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Are the Jets (again) setting their fans up for a hard fall?

Posted by Chase Stuart on October 16, 2010

On the surface, it's easy to think that all is well for the Jets. They're tied for the best record in the league, rank in the top three of the SRS standings and are in the top five of nearly every set of power rankings out there. New York's only loss came by a single point to another consensus powerhouse, Baltimore. And in that game, the Ravens only touchdown followed a penalty on a field goal attempt earlier in the drive. Even still, despite 14 penalties and a bunch of ugly looking offensive plays, the Jets were in position to win the game at the end until Dustin Keller channeled his inner Helen and ran out of bounds before the first down marker on fourth down. The short of it? The Jets have beaten some good teams, and lost a toss-up game to another elite team. So surely the Jets are elite, right?

I'm not so sure. Digging into the statistics, the Jets look like a classic team that's not as good as their record. For starters, they lead the league with a sparkling +11 turnover margin. That's because the Jets tied an NFL record by going four straight games without an interception.

Yes, there are explanations one could give for the Jets great streak when it comes to protecting the ball. But most of them are meritless. From 1990 to 2009, 28 teams had a turnover margin of +9 or better through five games. Those teams, on average, had 5.2 turnovers, forced 15.6, and won 3.9 games. The Jets have had one turnover, forced 12, and won 4.0 games. But what should we expect for New York over the next eleven games? One way to answer that is to take a look at how those 28 teams did in their remaining 11 games:

Teams         Int    Fum   OppInt OppFum  Margin  Wins
First 5 gms    2.6   2.6    9.1   6.5     10.5    3.9
Last 11 gms   12.6   8.1   12.1   8.5     -0.2    5.9

What more needs to be said than this: the 28 best teams with respect to turnover margin through five games, of the last 20 years, turned the ball over more often than their opponents did over their remaining 11 games. They went from a 0.786 winning percentage over the first third of the season to a 0.532 winning percentage over the final two-thirds. If a team's success is predicated on winning the turnover battle, that team isn't likely to keep winning for long.

There were 20 teams from 1990 to 2009 that threw just one or zero interceptions after five games, averaging 0.7 interceptions thrown. Over the last 11 games, they averaged 11.4 interceptions (and their opponents threw only 9.8). This goes along with the mountains of evidence that Jason and I have posted about how unpredictable interceptions are from year to year, which, ironically enough, was one of the reasons I said the Jets would be undervalued this year. Mark Sanchez was tied for second in the league in interceptions in '09, and I said that's not the sort of thing that's likely to continue. Well, he's done quite the 180. Don't be surprised if he does another one. It's tempting to think that the game has slowed down for Sanchez and the Jets run-oriented offense means they won't have many turnovers this season: but there's almost no evidence to indicate that the Jets won't see their turnover margin regress towards zero for the rest of the season.

So where would the Jets be if they weren't doing so well when it comes to the turnover margin? Well, The Jets rank in the top five in rushing yards, rushing first downs and yards per carry; just like last season (minus Thomas Jones and Alan Faneca) the Jets rushing offense is elite. But the passing offense? The Jets rank just 27th in net yards per attempt. And, believe it or not, Sanchez is averaging fewer yards per pass and net yards per pass this season than last:

Year  Cmp Att Cmp%  Yds TD TD% Int Int%  Y/A AY/A Y/C  Y/G   Sk Yds  NY/A  ANY/A Sk% 
2009  196 364 53.8 2444 12 3.3  20  5.5  6.7  4.9 12.5 162.9 26 195  5.8   4.1   6.7  
2010   81 147 55.1  902  8 5.4   0  0.0  6.1  7.2 11.1 180.4  7  52  5.5   6.6   4.5   

So what's the difference this year than last?

  • The Jets are letting Sanchez pass more, as evidenced by his jump to 180 yards per game despite throwing for fewer yards per pass; he's gone from 24.3 to 29.4 pass attempts per game.
  • Despite averaging fewer NY/A, his ANY/A has shot through the roof, thanks to sparkling touchdown and interception rates. While he's been better from a retrodictive standpoint, he hasn't been impressive from a predictive standpoint. And why is that?
  • Sanchez was a downfield thrower last season, actually ranking 7th in the league in yards per completion. The Jets wouldn't pass often, but when they would, they would attack downfield. As a result, Sanchez' 53.8 completion percentage was understandable for a rookie. Now, though, his YPC has dropped to just 11.3, right around league average. That would be acceptable if his completion percentage shot up to 60 or 65%; at just 55.1%, it's terrible.

So Sanchez is throwing more often, but more conservatively, and not very accurately. As long as he throws touchdowns and avoids interceptions, the Jets will be fine. But if his TD/INT ratio flips, the Jets could be in a lot of trouble.

The run defense has been just as good as the run offense, ranking in the top five in rushing yards allowed, rushing yards per carry allowed, and first downs allowed. But the pass defense -- the most dominant unit on any defense in the NFL last year -- has been the weak link. The pass defense ranks 23rd in yards allowed and 25th in touchdowns allowed, although the more relevant note is their 15th place ranking in net yards per attempt allowed. But the defense, usually the pass defense, has been much more inconsistent than it was in 2009. In every game outside of the Bills matchup, the defense has had its bad moments:

  • The Jets defense played well against the Ravens, but couldn't get off the field. Baltimore converted on 11 of 17 third downs, gained 6 more first downs via penalty (including on 3rd-and-28, two 3rd-and-10s and a 3rd-and-9) and held onto the ball for 38:32.
  • The Jets sleptwalk through the start of the Patriots game. New England held onto the ball for nearly 16 of the first 17 minutes of the game, dicing through the Jets defense en route to a 10-0 lead.
  • In Miami, Chad Henne threw for 363 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Jets.
  • Against the Vikings, the Jets imploded for most of the second half. During one stretch, Brett Favre went 9/16 for 192 yards and three touchdowns. Favre completed a 3rd-and-19, a 3rd-and-17 (both for touchdowns), 3rd-and-15 and a 3rd-and-12 in one ten-minute strech.

New York's defense, thanks to the other-worldly play of Darrelle Revis, allowed just 4.6 NY/A in 2009. With a 6.1 NY/A allowed average this year, the Jets defense has gone from a dominant unit to an average one. On the surface, the Jets look like a mediocre team: an anemic passing offense and an average pass defense drag down a team that's dominant at running and stopping the run.

But while the statistics don't portend good things for the Jets going forward, I'm still optimistic about them. Why? Maybe because I'm a blind, Jets homer. You decide. But:

  • Yes, Sanchez has regressed in certain respects, but an 8/0 TD/INT ratio still means something. More importantly, Sanchez's NY/A ratio has been dragged down by throwing 44 pass attempts in the rain against the Vikings. He played terribly against the Ravens, but they have a great pass defense and perhaps the Jets put too much on his plate. Against Miami, he set a career high with a 9.1 yards per attempt average. Against Buffalo, he wasn't asked to do much, but still threw 2 touchdowns and made no mistakes in a 38-14 shellacking. And he helped save the season in New England, when he completed 70% of his passes, threw for 220 yards and 3 touchdowns with the Jets' back against the wall after an ugly first five quarters of the season. Most importantly, he gets Santonio Holmes back for the rest of the season. With the way Dustin Keller and Braylon Edwards have been playing, I would be surprised if Sanchez doesn't still end the year with a higher yards per attempt average than he had in 2009.
  • The pass defense has underachieved, but that may be due to missing Revis and OLB Calvin Pace for most of the year. Once Revis is 100%, the Jets will boast two former All-Pro cornerbacks and could be every bit as dominant against the pass as they were last season.

What do you think?