have to start forging an identity. Their best bet with an inexperienced QB under center will be to establish and stick with the running game. Yes, I've mentioned the Jets aren't very good at picking up yards in this fashion, but part of the problem may be the play calling. The Jets are too fancy.
There's nothing offensive linemen and running backs love more than to get into rhythm and keep pounding an opposing defense.
There were times on Sunday vs. the Bills when it appeared Jones was getting into such a rhythm. After getting the ball back at their own 19 yard line with 7:52 remaining in the 3rd quarter, score tied 3-3, the Jets ran Jones on three straight plays for gains of 5, 6, and 7 yards. But instead of sticking with it, sending a message to their offensive linemen to take over the game and challenging the Bills to stop it, the Jets went right back to the pass. Two incompletions later the Jets punted again.
The Kellen Clemens era has begun. But unless other things change on the Jets' offense, the results will be the same.