Since the season ended, I’ve been charting a series of 2007 games, which – somewhat unexpectedly – gave me a different perspective on some of the issues affecting this current Jets team.
After the jump, we’re wrapping up this series with a recap of what we’ve learned so far, together with some other interesting findings which I haven’t mentioned yet.
What did we learn?
Some people had been saying “even Darrelle Revis had his struggles as a rookie” when discussing Dee Milliner’s struggles in his rookie season. We therefore decided to open the series by carrying out a review of Revis’ rookie season in order to make a comparison.
In week two, we considered the wisdom of those who were calling Quinton Coples’ move to Rush Linebacker unprecedented within the context of a bigger, heavier defensive linemen being used in an OLB role in 2007.
Week three saw us using the unheralded terrific play against the run from a player in a similar role in 2007 to try and project where Kenrick Ellis’ career might be headed.
Finally, last week, we looked at how Adrien Clarke’s struggles at left guard compared with those of Brian Winters last season and wondered whether putting a rotation system in place could have improved Winters’ consistency as it seemed to with Clarke.
That’s not all we learned from watching the 2007 games though. There were a few more interesting nuggets, which while not worthy of a full BGA post, are certainly worth sharing in a wrapping-up-loose-ends summary piece.
One of the most common arguments in 2007 on this site was that of whether D’Brickashaw Ferguson was a bust. The fourth overall pick in 2006 had started all 32 games in his first two years, with the Jets reaching the playoffs in year one, but finishing 4-12 in 2007. Ferguson was reportedly struggling to keep his weight up, was not impressive as a run blocker and – according to stats from STATS LLC – had given up 10 sacks as a rookie and 13.25 sacks in year two.
We know now that, whether or not he was a slow developer, Ferguson clearly wasn’t a bust. He’s continued to start 16 games a year, been voted to multiple pro bowls and is one of the most respected and reliable players on the team. Were people right to call him out as a bust after his second season though?
The first thing to note is that while I did not chart games back in 2007, I was convinced that 13.25 sacks number was bogus and argued repeatedly that he hadn’t given up anywhere near as many sacks as that. I thought his pass protection – as he was left on an island pretty much all the time, which is impressive for a youngster – was well above average. However, without the stats available, all we had to go on was that statistic from STATS LLC. One game in particular had stuck in my head and that was when Kyle Vanden Bosch had matched up with Ferguson and been credited with three sacks against him. Rewatching that game revealed what I had thought was the case at the time – Ferguson was only blocking “KVB” on one of those plays and while he did give up that one sack, he did a good job on him overall.
For the whole season, PFF (who have since completed their charting and analysis for the regular season) have him down for nine sacks surrendered. In addition, they don’t differentiate between sacks and half-sacks, so it’s possible the total is even less than nine. That’s not bad for a young left tackle left on an island all year and with a struggling player on his inside shoulder. His overall pass protection grade (which takes into account how badly beaten a player is when they do give up pressure) was well above average for that year.
Ferguson’s run blocking was still poor at that point, but the main reason he was drafted was for pass protection and he had done a good job of that in his first two seasons. Over the next two seasons, while paired with Alan Faneca, he improved dramatically as a run blocker, especially in space where he had been lost in his first two seasons, and became the pro bowl level player the Jets hoped. Calling him a bust after those first two years was certainly premature, especially since he’d actually done better than advertised in his primary function.
The dawn of the Wildcat
You all know the story of how Tony Sparano, David Lee and Dan Henning shocked the Patriots – who had gone undefeated the previous year – by introducing the wildcat to the NFL and blowing them out by 25 points in an early 2008 game. The likes of Chad Pennington and Ronnie Brown ran a bunch of plays from the scheme that Lee had been using with great success featuring Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis at Arkansas and the Patriots had no answer. What an innovative introduction to the modern game. Except…
In a week 13 game in 2007, the Dolphins had actually been the victims of a wildcat-based gameplan from the likes of Eric Mangini and Brian Schottenheimer. Quarterback Kellen Clemens went to the sideline for two plays, lined up at wide receiver twice and the Jets even ran some wildcat-style looks with him taking the snap. These plays had some good success too as the Jets won 40-13. Check out Leon Washington running the read-option on the second play of this highlight reel for a score (and for a bonus, check out Clarke – #61 – making perhaps his best block of the year to spring Washington). Brad Smith also took a direct snap three times in that game.
So, while Lee probably had confidence his scheme could catch some teams out at the NFL-level, Mangini and co. had already identified this and blown the Dolphins out during the previous season and I’m sure the incoming coaching staff took note of this when they reviewed the film from the previous season.
