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A Look Inside the Brian Schottenheimer Offense

It’s very easy to pile on the Jets offense right now. Their QB is playing poorly and the team has hit the skids. This is nothing new for Jets fans, however, when it comes to the QB position. Since 2007 the position has been nothing short of a disaster. Chad Pennington was benched halfway through 2007 to make way for Kellen Clemens. Clemens was so bad he never got another chance with the Jets and it is unlikely he will ever get a chance again in the NFL. Brett Favre came in off an MVP type campaign and replaced Pennington in 2008. Favre struggled as a Jet, blamed partially on injuries, and the team crashed. Pennington went on to be runner up in the MVP voting as a Miami Dolphin. Favre moved onto Minnesota and is currently experiencing an excellent season. Enter Mark Sanchez, the number 5 pick in the NFL draft, who is supposed to lead the Jets for the next decade.

Through all of the QB changes there has been one constant- Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Schottenheimer was given credit for helping the development of QB Drew Brees in San Diego and has been credited with helping the Jets put together a competent offense in 2006 and 2008. However many who follow the team have questioned Schottenheimers play calling and ability to get the most of his QB. Is his system really a QB killer and is he the proper person to develop a young QB.

I wanted to take a look at the performance of the Qbs who have entered Scottenheimer’s system relative to their opposition they played and compare it to the pre and post Scottenheimer statistics. In the case of Clemens he will be compared to two contemporaries in the same situation- Tarvaris Jackson and Brodie Croyle. The stats presented are percentages either above or below the adjusted opposition averages per passing attempt. I did this last year evaluating the Jets at the midway point of the season for every facet of the game.

Here is an example to explain the stats. In 2008 Pennington threw 7 interceptions in 476 pass attempts for a ratio of 0.0147 I/A. Pennington’s opponents intercepted 210 passes in 5,140 attempts for the season. Taking Chad’s stats out of those totals you come up with 203 ints in 4,819 attempts for a ratio of 0.0261 I/A. Pennington would then be credited with a -43.76% in the category of I/A meaning he threw close to 44% less interceptions than the average would be throw against the Miami Dolphin 2008 schedule.

Chad Pennington

Pennington came into Schottenheimer’s offense off of surgery and was a complete question mark. Chad was known as a safe QB who did not turn the ball over very often with limited upside and an injury risk. He was Schottenheimer’s first QB and Brian got a great deal of credit as Chad stayed healthy for 16 games for the first time in his career and led the Jets to an unlikely wild card berth. Lets take a look at the stats.

Statistical Breakdown: Chad Pennington

Yds/Comp Yds/Att TD/Att INT/Att Sck/Att Comp % 20+/Att 40+/Att
Pennington '08 4.68 16.73 -8.58 -43.75 -12.81 8.64 -0.82 2.74
Pennington '07 -6.27 6.93 -9.74 6.83 49.2 14.1 -8.53 -23.54
Pennington '06 3.01 12.15 -2.02 1.44 -14.48 8.87 -5.19 54.48
Pennington '04 3.60 14.48 -3.75 -32.38 -37.21 10.5 3.77 -15.57

A few things jump out. The first thing, which is most concerning, is the huge jump in interceptions for Pennington in Schottenheimer’s offense. In 2004 Chad was at a -32% and in 2008 he was at -44%. In both seasons under Scottenheimer he was above the average in interceptions thrown. That is a drastic change. Some might want to blame an offensive line that was not great in 2006 and awful in 2007, but his sack rate in 2006 was nearly identical to his in a Dolphins uniform yet the interception rate is far higher as a Jet. His yards per completion and yards per attempt were both lower under Schottenheimer, though the 2007 number is skewed by the line play as Chad obviously checked down quickly far more often in 2007 which is also shown in his amazingly high jump in completion percentage. Schottenheimer either used Chad less in the medium/long passing game than he was used in 2004 and in 2008 or Chad opted not to make the throws for fear of an interception. Schottenheimer did get big plays out of him in 2006. Those plays disappeared in 2007, which is likely due to Pennington not taking the chance with the football since Clemens had far better success than Chad in this area.

