Commentary

Jets not playing to Favre's strengths

Originally Published: October 21, 2008
By Ned Macey | Football Outsiders

Brett FavreKirby Lee/US PresswireBrett Favre struggled against the Raiders, throwing for just 197 yards and two interceptions.
Two of the strongest-armed quarterbacks in football faced off against each other on Sunday when the Jets met the Raiders. The result? A dink-and-dunkathon that left viewers wondering why the quarterbacks were seemingly left under wraps. Granted, JaMarcus Russell is still learning the ropes in Oakland, but the Jets have no excuse for limiting their key offseason acquisition, Brett Favre.

If the plan was to use Favre so safely, then why did the Jets bother to acquire him? Perhaps Eric Mangini just wanted an excuse to convince his wife to use Brett as the middle name for their third son. If the decision was about football, this short-passing offense might as well have been built around Chad Pennington.

The Jets came out with a spread look against Oakland, hoping to isolate receivers on linebackers and second and third cornerbacks. The Raiders have one of the league's best cornerbacks in Nnamdi Asomugha, who effectively eliminates one option on every single play. The Jets wanted to put five people into routes, increasing the players not named Asomugha in coverage.

The game plan looked better drawn up on a chalk board than it did in reality. The Raiders successfully mixed dropping linemen into coverage to limit the underneath throws with full-scale blitzes that left Jets blockers outnumbered. The result was an extremely pedestrian performance by Favre. He was 21 for 38 for only 197 yards. He threw two interceptions and was sacked three times.

Making the game plan look worse, the Jets were able to run all over Oakland's defense. Thomas Jones racked up 159 yards on 24 carries. Wide receiver Brad Smith added 59 yards on four carries. The Jets totaled 242 yards rushing, compared with only 176 on 41 passes.

The Jets did not move to the running game in time, and the spread-the-ball passing game was ineffective. Before the final desperation drive, Favre threw only two passes that travelled 15 yards or more in the air. The first was a gamble when the Jets had jumped offside. The second was intercepted by DeAngelo Hall.

The Jets completely misread how to best attack the Raiders. Favre threw 11 passes before the first handoff to Jones. By the fourth quarter, the strategy had completely flipped. On the Jets' lone touchdown drive, Favre threw on only one of their nine plays.

Sunday's game plan was a particularly potent example, but it was hardly news. Through six games, an amazing 75 percent of Favre's passes have travelled 10 yards or fewer. For comparison's sake, in Miami, Pennington has thrown only 64 percent of his passes 10 yards or fewer. The vertical element that Pennington supposedly cost the Jets' offense is not part of the Jets' offense even with the strong-armed Favre.

Once a defense realizes everything is going to be underneath, it can play tight, physical coverage on receivers with little fear of the deep ball. The Raiders' poor passing defense rose to the challenge, mixing coverages beautifully to pressure Favre. Rookie Trevor Scott was the beneficiary, as he broke free for the first two sacks of his career. Scott's emergence gives the Raiders one more weapon in what is the team's only real strength to date: the pass rush.

The Raiders' defense won the game, but the good news was that their offense did not rise up to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Russell has been inconsistent at best this season, but he does succeed in one important area -- ball security. Russell has thrown only two interceptions and fumbled only once.

The problem, evident even in Sunday's win, is that Russell is too afraid to make mistakes. He rarely tries to throw the ball into tight coverage, preferring to check down or throw the ball in nearly uncatchable positions. The result is a completion percentage barely above 50 percent and the worst passing team in football in third-and-long situations. Against the Jets, on third down with 7 or more yards to go, Russell completed 3 of 8 passes for only 19 yards while also taking a sack. The Raiders converted only once in eight tries.

Until Russell is freed either by himself or his coaches to play aggressively, the Raiders will be forced to win games ugly like on Sunday. While their defense was up to the challenge against the Jets, it is a mediocre unit at best and will rarely hold an opponent to 13 points.

Both teams need to remove the restrictions placed on their strong-armed quarterbacks and live with the occasional mistake. A deep passing attack will free up their rushing attack, along with the safer underneath throws that both teams prefer to throw. The Raiders remain years away from the playoffs. Unless the Jets start to stretch the field, they also will fall short of an opportunity to play January football.

Ned Macey writes for FootballOutsiders.com