It is no secret the New York Jets didn’t create an ideal environment for Mark Sanchez to succeed in, especially the previous couple of seasons. Yes, he gets the majority of the blame for not elevating his play in 2011 and 2012 but you are kidding yourself if you think he was put into a favorable situation. What is important now is that the Jets learn from their mistakes with Sanchez and work to create a quarterback friendly environment for Geno Smith. What does that involve?
Consistency - At the beginning of Mark Sanchez’s four seasons as the Jets starting quarterback he had a different top three wide receivers in every single year. In 2009, it was Jerricho Cotchery, Chansi Stuckey and Brad Smith (yeesh). In 2010, it was Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery and Brad Smith (and then Santonio Holmes started playing in week 5 after a four game suspension). In 2011, it was Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason. In 2012, it was Santonio Holmes, Stephen Hill and Jeremy Kerley. You want to create some type of stability at wide receiver for a young quarterback. Santonio Holmes, Stephen Hill and Jeremy Kerley should be the top three receivers on opening day this year and while Holmes long term future with the team is in doubt, hopefully both Hill and Kerley continue to progress and then stick around for the long haul to develop with Smith.
Consistency also involves the approach you are taking with your quarterback, both publicly and in game-planning. The reason these two are meshed is because of Rex Ryan’s personality which has toned down a little bit to the media. In the beginning of 2009, the Jets were running a relatively balanced attack shifted more towards running the ball. By the middle of the year when Sanchez began to struggle, Rex loudly talked about the “Color Code” system that would be put in place for Sanchez as the offense moved into becoming extremely run heavy. Sanchez wore a wristband that had green, yellow and red on it determining how aggressive he should be…no really, this happened and was exacerbated by the Jets being so open and transparent about it.
In 2010, the Jets found the right mix of not publicly jerking around their offensive approach all season. They had a balanced approach, that focused on the run a little more than the pass and came within 5 points of the Super Bowl. In 2011, they then decided to talk up moving to a more spread attack and shifted their base offense to 3 wide receivers. Of course that didn’t work out and then they again publicly made a big statement on moving back towards a “Ground and Pound” approach. This happened in some weeks but was randomly altered with games of Mark Sanchez dropping back 60 times.
2012 was a Sparano/Tebow/Injury Plagued Disaster. An offensive coordinator who was awful for a quarterback. A backup quarterback who can’t play quarterback and is the ultimate distraction. A collection of injuries and a lack of talent that the Jets couldn’t even formulate anything that’d I call a specific approach or game-plan.
The point is, first off stop broadcasting your changes in philosophy on offense Rex Ryan (which he seems to have toned down) and the second is find your approach and grow your quarterback in it without making radical changes every few weeks.
Coaching - Sanchez’s struggles shouldn’t be put on his offensive coaches but the Jets had him working with Brian Schottenheimer and Matt Cavanaugh primarily, two individuals with a long history of mediocrity. Tony Sparano? These Trent Dilfer quotes sum it up the best -
“The worst hire ever. I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, are you kidding me?’ You’re talking about a defense-centric, offense-minimalizing coach. It made you want to throw up in your mouth.”
The Jets offensive tape confirms that assessment. They have taken a major step in the right direction by hiring Marty Mornhinweg, who has a history of succeeding with multiple quarterbacks in the NFL. They also hired a new quarterbacks coach in David Lee, who at a minimum has a more impressive resume that Matt Cavanaugh.
Competition - Not insurance salesman Mark Brunell. Not Circus Ring Leader Tim Tebow. Get and keep real quarterbacks on the roster who are going to keep pressure on Smith. For now, Sanchez and David Garrard (if healthy) can provide that. When Sanchez is gone next year, find yourself another younger quarterback who is capable of pushing Smith, particularly if Garrard isn’t going to return.
Check Downs - It is important to keep quality depth at both the tight end and running back position. The Jets have done a nice job at running back by adding talent and options who can catch passes out of the backfield. They aren’t there at tight end yet…not even close actually. It benefitted Sanchez to have Dustin Keller in 2009-2012 and he struggled when he wasn’t out there. The Jets still need to find a reliable option to replace him and to grow with Smith and the team’s receivers.
It is also obviously important to keep the offensive line a team strength, like it was in 2009 and 2010. The unit deteriorated gradually in recent years, which hurt Sanchez but appears to be headed into an upswing for whoever starts this season and for the long term. The Jets aggressively added two Guards in free agency and three offensive lineman in the NFL Draft. If Austin Howard continues to improve, Willie Colon stays healthy and Brian Winters picks up the offense quickly, the Jets will have their best offensive line since 2010.