The Chad-haters got their wish: not only did Kellen Clemens get the start this weekend against the Washington Redskins, but the coaching staff let him loose to fire off 42 passing attempts, compared to an average of 27 attempts for Pennington. The result? One one-yard passing touchdown, a 55% completion rate, three points scored in the entire second half, and another loss, this one in overtime. Surprised? You shouldn’t be.
The Jets showed some fire in the first half of the game, Clemens’s first non-replacement start (he started in Week 2 against Baltimore after Pennington was injured in the previous game) from the very first play: Leon Washington returned the opening kick-off 86 yards for a touchdown, his third return touchdown of the season, and the Jets scored a field goal and another touchdown on their first two offensive drives. Unfortunately, that was pretty much the end of the offense: the Jets got the ball only three times in the first half, and the last drive fizzled out at the end of the half and resulted in a missed field goal.
Also unfortunate, the story this week was not the new quarterback, who fared very much the same as his predecessor, but the general ineptitude of almost every position on the field to do their part, specifically in the second half, which didn’t exactly shock even the casual Jets fan. Sparing the special teams unit, who did a great job, the offense and defense both had complete melt-downs in the second half: the offense mustered a single field goal at the end of the third quarter, and that was the end of the Jets’ scoring. Clemens’s “big arm” produced a single, one-yard touchdown throw, and the offense line allowed three sacks. But even worse was the futility of the defense, which allowed the Redskins to amass a stunning 296 yards rushing, 196 of those to Clinton Portis. The Redskins’ only chance to win was on the ground, and they ran absolutely wild; the Jets couldn’t stop them.
If you’re one of the “true Jets fans” who insisted that Kellen Clemen’s arm would turn this team around, perhaps you’re not familiar with the defense. Allow me to introduce you to the basics: they are ranked 27th in the league in points allowed, 30th in yards allowed, 23rd in passing defense, 29th against the run, and 30th out of 32 teams in total defense (source: NFL.com). It’s really not difficult to analyze the reasons behind their lame offensive output: despite any skill problems (which can’t be denied either), they’re simply not getting enough chances to score against their opposition because they don’t have the ball enough; other teams are running (and throwing) up and down the field on their lame defense with long, time-eating drives that produce points more often than not. In football, it’s hard to score when you don’t have the ball. It’s also hard to scare an opposing defense into respecting your passing game when your offense averages less than 95 yards rushing per game and breaks off only one 20+ yard run all season long.
As mentioned earlier, the special teams have been outstanding: Leon Washington’s 3 TD returns lead all other teams. But when your rushing game and your entire defense are this bad, you put a great deal of pressure on your passing game to bail you out with quick scoring drives. In previous games this year, for whatever reason you prefer to cite (Pennington’s “weak” arm, poor coaching and bad play selection, etc.), the Jets couldn’t get down the field fast enough to make up for lost time, and this week, Clemens’s inaccuracy on key drives was insurmountable: bad throws in that last drive of regulation time turned a possible winning touchdown drive into a field goal and overtime, and with the exception of one beautiful pass for 39 yards, the overtime play of the entire offense, including Clemens, was poor. In any case, the result was quite predictable: consistent special teams play and a decent first half overall were trumped by a disastrous second half on both sides of the ball.
The criticism against Pennington this season has been unfair, and this game went a long way in exposing the other weaknesses on this team that the Chad-haters just didn’t want to see. This also dispelled the putrid myth that Pennington’s “hanging” passes were endangering his receivers by exposing them to big, open hits: Clemens’s throws did the same thing in this game, at least twice that I can recall (once each to Chris Baker and Jericho Cotchery). Their predictable, unproductive play-calling showed poor adjustment by the coaching staff and adaptation to what the opponent does during the course of a game.
More importantly, this game should have proved beyond any doubt that the quarterback, or any other position, can’t carry the rest of a bad (or a badly under-performing) team. It’s a team sport: for every pass, there’s a thrower and a receiver, and if both players don’t do their job, the result is failure.