Film Room – Solving The Sanchez Problem

Steve Bateman breaks down the film to demonstrate three of Mark Sanchez’s biggest problems

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In recent days and weeks there’s been a great deal of attention directed towards the New York Jets search for new staff. Yet while it’s understandable that fans are anxious to learn who’ll be hiring the players and calling the plays next season, arguably the most important addition at Florham Park this year may also be one of the least heralded: with Mark Sanchez’s career now seemingly at tipping point, the man who’s hired to replace Matt Cavanaugh as QB coach could well be the pivot around which the team’s fortunes turn.

Sanchez was bad this season – there’s no doubting that – but to give us a better idea of where it all went wrong (and where work needs to be done this off-season) let’s take a look at a few plays from 2012 that highlight some of his greatest difficulties all too clearly…

We’ll begin by considering Sanchez’s difficulty in making pre-snap reads, and there’s no better example to be found than back in Week 2 against the Miami Dolphins. The game’s tied at 10 apiece in the third quarter, and the Jets are facing a 3rd & Goal from the 7-yard line. Although the Jets appear to be out in a 4 WR set, they are actually in 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE) with Jeff Cumberland split wide to the right (Picture 1, below). The Dolphins have responded with their big nickel package.

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The play has been designed with Stephen Hill (yellow route) as the primary receiver while to his outside Cumberland runs a short hook in order that Hill can draw single coverage in the back of the endzone.

As a QB making his pre-snap read, the first thing that Sanchez has to be aware of is his protection scheme. The Dolphins are showing a 7-man pass rush (4 down linemen along with 2 LBs plus 1 safety (circled in red) all showing blitz). Consequently, there’s a very good chance that the Jets’ 6-man protection scheme (the 5 offensive linemen plus RB Bilal Powell) will be overwhelmed.

This initial read should also trigger a red-hot awareness that if the three circled defenders are all blitzing, the center of the field will be left absolutely unprotected. Suddenly, to any QB who’s confident about his ability to adapt a play at the line of scrimmage (Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are masters of this) Santonio Holmes (purple route) becomes the most appealing option on the field.

As the play develops (Picture 2) the abandoned tract of center-field looms large (green area) as Holmes gains a step on his defender and breaks into it. Meanwhile, there’s a problem with the play design as Cumberland has taken his route too deep, meaning that the window where Sanchez had been hoping to deliver the ball (red area) is now effectively double-covered. The play can still be aborted, however, and the lead can be taken via a straightforward field goal if a pass is delivered to either of the yellow areas.

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Picture 2

The fact that despite all of this Sanchez dumbly floats the ball straight into the most dangerous area of the field (where it’s intercepted by Chris Clemons) is concerning to say the least (Picture 3). Not only does it indicate an unwillingness to deviate from the playbook by pulling the plug and taking a safe option, it also suggests that he entirely failed to compute how the blitzing LBs and safety would impact on the route being run by Holmes (who is now absolutely wide open in the endzone). This is one area where Sanchez simply must show considerable improvement between now and September.

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The second problem that we’ll consider is Sanchez’s difficulty in knowing when to swallow the ball and take a sack. Here we’ll look at why this is such a problem by looking back at the Week 13 clash against the Arizona Cardinals.

Below we see the Jets about to run a play-action pass from 21 personnel (2 RBs, 1 TE) on 1st & 10 from their own 12-yard line, while the Cardinals are in a base 3-4 package (Picture 4). Although the player movements are detailed, they are not that important except for the those of the two middle linebackers (red) who will blitz the A-gap (ie the small space between the center and the guards on either side of him).

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Picture 4

In next to no time the blitz has leaked into the backfield and Sanchez is under intense pressure (Picture 5). For reasons unknown, Sanchez apparently becomes briefly seized by the belief that he’s the greatest QB to have ever played the game and attempts a ridiculous throw from an absolutely horrible position where one leg is in the air while the other is balanced on tiptoe. (I often compare playing QB to boxing in that there’s very little difference between the techniques that allow for the throwing of a powerful, accurate punch and a similarly lethal pass. I probably don’t need to point out that Muhammad Ali’s success wasn’t built on a tendency to throw punches while falling over backwards and tiptoeing on one leg).

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Picture 5

Unsurprisingly the ball wobbles out of Sanchez’s hand and loops into midfield where former Jet Kerry Rhodes immediately breaks on the throw and makes as easy an interception as he’s ever likely to. Thanks entirely to Sanchez’s difficulty in accepting that sometimes it’s best to take one for the team, the Cardinals have a 1st & 10 from the Jets 26-yard line. If Sanchez is to retain his role as the Jets’ starting QB in 2013 he must come to understand his limitations: while it’s great to believe in one’s own abilities, self-delusion is a surefire road to ruin.

Our last consideration is a problem that’s haunted Sanchez throughout his professional career, namely an inability to look off a safety so as to secure single coverage for a receiver running a deep pattern. Let’s look at an example taken from the Week 15 match-up against the Tennessee Titans…

We’re into the final quarter and the Jets are trailing 14-10. The Jets are once again in 21 personnel and are matched up against a 3-deep zone defense run from the Cardinals’ 4-3 under package (Picture 6). Braylon Edwards (circled) is the intended target on the play, and safety Michael Griffin is highlighted in green.

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Picture 6

Although he briefly scans center-field to establish whether or not both safeties have dropped deep (thereby giving himself an easy read of the coverage scheme) Sanchez soon switches his gaze towards Edwards (Picture 7).

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Picture 7

Griffin backpedals but keeps his head turned towards Sanchez so that he can read his eyes as he continues staring at Edwards (Picture 8).

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Picture 8

This enables him to commit towards the direction of the throw before it’s even been released, with the result that despite Edwards’s wily attempts to act as defender and knock the ball away, Griffin is in exactly the right place at exactly the right time and is consequently able to collect an easy pick (Picture 9).

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Picture 9

In conclusion, although these problems are by-and-large correctable through coaching it would be foolish to presume that the new QB guru – whoever he may be – will have an easy task in helping to resurrect Sanchez’s tarnished reputation. Because while it’s possible to identify the errors and implement drills that are designed to correct them, the only person capable of righting these wrongs is Sanchez himself.

Will he ever learn? I guess that’s the eight million dollar question.

Scouting Notre Dame’s Top NFL Draft Prospects in 2013

Frank Giasone looks at the top NFL prospects from Notre Dame and if any of them would fit with the New York Jets

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A big welcome to Frank Giasone who is going to assist Chris Gross and Zev Sibony with the Turn On The Jets NFL Draft Coverage. In the aftermath of the National Championship Game, Frank takes a look at Notre Dame’s top NFL prospects, while Zev will be looking at Alabama’s (coming soon)…Both will also take into consideration if any of the prospects could be a good fit for the New York Jets – 

While Monday night’s National Title Game was certainly nothing short of awful, the team that found itself on the losing end – the No. 1 ranked (please, try not to laugh) Notre Dame Fighting Irish- really does have some NFL-ready talent coming out in the 2013 Draft this April. Although some Draft stocks may have fallen with Monday’s performance, the overall sentiment remains that this Irish team has a few prospects that appear talented enough to help the Jets in the future.

