Assistant Matt Cavanaugh steady influence as Jets' Mark Sanchez works to get back on
[B]Assistant Matt Cavanaugh steady influence as Jets' Mark Sanchez works to get back on track[/B]
[B]Published: Sunday, December 19, 2010, 4:30 AM [/B]
[I]You’re upset, because you played badly.[/I]
This is where Matt Cavanaugh started after a deflating 10-6 loss to Miami. Not angry, not emotional. Just unfailingly calm, cool and rational. Mark Sanchez listened.
The Jets quarterbacks coach asked Sanchez if he remembered last month’s Houston game. The Jets trailed with 49 seconds remaining, until Sanchez led a near-miraculous game-winning touchdown drive. The second-year quarterback was lauded — except neither he nor his coaches thought he played all that well that day.
“It goes both ways, Mark,” Cavanaugh told the 24-year-old last week. “Are you going to accept that everybody thinks you’re no good?”
It was a challenge to the franchise quarterback, by the man whose charge each day is to do so. Cavanaugh, 54, is many things: The first person Sanchez talks to when he comes off the field; a 14-year veteran of the NFL who threw Jerry Rice’s first career catch; a longtime ally of the Ryan family; a three-time Super Bowl champion.
This week, though, one role is most important.
“He’s the one to really lean on in times like this,” Sanchez said.
Today’s game against the Steelers is one coach Rex Ryan called the “biggest challenge yet” for the Jets and their slumping offense, a perfect storm of the opponent’s notoriously confounding defense, tough Pittsburgh weather and a quarterback aching to bounce back after a pair of ugly losses.
In both — against Miami and the blowout defeat at New England — Sanchez completed just 44 percent of his passes and lost the ball nine times by himself. Dropped passes and protection woes were aggravating factors, but Ryan has put pressure on the quarterback, starting with his admission that he considered benching Sanchez last week.
The New York Jets have lost two straight to division rivals New England and Miami. After Sunday's game, several defenders felt like coach Rex Ryan called them out for not doing well enough. Ryan addressed this, along with how his team plans to stay positive for their game against Pittsburgh despite the losses.
Among the young quarterback’s many shepherds, including Ryan and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, Cavanaugh is perhaps the ideal antidote to his struggles. He’s even-keeled, while Sanchez is learning to manage his emotions. He’s a guru of fundamentals, the consistent knock when Sanchez is off. He played quarterback in 112 professional games and has been coaching since 1993, so what hasn’t he seen?
“I’ve been cut, traded, fired, raised on shoulders, had beer dumped on me and everything in between,” Cavanaugh said. “I try to tell him, ‘You’re not in this alone, and you’re not the only guy this has ever happened to.’ But the bottom line is you have to work yourself out of most of your jams, no matter what they are.”
• • •
In the fourth quarter of the Dolphins loss, Ryan approached Cavanaugh on the sideline. He was searching for a spark, Cavanaugh said, and asked the loaded question: “Should we pull Mark?”
Cavanaugh, to whom trust is paramount, chose not to share his response publicly. But Ryan stuck with Sanchez, saying he felt he gave the Jets the best shot to win.
A change late last season was having Cavanaugh on the sideline during games; a change this year is that Cavanaugh is the person Sanchez talks to the most on game day.
Schottenheimer is first a play-caller on Sundays, and needs to seek input from each of the position coaches as they apply their game plan. So Cavanaugh is the “first voice I hear,” Sanchez said, the one who holds the coverage printouts from each series and answers his questions.
Jets wide out Santonio Holmes comments on his preparations to play the Pittsburgh steelers, who traded him this past offseason. Holmes said the last time he was this excited for a game, it when he played in Super Bowl XLIII.
Cavanaugh has learned to not let ebbs and flows of the game affect his analysis. At New England, Sanchez threw his second of three interceptions to Devin McCourty, an underthrown ball to Braylon Edwards on the right sideline. The wind, Cavanaugh knew, altered the flight of the ball.
“You went to the right spot,” Cavanaugh told Sanchez when he came off the field. “The guy made a good play. We’ll get it back.”
On the flip side, each time the football fumbled from Sanchez’s grasp against the Dolphins because he didn’t keep two hands on the ball, Cavanaugh let him know: “We’re not going to accept that.”
His approach translates to infamously harsh grade sheets. Each pass is evaluated three ways: footwork, the throw and the decision. A touchdown, third quarterback Kellen Clemens explained, may very well receive more pluses than minuses. Even if the throw was good, Cavanaugh will scrutinize the footwork and the decision.
Influenced by the great Bill Walsh, whom he played for in San Francisco, Cavanaugh believes there should be a rhythm to how a quarterback decides where to throw the ball. He has worked to train Sanchez’s steps, on dropping and hitching forward into each read, and believes this aspect of his game has room to grow.
But these are the things they hone in the offseason. When Sanchez’s fundamentals lapse, as they have during this rut, they will pick one skill to target each day. Sanchez also must trust his reads: sometimes he comes off a progression too fast, or stays on it too long, missing a chance for a positive play.
“The hardest thing sometimes is fighting that urge to want to do it right on your own,” Sanchez said. “Feeling like you’ve got it already; yeah, yeah, I know that. Well, he’s not telling me just for his health; he’s telling me because he wants me to play well, and he knows I can. Listening to him is the best thing I can do.”
