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.