We're playing the New York Jets on Sunday Night, at 8:20, says Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett.
I can't believe we get to talk about REAL football this week. Remember that silly little lockout thing? Psssh, me neither. The Cowboys begin their 2011 campaign against one of the toughest tests Tony Romo will face all year. The Jet's ranked fifth in Defensive DVOA last season, despite the best defender in the game being at less than 100% through the first six weeks. Once Darrell Revis returned to his perch, he was lights out, again.
As a team, the Jets weren't very consistent in their performance from week to week, so it was possible to catch them on a bad day (28th ranked in 'Variance' in 2010, according to Football Outsiders 2011 Almanac). There are several areas that we could look at to study what could happen on Sunday night, but the truth is that week 1 will often give you a snapshot the barely resembles the portrait painted by season's end. Sometimes, it could be a precursor, while others it could be an anomaly; especially with the truncated 2011 off season.
Make the jump for the good stuff...
The Jets offense is predicated on the ground game and ball control, although they did have two memorable late game wins that occurred on the arm of their young quarterback. Mark Sanchez's overall performance could be looked at as more lucky than good, something that normally will balance itself out.
We'll look at themes that may play out in the opening game; primarily based on the 2010 rendition of the Jets, as little has changed to their starting lineup from last season. Shonn Greene is the new lead back, but that's just flip flopping roles with LaDanian Tomlinson. Braylon Edwards hands of stone have been replaced with Plaxico Burress' gunshot wound.
Tony Romo, Don't Panic
For all the greatness that is the Jets defense, specifically on early downs, the Jets had a horrible time stopping teams on third down last year. This has always been one of Tony Romo's strong suits; an uncanny ability to convert third downs, even of great length. According to Football Outsiders 2011 Almanac (FOA), the Jets allowed 22 plays of 20-plus yards on third down. If anything can be gleaned from preseason performance, the Cowboys have been great on third down opportunities, over 47% in the preseason. We'll probably need that to continue in order to have a chance. The Jets defensive line is stout, but their edge rushers leave a lot to be desired. They even tried to bring in flameout Aaron Maybin this off season, though he wasn't able to stick with the club.
The Jets finished last in the league in 3rd down DVOA, and while regression to the mean would indicate a much better performance out of their D in 2011, the Cowboys should feel some confidence in their playcalling when faced with these situations. They shouldn't try to do too much if they are being thwarted on the early downs, stay patient.
Cleveland's Rob Ryan against the Jets offense in 2010
In Week 10 of last year, a 26-20 last second overtime loss to the Jets (who moved to 7-2), Cleveland allowed Marc Sanchez and NY to accumulate 456 offensive yards over almost 5 full quarters. The Browns had a Defensive DVOA of 18% that week (with defensive DVOA, posiive percentages are bad) but Rob's defense was handcuffed with the type of head coaching we don't expect to see from Garrett. In addition to the strategy gaffes of Mangini, the offense turned the ball over twice, and the defense intercepted a fourth down pass at their own 3 instead of playing field position. The pin led them to a 3 and out that turned into the game winning posession.
Another thing I found interesting is that the Jets attempted to run some no huddle against Rob's defense last year. With the shortened offseason and the newness of it to our franchise, I'd imagine we'll see some of the same on Sunday night.
HURRY UP, JETS: There were hints throughout the week that the Jets were going to use their two-minute offense during the course of the game. Sure enough, they sprinkled it in here and there, including the first possession. It didn't produce much in the way of results, but at least it gave the Browns something to think about. When they did huddle, the Jets raised the tempo by hurrying to the line of scrimmage. No doubt, they wanted to limit the Browns' pre-snap movement on defense.
(ESPN's Rich Camini)
Sanchez completed over 61% of his passes (way up from his career avg of 54.4%) but only mustered a 87.2 QB Rating. It will be very important for the Cowboys to close in on Sanchez's receivers and tackle well. He has ranked near the bottom of the rankings for YAC from his receivers for both of his years in the league.
The defense should have opportunities to pick off Mark Sanchez
The casual eye will look at Mark Sanchez's stats and see progression in his game, and they will be correct. However, a closer look at things shows that there may be some regression to the mean that will come into play, and hopefully in week 1.
