Film Room – Lifting The Lid On The Real Marty Mornhinweg

Steve Bateman goes into the film room to take a closer look at Marty Mornhingweg’s offense

Note – This was written by former TOJ employee Steve Bateman

What do we know about newly appointed New York Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg? Well, he’s going to bring the West Coast Offense eastwards to New York, we know that much for certain, right? And he also favors a zone-blocking run scheme – we know that much because everybody says he does and therefore it must be correct, yeah?

By making these assumptions, not only are we unwittingly limiting our understanding of what Mornhinweg brings to the table, but we are also underestimating his ability to adapt, change, and design entirely new offensive systems according to need. We are also deluding ourselves into believing that Mark Sanchez (or whoever the starting quarterback might be) will be asked to operate a traditional West Coast Offense in 2013.

Continue reading “Film Room – Lifting The Lid On The Real Marty Mornhinweg”

Film Room – Antonio Cromartie Lacks Shutdown Cornerback Ability

Steve Bateman goes back into the film room to break down why Antonio Cromartie does not have shut down corner ability

Note – This was written by former TOJ employee Steve Bateman

A few weeks ago I wrote a piece aimed at explaining why Antonio Cromartie will never be the great cornerback that some people believe he already is. Yet recently my Twitter timeline has repeatedly told me that the Jets can afford to trade Darrelle Revis because Cromartie can step in and fill his shoes. So I’m going to try again, only this time perhaps some pictures might be worth a few thousand words.

The first play that’s up for consideration is taken from the Jets’ Week 16 encounter with the San Diego Chargers. Philip Rivers and his men are trailing by four points in the 3rd quarter, and are facing a pivotal 3rd & 7 from the Jets 37-yard line (Picture 1). Cromartie is circled in yellow, and Chargers wide receiver Danario Alexander (who has only recently joined the team after being cut by the St Louis Rams) is circled in red.

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Picture 1

Despite Alexander throwing a double-move at him – something that has been a problem in the past – Cromartie’s coverage is initially good (Picture 2) and it’s worth noting that at this point he is focusing exclusively on the movement of his assigned man (inset).

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Picture 2

But when he sees Alexander turns to look over his shoulder, Cromartie decides to quit playing his man (Picture 3) and instead he seeks to locate the ball.

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Picture 3

Effectively, Cromartie has made a bad choice by gambling here but there’s still a chance that he might get lucky and hit the jackpot if Rivers comes up short on the pass. But unfortunately for the Jets no such thing happens and even Cromartie’s renowned athleticism is not enough to make up for his poor decision-making ability as Alexander hauls in the touchdown (Picture 4).

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Picture 4

To reinforce the point that while Cromartie is undoubtedly a fine athlete, his game will always be hurt by a lack of what Bill Belichick refers to as ‘FBI’ (Football Intelligence) let’s dig a little deeper into the archive and revisit Week 10’s game against the Seahawks. The ‘Hawks are up by two touchdowns with 8:08 to go in the fourth, and after two consecutive penalties they have a 1st and Goal from the Jets 23-yard line (Picture 5). If they’re to get back into the game, the Gang Green boys simply have to make a stop on this drive. The Seahawks come out with Golden Tate (turquoise) lined up at flanker, but prior to the snap he motions towards quarterback Russell Wilson and takes a handoff. Meanwhile, split end Sidney Rice (red) is ready to face off against Cromartie.

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Picture 5

Initially Cromartie does a great job of tying Rice up with press coverage but when he senses that Tate may be headed in his direction he decides to forget his coverage assignment (Picture 6) and – despite close run support from three unblocked teammates – he tentatively takes the first few steps towards tracking forwards.

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Picture 6

By the time Tate has cocked his arm to throw (Picture 7), the wide open Rice has a full six yards of separation between himself and Cromartie.

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Picture 7

Finally we’re left with the image of Cromartie gazing on helplessly as Rice pulls in the catch to plunge a final dagger into Jet hearts (Picture 8).

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Picture 8

As much as I wish it were true that Cromartie is a ‘Shutdown Corner’ the reality is that you don’t have to go through too much game tape in order to find repeated evidence of his inability to make the correct decision at the right time. He’s a tremendous athlete – that’s beyond question – but unless he suddenly develops some ‘FBI’ he will never be fit to wear the shoes of Revis and (maybe more importantly) despite how highly-prized he is by some Jets fans, GMs around the league will never be prepared to give up particularly high value in any attempt to trade for him. Like it or not, that’s the long and short of it all.

Quinton Coples: Believe The Hype?