Kellen Clemens

This was the first development project for Schottenheimer and it was a complete failure. I’m comparing him with Minnesota washout Tarvaris Jackson and Kansas City dud Brodie Croyle, who were both 2nd year “rookies” in 2007. Here are the comparative statistics:

Statistical Breakdown: 2nd Year "Rookies"

Yds/Comp Yds/Att TD/Att INT/Att Sck/Att Comp % 20+/Att 40+/Att
Clemens 11.28 -2.59 -54.76 35.36 74.85 -12.47 -8.45 14.31
Jackson 7.15 -0.89 -29.11 32.41 -29.71 -7.5 -30.67 -2.59
Croyle -6.99 -16.18 -37.63 -23.27 14.73 -9.87 -48.54 -100

When you compare Clemens YPC, sacks, and big plays with that of the Jackson and Croyle stats that same year it is obvious that the Jets gave Clemens significantly more responsibility than the other two teams gave their young raw players. The sacks were far higher under Clemens than Chad going from 49% for Pennington to nearly 75% for Clemens, which should be a sign that they should have dumbed it down somewhat. That type of sack rate for a youngster is career ending. Clemens big play numbers and YPC were both much better than the other two players as they were not given much of a field to work with the offenses being completely limited. Clemens interception rate was the worst of the 3 players as was his accuracy. This is not to say that handling Clemens with kids gloves would have worked out better for him. Neither Jackson nor Croyle are starting caliber Qb’s though they might have a longer future in the NFL than Clemens does. But Clemens was certainly not helped in this system and anyone who watched him play watched a player who clearly regressed from game 1 through game 16. Neither of his fellow 2nd year starters ever regressed the way Clemens did, though they never really improved either.

Brett Favre

Favre a future Hall of Famer never fit with the Jets. His reputation took a huge hit and his performance as a Jet relative to everything else is bad. The numbers state a strong case that he was worse than Kellen Clemens in almost every aspect other than sacks.

Statistical Breakdown: Brett Favre

Yds/Comp Yds/Att TD/Att INT/Att Sck/Att Comp % 20+/Att 40+/Att
Favre '09 -4.16 -6.28 8.67 -56.40 22.76 10.90 -13.97 -18.16
Favre '08 -13.94 -7.8 2.23 72.31 -0.55 7.13 -7.35 -21.53
Favre '07 12.26 20.45 33.87 -6.59 -59.28 7.29 22.24 126.69

Like with the other Qb’s the most alarming number is the interceptions. Favre ended up 72% higher than the average compared to 6.5% below as a Packer and a shocking 56% below thus far as a Viking. Favre’s YPC and YPA were by far the worst he had and he was unable to find the end zone efficiently. In fairness to Schottenheimer the Vikings have limited him to throwing the ball much shorter than he did as a Jet, which is why Favre’s 20+ plays are way down. T hey had the benefit of seeing a broken down Favre which the Jets did not.

Is the Offense Too Complex?

Schottenheimer’s offense requires a great deal of input from the QB. T hey are expected to make crucial calls at the line and have the ability to change plays. Pennington, known for his smarts, made the worst decisions of his career running the Jets offense. Even when he had a good offensive line protecting him in 2006 his adjusted interception rate was below average and he is a QB that is far above average in this category. The same problems existed with Brett Favre. Favre, never known as a brain surgeon, looked lost based on how often he turned it over. People chalked it up to constant pressure and the “gunslinger” mentality, but that does not look to be the case. He is sacked far more often in Minnesota this year than he was in 2008 as a Jet (23.35% to -0.55%) yet his interceptions in Minnesota are non existent dropping from an obscene 72.31% as a Jet to an amazing -67.96% as a Viking. And Favre was most definitely not a gunslinger, posting the worst YPC and YPA in the three year span, despite no real change in completion percentage. There is a good chance that he simply could not grasp what they were trying to teach him and it led to terrible decisions.

Do the Jets Properly Utilize the Field

No Jets QB has done well in the 20+ play category. While the 40+ plays are often the result a wide receiver simply having superior speed and getting open down the sideline, the 20+ yarder is often more about hitting an open receiver in stride and letting him scamper those extra few yards to pick up the 20. This never seemed to happen with the Jets. One would think that if you are avoiding that type of play, then the Qb’s completion percentage should significantly rise as would his YPA.

If you look at Favre in Minnesota that is exactly what is happening with their offensive scheme. The Vikings have limited how far Favre can throw the ball in the intermediate passing game which is why his 20+ plays are so low. His completion %, however, is 11% above the average, a big jump from both 2008 and 2007. In addition his YPA are a big increase from his time with the Jets. As a Jet his completion percentage was identical with his stats in Green Bay, despite Favre being used much more as a down the field passer in 2007. His YPA were a disaster as a Jet. There really has been no correlation with the lack of mid range passing and completion rate under Schottenheimer, other than Chad’s rise in completion % in 2007, where Pennington’s passes were so short that his YPA was just awful by his usual standards. His stints in Miami and under Herm provided much better results with the YPA being far better outside of Schottenheimer’s system.

