Looking at Tony Sparano, Mark Sanchez, and Tim Tebow
Jumping a bit into the new offense discussion and away from some of the positional valuations, lets just take an overall look at the Tony Sparano led Miami Dolphins from 2008-2011 and just where the Jets two QB’s may fit in.
”New Boss, Same as the Old Boss?”
We all knew that there was a disconnect of sorts between Brian Schottenheimer’s system and whatever Rex Ryan was looking run. That said did it have anything to do with overall play selection and the answer is probably not. In articles I have written before on Schottenheimer one of the things that did seem to consistently be a trend was that, for the most part, his run game worked extremely well. Even with castoffs like Kevan Barlow the Jet running game was consistently gaining more yards per carry than expected based on the defenses that they faced. Secondly he is a run first coordinator. Even in his pre-Rex years 45.2% of his calls were runs, which was higher than the NFL average of 44.4% over the same time period. Schottenheimer certainly capitulated even more to Ryan’s desires when he called 58.9% of all offensive plays in 2009 to be run plays, a number so large that it would actually be outside the normal distribution for the NFL. The only team even close to that was the 2008 Baltimore Ravens at 56%. From 2006-2011 Schottenheimer’s team ranked 8, 12, 10, 1, 3, and 15 in percent of run calls.
Sparano never really deviated in his 4 years in Miami, averaging about 46% run calls, which is a pretty high amount when you consider that his team was only good in one of his seasons in Miami where you expect run plays to kill the clock late in games. His lowest season was 42.8% in 2010 and the other three all above 46%. Here is a chart looking at the percent of run calls for Miami and New York compared to the average in the NFL from 2008-2010.
One of the things that always annoyed the fanbase about Schottenheimer was the inflexible nature of the offense. When you consider they ran about as often with Brett Favre in 2008 as they did with Mark Sanchez in 2011 it kind of makes you scratch your head a little bit. Those 09/10 numbers were purely on Ryan and the lack of faith in the QB. Sparano looks like he will be just as inflexible with the calls and has not really changed his approach at all. When you consider that the average run percentage has dropped from 45.2% in 2006 to 42.9% in 2011 and Sparano hasn’t budged, well lets just say this is not exactly going to bring the Jets in line with the rest of the NFL.
Now will he be less quirky with some of the situational playcalls? Possibly. In the past I had run numbers for Chad Pennington in 2008 and last years Dolphins with Henne and Moore and there was a much more dedication to the run on short yardage situations than the Jets have typically shown under Schottenheimer, but we would need to do a much more in depth look at the Dolphins to say for certain. In particular I’d be curious about the 2nd down playcalls which was something the Jets have been notoriously against the grain with in their playcalls. But that is the story for another day.
When Sparano was hired he did say that he likes to take shots down the field and that the offense would not be ultra conservative as most thought. So let’s see how his QB’s have stacked up through the years compared to Sanchez. Please note that for Henne this is the average of his 2009-2011 stats, while Pennington and Moore are just one season numbers. Sanchez is a 2 year average since 2009 was his rookie season. All stats complied courtesy of Pro Football Focus and I encourage everyone to check them out.
One thing that perhaps jumps out here is the situational changes that Sparano may have allowed to take place. Pennington, who had the weakest arm in the NFL, only attempted 8.2% of his passes beyond 20 yards. Henne increased to 12.4% and Moore was well above the average with 18.0% of his attempts going 20 yards or more. It should also be noted that Henne’s numbers in 2011 were also up to over 16% so there was a clear shift in philosophy going in with Sparano. Partially I think Sparano was frustrated with Henne’s development and was no longer going to allow him to play conservative, plus the situation was desperate last season. Either way it does seem as if Sparano, with the right circumstances, will let a good deal of chances be taken by his QB. The point is further driven home in the 10-19 yard pass category as shown below.
The NFL average in this category is 24.6% of attempted passes while Sparano’s 3 QB average is 26.5%. Pennington had the most attempts, which was likely making up for the fact that he did not throw the ball beyond 20 yards as much as the other two QB’s due to the arm limitations. Moore’s high attempts in the plus 20 saw him draw closer to average here. But philosophically the deeper passing game is illustrated pretty well. Miami threw 39.3% of their attempts 10 or more yards, which is right at the top 1/3 of the league in pass selection. The league average last season was 37.7%. Last year Moore’s deep ratio was 43.0%, 5th highest in the NFL. That is definitely more Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning and Philip Rivers breakdowns than the shorter game passers in the league.
As you move into the shorter pass categories, the areas where superstars like Drew Brees and Tom Brady make a living, Sparano does make some concessions in his passing game.
