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When the Jets fell to 4-6 a couple of months ago, it seemed that there was no way that they could make their offense work well enough to make it to the playoffs.
Mark Sanchez was too erratic and, even worse, Brian Schottenheimer refused to alter the game plans to account for the fact that he threw interceptions in bunches. It seemed like we'd have to chalk it up to a learning experience and move on to next season.
It was a learning experience, as it turns out, but the wait was shorter than expected. Schottenheimer, a lover of exotic shifts and overly convoluted play-calling, learned that winning in 2009 was about stripping things down to the bare essentials. The myriad shifts and formations were slashed from the playbook and Schottenheimer went with plays that worked because of execution instead of invention.
The biggest flaw in Schottenheimer's play-calling over the last few years has been his inability to change courses in midstream. Despite the admirable alterations he made this season, we're still not sure if he's capable of throwing the whole book out the window at halftime. After Saturday, though, we have a new appreciation for the reason why he's such a believer in the scripts he comes up with before each game.
The three biggest plays of Saturday's win were all part of a progression of plays that started when the Jets were punting to end their first three drives. Shonn Greene's 39-yard touchdown run was a nifty pitch following a fake handoff to fullback Tony Richardson that got the entire Bengals defense to bite. It worked because the Jets had so strenuously sold the vanilla running plays up the middle and Greene had to make no one miss on his way to the end zone. It was the rare instance of using the run to set up the run, and it was a masterstroke by Schottenheimer.
As for Sanchez's two long play-action passes to Dustin Keller, there's nothing prettier in football than when a play is well-designed, well-set up and perfectly executed. Sanchez's most developed skills at this point are his ability to run and his ability to pull off a good play fake. That's become a much bigger part of the game plan, especially as the Jets bully teams on the ground, and both plays to Keller were pulled off as rollouts that took advantage of Cinci's desire to stop the run as well as stopping Sanchez from making a play with his feet.
That's the progression of plays, but it was also the evolution of Schottenheimer in action. The rollouts were designed to make use of Sanchez's skills, but they were also conservative because he could scramble or throw the ball out of bounds if Keller wasn't open. Early in the season, Schottenheimer was asking Sanchez to do too many things on every play and, in many cases, they were things he couldn't do. On Saturday, everything was right in the middle of Sanchez's comfort zone and the results were remarkable.
It didn't seem like this on-the-fly offensive renovation would work but, thanks to Schottenheimer, it has worked splendidly. That may serve to hasten his departure, he's been rumored for head coaching jobs before, but that just makes the present all the more precious.