Today we’ll take a look at the top six potential Notre Dame draft picks in 2013, and see which ones, if any, the Jets should target this April.

Manti Te’o (ILB) – Drafting Te’o has been a highly debated topic within Jets circles the past few months. The middle linebackers’ impressive senior season has led some to deem him the Draft’s “best pick”, while others have gone as far as  comparing him to Ray Lewis. His performance on Monday night will surely temper the enthusiasm of a lot of people, as questions now arise regarding Te’o’s ability to shed blocks against the behemoths up front in the NFL. Although Te’o may turn out to be a successful inside ‘backer in the NFL, organizational needs make him a doubtful option for the Jets in Round 1.

Tyler Eifert (TE) – Eifert is another one of the guys that lots of Jets fans are clamoring over. Arguably the highest rated player coming out of South Bend (as far as the Jets needs and system), Eifert boasts the natural ability and size that should translate in this, the ever-evolving world of the tight end. With Dustin Keller’s “Injury Tour” (also known as his Jets career), likely coming to an end, April’s Draft is the perfect place to find his replacement. This time around, Jets fans everywhere are hoping Rex & Co. can find a more complete TE, versatile enough to contribute both in the passing game and as a run blocker. Eifert looks like that guy.

Standing at 6-foot-6, 255 lbs. the Notre Dame TE’s most prevalent attributes are his skills as a receiver. Efiert shows terrific hands and quickness, the ability to go up and catch the ball at its highest point, and solid route running. While most Jets fans want to hear that Eifert will still be on the board when the Jets hit the podium in Round 2, the truth is that he will most likely hear his name called sometime late on Day 1. There’s also the possibility that Eifert could go as high as the top 20 (a team like Chicago may have interest, although glaring needs on the OL make the selection debatable), or at No. 22 to St. Louis. The most likely scenario – assuming he slides past No. 22- is that he’ll find himself as a late Day 1 selection, possibly as Jermichael Finley’s replacement in Green Bay or as the heir apparent to Tony Gonzalez in Atlanta. If the Jets really like him, they’ll probably need to sneak back into the first 20-26 picks or – the less likely option – trade down from No. 9

Interesting Note: Only one TE has been taken in Round 1 since 2010 (Jermaine Gresham, Cincinnati, Pick No. 21).

Zeke Motta (FS) – The possible departures of Laron Landry and Eric Smith (the latter more highly anticipated than the former) means the Jets, once again, need to figure out the safety position. Motta doesn’t project as a starting FS in the pro’s, but he does exhibit great size, and is a sure tackler who makes his presence felt on the field. Motta’s strengths are his physicality and intelligence, but his fit in a two-safety system at ND  -and his flaws in coverage – make some nervous that he’s susceptible to getting beat deep by NFL wide receivers.

With that being said, his open field tackling and special teams potential make him an interesting Day 3 option.

Prince Shembo (OLB)- While the talented junior has yet to declare for the ’13 NFL Draft, Shembo’s intangibles make him an intriguing prospect as a 3-4 OLB. Impressive speed, quickness off the ball and a high motor, in addition to his sure tackling and ability to fight through blocks, helped him to 52 tackles and 7.5 sacks in 2012, as he seemingly came out of nowhere to shine for the second-ranked run defense (seriously, stop laughing) in college football. The junior also shined at DE when the Irish defense switched to 4-3 looks, increasing his overall value. Shembo may decide he’s better off heading back to school for his senior season, as he’s currently projected to be a Day 3 pick. If he does declare, he’s another interesting option for the Jets ever-needy linebacker corp.

Cierre Wood (RB) – Wood, another Notre Dame junior who has yet to declare for the draft, is a one cut runner who exhibits quickness getting to the second level. Never afraid to lower a shoulder into a defender, the ND ‘back is at times too indecisive behind the line of scrimmage, meaning his decision-making and instincts will need to improve if he wants to have success in the NFL. Another concern with Wood is the absence of breakaway speed that many teams covet in a running back. Doubtful that the Jets will have interest if he declares, especially with Joe McKnight and Bilal Powell on the roster.

Kapron Lewis-Moore (DE) – Lewis-Moore saw his draft value plummet Monday night, after a torn ACL in his right knee took him out of the game in the first half. The injury occurred on the same knee that cut Lewis-Moore’s 2011 season short with a torn MCL. Before the injury, Lewis-Moore was projected as a fifth or sixth round prospect at the DE position, capable of having success at both the three and five techniques in the NFL. With the severity of the injury, and the probable 1-year rehab following surgery- Lewis-Moore may find himself undrafted.

Turn On The Jets 2013 NFL Draft Big Board 1.0

Chris Gross with his first big board for the 2013 NFL Draft

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Turn On The Jets is going to have the NFL Draft covered from every angle in the coming months. Chris Gross will lead our coverage along with Frank Giasone and Zev Sibony. Make sure to check back for daily updates. When the site redesigned (February 1st) we will have a separate page archiving all our draft coverage, so it easily sorted amongst the rest of our content. Take it away Chris —

To kickoff our draft coverage here at Turn On The Jets, we bring you our initial TOJ Big Board – An overall look at who we feel are the best 20 college prospects poised to enter this year’s NFL Draft. As the draft process unfolds, this board is sure to have some changes to it on a week-to-week basis, so be sure to check for updates as we enter the days leading to the Senior Bowl, NFL Combine, and individual workouts heading into April. This list will expand to 25 and eventually 30 players in the coming weeks as we review more film of potential prospects. Let’s jump right in.

1.) Chance Warmack, Guard, Alabama6″3″ 320 lbs: It is extremely rare to have an offensive guard ranked at the top of college prospect rankings, but Warmack has been a stud on the best offensive line in the nation this year. The Crimson Tide ran for an average of 224 yards per game out of a pro-style offense in an a conference that yields NFL caliber defenses in terms of personnel and scheme. Warmack has excellent strength at the point of attack, and combined with his fantastic footwork and ability to get to the second level, he is surely a can’t miss prospect this year.

2.) Star Lotuleli, Defensive Tackle, Utah6’4″ 325 lbs: Lotuleli may not get the exposure that he would if he played on a team in the SEC, but he is the surest defender in this year’s class. A rare combination of size, strength, and quickness will make him a fit in any scheme at the next level. He is big and strong enough to be an effective Nose Tackle in a 3-4, while possessing the explosiveness and agility to be a playmaking 3-technique in a 4-3. There hasn’t been an interior defensive lineman this versatile since Ndamukong Suh came out of Nebraska a few years ago.

3.) Jarvis Jones, Outside Linebacker, Georgia – 6’3″ 241 lbs: Jones leads a loaded class at outside linebacker this year. While he has the ability to be an effective 4-3 OLB, his combination of strength, explosiveness, and pass rushing technique make him an ideal fit as a 3-4 DE/OLB. Jones has the size and long frame to become a nuisance to offensive tackles in the NFL, and combined with his speed, agility, and relentless motor, he will be ready to come in and start for whichever team he ends up with from day 1.

4.) Luke Joeckel, Offensive Tackle, Texas A&M – 6’6″ 310 lbs: Joeckel leads a very strong class of offensive tackles this year. A stalwart to the Aggies offense that yielded 2012’s Heisman Trophy winner, Joeckel fits the Matt Kalil, Jake Long, and Joe Thomas profiles as one of the NFL’s next great offensive tackles. While his size and strength are a key factor to what make him so great, it is his tremendous footwork that will allow him to be a day 1 starter when he enters camp. Like Warmack, Joeckel is a can’t miss prospect.

