The senseless debate

On the heels of another Patriots’ playoff win, and in a last ditch effort to make sense out of a frustrating and utterly inane season, I try to compare the play of the New York Jets’ starters at quarterback, their most criticized position. And I do so with nothing but the facts. At least, I try to.

The facts are these:

  • Chad Pennington and Kellen Clemens both started the same number of games at quarterback for the New York Jets this year: 8. Clemens played in one more game (10) than Pennington (9).
  • By Week 2 of the season, fans were calling for Pennington to be pulled from the starting quarterback position in favor of Clemens (Pennington was injured in the game, and Jets’ fans cheered as he tried to get up and fell back down). In contrast, the New York Giants also started the season at 0-2. Giants fans readily acknowledged the poor play of QB Eli Manning, who finished the season with the poorest passer rating (73.9) of any team to make it through the Wild Card round of this year’s playoffs. Instead of calling for Manning to sit, as Jets’ fans did for Pennington (who finished with a rating of 86.1), Giants’ fans and media urged the team to find ways to win with Manning at QB.
  • One of the ploys for endorsing Clemens at starter was the theory that he had a much stronger arm and would throw longer passes than Pennington. He averaged 6.1 yards per completion, juxtaposed against an average gain of 6.8 yards per completion by Pennington. Clemens’s longest completion went for 56 yards, comparable to a season-high 57-yard pass by Pennington that went for a touchdown.
  • Another endorsement for Clemens was that the Jets would run far less “dink and dunk” and “check-down” plays for short gains with Clemens at QB. This season, Clemens completed 18 passes for gains over 20 yards; Pennington completed 19 such throws. In his eight starts, Pennington threw for 10 touchdowns, double the 5 TDs thrown by Clemens, while throwing less interceptions (9) than Clemens (10).
    Note: It should be mentioned that the New England Patriots seem en route to another Super Bowl, and nobody in the NFL “dinks and dunks” more than Tom Brady; the difference is that the Patriots have the most talented receivers in the league, from wide-outs to tight ends to running backs, and that they have the ability to make defenders miss and to gain yards after the catch. It also helps that the Patriots’ receivers don’t drop the ball, an affliction that seems to plague the Jets’ receiving core.
  • Yet another complaint against Pennington was that he was responsible for taking too many sacks, which Clemens’ mobility would help him to avoid. In the end, Clemens was sacked one more time (27) than Pennington (26) this season. He also lost a fumble, while Pennington lost none.
  • In Week 17, the final game of the season, the Jets earned a win against the Kansas City Chiefs, though Clemens was outplayed by first-year starter Brodie Coyle. Clemens completed 13 passes for 115 yards (96 yards total in regulation, 31 yards in the 1st half, and 69 yards going into the 4th quarter) and was sacked 3 times. The QB’s poor play was bailed out in OT by a Mike Nugent field goal. During the game, announcers called the Jets’ passing game “anemic” and described Clemens as looking like “a chicken without a head” behind the line of scrimmage during pass rushes.
  • In contrast, two weeks before (Week 15), Pennington came off the bench and into the game during the opening drive, when starting QB Clemens took a hit that bruised his ribs, throwing an interception in the process that resulted in a 5-yard touchdown return for the Patriots. Pennington was lauded for his gritty play in trying circumstances (both weather- and personnel-related) and ended up outplaying New England quarterback Tom Brady, albeit in a losing effort.And finally:
  • Clemens finished the season with a passer rating of 60.9, the worst rating of any starting quarterback in the NFL.

So: is Pennington the problem with the Jets’ offense? Does it seem apparent that Clemens will be the answer for years to come?

What was the real reason that the offense was so bad this season? Here are some important offensive statistics that may help tell the story:

  • Sacks allowed: 53 (29th in the league; K.C. and S.F tied for last with 55)
  • Rushing yards: 1701 (19th)
  • Rushing yards per game: 106.3 (19th)
  • Rushing TDs: 6 (30th in the league; Minnesota had 22)
  • Longest rushing gain: 49 (17th)
  • Rushes for 20 yards or more: 4. Dead last in the NFL. They also had just one rush for 40+ yards.

The suspicions of many fans and critics are verified here: the offensive line has been awful, providing poor protection for the quarterback and few holes for running backs to pop through. And without a dynamic back that can both create his own holes and make defenders miss (Thomas Jones is a solid player, but he is not that kind of playmaker), the rushing game is non-existent, exemplified by the poor rushing stats above.

And what about the Jets’ defense: how did they stack up against the rest of the league? Here are some key defensive stats:

  • Sacks: 29 (25th in the NFL)
  • Interceptions: 15 (20th)
  • Passes defended: 82 (25th)
  • Fumbles forced: 10 (tied for last in the NFL)
  • Fumbles recovered: 6 (tied for last in the NFL)
  • Percentage of 1st downs allowed on 3th down: 42% (tied for 22nd in NFL)
  • Percentage of 1st downs allowed on 4th down: 80% (last in NFL)

The last two stats are especially telling: how can a defense be successful when the opposing offense keeps getting first downs and never has to punt the ball? This keeps the defense on the field, and the offense off the field. And with a defensive core that lacks pressure on the line and take-away ability, all of this translates into consistent points for the opponent.


Statistical source: NFL.com

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