Where Have You Gone Chad Pennington?

Dan Marcus gets wistful about the last Jets quarterback who didn’t regularly turn the ball over

If you told me six years ago that I would be longing for and reminiscent of the Chad Pennington years, I would have told you that you were crazy but here we are and the Jets are no closer to the second of coming of Chad Pennington than they are to the second coming of Joe Namath. Since the Jets traded for Brett Favre in the Summer of 2008 and let Chad go to the Dolphins, the Jets Quarterbacks have turned the ball over at what can be described as a stupid rate.

In the six seasons since Chad Pennington took his last snap as a New York Jet, the Jets’ Quarterback position has accounted for an average of 23 turnovers per season, with the high water mark coming last season where Mark Sanchez accounted for 26 on his own with two more kicked in from Greg McElroy. The Jets’ decades long search for a franchise Quarterback has been well-documented but at this point, I think most Jets fans would be satisfied with someone that can keep from turning the ball over 20 times. Obviously if Gang Green could come away with the next Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson, they would certainly sign up for it but if they decide to stick with Rex as their Head Coach then a Chad Pennington-type Quarterback might be exactly what they need to be a perennial playoff contender.

Dalbin and I spoke about it at great lengths during last week’s Podcast but it is definitely worth noting that if the Jets simply had a signal caller that turned the ball over 15 times instead of 26, they probably find themselves in the playoffs these past two seasons. Sure, the organization and fans alike would love to have an Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady but those guys simply don’t grow on trees and if the Jets are going to be a team with a perennially tenacious defense, then there really isn’t much of a need for a Quarterback that throws the ball 40 times a game. In fact, in doing so the Jets may be able to dispel the notion that you need an upper-echelon Quarterback to win consistently in this league.

In recent years the NFL has fallen in love with the spread offense and has definitively become a “pass-first” league but ball-control offense and great defense although not flashy, are still capable of winning football games. Where the Jets went wrong is that they felt the need to adapt to this trend and it started in 2011 when they tried to turn Mark Sanchez into one of those “chuck and duck”/40 pass-attempt Quarterbacks instead of as a complement to the running game, which he proved he was able to do. I think we all remember how Brian Schottenheimer ruined Christmas by deciding to throw the ball 60+ times against the Giants.

Last year was just a sheer debacle, doomed by mismanagement of the offensive side of the ball in terms of coaching hires and personnel moves. The combination of Tony Sparano, Tim Tebow, and the merry band of scrubs that they lined up at the skill positions was a recipe for disaster and yet they still managed to stay relevant through December.

Now we flash-forward to this season, where the Jets finally have an Offensive Coaching Staff that can actually call an Offense and has been able (for the most part) to compensate for the inherent lack of talent at the skill positions. However, the problem has remained the same, the Quarterback, regardless of who it is has been unable to stop giving the ball back to the other team. It is still tough for me to place the blame squarely on Geno Smith’s shoulders because he was thrown right in to the proverbial “deep end” of the pool and asked to swim even though his ability to do so, to borrow injury report parlance, was highly questionable.

Think about it, Smith came from a style of offense that rarely (if ever) called from him to take a snap under center and run conventional play-action passes out an “I-Formation.” Most people acknowledged that the learning curve coming out of that offense and transitioning to a pro-style offense, while adapting to the speed and complexity of NFL defenses would be steep. Yet, we allowed ourselves to get swept up in the early success, the wins that the Defense pulled out despite the turnovers and of course the game in Atlanta where Smith showed poise beyond his years. However, the turnovers kept coming whether but as long as the Jets were winning games, we could live with it and chalk it up to growing pains.

At a certain point, and I think it was after the blowout loss to the Bengals, Rex and the Jets’ coaching staff decided that they were going to put the handcuffs back on Geno in an attempt to cut down on turnovers and get the running game going. It worked against New Orleans but against better defenses, like they have seen for the past two weeks, running against eight and nine-man fronts is simply not a winning recipe. The Jets feel as though cutting down on Geno’s opportunities to turn the ball over will keep them in games and ultimately in a better position to win but the problem with this Jets team as opposed to say the 2009 version is the talent level both at the skill positions and along the Offensive Line. They are simply not good enough to play “Ground and Pound” against good Front Sevens that decide to bring the Safety down into the box.

Unfortunately the Jets find themselves faced with a Classic “Catch 22”: on one hand they could keep limiting Geno’s pass attempts and hope the defense puts them in good enough field position to eek out some wins or they can go back to being aggressive, taking shots down field and spreading the ball out. The latter option seems like the better one because regardless of their playoff aspirations, the Jets need to find out what they have (or don’t have) in Geno Smith and hand-cuffing him or benching him in favor of Matt Simms will not help them do that. Rex needs to let Marty Mornhinweg get back to being Marty and let the chips fall where they may because it’s obvious that this team is not talented enough to win any other way, especially against teams with good defenses, which are abound in the last five games.

Right now it doesn’t appear as though Geno is going to be the answer for this team but maybe the Jets have been going about their 40-year Quarterback search all wrong, they don’t need the athletic guy with a cannon for an arm (Geno), or the flashy Top-Five Pick with the off-field exploits of Joe Namath (Sanchez), what the Jets really need is someone who can march them down the field 10 yards at a time without giving the ball back, what they need is Chad Pennington. The problem is we already had that guy but we were too hung up on what he couldn’t do than what he could do and for that Jets Nation turns its lonely eyes to you, Chad.