Despite the positive signs, there are reasons to temper the optimism surrounding Sanchez. In many ways, his numbers were fairly static. His yards per attempt and completion percentage were nearly identical to his rookie season. Sanchez threw a few more touchdowns as a sophomore, but his big accomplishment was protecting the ball better, as he trimmed his interception rate from 5.5 percent to 2.6 percent. Avoiding interceptions is a huge part of being a successful quarterback, but there is also an element of luck to it, and our game charters think that Sanchez was very lucky indeed. No quarterback in the league came close to throwing as many dropped interceptions as Sanchez, who had 15 throws that hit unwary defenders in the hands. If those defenders hold onto a few more errant passes next year, fans may start grumbling that the young quarterback is regressing, when in fact the law of averages is simply catching up with him.
- Football Outsiders
The truth is, Sanchez elevated his play to that of an average quarterback and that's all. Football Outsiders DYAR measures a players worth as compared to a replacement level player's performance. Sanchez's Total DYAR of 438 was only four better than Tony Romo's 434; and Romo only played in five and a half games.
- The Jets ran on 47% of all snaps in 2010, 2nd in the league. 63% runs on first down.
- The team sticks with a 2 receiver set more than most teams, 57% of the time. This will be a great view into how Ryan feels about Orlando Scandrick as opposed to the corner Jerry Jones wants to see ‘do the right thing', Michael Jenkins. Based on matchups, Scandrick shouldn't see the field as much unless he is stealing snaps from Jenkins or Newman, both returning from injury.
- The team goes heavy, with two tight ends, on almost a third of their snaps.
- The Jets offense ranked 9th in the league in plays outside the pocket, so our front seven will have to pay special attention to sticking with their assignments when the angle from the QB changes.
- Expect the Jets to give plenty of help to RT Wayne Hunter's side. The best offensive line in the game lost who might have been the best right tackle in the game in Damien Woody.
- Teams tried to attack the Jets with a quick tempo last season, 30.3 seconds used on the play clock, the 5th ‘defensive pace' in the league.
- Rex Ryan is going to be bringing it from the secondary and all over the field. The Jets ranked 1st in the league in percentage of sacks by their DBs, 26.8%. This might be the worst case scenario for not only a young line, but one that hasn't spent any time together in regular season action. Add in the fact that the FB will have one week with the team, and Tony Romo will need to have his head on a swivel. I'm expecting numerous screens in this game, a facet of Jason Garrett's offense that has steadily improved over the years
- Unlike Nnamdi Asomugha, Revis has lined up all over the field. From PFF.com: "In 2010, Darrelle Revis lined up for 204 snaps at right cornerback, 442 snaps at left cornerback, 116 snaps in the slot, and 77 in the middle of the formation as some variety of safety... [he] spent no more than 52.7% of his snaps in any one position last season."
- From Pro Football Focus' Jets Team Preview
Strength Up Front
...We’re looking at the guys up front, and in particular Mike DeVito and Sione Pouha. Those two men combined for a +44.9 rating against the run in all games last year, and can look forward to some defensive reinforcements courtesy of a draft where the Jets added some youth to the unit (Muhammad Wilkerson, Kenrick Ellis, etc). The Jets can do so many things on defense because of guys like DeVito and Pouha.
Pressure off the Edge
If you saw our 2010 Pass Rushing Productivity article you’d have noticed that the Jets didn’t fair so well with two guys in the Bottom 10. In fact, it’s fair to say that they had some big issues generating pressure without having to get extremely exotic with their formations, packages and blitzes. So what is the solution to this? Hoping Jamaal Westerman and his 138 career snaps can make the jump to pass rushing stud? Or hoping that Aaron Maybin can channel some pressure?[RELEASED] It looks like the Jets are going to be over compensating for an inability to generate pressure without getting creative and leaving them exposed in coverage.
- Finally, the Cowboys philosophy on their 3rd receiver, or fourth receiving option (depending on where you rank the backs), will be tested. FO's Success Rate percentage measures " The percentage of plays targeting this player on which the offense did not have a successful play This means not only incomplete passes and interceptions, but also short completions that do not meet our baselines for success (45 percent of needed yards on first down, 60 percent on second down, 100 percent on third or fourth down)." In this category for secondary players, Darrell Revis ranks 2nd, safety Brodney Pool ranks 3rd, and CB Antonio Cromartie ranks 5th. All three had double digit passes defensed. Yikes. Did I mention that the Cowboys might have to resort to the screen pass often in this game?