5.) Damontre Moore, Defensive End, Texas A&M – 6’4″ 248 lbs: Moore has drawn comparisons to the last great Texas A&M defensive prospect, Von Miller, and for good reason. He has that rare versatility to play standing up or with his hand on the ground, making him a perfect fit for any 3-4 defense in need of a pass rusher. Moore accumulated 12.5 sacks this season largely due to his arsenal of pass rush moves and great ability to dip his hips and shoulders to get by opposing offensive lineman.

6.) Bjoern Werner, Defensive End, Florida State – 6’4″ 255 lbs: Werner is one of those prospects that immediately jumps off of the film due to his unstoppable motor. Having moved from primarily a 6I technique in his junior season, Werner has shown his athelticism and ability to be an excellent edge rusher this year. In terms of pure strength, Werner may be the best at his position this year, which will make him an appealing prospect for either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme. The combine will be key for Werner’s stock as a 3-4 OLB as there are some concerns about whether or not he possesses the athleticism needed to make the transition from having his hand on the ground for the majority of his reps. Intellectually, Werner has shown over his career at Florida State that he has no problem grasping new concepts in terms of his position.

7.) Barkevious Mingo, Defensive End, LSU – 6’5″ 240 lbs: Surely some boom or bust potential here, Mingo has the upside that can allow him to develop into a stud at the next level. While his 2012 production took a bit of a hit, Mingo’s athleticism and elusiveness to evade blockers are what stand out on film the most. At 6’5″ he certainly has the frame that NFL scouts look for in pass rushing prospects, and should be able to add some weight that will make his size adequate in the pros.

8.) Dee Milliner, Cornerback, Alabama – 6’1″ 197 lbs: Milliner may be a bit underrated on most boards right now, but make no mistake he is the clear cut leader of the cornerback class this year. There are some concerns about his man coverage abilities, but having played his entire collegiate career under defensive backs guru Nick Saban, there should be little doubt about his knowledge of the position and coachability. Like most players in his category, the combine will be an effective tool to measure how far his stock rises or falls as we head closer to April.

9.) Taylor Lewan, Offensive Tackle, Michigan – 6’7″ 302 lbs: Lewan is poised to be the next great Big 10 lineman at the NFL level, and for good reason. Aside from his immense size, Lewan shows excellent footwork and hand technique that will allow him to contribute almost immediately next season. His tenacity is something that cannot be coached, but is surely required to play the position.

10.) Manti Te’o, Inside Linebacker, Notre Dame – 6’1″ 248 lbs: While Te’o will likely see his stock fall in the next few weeks due to a rather lackluster performance in the BCS National Championship, remember he was going against the best interior lineman in the entire nation. His performance against Alabama will certainly raise some red flags and question marks about whether or not his productivity from Notre Dame can translate to the NFL, but let’s not forget his impressive overall body of work as the foundation of his defense for the past 4 seasons. Te’o has the rare intangibles that will make him a sure upgrade for any team in need of an interior linebacker.

11.) Johnathan Hankins, Defensive Tackle, Ohio State – 6’3″ 335 lbs: It is surely tough to gauge how Ohio State defensive lineman will translate to the NFL due to the poor track record in recent years (Vernon Gholston!), but Hankins has immense size and strength that make him a force at the point of attack. He certainly is not as versatile as some of the other defensive lineman in this year’s class, but he has the potential to be a very productive pro.

12.) Jonathan Cooper, Offensive Guard, North Carolina – 6’3″ 320 lbs: Cooper is a bit of an underrated player in my opinion, but the agility he possesses at his size will make him a very good pro. He consistently shows the ability to blow defenders off the ball at the point of attack, as well as having arguably the best range, in terms of getting to the second level, out of any interior lineman in this year’s class.

13.) Ezekiel Ansah, Defensive End, BYU – 6’6″ 273 lbs: Ansah is a prospect who is sure to see his stock soar following the combine and his individual workouts. An extremely raw prospect, having finished just his second year of playing football, Ansah flashes very unexpected instinct and recognition. While there is serious boom or bust potential here, having seen his growth in his very small sample of time playing the game, I feel very comfortable about how he will grow in the NFL. Ansah was originally recruited to BYU to run on the track and field team, and his athleticism is evident on film, particularly considering his immense size.

14.) Alec Ogletree, Inside Linebacker, Georgia – 6’3″ 237 lbs: A converted safety, Ogletree has the top end speed that NFL teams are looking for in interior linebackers that is needed to match up with the league’s new wave of athletic tight ends. His superior sideline to sideline ability allow him to be a menace on the field as he has great ability to tally up a large number of tackles on any given day. The biggest concerns for Ogletree will be how well he can adapt to becoming a downhill player at the next level. However, given his size and athleticism, he has the potential to end up being the best at his position in this year’s class down the road.

15.) Tyler Eifert, Tight End, Notre Dame – 6’6″ 250 lbs: Eifert comes from a school that has consistently produced quality NFL tight ends throughout their history, and there is no reason to believe he is not the next to join that class. A massive target, Eifert shows tremendous ball skills, and a great ability to leap over defenders. His overall top end speed is the only concern as of right now.

16.) Sheldon Richardson, Defensive Tackle, Missouri – 6’4″ 295 lbs: Richardson accumulated an astounding 75 tackles and 4 sacks this past season, eye-popping numbers for an interior defensive lineman. A very physical player, Richardson flashes excellent technique in terms of both hand and footwork, along with a relentless motor that is vital to the position.

17.) Dion Jordan, Defensive End, Oregon – 6’7″ 243 lbs: Jordan is very high on some boards out there, but to me he has the biggest bust potential out of any player at his position this year. While he certainly has the range and athleticism to be a very effective OLB in a 3-4, Jordan does not show as consistent a level of tenacity as I like to see out of defensive lineman. Durability will be a concern moving forward as well, as he is poised to missed the Senior Bowl due to an injury sustained in his last game.

18.) Kenny Vaccaro, Safety, Texas – 6’1″ 218 lbs: Vaccaro is very intellectually impressive, as his film reveals his great ability to recognize routes and react to them. He has the long frame that NFL scouts look for in an early round safety, and he has shown he can be effective in the run game as well. His range does not scream “elite” by any means, but in the right scheme, Vaccaro can excel.

19.) Geno Smith, Quarterback, West Virginia – 6’3″ 208 lbs: Smith is probably the most athletically gifted quarterback in this year’s class, but is any quarterback truly worthy of a first round grade this year? I am not sold on that notion one bit. However, Smith put together a very impressive season at West Virginia, that is being forgotten due to his poor performance in the Pinstripe Bowl against Syracuse. Smith may be more of a developmental prospect, but his size, athleticism, and overall body of work at WVU, particularly his completion percentage, will make him an intriguing player for a team in need of a quarterback in the late first/early second round.

