For the Jets, Dink and Dunk Is the Name of the Game
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Halfway through the preseason, regardless if it’s Patrick Ramsey or Chad Pennington starting behind center, the Jets’ passing attack looks like it won’t produce many big plays. That is unless new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer changes his game plan.
Ramsey, getting the nod against his former team last week after the Jets excused Pennington from the game because of a family illness, played the entire first quarter and got off to a rough start. After getting sacked on the first play of the game, Ramsey completed two short passes, for five yards on second-and-18 and three yards on third-and-13. For the rest of the game, Ramsey’s reliance on short completions didn’t help the Jets move the ball: He never threw a pass more than 10 yards downfield, and they were forced to punt at the end of all three first-quarter drives.
Like Ramsey, the Jets’ other two quarterbacks played it safe with short passes all night. Brooks Bollinger took over in the second quarter and followed Ramsey’s lead, completing 10 of 16 passes for only 69 yards. Bollinger
tried to stretch the field with a deep pass only once and that fell incomplete. Kellen Clemens entered the game in the fourth quarter and his first pass, a completion, actually lost three yards. His only other completion was a five-yard touchdown. The Jets’ longest connection Saturday went for 15 yards, but that was just a screen over the middle to rookie running back Leon Washington, who turned the short pass into a first down on third-and-long.
Schottenheimer’s game plan Saturday largely mirrored the Jets’ first preseason game, a 16–3 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in which Pennington started but never took a chance downfield. Pennington looked efficient against Tampa Bay, completing his first five passes and finishing 9-of-14, but he gained only 54 yards through the air, and his longest completion went for just 11 yards.
An offense that relies on short passes has some advantages, particularly the ability to control the ball. That’s the philosophy behind the West Coast Offense that former San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh developed and several of his assistants have implemented. The strength of the West Coast Offense lies in its ability to complete passes at a high rate while avoiding interceptions.
All four of the Jets’ quarterbacks have completed more than 60% of their passes this preseason, and none of them has thrown an interception. The Jets demonstrated their ability to control the ball on a 23-play, 76-yard drive against Washington. On that drive, Bollinger used a no-huddle offense to prevent the Redskins from substituting on defense, and the Jets methodically marched down the field. But the drive stalled on three straight plays from the 4-yard line, and the Jets had to settle for a field goal. Ball control helps an offense, but not as much as a big play that scores a touchdown.
In addition to controlling the ball, relying on short passes might make sense when the regular season starts if Pennington’s surgically repaired throwing shoulder hasn’t regained full strength. But Schottenheimer needs to find a way to stress accuracy over arm strength without completely eliminating the deep ball.
If the Jets’ passing game continues to look this conservative, opposing defenses will shut the Jets down by lining up their defensive backs close to the line of scrimmage.Even if they only use it a few times a game, the Jets will have to establish a credible threat of throwing downfield to keep opposing defenses honest.
The Jets shouldn’t have a problem developing a downfield threat because their top three wide receivers —Laveranues Coles, Jerricho Cotchery, and Justin McCareins — all have good speed. But Schottenheimer hasn’t put that speed to use in the first two preseason games. Coles, whose career average is 13.3 yards a catch, has 40 yards on seven catches so far. Cotchery, whose career average is 12.4 yards a catch, has 51 yards on six catches. McCareins, whose career average is 16.0 yards a catch, has 10 yards on two catches. The other receivers fighting for a spot on the Jets’ roster — Brad Smith, Reggie Newhouse, Tim Dwight, and Wallace Wright – have combined for 84 yards on 12 catches. Overall, the Jets’ receivers are averaging just 6.9 yards a reception.
Criticizing the Jets’ offense for relying too much on short passes is nothing new. Last year’s passing attack was often derided as the “dink-and-dunk offense” under coordinator Mike Heimerdinger. But in 2005 the Jets’ wide receivers averaged 13.3 yards a catch, just under the league average of 13.4 and almost twice as much as this year’s receivers have averaged in the first two preseason games. If Schottenheimer keeps it up at this pace, he’s going to make the close-to-the vest Heimerdinger offense look like the high-flying, “Greatest Show on Turf” of former St. Louis Rams coach Mike Martz.
Schottenheimer has spent most of his coaching career as an assistant to his father, Marty, the head coach of the San Diego Chargers. Marty Schottenheimer has a reputation as a conservative play-caller, but his son, who played quarterback at Florida for Steve Spurrier, was expected to construct a more versatile offense with the Jets.
Eric Mangini, 35, is the youngest head coach in the league, and Schottenheimer, 32, is even younger. So the preseason is a learning experience for them as much as it is for their players. If they can’t develop a game plan that involves some completions downfield on Friday, when the Jets have their annual preseason game against the Giants, they might learn that Jets fans aren’t known for their patience.
Mr. Smith is a contributing editor for FootballOutsiders.com