Imagine you've got a running back with all the smarts in the world and outstanding skills. Prototypical size, great speed and top end vision. A borderline great athlete. He's not most Barry Sanders but he's also not Ron Dayne. There's only one drawback: he can only run to the right. On the right hashmark, he runs to the sideline. 11 man run blitz coming up the right side, he runs right at it. He can't run left. Just can't do it. Now, would that strike you as problematic? Sure the other team would still have to guess when they're gonna pass and when they're gonna run, but they NEVER have to worry about a run to the left side of their defense. They can move their noseguard over the right guard the whole game and send run blitzes to that side whenever he's in the game on running downs. At the very least it's a decided disadvantage if not a fatal flaw, wouldn't you agree? This guy wouldn't get drafted or last a day in training camp no matter how strong a runner he was. He's too limited. So if that's true, I have to ask the question: how is Chad Pennington still the starting quarterback for the for the Jets?
Chad Pennington is one of the top decision-makers in the NFL. He's also consistently one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the league. The former Rhodes Scholar finalist has never had trouble managing an offense, leading teammates or convincing coaches that the fact he can't throw the ball farther than 40 yards will negatively impact the team that he's on. He seems like a hell of a nice guy. But let's get back to that last part (the part before the nice guy part). Chad Pennington can't throw the ball farther than most athletes in the NFL. I have friends who easily have stronger arms than Pennington. And while it's not critical that a QB be able to throw a football with the pace of a Manning, McNabb or Browning Nagle (did you notice I left out an obvious name? That was on purpose. It's not like that guy needs more press, even if it's just the 30 or so people reading this.), it's certainly not a plus that a team has to scrap every pass play over 30 yards or all out patterns over 8 because of your QB's penchant for throwing 10 yard slants with the trajectory of a bell curve. And that's what you have to do when Chad Pennington lines up behind your center.
You see with Chad running the show, there are plays you cannot call. No deep corners past a two-deep safety who bit on the play-action, no twelve yard outs and no zone busting slants between the corner, behind the linebacker and just before the safety comes down that has be thrown with a certain, let's say, zip. Instead you have to gain that yardage or score that touchdown through other means. You have to get creative. You're throwing wide receiver screens and RB wheels, and a ton of comebacks forcing the playmakers to make plays after they catch the ball. The defense is never stretched or scared or confused. The safeties are never looking over their shoulders and are always peeking in the backfield and the corners know that after their first 6 or 7 backpedals steps they need to plant and make a move (likely towards the middle of the field) because the pass is never going over their heads. And yet despite this distinct advantage, Pennington routinely completes 65% of his passes. No matter that most of those passes are less than 10 yards down the field (71% last year) or that his completion percentage of passes over 20 yards is below 40%, he still can be effective and the Jets still win games in which he starts. But in order to do that they have to craft a gameplan around his flaws while the defense takes advantage of them.
Normally, when you have a weakness, you usually try and hide it. But when that weakness touches the ball on EVERY FUCKING DOWN, that's a tough thing for a team to hide. Even for a genius 1-3 coach who just lost to one of the worst teams in the NFL. It's been done, sure (see the 2006 Bears and 2000 Ravens). But those teams were setup to win despite the quarterback. They had top 10 all-time defenses and ball control run offenses. They didn't have the weapons or the need to stretch the field nor did they have a QB outside of their starter who was talented enough to be on the field. But the Jets have a horrible defense and a backup QB who is likely holds in his hands the future of the entire organization. And now with the skill position guys they field, with the speedy Coles, the versatility of Leon Washington and Brad Smith and size and emerging skill set of Cotchery, they have the guys who can break a game open. This team has guys who can put a ton of pressure on the defense. Laveranues Coles was born to run deep posts and Cotchery can bully corners on deep outs while Brad Smith could turn into a latter day Hines Ward. That threesome could be lethal or at the very least could convince defensive coordinators that it was worth covering them after the first 20 yards. But alas, they are hemmed in by a weak-armed quarterback and a "death by a thousand 3 yard WR screens" offense. Those guys have to be pulling their hair out. And Jets fans don't have a hair left after half a dozen years of this. .
Now listen, I don't pretend know all the ins and outs of the quarterback position in the NFL or the development of Kellen Clemens and I'm certainly oversimplifying this situation with the Jets, but I do know Jets run one of the least exciting NFL offenses with some of the most exciting NFL talent. They are a loss away from full-on panic mode and while I don't necessarily believe that this team has been "figured out" or that they can't possibly win with Chad Pennington as their QB, their Quarterback limits what can be expected out of the Jets offense and makes them at least "more predictable" than a team with a stronger-armed quarterback. It made sense to keep Chad in when you had Vinny and Brock sitting behind him, but now you've got a guy who you know can throw and who looks like he can lead. It's time to open it up and force teams to defend you differently and stretch the legs of Coles, Smith and Cotchery. It's time for Chad to move on.