20.) Eddie Lacy, Running Back, Alabama – 6’1″ 220 lbs: Lacy flew a bit under the radar this season as a major beneficiary of the nation’s best offensive line, however, he has put together an extremely impressive body of work over the course of his career at Alabama, having averaged nearly 7 yards per carry throughout his three seasons with the Crimson Tide. Lacy has excellent size and strength, combined with fantastic balance and vision that should translate well to the NFL. His top end speed will be the biggest concern, but a strong combine performance will put those questions to bed, further boosting his draft stock.

Turn On The Jets Off-Season Roundtable – Quarterback

The Turn On The Jets staff discusses how the New York Jets should handle the quarterback position this off-season

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Welcome to our off-season review of the New York Jets roster at Turn On The Jets. Each week we are going to attack a different position. We will have a roundtable discussion on it, Steve Bateman will submit a film breakdown examining it and our draft staff will look at potential prospects the Jets could add. This week, we start at quarterback…

How should the New York Jets handle quarterback this off-season?

Joe Caporoso – There are few people who were bigger Mark Sanchez defenders/apologists heading into this season than myself. However, at this point I truly think he cannot play quarterback for this team any more. There is too much vitriol from the fan-base towards him and players in the locker room have to question his ability to lead them to victories. New York has worn him down and he is in need of a fresh start elsewhere. Despite the cap hit, the Jets must completely cut ties with their quarterback situation from last year (which includes ridding themselves of the Tebow Media Circus). The recruitment of a capable veteran will be harmed by Sanchez’s presence both because of his contract and how last season played out. Tebow’s presence would also discourage veterans from signing here for obvious reasons.

The answer isn’t a sexy one. It likely involves finding a low cost veteran like Matt Moore, Kyle Orton, or Brian Hoyer and hoping he can hold the fort for a year or two. This year’s draft is heavy on mid-round quarterback prospects and it wouldn’t hurt to take one in the 3rd or 4th round in hopes of finding the next Russell Wilson or at least a developmental project. Overall, these decision are going to be heavily influenced by the offensive coordinator hiring and what type of system he runs.

A few names Jets fans should forget about happening – Mike Vick and Alex Smith because of their price tags. Kirk Cousins because of RG-III’s injury. Matt Flynn will also likely fall out of their price range. Greg McElroy because he simply doesn’t have the physical tools to start in the NFL.

Chris Gross – As the Jets continue with their rebuilding of the front office, the ultimate elephant in the room remains – what will the organization decide to do at the quarterback position? As the season ending press conference revealed today, all offensive personnel decisions will rely largely on who the new Offensive Coordinator will be. Personnel depends on system in football. It is mightily difficult to assume what the Jets will do at quarterback until they have an idea of what type of offense they will have next season. That being said, here are a few possible scenarios:

Mark Sanchez – By now, it is no secret that Mark Sanchez will be the most difficult piece of this roster to move this offseason. His guaranteed $8 million + make him a very unappealing trade part, while the dead money in excess of $12 million to be left if he is outright released will make it extremely tough for him to be cut. Are the Jets stuck with the former 5th overall pick? Maybe, maybe not. The bottom line will end up being how the new General Manager views Sanchez as a fit in the new Offensive Coordinator’s system. If he feels that a new coach and plan can resurrect his career, he will be on the roster to compete for the starting job heading into next season. If the GM feels that there is no way that Sanchez can make a turnaround, look for him to try and move the player who was once viewed as the franchise quarterback. Only time will tell.

Tim Tebow – If I had to guess, I’d say Tebow will be released once the front office is put into place. However, like Sanchez, this could depend heavily on the new coordinator and how he views Tebow as a fit to his system. If the new GM is convinced that Tebow can be a vital piece of the Jets offensive plans moving forward, perhaps he could be brought back to compete in camp as well. On the other hand, if the new GM wants nothing to do with the media circus that surrounds the most polarizing figure in professional football, expect him to be moved rather quickly once he officially gets to work.

Matt+Moore+Washington+Redskins+v+Miami+Dolphins+qZak_tDNg42lVeteran – This is a very likely move. Regardless of who remains on the roster out of Sanchez and Tebow, a competent veteran will need to be brought in to compete for the starting job. Again, who that player is will depend on how he is viewed as a fit in the new offensive system. Possible names to keep an eye on include Matt Moore, Jason Campbell, Alex Smith, Matt Flynn, and Brian Hoyer. A trade for Redskins backup Kirk Cousins would be an ideal, low cost move, however with the recent injury to Robert Griffin III, it is highly unlikely that Washington will part ways with Cousins.

Draft – The draft class of quarterbacks is average at best this year. Surely, many of these guys will see their stocks rise and fall as the Senior Bowl, Combine, and individual workouts unfold, but it is highly unlikely that the Jets use anything earlier than a fourth round pick on a quarterback, considering the vast holes all over the roster. We will have a more in-depth look at potential quarterback prospects later in the week.

Ultimate Prediction – Sanchez is brought back due to the handcuffs his contract places on the organization. Tim Tebow will either be traded or released, paving way for a free agent veteran signing, or trade. Question is, what free agent will be willing to come here knowing how much Sanchez will be making next season, particularly looking at what happened at the position this past year. However, some players will need a job, and with a coach in Rex Ryan, who is clearly no longer committed to Sanchez as this team’s starting quarterback, the Jets will surely be able to lure someone to come in and compete with him for the starting job next season. The Jets may look to draft a developmental player in the later rounds, but this need could get pushed until next year’s draft when a stronger class of quarterbacks is expected to be in play. The Jets would be wise to focus on their other needs in the draft this year, while bringing Greg McElroy back to compete with Sanchez and a veteran addition in training camp.

Mike DonnellyAs everyone knows, quarterback is the most important position football and arguable in all of sports. Unfortunately for us long-suffering Jets fans, it’s also the position that our favorite team has failed to find a long-term answer at for going on four decades now. Our latest failed experiment was in the form of 2009 #5 overall pick Mark Sanchez, whose very name being mentioned these days elicits all kind of anger and hatred from this fan base. Well I’m here to tell you that you may as well get ready for one more season of the Sanchize.

By now, we all know that the cap ramifications of cutting Sanchez are far too great to go down that road. What the team should –and likely will– do, is bring in a veteran like Matt Moore to compete with Sanchez in the offseason and have the best man play. Just as importantly, they need to get a REAL quarterbacks coach (Norv Turner!) in here to coordinate the offense and develop whichever guy is throwing passes for us, because for the past 4 seasons the offensive coaching here as been abysmal.

Forget about drafting a QB at #9 because there really are no players entering the draft worthy of that spot. Forget about trading for a stud, because there are none available out there. Forget about signing an established player, because they don’t exist. The Sanchez/mystery-decent-veteran-QB combo is going to be our best available option for 2013 and I full expect that to be what happens. I just hope the fans who wrote Sanchez off this year are able to let bygones be bygones and actually cheer for him when he wins the job next year rather than boo from day 1 and carry over the toxic atmosphere from this season. WIshful thinking, I’m sure…

Rob Celletti – The New York Jets are at a crossroads with their quarterback, and in a league that requires stability and quality at that position to ensure consistent success, the decisions the Jets make in the coming months are crucial. The way I see it, there are three options for the Jets GM-to-be:

1) “The Obvious Option” – Acquire a middling, veteran, game-manager type quarterback and bring him in with the idea that he’s probably going to be your opening day starter. Think along the lines of Alex Smith or Matt Moore.