Steve Bateman takes an inside look at the pros and cons Quinton Coples demonstrated in his rookie season

Note – This was written by former TOJ employee Steve Bateman

Rookie defensive end Quinton Coples has divided opinion amongst Jets fans ever since it was announced at Radio City last spring that he’d been selected as their first round draft choice. The former North Carolina man arrived in New Jersey with several question marks against his name and, if popular opinion is to be believed, many of those question marks will follow him into his sophomore year.

For various reasons, however (mainly that it’s difficult to untangle the melee of line play during a live broadcast), defensive linemen are often harshly judged by fans unless they’re producing JJ Watt-esque stat lines. So, with that in mind, let’s break down a tell-tale play from 2012 in an attempt to make a true evidence-based assessment of what kind of player the Jets have in Coples.

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New York Jets: Fool’s Gold Is Nothing To Cro’ About

Steve Bateman on the why the trade value of Antonio Cromartie and Darrelle Revis isn’t comparable

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Written by former TOJ employee Steve Bateman

The issue of whether the Jets should trade Darrelle Revis or Antonio Cromartie this year has been a hot topic amongst fans for some time now. But how realistic is it to even put those two names together in a sentence – much less to suggest that any NFL team might see Cromartie as a reasonable alternative to Revis?

If anything is beyond dispute in this debate, it’s that Cromartie had an outstanding campaign in 2012. When Revis fell foul of a torn ACL in Week 3, the whole organization looked to the former Seminole in the hope that he might be able to step up and fill the gaping hole that was left in the Jets secondary.

But although Cromartie did have considerable success while filling in for Revis this season, there is still good reason to suggest that he remains a long way short of deserving the ‘Shutdown Corner’ status that many fans have been quick to adorn him with, and despite his impressive numbers coupled with a gazelle-like pursuit speed, evidence abounds to indicate that he is the footballing equivalent of Fool’s Gold.

One way of distinguishing whether or not a cornerback is respected around the league is to simply consider how many times opposing quarterbacks have thrown the ball in his direction. Last year, Cromartie was targeted 87 times – which works out at an impressive average of 5.43 targets per game. This statistic even measures up against Revis’s 2011 numbers, when he was targeted 85 times.

In terms of how many times those targets resulted in a completion, things are still looking reasonably good for Cromartie – his 2012 return of 46% was only slightly worse than Revis’s 41.2% in 2011.

In most statistical categories, this pattern continues – the numbers put up by Cromartie last year are either similar to or slightly worse than those posted by Revis a year before – and so both defenders look to be glittering nicely. But then we come to a statistic which suddenly suggests an entirely different picture. Touchdowns. In 2012 Cromartie gave up 5 TDs – a number that had him tied for 91st* in the NFL alongside the likes of Buffalo’s Aaron Williams and Cleveland’s Buster Skrine. In 2011, Revis conceded one.

The numbers also prove to be consistent over the years: In 2010 Cromartie gave up 7 TDs, and in 2011 he was responsible for 6. Yet while the last 3-year spell of Cromartie’s career has resulted in him giving up a whopping 19 TDs, Revis – in his last fully-fit three years – gave up a grand total of 6. This is where Cromartie’s problem lies – when he’s defending with plenty of open field at his back, he’s fine. Yet if you throw at him in a confined space – let’s say inside the red zone, the chances are that you’ll get somewhere near the result that you’re hoping for.

The reason for this is quite simple: Cromartie is not an intelligent football player, and when faced with a split-second decision whilst in coverage he will all-too often make the incorrect choice. Fortunately he does possess outstanding speed and athletic ability, and so on deeper routes he is often able to recover his position whilst the ball is in the air. But pen him inside an area where he can’t use his phenomenal recovery speed and you’ve got a problem. (This, incidentally, was the main reason why San Diego were prepared to trade him in the first place. When they considered switching to a predominantly zone defense it became quickly apparent that Cromartie was inacapable of being effective when assigned to patrol an enclosed area of the field).

By the time the 2013 season begins, Cromartie will be 29-years-old, and while that’s by no means ancient for a cornerback, it’s most certainly getting towards the Golden Years for a player who depends almost entirely upon his speed. Even assuming that he enjoys good health over the next few years, it seems fair to say that it would be a surprise to see him as a starter much beyond 2014. Historically-speaking, the careers of players such as Cromartie don’t tend to tail off, they have a habit of dropping off cliffs.

So for all that he had an excellent campaign in 2012, don’t expect that NFL teams will be falling over themselves to give up first or second-round draft picks in exchange for Cromartie. That’s not to say that teams wouldn’t be interested – undoubtedly they would – but it would be a massive mistake to expect that they’ll cough up anywhere near the kind of booty that would be demanded in order to secure the services of a genuine Shutdown Corner.

(*To qualify, players must have taken 25% of their teams snaps.)

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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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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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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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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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.

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.