• • •
The Jets haven’t scored an offensive touchdown in nine quarters, but Cavanaugh has seen worse: when he was the offensive coordinator of the 2000 Ravens, there were five straight games when they didn’t score a touchdown.
In that stretch, they replaced quarterback Tony Banks with Trent Dilfer. As they entered the playoffs, Dilfer wasn’t at his best. He had a severe pelvic injury that limited his mobility, and remembered closing the regular season in a funk, playing one game with vertigo and very poorly in another.
But Cavanaugh — whose first coaching gig was at his alma mater, Pitt, in 1993 under Johnny Majors — was a rush of positivity.
“Hey, we got the stinkers out,” Dilfer remembers him saying. Cavanaugh also said something more important: “You’re the perfect guy for this football team.”
Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum announced the team will suspend strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi indefinitely after receiving new information about Alosi instructing the Jets players form a wall on the sideline during punts in the Miami game. On Monday they had suspended him for the remainder of the season without pay, docking him an additional $25,000 dollars. Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan made several brief comments on the situation during his weekly press conference on Wednesday.
The Ravens, of course, won the Super Bowl that year. Cavanaugh said the lesson he learned was that you can’t summarize a player, or a team, by a week or stretch of weeks.
“There was no evidence that proved we had turned the corner, but he was able to persuade me we had,” Dilfer recalled last week. “When your coach says he knows good things are coming, you muster up the momentum it takes to turn things around.”
Cavanaugh is an experience-driven coach, starting late in his playing career when he became a backup and knew coaching was his future. Majors, who coached Cavanaugh on Pitt’s national championship team in 1976, gave him a shot because he was smart and loyal. That loyalty was tested a day later, when Walsh also called about a job — but Cavanaugh honored his commitment.
He’d get a chance in the NFL with Buddy Ryan, his former coach in Philadelphia, who brought him to his staff in Arizona. More than a decade later, when the Jets hired his son, Buddy Ryan told Rex: “Hire Matt.”
Rex Ryan, who worked with Cavanaugh in Baltimore, says he’s one of the smartest guys he’s ever been around. His highest praise is that he trusts him with Sanchez. Like he showed with Dilfer, Cavanaugh is an ace at the psychological side of the game — as Sanchez said, “keeping me in the right state mentally all the time.”
When Sanchez is high-flying, bouncing off the walls after a sick throw in practice, Cavanaugh can bring him down with one crack: “Sanchez, you suck. What’s wrong with you?”
Today, Cavanaugh said, he needs to send Sanchez out on the field believing the Jets have the best game plan that has ever been put together — and that he’s the one who can execute it best.
• • •
Three guys die. As they’re waiting to get into Heaven, St. Peter tells them since it’s Christmas Eve, they need to show him something representative of the spirit of Christmas.
The first guy pulls out a lighter, and says it represents a candle. The second guy reaches for his keys, shakes them, and calls them “Jingle Bells.” The third guy thinks for a while. Finally, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a women’s garment. “These are Carol’s,” he says.
Each Friday at 9 a.m., Cavanaugh presents the red zone to the offense, and he always opens with a joke. Last Christmas, he had the room in stitches with this one — winning over not just the quarterbacks, but the offensive unit.
“That’s my favorite part of the week,” fullback Tony Richardson said. “He should do a TV show.”
His personality, players say, is hard to describe. Sarcastic is an understatement; those who pop into his office with an idea are told to write it down and mail it. He wears glasses, has a few oddly placed tattoos and the only way Clemens can think to characterize him is “hippie.”
But respect comes easily. Cavanaugh learned from Joe Montana. He played on two Super Bowl teams: the 49ers in 1984 and the Giants in 1990. On the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s death last week, the quarterbacks were eating lunch and saw TV clips of Cavanaugh: He was the starter for the Patriots on Monday Night Football the day Lennon was killed.
Forty-year-old Mark Brunell told Sanchez to make sure he appreciates Cavanaugh. He does. Maybe most, he appreciates the feel he has for people, for quarterbacks, “for me,” Sanchez said.
Cavanaugh believes Sanchez could help the Jets reach their goal of a championship. He also knows he could stop them. Together, they’re figuring out the difference.
[QUOTE]Three guys die. As they’re waiting to get into Heaven, St. Peter tells them since it’s Christmas Eve, they need to show him something representative of the spirit of Christmas.
The first guy pulls out a lighter, and says it represents a candle. The second guy reaches for his keys, shakes them, and calls them “Jingle Bells.” The third guy thinks for a while. Finally, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a women’s garment. “These are Carol’s,” he says.[/QUOTE]
What is this doing in the middle of the article? :confused:
[QUOTE=C Mart;3869444]Read the next paragraph..That was the joke Cavanaugh told to the Offense.[/QUOTE]
Was this another joke?
[QUOTE]Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum announced the team will suspend strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi indefinitely after receiving new information about Alosi instructing the Jets players form a wall on the sideline during punts in the Miami game. On Monday they had suspended him for the remainder of the season without pay, docking him an additional $25,000 dollars. Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan made several brief comments on the situation during his weekly press conference on Wednesday. [/QUOTE]