2) “The Revolutionary Option” – Rehabilitate Mark Sanchez. I call this the “Revolutionary Option” for two reasons: 1) In order to do this, the Jets will need to revolutionize (see what I did there?!) their offense, i.e., new system, new players; 2) If the Jets choose this option, there’s a good chance there’s a fan revolution at Florham Park in August.

3) “The Nuclear Option” – Michael Vick. Odds are the Eagles will let him go. Vick turned the ball over about as frequently as Sanchez, and also plays a physically taxing style that leads to frequent injury. But acquiring Vick would be exciting, and his style of play does fit the modern NFL. At least if the Jets lose, they’d be scoring points while doing so. I probably like this option more than I should.

As I wrote in my Sanchez wrap-up last week, none of these options is particularly appetizing.  It doesn’t look like there’s an Andrew Luck in the draft that’s going to fall into Gang Green’s lap.  Our new colleague Steve Hunter, who knows more about the X’s and O’s of football than I ever will, still gives Sanchez a puncher’s chance at becoming a successful NFL quarterback. I could give the kid another year personally, but I know most Jets fans cannot.

Steve Bateman – This won’t make me popular amongst the masses, but despite enduring a season that was in parts nothing less than shocking, my belief is that Mark Sanchez is still equipped to lead the Jets offense in 2013.

I think it’s fair to say that personnel-wise the 2012 season was – in almost every imaginable way – a freak, and it’s probably wise to bear that in mind and carry some perspective forward going into next season. Sanchez had a year to forget, that’s way beyond dispute, but let’s not suppose that his troubles necessarily herald the end of his career in the Big Apple. On the contrary, things may just be about to get interesting…

If Sanchez is to survive this storm he needs to be supported – not in the sense of the tired old argument that “he needs more weapons” or the ridiculous tabloid caricature that he’s some kind of feeble-minded kid trapped inside a man’s body – but in a much simpler, and more obvious way. Essentially, it’s time for the Jets to respect the fact that Sanchez is the hub of their offensive unit and finally begin to act according to that fact.

Early indications suggest that this season’s car-crash may have been the short, sharp shock that the Jets needed – long-time QB coach Matt Cavanaugh has already been shown the door, and it appears to be a matter of time until offensive coordinator Tony Sparano follows him. Now the front office has to get it right and acknowledge that for way too long they have been trying to ground and pound a round peg into a square hole.

At long, long last it’s time for the Jets to give the Californian what he needs and return him to the environment that made him a first-round draft pick in the first place. Sanchez can still succeed, but that can only happen when the West Coast Offense makes its way East.

TJ Rosenthal – Mark Sanchez has dwindled into a mental molecule. A new Jets OC and QB coach will have to re-program his mind in order for Sanchez to face his own home stadium, let alone opposing defenses. Keeping Sanchez while he rehabs his emotional state as an experienced vet is added to compete for and hopefully win the job, makes the most sense. Sanchez as a backup who has won four playoff games already? We’d sign on for it. Give him a chance to repair but no way Rex. No pilot’s license for 6. Even if that means changing your the jersey number on your tattoo.

12 Pack Of New York Jets Off-Season Thoughts – 2013, Edition #1

Turn On The Jets with 12 off-season thoughts on the New York Jets

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The 12 packs do not stop here at Turn On The Jets. Every week, this space will now be used for a collection of 12 weekly off-season thoughts on the New York Jets (This will normally run on Fridays, not Mondays). Some exciting things to look forward to in the coming weeks 

On to the 12 pack…

1. The hiring of Tom Gamble as the New York Jets General Manager is not official yet and many are beginning to panic since he is interviewing with San Diego, while the Jets still interview Marc Ross and Scott Cohen. We remain confident in Bassett’s report and think the outline he provided this morning is a sensible explanation. Nothing is 100% until the contract is signed but it would take a major turn of events for this not to go through. The Jets must interview Ross today to comply with the Rooney Rule and need to get their act together for the season ending press conference tomorrow, while Gamble is posturing for further leverage knowing he is team’s top choice. If he isn’t officially hired by Wednesday night/Thursday morning…then it is time to panic (although ending up with Ross wouldn’t be a disaster at all).

2. Tomorrow’s press conference should be an interesting one to say the least. Expect an angry, vindictive New York media coming hard after Rex Ryan and Woody Johnson. What is the over/under on tattoo and Tebow questions? Do not look for too many answers of note coming out of either Johnson or Rex. The entire organization is in flux until the GM hiring becomes official.

3. I have been banging this drum pretty loudly on Twitter the past few weeks but a few cost effective upgrades for the Jets on offense could be letting Dustin Keller and Shonn Greene walk and replacing them with Delanie Walker and Chris Ivory, respectively. You can get familiar with the entire free agent list right here. (Note that Ivory is going to be a Restricted Free Agent this off-season, not Unrestricted).

4. It is hard not to look forward to the complete house cleaning of the Jets linebacker position, which outside of quarterback is the biggest disaster on the team. Bryan Thomas, Bart Scott and Calvin Pace will all be let go, with Thomas and Scott likely retiring. Pace could probably find a taker on a minimum contract from a team who plays 3-4 but at this point, he is strictly a 2 down linebacker. David Harris will be back but remains one of the most overpaid players in the league and is coming off a career worst season. It is going to take an aggressive approach in the draft and free agency to fix this mess. There will be some intriguing options likely available at #9 and the list of available linebackers in free agency is deep this season (Paul Kruger, Conner Barwin, Antwan Barnes, Manny Lawson, Anthony Spencer, Victor Butler).

5. LaRon Landry is going to be a tough player to bring back in 2013. He was a good fit in Rex Ryan’s defense as an in the box safety and earned himself a trip to the Pro-Bowl. However, he has limitations in coverage and is likely going to be seeking a contract out of the Jets budget. Paying 3 million per year for Landry is one thing, paying 7 million a year for him? Probably not a wise move, particularly with so much money already tied up in the secondary.

6. Plenty of superlatives being thrown out for Buffalo’s hire of Doug Marrone. Somehow I don’t think we’d be hearing so many if Woody Johnson made the decision to hire a college coach who went 25-25 at Syracuse. This isn’t to say Marrone will be a bad coach but it is interesting how heavily he is being praised already with such an unproven record. Similar to the Jets, Buffalo won’t be going anywhere until they find a quarterback.

7. The Jets will likely be looking at 4-6 new starters on each of the football in 2013. We haven’t seen roster turnover like that since between the 2005 and 2006 season. Similar to now, that team was expected to be entering a long rebuilding phase. However they surprised everybody by going 10-6 thanks primarily to Chad Pennington putting together a steady year at quarterback, a strong draft and a few savvy low-cost free agent signings/trade acquisitions. Nothing wrong with looking for a silver lining, right?

8. The Jets need to find a way to bring Mike DeVito back. Mike Tannenbaum allowed too many players like DeVito to leave over the years and it caught up to him. DeVito is a versatile, blue-collar player who is essential to the Jets defensive line rotation. He is also one of the leaders in the locker room and one of the team’s most high character guys. Besides, if he walks…you know he is ending up in New England.