The question to ask is do the Jets not call plays that are safe outs if the long pass is not there? In 2007, when Chad was under heavy pressure the dramatic decline in his YPC and YPA indicate that the safe routes were very short with no hope of working for any extra YAC. Favre’s numbers indicate a similar pattern. Clemens was really the only aberration, but dealt with a ton of 3rd and longs due to the big sacks he took, a problem also plaguing rookie Mark Sanchez. When examining Clemens high YPC compared to not just his contemporaries in Croyle and Jackson but to Pennington and Favre it seems as if Clemens simply locked on long and did his best to find the first read that was maybe a longer pattern. It would explain the huge amount of sacks he took relative to Pennington as well as the poor YPA and completion %. It also is probably a reason why he turned the ball over so much.

Do the Jets really make poor play calls or do they just not trust the personnel?

Schottenheimer has come under fire from the fan base for some plays that do not seem very logical. They mainly deal with situational play calling especially on 3rd and short situations where he goes shotgun with an empty backfield. Here are the pecentage of pass plays the Jets run in 3rd down situations under Schottenheimer along with the Favre and Pennington bookend season for comparison.

3rd Down Play Selection:

< 3 yds 3-6 yds 6+ yds
Jets '09 54.5 75.9 86.0
Jets '08 65.9 82.6 89.0
Jets '07 34.8 90.2 91.6
Jets '06 61.1 92.85 83.5
Jets '04 35.0 73.3 85.26
Vikings '09 35.29 100 91.3
Packers '07 55.8 87.8 89.8
Dolphins '08 37.9 81.4 88.0

The glaring difference comes in the Jets 3rd and short packages. In 2006 and 2008 they called pass plays over 60% of the time in that situation. Pennington was strictly used in about 35% of those situations outside of Schottenheimer’s offense. Favre, at his best in Green Bay was used 55% of the time and in Minnesota is currently used 35% of the time, similar to Pennington in Miami. Schottenheimer certainly is not using the QB’s the same way as they had been used in the past, but is it still a reasonable play selection? In order to answer that lets look at the two premier quarterbacks in the NFL- Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. You would think with these two players in the game the offense strictly pass in these spots similar to the Jets. That could not be further from the truth. Brady in his record setting 2007 campaign only passed on 45% of the 3rd and short opportunities. Manning in 2007 passed in 40.4% and in a 2008 season where he was not at 100% for ¾ of the year he was limited to passing in just 37% of their 3rd and short opportunities. So its safe to say what Schottenheimer calls is certainly unconventional.

Now the one difference in this category was in 2007 where the Jets passed less than 35% of the time, though the QB position accounted for over 30% of the runs. Some of that was due to the Jets rarely letting Clemens throw on 3rd and short, which might indicate that they can do something positive with a young QB, but the other aspect of the 2007 situation was the signing of Thomas Jones.

The Jets used Jones often in 3rd and short in 2007- 14 times to be exact - and a lot of those calls did come with Pennington in the game so it wasn’t just a Clemens thing. Jones proved to be awful in those situations averaging 0.6YPC. I think there is a valid argument that says Schottenheimer does not believe Jones can pick up tough yardage. Jones never got the same opportunities after his first year as a Jet. When you look over the 2006 roster you see a list of terrible names- Cedric Houston, Kevan Barlow, and Derrick Blaylock, none of whom anyone would trust to pick up tough yards. Leon Washington is not really the type of player you think of using to pound the rock. So does Schottenheimer just not like to pass of has Mike Tanenbaum done a poor job of finding the right fit for the system? There definitely is a breakdown somewhere in this regard.

