Clemens shows he belongs

Since iPods don't skip, let's cue up our good ol' broken record, shall we?

On Sunday vs. the Redskins the Jets 1) lost 2) scored one offensive touchdown 3) gave up 296 yards rushing and 4) blew another lead. Different starting QB, same result. As predicted in this column last week, the Jets did not "open up" the offense, which so many fans have been demanding. With Kellen Clemens under center the Jets continued to dink and dunk in between the 20 yard lines until the Redskins defense stiffened.

Some fans and analysts alike have called Clemens performance (23-42, 226 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT) "great." Reality check time! He was somewhere between okay and good. He could have been a winner, though. Had the usually reliable Jerricho Cotchery held on to a low but very catchable pass from Clemens on 3rd and 8 during the Jets' opening possession of overtime, place kicker Mike Nugent might have made an appearance shortly thereafter. Clemens was victimized by five drops from the receiving corps sans Laveranues Coles and by other factors.

The Jets led early 17-3, but Clemens wasn't on the field much in the first half. The Jets offense only had three possessions in the first 30 minutes, one of which came with less than a minute on the clock. The "hurry-up" drive produced no points. The Jets' first two possessions were clock-eaters (15 and 10 plays), but afterward the unit never found a rhythm. As the game wore on the Redskins simply kept the ball out of Clemens hands by bludgeoning the Jets' pathetic defense for 296 rushing yards!!! on 48 carries!!! While we're on the subject of broken records, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer made Thomas Jones disappear. No Coles meant more time for Brad Smith, who had two bad drops.

Clemens threw downfield just a few times. As we've discussed at length this season, the Jets' philosophy is horizontal, not vertical. Clemens' longest throw of the game came on the opening drive of overtime. He nailed Cotchery for 39 yards. The throw had plenty of velocity but was high and behind Jerricho.

The following is what impressed from Clemens' performance. The second year man out of Oregon showed excellent pocket presence and confidence. We've seen many young quarterbacks wilt in these circumstances. Clemens, though, hung tough under heavy blitzing. He showed impressive mobility in escaping the rush to create opportunities downfield (he hit Cotchery for 30 yards after a scramble) and picked up 48 yards on seven carries when he tucked the ball away. He usually didn't lock on to his receivers, which many inexperienced QBs often do. He also bounced back from some vicious hits.

Undoubtedly some fans were raving about his arm strength, but that's not what will decide whether Clemens makes it as a pro. Plenty of QBs have cannon arms. Not all of them can read defenses or throw accurately.

The Jets final seven games will pose a big challenge for the young signal caller from ranch country in Oregon. The Steelers, Cowboys, and Patriots are among the opponents. Just like Pennington did, Clemens may very well find it hard to win without a formidable running game or a defense that's capable of stopping the most mediocre of opposing offenses. But despite the Jets' chronic shortcomings Clemens looks like he may make the second half of this historically bad season interesting.


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