Can the Jets Get Pass-Happy?
Can the Jets Get Pass-Happy?
Switch to West Coast Offense Means Sanchez :D Will Have to Prove Himself
By MIKE SIELSKI WSJ.com
For all the speculation about the improvements the Jets may or may not make to their offense before next season—particularly about whether Mark Sanchez remains the starting quarterback—it's likely that the team already has made its most influential addition.
By hiring Marty Mornhinweg to be their offensive coordinator, the Jets are effecting an identity change as stark as the one Clark Kent undergoes whenever there's a phone booth nearby. (No, we're not saying Mornhinweg is the Superman of NFL play-callers. Relax.)
Mornhinweg's arrival means that the Jets will be using the West Coast offense. That is, they'll use a system that is the antithesis of the one they used last season under Tony Sparano. They will be pass-heavy, and those passes will generally be short, quick throws designed to exploit a defense's soft targets and generate big gains of yardage. Under Mornhinweg's direction, the system usually works: Over his 11 seasons as a coordinator—four with the San Francisco 49ers, seven with the Philadelphia Eagles—his teams have ranked in the top 10 in total offense eight times.
To extend that track record of productivity, though, Mornhinweg will have to reconcile his West Coast principles with the Jets' obvious limitations. This was, after all, the 30th-best offense in the NFL in 2012. So assuming that the Jets enter next season with similar personnel on offense, here's a primer on the factors that will determine the success of Mornhinweg's tenure.
1. Seriously—Marty likes to throw the ball.
Over his first four years as head coach, Rex Ryan had used certain buzzwords and phrases to define the Jets' offense: all-weather, ground-and-pound, attacking. Whatever term he wielded, though, the Jets' approach and the results they got were generally the same: They ranked no better than 20th in total offense in three of those four years, and in 2009, they ran the ball 609 times—77 more times than any other team.
By contrast, the Eagles attempted at least 104 more passes than running plays in every season Mornhinweg was in charge of their offense. It really can't be overstated how different his philosophy is.
2. The Jets' receivers should find their routes easier to learn and run.
In Sparano's offense, the Jets' wideouts often had two or three options on any pass pattern they ran. "Those types of things take time to learn," said former NFL quarterback Jeff Garcia, who played under Mornhinweg for three seasons with the 49ers and Eagles. "If your quarterback and receivers are not on the same page, that's going to create a lack of confidence in each other."
In Mornhinweg's system, the routes are predetermined, and it's up to the quarterback to know which receiver should be open, based on the defense's coverage. "By the time you hit your fifth step in your drop," Garcia said, "you know where you're going with the football."
3. Sanchez (if he is the starter) must prove he can be accurate enough with his passes to thrive in the West Coast system.
This is what could define Sanchez's career as an NFL quarterback, for he has never completed more than 57% of his passes in any of his four seasons. Garcia said that Sanchez has the necessary physical and mental attributes to be an effective West Coast QB and that Mornhinweg can, in a way, teach him the position anew: "Marty's not going to allow a player, just because he's been around for a while, to come out there on the field and not be good in a technical part of the game."
Brian Baldinger, an analyst for The NFL Network, isn't so sure. The Jets' previous offensive schemes, he said, were so simplistic and demanded so little of the quarterback that it may be difficult for Sanchez to carry out the reads and make the precise throws that are intrinsic to the West Coast system.
"I always said Mark Sanchez looked like a Canon commercial for the camera," Baldinger said. "It was just point and shoot. It's time for the quarterback to do more. If anybody is going to get the most out of Sanchez, of the guys who have coached him I would say Marty has the best chance."
Write to Mike Sielski at email@example.com