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The 2013 New York Jets Offense: A Tale of Two Philosophies

By Craig Hoffman
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May 10, 2013; Florham Park, NJ, USA; New York Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith (7) talks with offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg (right) during New York Jets rookie minicamp at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

What will the Jets offense look like in 2013? No one quite knows yet, but it will be an amalgam of the philosophies of new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and head coach Rex Ryan. Who the starting quarterback will be is still up in the air but if Geno Smith wins the job both coaches have been down the road of having to start rookies. The meshing of these two coaches’ philosophies will decide what direction the Jets go this year and how rookie QB Geno Smith develops.

In 2009, the Jets started Mark Sanchez immediately after being drafted in the 1st round. Rex Ryan decided it was in the best interests of that year’s team to run the ball behind the league’s best offensive line and take advantage of having Thomas Jones, Shonn Greene and Leon Washington in the backfield. The Jets ran the ball 607 times compared to only 393 passes, a 60/40 split. Sanchez’s role was minimized and it was made clear that his job was not to lose games for a team that revolved around defense and running the football. His 6.7 yards per attempt showed that he was throwing short passes and trying not to make the big mistake. Sanchez had his ups and downs with 12 touchdowns compared to 20 interceptions but the team finished 9-7, made the playoffs, won two road playoff games and were one win away from the Superbowl.

With the Eagles last year Marty Mornhinweg had the unenviable task of reworking his offense on the fly when an injury to starting quarterback Michael Vick in Week 10 forced rookie Nick Foles into the starting lineup. While Vick is the gunslinger who scrambles out of trouble and throws the deep ball proficiently, Foles is a pocket quarterback who likes to throw in rhythm and is limited athletically. Mornhinweg took advantage of Foles skill set and hid his inexperience by having him throw 157 of his 238 throws either at the line of scrimmage or short routes. This quick, short passing game (a staple of the West Coast Offense) helped Foles complete 77.7% of those short throws and allowed him to complete 61% overall for 1699 yards in just 7 games (6 starts). The Eagles passed 613 times overall and ran 413 times for a 60/40 ratio favoring the pass. Foles also had 6 touchdowns to 5 interceptions during that period as well. The Eagles defense and offensive line play were their ultimate downfall as they finished the season 1-5.

May 10, 2013; Florham Park, NJ, USA; New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan looks on during New York Jets rookie minicamp at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Coach Ryan’s philosophy was best for that year’s team as a whole. He took the strengths of the team, the number 1 ranked defense and rushing attack, and parlayed them into an AFC Championship Game appearance. Ryan minimized the team’s weakness, its inexperienced quarterback, to overachieve beyond what most Jets fans thought was possible. Was that the best for Sanchez long-term? Having your quarterback be tentative and afraid to make the big mistake is not the blueprint to develop a franchise quarterback.

Coach Mornhinweg, on the other hand, tailored the offense around the rookie’s strengths. Taking less shots down the field and playing more conservatively instilled a confidence in Foles. They did not hide him however because despite having a leaky offensive line, Foles dropped back 238 times and was sacked 20 times in just 7 games. Gameplanning for a quarterback strengths is a much better way to develop a young signal caller than hiding his weaknesses.

The best way to achieve success on offense in 2013 is a mix of the two philosophies. The offense needs to be geared toward the strengths of both the quarterback and the team. Smith has been an accurate quarterback during his college days completing 71% of his passes in his senior year. A lot of those passes were screens or short routes like the ones Mornhinweg used with Foles last year in Philadelphia. Smith has speed and can scramble so expect more rollouts like Vick did to both threaten the defense on the edge and let Smith focus on one side of the field. The team will once again rely on its defense so running the football behind Chris Ivory and Mike Goodson becomes important to keep the chains moving and the defense from tiring out. Having a 60/40 pass to run ratio will lose the time of possession battle and having a 60/40 run to pass ratio will stunt Smith’s growth so the right mix lies in between. In 2010, Sanchez’s 2nd year, the Jets were nearly 50/50 pass to run and had their best regular season at 11-5 while also beating the Colts and Patriots in the playoffs to return to the AFC Championship Game. Sanchez also had a good year with 17 touchdowns to 13 interceptions punctuated by 3 4th quarter comebacks. That balance seems to be what fits this team best.

The key is to produce a system that produces sustained success. That success is created by game plans that not only put the team in the best position to win each week but develop those players to improve over time. I believe that a system will be in place this year that accomplishes both goals leading the Jets to surpass last year’s win total and continue to improve each year.

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