JETS OFFENSE: Is short really all that simple?

“It’s a screen. It’s the way it’s supposed to be. You invite the rush and you throw it right over
them. He made a pretty good play. They always try to tip it and usually that ball always goes right
through.” – Mark Sanchez 9.30.12

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — In the case of passing the football, does short always precede simple?. That’s what old football adages have taught us.

According to Rex Ryan, he believes the old adage to still hold true today.

“You have to look at a lot of these guys with higher completion percentages and see where they’re throwing the ball. Behind the line of scrimmage and things like that. Obviously those are a lot easier to complete than down-the-field throws,” he said.

Is it that obvious? His quarterback’s numbers suggest that the ease of keeping it short and simple aren’t as straightforward as his head coach might be suggesting.

On throws of ten yards or fewer Sanchez, who has the league’s worst completion percentage since the start of the 2011 season, is also, statistically speaking, the worst passer in the league — completing 54.9%. The play highlighting the discussion was Patrick Willis’ interception on a screen play early in the third quarter of last week’s 34-0 drumming at the hands of the 49ers. The interception came just after the start of the second half with the Jets still very much in the game.

By comparison Sanchez’s Texans counterpart, Matt Schaub, ranks twelfth in the league in passes completed by ten yards or fewer — finding his target nearly 71% of the time.

Mark Sanchez's 54.9 completion pct. on pass of 10 yards or fewer is the lowest in the NFL. (JetsInsider.com Photo).

Is his low completion percentage on shorts throws just a by product of his overall low completion percentage? Does all of that fall in conjunction with the lack luster play that’s been surrounding this offense post their Week 1 explosion?

Sanchez isn’t making an excuses.

“Have I missed some throws this year? Absolutely. When I look at the tape there’s a bunch of throws each game, a handful of them that you want back. Those are the ones I can control. The other ones after that, we have to be in the right spot. I have to control what I can, and that’s meeting with these guys extra and make sure we’re on the same page so there’s no questions going into the game. They’ll be in the right spot and leave it to me to deliver the ball.”

The ‘they’ Sanchez is referring to isn’t only his receivers, it’s the offensive line as well. Second-year quarterback Greg McElroy told Jets Insider that staying on the same page with your offensive line is huge in making sure the short passing game stays simple.

“A lot of reaches happen quicker on shorter passes. Say, for instance, you have a quick gain combination. That’s going to be out of a three-step drop formation. So you just have to make quicker decisions and ensure the line is keeping the defender’s hands down,” McElroy said.

From a defensive standpoint safety LaRon Landry believes a shorter pass is harder to defend.

For me, I’d rather cover a deeper ball because they have to get past me. I have the speed to run with somebody. It’s predominantly a three-step drop on short passes. Once you make your pre-snap reads, you scoot up a bit to read the quarterback but still keep your eye on your man. In order to see the screen pass, you have to have good eyes – to see the guards pull, read your keys, things like that.

Eyes are also an important tool on the offensive end regarding the short pass. The ability to see through the waves of defender’s arms at the line of scrimmage, particularly being under center and releasing the ball closer to the line of scrimmage, can be difficult. Texans defensive end J.J. Watt has been one the most adept linemen in batting the ball down at the line of scrimmage, logging five passes defended in four games.

Again, Sanchez is only concerned with what he can control. And that starts in practice, where he missed only one completion on Wednesday — an important stat to keep in mind considering the new, young receivers in this offense.

“I think those practice throws matter. I think we have to take advantage of those throws. [If] you hit them in practice, then you usually hit them in the game.” He continued, “the important thing is just to be in the right spot at the right time, whatever it says on the piece of paper. If it’s 15 yards, it means 15, and whether you’re press, whether the guy’s off, it’s first-and-ten, third-and-ten. You have to be in the right spot.”

So is the old phrase short and simple, in regards to the pass, really all that easy? For McElroy, the answer is simple.

“Yeah I think it’s easier to complete shorter passes. To tell you the truth, I’ve always thought the closer the receiver the easier it is to be accurate.”

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