  • KAsh

    First things first: a Catch-22 is a situation in which the rules cancel out any possibility of the intended outcome. The real life example is a WWII ordinance stating that anyone that feared for his life was rational, which meant that anyone who asked for a dismissal from combat on psychiatric terms was inherently sane and did not deserve to be dismissed. What you describe is a dilemma: the Jets can either hide Geno away (but then they have to find another way to win) or they can let him loose (and deal with the turnovers).

    Now, you are going to have to define what you mean by “a quarterback that does not turn the ball over.” The lack of an activity does not define what one does. Do you want a quarterback that focuses on short, quick passes? One that throws to his checkdown a lot? One that holds the ball until he is sure the receiver is open? One that reads the defenses prior to the snap to see which receiver will be open? It is easy to say “a game manager,” but he has to have an approach to managing it. Many times during the game, he is going to have to throw a pass, so what does he do at that point in time? How does he fool the defense into never intercepting him?

    March it 10 yards down the field without giving the ball back? I know a quarterback who does just that. He’s up in Foxboro, wearing number 12. It sounds simple, but doing that all the time is enough to get you into the Hall of Fame. As for Pennington, in all but two years, he held a pretty steady ratio of 1:1 TDs-to-INTs. He hurt his team as much as he helped it. You are giving two false opposites, contrasting Geno and Sanchez with Pennington. They are not exclusive. The Jets did not chase the rest of the league, or only in the sense of trying to get better at the most important position. If you want a quarterback with no turnovers, you need to explain how you want to score points on this team by only rushing the ball.

    Finally, the Jets know what they have (or don’t have) with Geno. He has 11 games on his resume this year, most of them showing just how little he brings to the table. I really do not understand how your plea for Pennington mixes in with a “don’t bench Geno” argument. You make the argument that we need Pennington, that Geno is the anti-Pennington, and conclude with giving Geno the car keys for the rest of the season.

  • glegly

    Only a third of the league has their “guy,” the QB they’d stick with through pretty much anything. They’re not all elite (only ~3-4 QBs are really elite), but they’re good to great.

    The middle third of teams have QBs they like, but if they go a year stinking up the joint, they’re gone. And then there’s the bottom third, where any QB prolly looks better than what they have.

    The Jets have been in the bottom third since Kenny O, save for a season or so of Chad, a few interspersed games of Vinny and the first 11 games of Favre. And Kenny only put us in the middle third only (and then, usually when they played the Fins).

    Soooooo frustrating.

  • John C

    I just mentioned this in the last thread – but – Alex Smith would have been a perfect QB for a Rex Ryan led Jets team, with a Morninghweig coached West Coast offense. It would have been worth the #1 we used on Milliner – I guess the cap would have been the issue, but I think it would have been a great fit philosophically and stylistically.

  • Anthony

    Alex Smith has had the leagues best running game backing him up this year, and has had the same the last 2 years in SF. He had fantastic offensive lines, and has only been asked to be marginally effective on teams with much more talent then this years Jets.

    The Jets need to either commit to a passing attack that can spread a defense, or continue to fail at breaking 8-9 man boxes.

    The point of a spread offense was to take make an under talented offense with a below average line and potentially a noodle armed QB and put the team in a position to score points. Some how the Jets have again confused ball safety with rudimentary and rather than simplifying the offense, have chosen to make it stupid.

    Geno does not have problems with accuracy, he’s an accurate passer. His problems are with timing, and they will not get better by handcuffing him.

    This team has problems with falling behind and being unable to catch up. The less we pass the more difficult it becomes to make up ground. The fewer points we score, the less pressure we put on the opposing offense. The less pressure we can put on them, the harder to create turnovers.

    It’s a cycle.


    We had a “Pennington” who would have fit the rolle perfectly – his name was Greg McElroy.

  • Joe Caporoso

    There’s a reason Greg McElroy can’t even get a backup job anywhere in the NFL

  • Paul

    I think Chad would be the perfect QB coach for the Jets…But I certainly wouldn’t blame him for not coming back to the team after the way he was treated here.

  • mark

    Chad is the NFL’s all time leader in completion percentage. He is the least known amongst the top 10 on that list. He was a very good QB.

  • Whitney

    I’m sick and tired of this Bullshidd offense. For the past 3 years almost all of the draft picks were spent on Defense. Now I hope the next two drafts are spent on Offense and a shut down corner……How much do y’all wanna bet the Jets sign Mike Vick next year? Rex Ryan has a problem.with being starstruck. by good players. look at it: Ed Reed Jason Taylor Ladanian Tomlinson Derrick Mason David Garrard. He loves signing old ass “have beens” I’m.just about FED up with rex ryan.

  • BubbaGump

    Whitney, Ryan hasn’t been starstruck, that was Tannenbaum. See the Favre signing and the Peyton Manning flirtations.

    Also, not all veterans are entirely “have beens”. Tomlinson was pretty huge for the Jets in 2010 and Jason Taylor wasn’t too bad either considering our pass rush was fairly terrible…

    Ed Reed’s probably being misused, but hard to argue with signing one of the best safeties of all time for the league minimum… at the very least, hopefully he’ll help the younger players with their development.

    Derrick Mason and David Garrard I can’t argue with, but not every signing works out. This offseason, Jets should probably sign a reliable cornerback in FA, maybe draft a safety in the top 3 rounds, and spend the rest of the draft on offense.

    Should probably sign a vet QB as well… there should be a few on the market that are let go after seasons that are disappointing, but 10x better than what we have…

  • twoshady18

    i can definitely see Mike Vick in a Jets uniform. They had already shown interest in the off season and there is also the Marty Mornhinweg connection. It won’t solve the QB problem long term of course, but could be a stop gap measure while developing Geno and/or another QB. But honestly I’m not entirely sure how i feel about this.