You definitely see the flexibility in his game since the disparity between Moore and Sparano’s other two QB’s is noticeable, but Sparano is much closer to the average here. The decisions are kind of surprising since Henne and Pennington were both better than average in completion % while Moore was a bit better the average. All were above average when it came to preventing turnovers and Henne and Pennington were average YPC guys in this area (right around 8.7 yards). Moore was below average and maybe a justification for not using him that way.
Finally we move to the screen passes.
Henne and Moore were used below the average and both were poor performers. The average YPC for a screen was 6.5 while Henne and Moore were at an awful 5.8 and 5.0 respectively. Pennington came in at 7.1 and maybe that was a reason why he was used more in this category than the two who followed him. Short passes are often all about a QB leading his guy with the ball and Pennington was always good at that. I think it does illustrate the fact that Sparano will adjust his offense somewhat for personnel rather than fitting everyone into a similar mold, but certainly the deep pass patterns are going to be a staple of the offense.
Where does Sanchez fit in?
The question is whether Sanchez is or is not that guy to run this offense. The first challenge is that he is going to have to relearn a great deal about running an offense. While Sparano will, to some extent, accommodate the QB this is an offense that is going to take chances. While the run/pass splits are a similar approach to the prior offensive coordinator, the utilization of the field in the passing game is philosophically very different than Schottenheimer’s offense.
Going back to the figures above, everything that Sanchez did a lot (0-9 yard passes) is not what Tony Sparano is looking for in his QB. The 36% long passes isn’t going to fly in this offense. He is going to have to up those numbers and improve in his performance. Can he be a long passer? My own personal opinion is that Sanchez can be, especially when rolling out, but from looking at the stats it may not be the case. He has been below average in deep pass attempts the last two seasons, but that is also partially attributed to the OC. The bigger issue is the lack of success. In 2010 Sanchez completed less than 29% of his deep attempts and last season was under 30%. His YPC of only 26 yards was worst in the NFL in 2011, though again that may be personnel/coach related as he was around 34 yards in 2010 and 37 as a rookie. The average QB completes about 35% of their deep passes for 33 yards. Here is the completion percentage of the various QBs in deep passing situations:
That is pretty much unacceptable when you consider the low YPC for Sanchez last season. Looking more at his numbers there is a good chance that Sparano may avoid too much in the deep routes for Sanchez and push him more into the 10-19 yard route category. Sanchez’ average YPC was 17.6 over the two years which is far better than the Dolphin players, who saw Moore’s 16.9 YPC be the highest of the three. Sanchez’ completion percentage is the lowest of the 4, but at 54.1% it’s not a killer when you consider the fact that there is a higher reward factor with him due to the yards. His interception ratio of 3.15% is also better than average.
What also makes sense for shifting attempts here is that Sanchez, despite all the use in the intermediate game, was a terrible intermediate QB. His completion percentage was 7th worst in the NFL last season yet he had the 11th most percent of attempts. His YPC was 8th worst in the league so there was no reward and his interceptions were 11th highest in the NFL so the risk was high. It really made no logical sense for the Jets to have used him in those areas the last two seasons but that was the offense. Here are the completion percentages for the QBs between 0 and 9 yards. As you view this remember that these were the areas the Dolphins used the least when seeing just how much better they were than Sanchez in this part of the field.
The average in the NFL was 70.4% while Sanchez was only at 66%. Reducing his attempts in this area will likely help his overall play since teams are prepared for far better QB’s when they face him while he is much closer to average in the 10-19 yard category. Most likely you will see these attempts split between the deep passes and some added screens in the offense.
What about the other guy?
Of course that now brings us to Tim Tebow and where he rates. He certainly is not afraid to pull the trigger on the ball. Nearly 25% of his passes went over 20 yards last season in Denver. The completion % was 31%, which, like Sanchez, is below average and closer to Henne than either Moore or Pennington. But it is a bit better than Sanchez and his interception rate of about 5.6 picks per attempt was far better than Sanchez’ 8% over the last two years. That said Moore and Pennington both threw picks at an alarming rate, much higher than Sanchez. Pennington’s attempts were somewhat limited because of that, but with Moore throwing for 33.7 yards per pop Sparano was willing to tolerate it. Tebow was slightly over 33 YPC.
Tebow’s upbringing in Denver fits far more in with the Sparano offense than what Sanchez has done. That doesn’t mean he is a runaway choice, however. Tebow has no short game to speak of. Nearly 57% of his passes were longer than 10 yards, which is about as unexplainable as the Jets run attempts in 2009. The next closest player in 2011 was Cam Newton at 45.3%. But Tebow’s completion percentage of under 42% in the 10-19 yard category is ridiculously bad. The only players worse were Blaine Gabbert and Sam Bradford. To give you an idea of just how ineffective Tebow was the gap between he and Sanchez is similar to the gap between Sanchez and Tom Brady.