9. Whoever is in charge of Gameday Operations for Jets games – No more C-List celebrities leading awkward J-E-T-S chants before the game. No more special teams being called out as starters. No more fireworks and poorly timed music being blared. Thank you.

10. Quinton Coples led the Jets this season with 5.5 sacks, despite only playing in 47% of the team’s snaps. It was quietly a very strong year for Coples, who will only get better as his technique improves and playing time increases. I was as critical about the pick as anybody but he proved his critics wrong and could be a double-digit sack guy next year playing alongside Muhammad Wilkerson and improved outside linebackers.

11. As for the other rookies, it is easy to be down on Stephen Hill’s future after a disappointing rookie year but we knew he was far from a finished product coming out of Georgia Tech. Shame on the Jets for forcing him into the starting line-up with no capable veterans at split end to help ease him in. Hill has the physical skills but still needs to improve his hands and route-running. He can be an consistently explosive player in this league, it is just going to take time. Demario Davis didn’t get much of a shot this year, so it will be interesting to see how he fits in the new GM’s plans. Antonio Allen has potential going forward as a situational player and special teamer.

12. Words I never want to hear again associated with the Jets: Wildcat, Process, (Insert Number Here) is eligible, Ground and/or Pound, TEBOW, Pump fake.

No Huddle: New York Jets GM Must Be Bold And Prompt

TJ Rosenthal goes No Huddle on the course of action needed to be taken by the New York Jets new GM

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The 6-10 New York Jets have clearly flown off course. The new Jets GM, whoever finally ends up with the job, will be walking into a laundry list of issues the minute those Florham Park doors open. Steering the overall product on the field back to Super Bowl contender status won’t be easy. The following are the keys to the foundation. Questions that the new head honcho upstairs must answer correctly and swiftly before the rest of the cracks are filled in.

If Rex stays, which Rex should it be?

Big Rex was loud, boastful, cocky, and successful for two out of his first three seasons. Little Rex in 2012, was not. Ryan has to be given the green light on optimizing his own abilities but the immediate question is which Rex best fits the new 2013 Jets.

Mark Sanchez

“The Sanchise” is an even bigger uncertainty. Can #6 find his confidence again in New York, and still have room to grow out of a game manager’s role? Or is he just a career backup at best elsewhere?

Sanchez’s contract, one that awards him 8 Million in 2013 makes his case a tricky one. The Jets could bring in a viable vet to compete for the job, or follow the advice from one Wall Street Journal piece written last week that broke winning formulas for NFL teams. One that included eating “dead money” in the name of turning the page.

The Jets have to get the QB situation settled here once and for all. Forget Rex’s tattoo’d faith in Sanchez. Too many games have been lost, and not enough have been won at the position over the past two seasons.

Revis, Keller and Greene

Sorry Jets fans but it’s true and you all know it. Revis Island may have enough trade value to aid the Jets need for fast growth on offense all by himself. Dustin Keller was useless all year and Shonn Greene can’t be any better than he was in 2012. The new GM’s overall opinion regarding how much roster-gutting is warranted will provide clues into how these key Jet vets may be treated.

Coordinators: Rex’s Friends or Foes

From Shotty to Sparano, playcalling has been a source of irritation for the Jets under Ryan. Mike Pettine opted not to re-up on his deal.

The next set of coordinators are either going to be guys that Ryan wants to go down fighting with, or handpicked choices by the GM. Perhaps to be HC’s in waiting. After all, it will be tough to sell a potential coordinator on a “win or else” one year scenario. Enticing candidates with the possibility about becoming the next HC, should Ryan struggle in 2013, may be a better sell in order to get them into the building.

Much of these soon to be top priorities will be determined by what the purpose of 2013 will be for the new Jets general manager. Ryan must win now, but the incoming folks who will call the shots upstairs, don’t necessarily have to.

Turn On The Jets – Wild-Card Weekend NFL Picks

THe TOJ staff gives their picks for WIld-Card Weekend

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The Race for Steak continues. Only 11 games to go… 

CURRENT STANDINGS

1. Rob Celletti (137-112-7)

2. Chris Gross (129-120-7)

3. Mike Donnelly (129-122-5)

4. Chris Celletti (126-124-6)

5. Joe Caporoso (114-135-7)

Joe Caporoso

Last Week (12-4)

Cincinnati (+4) at Houston – This is a popular pick…almost popular enough to make me want to change it. However, Matt Schaub has never played in a playoff game and has looked generally mediocre the final month of the season. The Texans defense has started to slip due to injuries and they lack weapons in the passing game outside of Andre Johnson. Beyond that, they are terrible on special teams which is a key ingredient in allowing any upset to happen. The Bengals are quietly very good on defense, good enough to think they will be within 3 points and maybe steal a win.

Green Bay (-8) vs. Minnesota – There is nothing comfortable about betting against Adrian Peterson. Yet, sometimes it is as simple as Christian Ponder in Lambeau in January. What happens if this game gets to 21-7. How does Minnesota come back?

Baltimore (-6.5) vs. Indianapolis – Hate to go against Chuckstrong but the Ravens will be motivated for the last home game of Ray Lewis’ career. They have been far from impressive down the stretch but this is a veteran, playoff tested team who will be playing at home against a rookie quarterback surrounded by a ton of inexperienced players. Andrew Luck has been terrific but remains prone to turnovers. Look for the Ravens to take advantage of that and both win and cover.

Seattle (-3) at Washington – The best game of the weekend. Seattle has a far superior defense which will be the difference here. Robert Griffin III is clearly not at 100% right now, which means Washington won’t have enough to overcome Seattle’s pass rush and the playmaking ability of Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch. Also Seattle has a nice special teams advantage with Leon Washington returning kicks and punts.

Mike Donnelly

Last Week (11-5)

  • Houston (-4) over Cincinnati 
  • Green Bay (-8) over Minnesota
  • Baltimore (-6.5) over Indianpolis 
  • Washington (+3) over Seattle 

Rob Celletti

Last Week (8-8)

  • Cincinnati (+4) over Houston
  • Green Bay (-8) over Minnesota
  • Indianapolis (+6.5) over Baltimore
  • Washington (+3) over Seattle 

Chris Celletti

Last Week (9-7)

Check Best Bets for more details

  • Cincinnati (+4) over Houston
  • Green Bay (-8) over Minnesota
  • Indianapolis (+6.5) over Baltimore
  • Washington (+3) over Seattle 

Chris Gross

Last Week (8-8)

  • Cincinnati (+4) over Houston
  • Minnesota (+8) over Green Bay
  • Baltimore (-6.5) over Indianapolis 
  • Seattle (-3) over Washington 

Turn On The Jets NFL Wild Card Round Best Bets

Chris Celletti with his weekly NFL Rant and Best Bets for Wild Card Weekend

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Let me start my column with some killer football insight, to keep up with the excellent, best-Jets-stuff-on-the-Internet precedent that’s been set this week by the entire Turn On The Jets staff –

Rex Ryan definitely lost a bet. TATTOOGATE is so obvious. Before the season, Rex Ryan and his lovable twin brother Rob, defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys, got together over pork rinds, Skittles, and bourbon and made a bet: Whoever’s team finished with a worse record in 2012 would have to get a tattoo of their wife wearing nothing but the jersey of their starting quarterback. That also explains why Rex Ryan refused to go to Tim Tebow early on this season. God, this all makes so much sense now.

