Jump to content

SNY- Chad looks for a successful season

Kentucky Jet

Recommended Posts

08/22/2007 11:55 AM ET

Chad looks for a successful season

This season's results will determine Pennington's future

By Michael Salfino / SNY.tv

Pennington needs to work on his interception rate if the team is going to improve. (AP)

The common way of doing a preseason forecast is to grade each position and then combine that into some overall grade that translates into a won-loss record.

That's great if all positions are equally important. If, for example, an A-minus linebacking corps somehow balances out having a C-minus QB.

But I know all things aren't equal in football after tracking nearly 40 team stats every week for years to see how each correlates to winning. I've identified those handful of most universally important categories and will assess the 2007 Jets only in this context. The objective is to see whether improvement in these areas can be expected this year and to what degree. Of course, I can't claim that the predictions will be better. But I can guarantee that we're at least trying to predict the components of team play that matter most.

Turnovers is the top team category from 2004-to-2006. Meaning, if you finished in the top 10 in differential, you were most likely to be a winning team. Conversely, if you finished in the bottom 10, you were most likely to be a dog. I bet you're saying you knew that. But did you also know that almost all of this relative importance is tied up in net interceptions? Fumbles (recovered/lost), while still important, are significantly less meaningful than interceptions. Speculating on why this is so is a subject for another day.

You hear all the time about scoring and preventing TDs on red zone possessions. But even more important every year is simply net red zone possessions (getting inside the 20 more often than your opponent). Realize that with the modern kicker almost every red zone possession results in points. So teams need to draw those battle lines further out on the field.

Yards per pass attempt (YPA) is the most underrated stat in the history of team sports. You never hear announcers talk about it. Sleep all day Sunday and pick who won based on someone telling you only the team with the better YPA in each game and you'll be right over 80 percent of the time.

Rounding out our Fab Four is points per pass attempt (PPA), designed by NFL Stat Guru Bud Goode (the Bill James of football, although Goode can say that James is the Bud Goode of baseball, as he preceded James). It's easier to conceptualize this as the number of passes it takes, on average, to throw or allow a TD pass. As is the case with all team stats, finishing in the top 10 in offense is more likely to help you win to a greater degree than a top-10 defensive finish.

That's a long, but important preamble. Now let's preview how the Jets will do in these areas.

INTERCEPTIONS: Chad Pennington's Jets were 15th in picks last year, but 22nd in attempts. So, the interception rate was bad, due largely to Pennington's poor functional arm strength. I don't care much for how well a QB seems to throw a football. This isn't Punt, Pass and Kick. But effectiveness concerns me. Pennington was well below average in attempting deeper passes (which today are only 10-to-20 yards from the line of scrimmage) and even worse at connecting on them. He threw six picks on his mere 99 attempts this distance, a terrible rate of failure. Pennington must return to his pre-double-shoulder-surgery form, when he was one of the more effective mid-range passers in the NFL. If you can't threaten defenses in the mid-range (forget about bombs, which are usually just for show), you're sunk because secondaries can fearlessly smother all that dink and dunk stuff. There is no evidence thus far in August that Chad is throwing markedly better.

With Pennington a good bet to be middle-of-the-pack in interception rate, Eric Mangini's defense is going to need to turn into the Ravens or Bears with the ball-hawking. There are two avenues to generating lots of turnovers when the opponent passes: a great pass rush or great defensive backfield play. Usually, the former creates the latter. The Jets have tried to upgrade their pass rush this offseason on the cheap, which rarely works. LOLB Bryan Thomas (8.5 sacks last year) is the one guy with a chance to be an impact pass-rusher. The Jets want rookie Darrelle Revis, who at least two teams considered a top five talent, to be a shut-down corner. He'll get at least a half- dozen picks if he is, because teams test all rookies.

Offense: C-plus; Defense: C

RED ZONE POSSESSIONS: Pennington helped the Jets hold serve here last year (15th overall) due to his ability to sustain long drives with great third-down efficiency. There is some debate as to whether third-down efficiency is a repeatable stat for a QB or a more random event. I think it's the former. Chad can convert third-and-fours with the best of them. But you have a hard time generating points without explosive passing plays, which tend to come on longer throws.