Here are the Sanchez/Tebow comparisons in the Comp. % and YPC category.
It is actually a close competition when you break it by category, though there is a far bigger sample for Sanchez than there is Tebow since he was so limited last season. But for Tebow to operate in this offense he is going to also have to make changes to his game since there is no way they can allow him to throw for such a low completion percentage in that 10-19 yard category. If he comes in they are going to have to shuffle those attempts down into the 0-9 yard category where he plays just as well as Sanchez. Right now that 10-19 is the one advantage Sanchez has even though Tebow does gain more yards per catch throwing in that area of the field.
Sparano is going to take his chances down the field and the passing offense will be different than it was under Schottenheimer, but it does seem as if Sparano will make some changes based on who he has in at QB. Sanchez has said he is stronger this season and he needs to be to drive the ball further. He is far too inaccurate to play the Pennington role in this offense. If Tebow has a good camp and preseason things could get interesting very quickly.
What it likely boils down to is if Sanchez regressed so badly last year that his psyche is damaged and he is afraid to look down the field. Sanchez faced pass rush pressure like he never faced before last season that really beat him up. With no changes along the offensive line who knows how he will react the first time Wayne Hunter gives up a 0.5 second sack or D’Brickashaw Ferguson fails to notice a pass rusher lined up outside that just tees off on Sanchez. If the 26 YPC average is real and he hesitates to let it fly the Jets will turn to the bench to see if Tebow’s arm makes him worth inserting into the offense.
IMO Sanchez can throw deep rolling out after play action very well. IMO there is hope for the Screen game, very excited, just think it compliments Ground&Pound and deep balls.
This concept of chunk yardage in the passing game may be real...
Once again, thank you for your outstanding analysis.
I just wanted to state that my impression of Brian Schottenheimer was that I always got the feeling that he was trying to prove himself to Rex. I got the feeling that Schotty was bullied by Ryan (reminiscent of his dad, Buddy, duking it out with the Houston Oilers offensive coordinator when Buddy was their defensive coordinator.
The Ryan family, in general, display little regard for offense; period. Accordingly, I always felt as though Schotty was calling plays less so for the situation and more so because he thought the play would impress Ryan. After so many failures (like Sanchez) he became confused and desperate, and many of his actions did not make any sense.
This is one of many reasons I am psyched about Sparano coming on board. He won't be afraid to tell Rex Ryan to stay on the defensive side of the ball, and to keep his nose out of the offensive side of things, where his knowledge is limited at best.
As for Sanchez's numbers, I will never forget his first season with the Jets when he back pedaled, threw off the wrong foot, and completed a 65 yard pass. I remember at the time him being compared to Brett Favre (another QB who threw a lot of interceptions). Clearly, Sanchez has the arm to get the ball downfield.
To me, Joe Montana was one of the best QBs ever to play the game, but I've always said it didn't hurt to have Jerry Rice on the other end of many of those passes. For whatever reason, I felt as though the Jets' wide receivers gave up on Sanchez. With all of this talk about how wonderful Santonio Holmes is, it seems to me every time Sanchez did throw him the ball, there was a defender glued to him. Where is the separation that the really good receivers generally get, which will also benefit the QBs numbers. Even Keller was off his game last season. I could not believe how many passes he dropped.
Without a doubt, Sanchez made some poor decisions. Everyone saw them, and most were not terribly subtle. But, I think I would make some poor split second decisions too if I knew my line could not protect me, nor could they open any holes for the running backs to at least take some heat off the passing game.
As for the poor completion percentage for the 0 - 9 yard passes? If I was an opposing defensive coordinator, and I knew that Sanchez had to get his passes off quickly because of a dysfunctional offensive line, coupled with the fact that his wideouts didn't respect their QB anymore, and only did their jobs half heartedly, guess which part of the field I'm going to concentrate on; what I call cheating the line of scrimmage. If you know they are only going to attempt runs and short passes, it doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out where to place your defenders.
I have a very good feeling about some of the offensive acquisitions this off season, and I am especially thrilled about having Sparano and DeGugliemo on board as well.
The defense is getting younger and faster now, which in turn, will also help the offense put more numbers up than the opponent.
As for Tebow's arm? I saw him complete some pretty passes in the wild card game last season. We are talking about a QB with two years' experience now, and less than a full season as a starter. Given his work ethic, I honestly believe the arm will come along just fine.
In no way, by the way, am I endorsing Tebow as our starter; at least not this season.
Jason, you know I've been a Sanchez fan from the outset, and I believe some speedy receivers who act like they give a hoot, an offensive line that can protect the QB, and an offensive coordinator who will let his QB take some shots downfield (which also discourages the opposing defense from cheating the line of scrimmage), will make Sanchez fans of others, too.