In related news, all I had to do was throw “SOURCE:” in front of my theory, make up a quote or two and BANG I just knocked out a Daily News exclusive.

Before we take a look at this week’s playoff games, I thought it would be fun to look back at my preseason gambling picks. I did three team Over/Unders, which I went 2-1-0 on. I missed by a hair on Baltimore at under 10, and was right on Jacksonville under 5.5 and Denver over 9. This quote on the Broncos stuck out when I re-read:

“Peyton Manning throwing with his left hand could win 10 games if he gets half the support Lefty Jesus got last year from this defense, special teams and running game.” Welp, that’s about right.

What I whiffed on were my “good bets” for MVP and Super Bowl Champs. I thought Eli Manning had a chance to have an incredible year, and thought at 18/1 for MVP was worth taking a crack at. Instead, Eli reminded us that he just isn’t in the same stratosphere as his brother, Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. That isn’t to say that if I had to win one game tomorrow, I wouldn’t take Eli. I may; he’s certainly at the top of the discussion. The Giants could have won the Super Bowl again if they snuck in this year because he would have been the 2nd best quarterback in the NFC playoffs, plus he’s beat Aaron Rodgers in the playoffs on the road before. But his 2012 season was pedestrian at best. I’m not going to go all Ian O’Connor, who offered this drab after the season ended:

“In his heart of hearts, Eli Manning knows this was a winning season in record only. He knows he had a chance to do something no New York Giants quarterback had ever done, a squandered chance that might haunt him for the balance of his career and beyond.”

Yup Ian! You got it! Forty years from now when we interview an old, shriveled Eli Manning (gross image alert), he’s not going to talk about the legendary wins in Green Bay or the Super Bowl titles. Nope. It’ll be a sad tale of the 2012 season, the one that has kept him up countless nights over the years, with nightmares of throwing 26 touchdowns and finishing a dire 12th in the league in passing yards and winning a putrid nine games (the same amount he won in the regular season a year prior when winning a Super Bowl, mind you). How horrifying. Nevermind that Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora combined for 16.5 sacks, with Tuck having 1.5 less than Quinton Coples.

Eli’s legacy is secure. If he never throws another pass for the Giants, he’s a true New York sports legend, in the conversation with Mark Messier, Derek Jeter, Clyde Frazier and of course Jeff Cumberland. But let’s also understand that Eli’s legacy is what it is for a reason, and that’s his clutchness. People scoff at those who say he’s not “elite”, but if your definition of “elite” is “dominant, transcendent, consistently excellent over the course of many seasons”, then you know what? Maybe he isn’t. That doesn’t mean he isn’t great, or isn’t a legend. You can be one but not the other.

And then there was my 18/1 pick of the Saints as Super Bowl Champs. I blame it on going to New Orleans twice in nearly a year from May 2011-July 2012. When you go there, you’ll believe anything. Crawfish? Why not. Open container anywhere? Great idea. Jazz? Still relevant. Voodoo? Not totally unreasonable if you think really hard about it!

So we’ll close the book on what was a pretty weak season by me picking games, and unlike the Jets I have a chance to redeem myself in the postseason. Let’s just go ahead and pick them all:

Cincinnati +4 at Houston – My thought all year has been that the Texans would lose at home in their first playoff game. I always thought it would be during the Divisional Round, after a bye, but some late season stumbling has them playing on Wild Card weekend. I’ll stick with my guns and say Cincy pulls the upset. Plus, AT LEAST one road team is winning this weekend.

Packers -8 vs. Vikings – The Adrian Peterson story is amazing, but I think last week was the Vikings’ Super Bowl. If it’s even ever possible for there to be a letdown in a playoff game, the Vikings might feel it. This has a very 2001 Jets/Raiders feel, with the dog beating the favorite in the regular season finale in dramatic fashion to set up a rematch the following week. I don’t like the chances of the Vikings beating the Packers twice in as many weeks, and with Aaron Rodgers at home, I think it’s a pull-away-late type of game for Green Bay. Who knows…maybe Charlie Garner will come out of retirement and salt the game away for the Pack on an 80-yard touchdown run on 3rd down in the final minutes.

Indianapolis +6.5 at Baltimore – The Ravens lost three of their last four to close out the season. It’s going the wrong direction for them. And the last thing America really wants is some memorable Ray Lewis swan song. Whoever wins, I think it’s a close one.

Washington +3 vs. Seattle – Home dog in the playoffs? I’m taking the points. And with no real GREAT team in the league this year, anyone without a dog in the fight has to be rooting for a Luck/RGIII Super Bowl, right?

Bonus Non-Football Bet of the Week – Hockey! Wait, what? I thought they canceled that sport forever? Well, even though the NHL has decided to sever any thread of relevance they were hanging on to, there is hockey being played in Russia: The World Junior Championships! And the USA is in tomorrow’s final against Sweden after blasting the favorite Canada 5-1 in the semis, which probably put all the Dougies and Gordos and Scotties and Stevies and Jonesys in Canada in mourning. Good. If you’re hanging your national pride on the backs of a bunch of 18 and 19-year olds, you deserve to lose and realize how ridiculous you are. With that being said, USA! USA! USA! at -190.

New York Jets: Uncertainty Could Be Become Paranoia For Rex Ryan

TJ Rosenthal on the dangers of Rex Ryan working under a new General Manager of the New York Jets

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Rex Ryan, should he remain on board with the Jets after a new GM is chosen, will have one year to turn things around. His soon to be new coaching staff will get the same timeframe. Those who join Ryan when a new GM comes aboard to first have a say in what coaches gets added, will be awarded one silver lining: The ability to showcase leadership and people management skills. A fact that won’t make Ryan, who is already walking on eggshells, feel any safer.

What a position for Ryan to presently be in. He has no GM and when one does arrive, Ryan will not be the coveted name, but some Mike Tannenbaum-hired leftover. Ryan will have no offensive coordinator either because everyone including Tony Sparano knows he is a goner, and no quarterback to rely on. The roster currently has one home run receiver in Santonio Holmes who has yet to run full speed after foot surgery, and a big need for a top notch running back.

That is just the state of the union for the offensive side of the ball.

Rex has done much of this to himself. His loyalty to struggling players, overall belief in anyone wearing green and white, and desire to return to an archaic offensive concept with undermanned talent, are all part of why the Jets have gone backwards after what was a terrific start to his tenure in New York.

Uncertainty will hover above Ryan as well as his new staff in this “playoffs or bust” 2013. The only way for him to stave off his own beheading will be by winning games. We don’t mean just six of them either. Ryan may want to start fast too. Should his dwindling control of the castle show early signs of internal fracture, he better beware of his own surroundings.

There may be a coach alongside him shining brighter. An assistant who simply has a better way of handling players and overall team direction than Ryan does. For the biggest star and media personality the Jets have had in many years, uncertainty could turn into a reasonably warranted paranoia. Borne from within the walls of Florham Park if Rex Ryan is not careful.