Not only that, you might think the Pistol is a recently new innovation at the NFL level, but look what the Jets were running back in 2007:
How the season affected the plans for 2008
Say what you will about Pro Football Focus’ grading systems, but – based on the moves they made after the 2007 season – Mike Tannenbaum’s Jets must have been using a similar system to grade the available talent at that time.
Kris Jenkins was their #1 graded DT/NT, Calvin Pace was the fourth best 3-4 OLB (and number one in coverage) and Damien Woody was the 2nd best tackle in the league on a per-snap basis. You may recall that Woody started off the season at guard before becoming the starting tackle for the last five games of the year. For the season as a whole, he gave up no sacks, no hits and just four pressures in 10 games (five starts at tackle with three more starts and two relief appearances on the interior). Even Alan Faneca, thought by some to be past his prime when the Jets signed him, was rated as the 5th best run blocking guard.
These were all moves that were questioned at the time for one reason or another. If PFF existed back then, they would certainly have been praising the Jets’ offseason and projecting the team to bounce back from their 4-12 season, which of course they did with only one losing season since then (6-10 in 2012).
Getting it wrong
While I’d forgotten about the Jets using the wildcat before the wildcat was a “thing” in the NFL and I admitted in previous articles that I totally underestimated how well Sione Po’uha played in 2007 and was misguided to criticize Eric Mangini for the way he used Victor Hobson and Eric Barton that year, these weren’t the only things I’d got wrong.
At the time, I didn’t see many Washington games and had witnessed Pete Kendall making a few bad mistakes in those that I did see. Therefore, I was assuming the Jets had got rid of Kendall at about the right time. However, now that PFF has completed their grading for the year, it’s apparent he was well above average, much like Matt Slauson was last year, in fact. I therefore stand corrected on that one, although I would maintain that this probably wouldn’t have been enough to elevate this 4-12 team into playoff contention.
Something else I got wrong was that I over-estimated how well David Harris had played. Harris’ rookie season was easily his most productive. However, while Harris racked up 127 tackles in just nine starts, he only had 45 stops. In 2009, he matched that tackles total – albeit in 16 starts – but had 57 stops. He also surpassed 50 stops in three of the last four seasons. This tells us that Harris made a high percentage of tackles downfield and at the second level and that his numbers were perhaps only as high as they were because there weren’t many other guys around him making plays.
Over the past few seasons, Harris has been at his most effective when the defensive line has done a good job of occupying blockers and has struggled when his defensive line has been unable to keep blockers off him. That makes sense when looking at 2007, because DeWayne Robertson was in front of him most of the time and while – as I wrote in the Kenrick Ellis article from this series – he held his ground well in the running game and did well as a pass rusher, occupying blockers was never his strength. That’s the main reason they traded him away and replaced him with Jenkins.
The Jets perhaps learned from that season just how effective Harris could be when you did keep him clean and have obviously been setting up their defense in such a way as he can be as productive as possible ever since then. While he’s always struggled to get off blocks, that’s one of those things where you can’t necessarily blame him for that, as many of these defensive sets were perhaps designed for that not to happen.
It’s been interesting to look back to 2007 and remarkable how many issues there were which bore some relation to things still going on with this Jets team.
With the passage of time, Eric Mangini has been remembered as a conservative coach and Brian Schottenheimer as a playcalling flop, but looking back to the early years of that regime shows plenty of creativity and innovation and it seems a shame that this waned over the next few seasons. Brett Favre’s gun-slinging leading to a simplification of the offense and, while Schottenheimer stayed after Mangini’s departure, Mark Sanchez’s struggles to achieve a level of consistency that also led the Jets to – rightly or wrongly – simplify things for him to try and make his life easier.
That regime does also deserve some credit for the development of some of the players who contributed well in the Rex Ryan era and also for keeping the Jets relevant for the three year period bridging the Herm Edwards era and the Ryan era. Ultimately, the 2007 team had flaws which were exposed again and again. In 2008, they loaded the roster up with talent, but they didn’t remove all of these flaws and that’s ultimately why that team fell short. However, that talent injection did pave the way for some of the successes of the last five years. It even continues pay dividends with Pace still contributing and under contract for two more years.
Coming up tomorrow, the next part in our double team project. We turn our attention to the run defense, where we analyze the frequency and nature of double teams, looking for trends, patterns and anything else we can glean from the data. There’s plenty more left in the series though, as in future installments we’ll be looking at players around the league and datas from previous seasons to see how the data compares and start to draw some viable conclusions.