Year Three Improvement Plan: Phase One
With the lockout still very much in effect there isn’t a lot of hard news to report on, so over these next couple of weeks I’m going to take a look at which ways the Jets must improve if year three under the Rex Ryan regime will be a success. Of course with the guarantees and bravado Ryan brings with him, anything less than a Super Bowl will ultimately be deemed a failure.
There are many facets of this Jets team that must improve, which players will be around for the improvement is pure speculation at this point, but the mission remains the same.
Phase One: Mark Sanchez must improve his consistency.
The first two years of the Sanchez era have been a wild, but memorable ride. Through all the ups-and-downs of those two seasons the Jets still found themselves in the AFC Championship two years in a row, but there is little doubt as to what is the single biggest thing that is holding this team back and that’s the unsteady play of Sanchez.
Sanchez does a lot of good things as the quarterback of this team, but he also has a tendency to do dig himself and the team into a giant hole. The late game, comeback mode Sanchez has been ridiculously good. The beginning of the game Sanchez, not so much.
And that’s where Sanchez needs to improve his game the most. The Jets have an extremely talented team surrounding him (regardless of what players re-sign or not), they don’t need Sanchez to play at the insanely high level he has played in some of those comebacks all the time. If they can get 75-80% of that Sanchez throughout the course of every game they will find themselves cruising to some easy victories.
Remember not too long ago when a quarterback was drafted they weren’t usually expected to contribute until year three. Yeah well those days are obviously gone, but the idea of year three being a significant one for developing quarterbacks still rings true and because of the growth Sanchez has shown in his first two season, Jets fans have a lot to be excited about for year three.
Yes, the Jets made it to the AFC Championship in his rookie year, but they did that largely in spite of Sanchez, not because of him. While no one would say the Jets reached last year’s championship just because of Sanchez, there is no denying that last year there were games the Jets won because of the play of their quarterback and that’s something to build on.
As brutal as that AFC Championship loss was in Pittsburgh it really wasn’t out of character for last year’s Jets, the problem was they were playing a great team like the Steelers. All season long the Jets struggled getting off to slow starts, they could overcome those slow starts against the likes of the Lions and Browns, the Steelers are a different animal though and that early hole the Jets dug proved to be too much to overcome.
Obviously Sanchez isn’t alone in the blame for this, often times it was the defense getting off to poor starts as well and on top of that the offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer, must accept his share of the blame for Sanchez’s inconsistency as well (Cue the heads of many Jets fans nodding in agreement).
The inconsistency of Schottenheimer is it’s own problem in of itself and will be dealt with in future article, but the inconsistent nature of the play calling has a huge impact in Sanchez’s struggles.
It’s apparent to anyone who watches Sanchez play that he performs much better when he gets into a comfortable rhythm and can just react naturally instead of being overwhelmed with too much to think about. Schottenheimer loves to try and disguise the play and confuse the defense, problem is he often ends up confusing his quarterback. Lay off the elaborate pre-snap movement, give Sanchez more short easy passes (outs and slants), roll him out, stick with the run and short passes to then open the field up further down the field. It’s simple really, sometime less truly is more and Schotty needs to grasp this concept.
Most importantly they need to do whatever Sanchez is most comfortable with. In baseball managers often don’t like to have their catchers force a young pitcher to throw a pitch they aren’t comfortable with. Maybe a curveball would be the best pitch to throw in the situation, but if the young pitcher feels more comfortable throwing a fastball it’s probably better to go with the fastball the pitcher believes in than the curve he doesn’t.
It should work no differently with a young quarterback and his offensive coordinator. We’ve seen it multiple times, at the end of a game Sanchez and or his receivers tell the coaches there is a specific play they like, they run it and success follows. Sanchez and Schotty need to develop a better, more consistent rapport so Schotty understands what plays Sanchez is most comfortable running at a particular time. It’s great to have those late game moments of players calling their shots, but it’s the coordinators job to know what his players want and how to best use them throughout the game.
With a more consistent running game, something the Jets often lacked last year, things should become much more comfortable for Sanchez and his coordinator and they should be able to work at a more consistently impressive pace than any time over the past two seasons.
Sanchez has proven he is a leader, he truly commands the respect of that locker room. He continues to show examples of this on a daily basis, but year three is the time he needs to put all that faith and trust into action and lead this team through his play on the field.
The Jets have proven a certain level of consistency over these past two seasons, but this year they must improve on that consistency to elevate to the next step of the Super Bowl and this task begins and ends with Mark Sanchez.