Interview: Football Outsider Sean McCormick on the Jets

In the heels of the digital release of Pro Football Almanac 2009, our good friends at Football Outsiders were gracious enough to answer some of our questions about the Jets and the upcoming season.

Answering the barrage is Sean McCormick, who comments here at TJB as the sage seanmac31. Over the years we’ve known Sean, he’s a die-hard Jets fan, who will fairly look at issues from an analytical standpoint, which is why we respect his opinion so much.

Q: There are unsettled situations with the QB, WR, TE & RB for a variety of reasons. What do we know for sure about this team?

A: Not much. The offensive line was excellent last year, ranking second in the league in Adjusted Line Yards (NOTE: a statistic to measure how effective linemen are at run blocking -Bassett) and they were dominant at the point of attack everywhere but at left tackle (sorry, D’Brick), so if the Jets can keep everyone healthy, they should be able to build the kind of ball control attack that Rex Ryan wants.

As we’ll touch on more later, though, that’s a rather big if, as the Jets are due for some injuries on the offensive side of the ball this year after going through last season almost injury-free. Unfortunately, the only things we can really count on are that the schedule is going to be much tougher and that the Jets are unlikely to be as healthy as they were last year.

Q: Scheme is important, but how good are the personnel of this defense? Can they approach the production of what the Ravens have done over the past few years during the course of the 2009 season?

A: A lot of people are expecting the Jets to become an elite defense now that Rex Ryan is here. Unfortunately, it doesn’t usually translate that hiring a defensive coordinator from a good defense results in an immediate upgrade. Over the last twelve or thirteen years, unless you’re bringing in Bill Parcells or Tony Dungy, it’s actually been much more effective to promote a defensive coach from within if you want an immediate boost.

Two other Ravens defensive coordinators have made the jump to another team-Mike Nolan and Marvin Lewis-and both achieved only minor improvement in their first year with their new club. Now each of those guys went to clubs that were truly bereft of defensive talent, so you’d like to think that Ryan can do more right off the bat, but the Jets had significant holes in the secondary and with their pass rush, and it’s unclear if those holes have been adequately addressed.

The Jets defense had some real strengths, too, especially in the first half of the season when Kris Jenkins was singlehandedly shutting down the run, but they’re still too vulnerable in the secondary once you get past Darrelle Revis, and unless Vernon Gholston comes roaring to life, there’s no steady pass rush presence for Ryan to rely on. The Ravens are going to have the best defense in the league this year, with or without Rex Ryan. The Jets might be a bit better than they were, but no, they won’t be as good as Baltimore.

Q: Injuries to starters was something that the Jets skated on in 2008, how well are the Jets prepared for the pendulum swinging the other way?

A: Not very, which is a serious problem, as the Jets were one of the least-injured teams in the NFL last year. Injuries usually regress to the mean the following season, so it’s likely that the Jets will have their depth tested this year. That’s not good, as this is a team with really minimal depth at most spots outside of running back and possibly linebacker.

There is no viable backup at offensive tackle, and there’s barely enough depth at wide receiver to field a starting unit, much less one that can go three or four wide and attack defenses. The Jets already are so thin at tight end that they’ll have to make a move in training camp or preseason to bolster the roster. Mike Tannenbaum has done a good job of adding quality players through selective trade-ups, but it’s meant fewer overall draft choices, and therefore less in the way of depth. The Mark Sanchez trade, which was one that Tannenbaum really couldn’t turn down, nevertheless removed two starters from a team that doesn’t have depth to spare.

Q: Break down the Mark Sanchez trade/pick and what it means to this team in the long-term.

A: Well, from a strict value standpoint, you have to love the fact that the Jets didn’t have to give up any future draft picks in order to secure Sanchez. If he’s the player the Jets think he is, they did a great job of landing him without significantly denting their maneuvering room going forward. Most people seemed to prefer Sanchez to Stafford if you take scheme out of the equation, and we love the accuracy he has shown while working in a pro system. That said, he’s a high-risk pick due to his extremely low start total.

When you are using a top five selection on a quarterback, you ideally want a guy who has started about 40-45 games in college while maintaining a high completion percentage. Sanchez has played in sixteen games, which is fewer than any first-round quarterback taken in the last fifteen years. It’s a riskier pick than people realize, because perceptions about how a rookie quarterback should perform were thrown way out of whack by Matt Ryan and, to a lesser extent, Joe Flacco. The odds are very good that Sanchez is going to struggle, and New York is not a place where the fans or media are particularly known for their patience.

In the long term, it means that the Jets are done looking for a quarterback for a few years, and that they can hopefully settle on an offensive philosophy that works with what Sanchez does best-utilizing his play action fake and his ability to make accurate throws while on the move.

Q: What is the one annual publication that would cause doubt to any fan’s true level of commitment to the NFL if they didn’t buy it?

A: I’m biased, certainly, (we’d hope so! -Bassett) but without a doubt, it’s Pro Football Almanac 2009. Not only do the advanced statistics give you a better understanding of why teams win or lose, but the team essays and player comments are really a pleasure to read.

A ton of work goes into the book, and unlike the magazine publications, PFA 2009 is the kind of thing you want to keep around as a reference throughout the season. I’ve still got all of my copies dating back to 2005. There’s a PDF version of the book currently available at Alternately, a hard copy is coming out in a few weeks and will be available through Amazon.