Apparently Mark Sanchez won’t have to worry about being an accurate passer for the New York Jets in the upcoming season.
That might not sound like news because, well, Sanchez didn’t worry too much about being accurate last season either. This is news because in an interview with the Jets’ website, new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg downplayed the importance of an accurate passer in his West Coast system.
In the interview, Mornhinweg pointed out a difference between quarterbacks like Steve Young and Brett Favre:
“Some of the great ones have really not thrown for such great accuracy. Steve Young was astronomical accuracy-wise. Brett Favre wasn’t… Those guys that throw for a little bit less accuracy are typically generating a little bit bigger plays on occasion. There’s a little bit of a tradeoff there.”
In a sense, Mornhinweg is correct. Steve Young was more accurate than Brett Favre. Favre was more prone to big pass plays than Young. Neither of those statements are false. The misleading sentiment in those statements, though, is neither quarterback has anything to do with Mark Sanchez.
As Mornhinweg brought up Favre’s accuracy, he noted Favre won two MVP awards completing around 58-60 percent of his passes. While 58-60 percent would be below top level quarterback play, a 58 percent completion percentage would still be two percent higher than Sanchez’s career high. So, Mornhinweg’s view of inaccurate is still four percent better than what Sanchez threw for last season.
Mornhinweg also noted he will look to expose players’ strengths rather than try to avoid weaknesses. This sounds like Mornhinweg won’t care if Sanchez throws another 18 interceptions (an obvious weakness) as long as he can find a way to throw 26 touchdowns (a strength?) again like he did in 2011.
Again this theory sounds brilliant on paper, until you realize what the rest of the league has been doing to make their quarterbacks more effective in the passing game—a trend that started with San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Alex Smith.
Harbaugh allowed Smith to manage the passing game through quick, smart, high percentage passes that decreased the risk of turnovers. This strategy dropped Smith’s interception rate from 2.9 percent in 2010 to 1.1 percent in 2011 while also raising his yards per attempt average from 6.93 to 7.07.
This low risk passing attack—which throughout the game will open up a big play downfield as the defensive backs start to anticipate the short throw—is something the Washington Redskins had for Robert Griffin III, the Seattle Seahawks implemented for Russell Wilson and the Miami Dolphins tried with Ryan Tannehill to ease these quarterbacks into the game.
The 49ers were able to run this offense because of a dominant defense and the importance of winning the battle of field position. With less turnovers, the defense could start with better field position and in turn give the ball back to the offense with a shorter field.
Last season, according to Football Outsiders’ drive stats, the Jets defense started with the 10th worst starting field position. The defense was able to put the offense in better shape and the Jets offense started with the 14th best starting field position in the league last season. That nine spot bump would be much more effective if the offense could extend drives more due to less turnovers—the biggest reason for bad defensive field position. A hypothetical nine spot jump from 15th on defense to fourth on offense could swing some games.
Accurate passing is also a league wide trend for winning. The quarterbacks of the 14 teams that finished with a 9-7 record or better last season combined for a 62.9 completion percentage. Compare that to 58.9 combined completion percentage of the teams picking in the top five spots of this year’s draft. Then consider Sanchez completed 54.3 percent of his passes last season.
Of course completion percentage is in no way the holy grail of good quarterbacking. A quarterback who finishes the game seven-for-ten with 45 yards probably didn’t win the game, but completion percentage will more often than not be a good indicator of a quarterback’s play through an entire season.
While Mornhinweg is correct in saying some quarterbacks, like Brett Favre, don’t need to be deadly accurate to succeed, no quarterback like Brett Favre is going to be under center for the Jets in the coming season.
Although they did try that once, it didn’t really work.
For more NFL fun, follow Dan on Twitter @DanPizzuta