By the way, scoring TDs on red zone possessions (and preventing them) is, of course, very important once you get inside the 20. And there is no denying that effective running is the key to converting here. Last year, the Jets finished at 46 percent TDs on red zone possessions (average is 50 percent). Thomas Jones will help here (assuming he's healthy, but it looks like we're going to need to shoot Mangini up with sodium pentothal to find that out on a weekly basis).

The Jets defense was 11th in third-down defensive efficiency and 15th in red zone possessions allowed while permitted TDs on a below average 52 percent of them. Again, run defense generally becomes more important the closer you get to the goal line, and the Jets had a historically bad run defense last year. I don't think those third- down numbers are likely to translate in '07 because the Jets had a very easy slate of opposing QBs last year. Only three of their 16 regular season games were against top passers. This year, they're will face at least seven and maybe nine (if Trent Green plays like he did for the Chiefs before his concussion) or 11 (if J.P. Losman picks up where the left off late last season).

Offense: B; Defense: C-minus

YARDS PER PASS ATTEMPT: Pennington looked like he was going have a long career besting opposing QBs here with the aid of his smarts and accuracy. Those qualities remain intact. Chad's also got an emerging offensive line (assuming D'Brickashaw Ferguson can play with more power after an offseason in the weight room and mom's kitchen). And he throws to one of the best WR tandems in team history, given Jerricho Cotchery's emergence last year as a serious weapon (complementing tough, fast Laveranues Coles). But everything here comes down to whether Pennington's arm can answer the call on intermediate throws this year.

He'll need to land in the upper reaches of the top 10 in YPA to compensate for a pass defense that, again, got fat last year on poor QBs. Revis is very likely going to have some growing pains. I would like Justin Miller to emerge as the other corner because I think he has shutdown skills. But Miller (hamstring) remains technically unsound. Kerry Rhodes really is the next best thing to Ed Reed at safety. The Jets really need an impact pass rusher at end in their 3-4 scheme so they don't have to blitz so much (not including sending Thomas on most passing plays). Of all the newcomers, the Jets are most bullish about David Bowens, a Dolphins import. But I expect they'll have to wait until next year's draft or free agent period to find that player.

Offense: C-plus; Defense: C

POINTS PER PASS ATTEMPT: Yep, another QB-driven stat. What about all the work the Jets did in the offseason in upgrading the running game and bringing in some better run stuffers? Can't that open up the passing game in ways I'm not accounting for? There's no good evidence that running the ball well helps you throw it significantly better. I know this is heresy and goes against everything we've heard all of our lives. But look at the data: Last year, for example, the top 10 teams in yards per rush were below average in YPA and slightly above average in PPA. In 2005, the top 10 rushing teams were only slightly better in both categories. In 2004, again, just slightly better in both. The Jets should be better than average here because their receivers are very good and pass-blocking schemes sound. But longer passing plays will likely be a rarity due to Pennington's physical limitations.

Defensively, last year, the Jets were 27th in yards allowed per rush and 11th in yards allowed per pass. Again, no correlation between run and pass defense. If the Jets step up their run defense, they'll be better in defending the red zone and they'll make teams more predictable in whether they'll pass. But third and two is a passing down now. And even in third and long, a good passing game is so diverse that you can't predict where the ball is going. Dan Marino didn't need a good running game to beat you. Peyton Manning doesn't. And neither will Tom Brady, not this year with all those shiny new receivers.

Offense: C-plus, Defense: C

So, add it all up and you have a team that likely will finish around the .500 mark. If that happens, the Chad Pennington Era probably will end and we'll soon find out if experts as diverse as Brian Schottenheimer and Ron Jaworski are right about Kellen Clemens pro prospects.

Michael Salfino is a nationally syndicated football and baseball newspaper columnist and regular contributor to SNY.tv.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...