How Tanny And Tony Tanked The New York Jets Running Game

Steve Bateman on how Tony Sparano tanked the New York Jets running game by employing a gap-blocking scheme

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We are thrilled to welcome Steve Bateman to our writing staff as a full time contributor. He will be providing weekly film breakdowns and contributing to our roundtables among other things. Check out our About page to learn more about Steve’s previous work and make sure to give him a follow on Twitter

All New York Jets fans know that 2012 wasn’t a vintage year for offensive production. And most are equally aware of the fact that the franchise can only solve that problem by blowing up the roster and getting shot of Mark Sanchez, Shonn Greene, Matt Slauson and so on. But wait. Maybe I use the word ‘fact’ when really I should say ‘media-driven hype’ because – as we’re about to see – sometimes common wisdom isn’t quite as wise as the newspaper men might like us to believe it is.

But before we start looking at the real reason why the Jets’ trademarked ground-and-pound (and the Sanchez-led passing game that depends on it) crashed-and-burned last year, let’s remind ourselves of the fact that much like chess, the outcome of a football game generally depends on the people who move the pieces as much as it does upon the pieces themselves. This truism is what first set me to thinking about how the Jets running game had suddenly degenerated from being adequate enough to secure back-to-back AFC Championship appearances to being the, if-you’ll-excuse-me, butt of cheap jokes throughout the league.

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Cast your mind back to the time when offensive coordinator Tony Sparano and his chief henchman, offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo (left), first arrived at the New Meadowlands amid fanfares and proclamations that their new ‘Power Running Game’ would revitalize the Jets’ flagging ground attack. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it – power running? In actual fact it’s no more or less powerful than any other kind of running scheme – it simply sounds as if it is. So let’s refer to it instead by it’s slightly less deceptive name and call it gap-blocking.

Now, throughout the years when the Jets’ rushing game was at its peak under former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and line coach Bill Callahan, zone-blocking schemes were the order of the day. This revelation in itself begs a couple of important questions, namely: In terms of execution, how similar is one scheme to another, and can somebody who’s effective as a zone-blocker be equally successful in a gap-blocking schematic? Let’s dig a little deeper…

The basic difference between the two is that in gap-blocking, linemen will be assigned to block a certain defender one-on-one and the running back will look to exploit a predetermined lane (or hole) through the defensive line. In zone-blocking schemes on the other hand, each player is told to move in the direction of the play and double-teams are formed against the opposing linemen. Then when a defender is taken out of the play or “washed down”, one of the double-teamers will come off him and look to make a second-level block on a linebacker or safety. Meanwhile, the ball-carrier is left to make a read on where the best running lane is.

In terms of the differing types of personnel that are required, because zone-blocking relies on linemen double-teaming defenders, strength and size are not terribly important. What’s far more useful is a combination of agility and speed so that the secondary blocks can be made against the smaller but more slippery linebackers and safeties.

Gap-blocking requires the exact opposite of these attributes – linemen in this kind of scheme benefit from having the size and strength that’s required to shunt defenders off the line of scrimmage in a man-to-man confrontation.

In summary, then, not only do zone-blocking (Schottenheimer/Callahan) and gap-blocking (Sparano/DeGuglielmo) differ massively in a schematic sense, they also demand entirely different types of personnel. Yet all of this seems to have been lost on the 2012 Jets, because for reasons best known to themselves, they opted to switch from zone to gap-blocking whilst maintaining almost exactly the same front-five lineup. This was hardly a recipe for success.

But the greatest madness of Sparano’s scheme centered on running back Shonn Greene (below, right). The man known to fans as ‘War Machine’ is a classic example of a runner who is suited to one kind of scheme and one only. Effectively Sparano could not have done more to mismanage his number one back.shonn-greene_mad_bro

Zone-blocking demands what’s generally referred to as a ‘one-cut runner’ – somebody who is powerful, disciplined and capable of running downhill (ie going to the ground while at the same time driving through tackles). It’s also essential that he has excellent vision as he’ll be required to flow in the direction of the play and then cut back to exploit any holes that open up. Agility and speed are not really factors because he’ll always find himself running through areas that are congested by defenders AND linemen who are making their downfield blocks. He cannot be an egotist who thrives on big plays – on the contrary he must be a team player who’s happy to collect 80+ yards per game in 4-5 yard chunks. Greene has all of these qualities in abundance.

But to succeed in a gap-blocking scheme such as the one that Sparano implemented, a back must have explosive speed out of the backfield so that he can quickly hit the pre-designated point of attack, and use his elusiveness to evade would-be tacklers at the line of scrimmage. Then, once he’s downfield, he can take advantage of his speed and agility to capitalize on the open space by spinning and juking past unblocked defenders. Anybody who has watched Greene play football for five minutes should know that he is probably the last running back in the NFL who could be said to fit that description.

So why did Sparano commit to a gap-blocking system, and where do the Jets go from here? Well, the simple answer to the first part of the question is that it’s what he’s always done; cats don’t bark, dogs don’t meow, and Tony Sparano doesn’t run zone-blocking offenses. So in many ways the responsibility for this mess lies with former General Manager Mike Tannenbaum – the man who hired him in the first place. But the issue runs much deeper than that, and it highlights a significant problem that the Jets must resolve going forward, namely that whoever replaces Tannenbaum must be able to compensate for coach Rex Ryan’s almost complete ignorance of offensive strategy. Essentially Sparano’s hiring was an institutional failure, and that must never be allowed to happen again.

greg-knapp_slick_dudeIn terms of how to resolve the situation, the Jets have to do one of two things – either a) they replace Sparano with an offensive coordinator who is familiar with the zone-blocking scheme (my personal prayer goes out to Norv Turner, although realistically I’d be happy with somebody like former Raiders man Greg Knapp, left), re-sign Greene, and return to the ground-and-pound of old, or b) they abandon Greene to free agency, hire somebody with an ideology that’s similar to Sparano’s (Mike Mularkey would fit the bill) and look to rebuild both their offensive line and running back corps.

Fortunately it appears that the most sensible option is also the more likely one: Because of the current cap calamity in Florham Park it would be suicidal for the Jets front office to waste cap space and draft picks on rebuilding two areas of the team that were never really broken. And while Greene’s style of running will always make him unpopular with fans, the stark reality is that he is both perfectly serviceable and incredibly cheap (his average salary over the past 4 years has been just $663,750 per annum – by way of comparison, Reggie Bush’s earnings have averaged out at $4.9M per annum over the past 2 years).

Drawing to a conclusion, the Jets’ 2012 campaign was an almost unmitigated offensive disaster, but fortunately a quick off-season autopsy identifies the cause of death quite clearly. If the situation is to be remedied then it can only be realistically done so via a return to tried-and-trusted principles – any other kind of fix would just be inviting more disaster further down the road.

Over the next few weeks we will have some idea of where the franchise is heading when owner Woody Johnson announces who his offensive coordinator will be in 2013. Then, when the NFL carousel moves to Radio City in the spring, we’ll get an even better indication by looking at which areas the new General Manager chooses to rebuild.

The 2013 off-season is set to be a critical point in the development of the New York Jets franchise, and the two key decisions of who to hire as General Manager and offensive coordinator will almost certainly dictate whether the next 3-5 years see a recovery or an even deeper nosedive.

The past season, it seems, was nothing more than an appetizer for the real drama which is yet to come.