Do the 3rd down pass calls work? Probably not. Logic would dictate that if a high percentage of your 3rd down attempts are short that you would have a high 3rd down conversion rate. The Colts would be the gold standard of such logic. About 26% of all their 3rd down attempts in 07 and 08 were all under 3 yards and their overall conversion percentage is right around 50%. A team like the Dolphins, who only had 15% of their 3rd down attempts be from under 3 yards saw their overall percentage sit at 37%. The Jets have done a pretty good job of getting into 3rd and short, but are not showing the increase in overall conversions as would be expected. Here are the stats:

3rd Down Statistical Breakdown:

% Atts < 3 yds Overall Conversion
Jets '09 11.3 37
Jets '08 22.3 41
Jets '07 17.4 38
Jets '06 15.5 44
Jets '04 18.5 42
Vikings '09 35.29 47.1
Packers '07 20.1 46
Dolphins '08 15.1 37
Colts '07 25.6 50
Colts '08 26.9 49.2
Patriots '07 48.2 17.3

When you take a closer look at the numbers you realize Schottenheimer’s best seasons are coming when he was being forced out of the 3rd and shorts. In 2006 the team converted 44% of their 3rd downs despite only 15% coming under 3 yards. With a rookie QB in 2009 the Jets conver 37% of their chances with just 11% of all attempts being under 3 yards.In their seasons with a higher percentage of 3rd and shorts they are not having the same success rates.The Jets should be much more successful converting on 3rd than they have been.

Have things changed because of the rookie?

Not really, but this past week in Oakland we saw a significant change in philosophy that mimicked the Ravens and Falcons blueprint for success as the Jets limited Sanchez to only 19 pass attempts and running a ridiculous 49 times with their backfield. It was a gameplan that was evident the Jets were going to have stuck with whether the score was 10-9 or 38-0 and a far cry from what they did against Buffalo with 38 runs to 29 pass attempts on a day where the Jets ran for over 300 yards but threw for 5 interceptions.

Looking at Sanchez’ yardage statistics he compared very closely to Matt Ryan and is better than Joe Flacco. The problem is that Sanchez, thus far, has not been protected in this offense the way the other players were protected. Sanchez is asked to throw on 3rd downs far more often than Flacco and Ryan were asked in their rookie campaigns. Here are the “good” comparison stats between Ryan, Flacco, and Sanchez.

Sanchez vs Ryan vs Flacco: The Good

Yds/Comp 20+/Att 40+/Att
Sanchez 13.73 16.14 17.71
Ryan 11.53 22.51 50.86
Flacco 10.91 -36.04 -50.19

But the problems lie within the system. We already know the system does not seem well defined for the 20+ yarder, but Sanchez is not smart enough yet to avoid throwing into those situations. While he is the best QB in this system at hitting those passes he is by far the worst at locking onto that as his target, His completion percentage is terrible compared to Ryan and Flacco and that has as much to do with coaching and scheme as poor decision making. The other players, especially early in the season were completely protected and made to pass very safely. The pass protection for Mark has been terrible. This is due to not just poor play from his line, but the fact that the Jets are not keeping guys in for help and as a rookie he does not know how to escape pressure the way Brett Favre did under similar circumstances. Short routes and max protect schemes really helped Flacco and to some extent Ryan. They were never touched last year unlike Sanchez who is getting beat up. This pressure is a career killer as evidenced by former Jet Ken O’Brien and has to be corrected. Finally you have the interceptions. Sanchez is throwing them at an alarming pace right now while the other rookies were protected to avoid throwing so many. Here are the comparitive “bad” stats.

Sanchez vs Ryan vs Flacco: The Bad

Int/Att Sck/Att Comp %
Sanchez 86.62 19.85 -11.86
Ryan -11.09 -35.20 0.62
Flacco -12.99 -66.67 -0.17

The other area that the Jets may consider protecting their QB more is in the situational play calling. Sanchez and the Jets throw far more often on 3rd and short than Ryan and Flacco did last season as neither QB was really given a chance to throw in those spots. Sanchez has already thrown as many 3rd down passes as Flacco did all of last season and is only two behind Ryan. he Falcons and Ravens both were able to get a greater percentage of 3rd and short situations and that is reflected in their higher 3rd down conversion percentages.

Sanchez vs Ryan vs Flacco: 3rd Down Playcalls

% 3rd < 2 % Passes on 3rd < 2 3rd Down Conversion %
Sanchez 12.2 54.5 37
Ryan 24.2 16.0 43
Flacco 15.4 18.2 41

There has been too much talk about benching Mark Sanchez as if that will somehow solve the problems the Jets have. Odds are anyone they put back there is going to have the same problems Sanchez has simply due to the offensive style. They will have problems converting on 3rd down and they will turn the ball over at a very high rate. If they design an offense to protect Sanchez in the pocket and give him easy targets the way the Falcons and Ravens did all this talk should go away. He is playing better than Flacco, but because Flacco was insulated by a better more QB friendly system he looked like a stud rookie. If the Jets can get Schottenheimer to do the same there will be a decent chance that Sanchez will also look like a star in 2009.