Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Film Review: The Sanchez-to-Kerley connection


Last Sunday, the New York Jets stood toe-to-toe with the perennial AFC East powerhouse New England Patriots, battling to the very end and eventually falling in overtime, 29-26.

Many of the storylines after the game were centered around the normally-dominant Patriots seemingly losing their touch. But mostly lost in the discussion was a new spark in the New York offense, one that was a major factor in the Jets' near-upset -- the connection between quarterback Mark Sanchez and emerging wide receiver Jeremy Kerley.

So far this season, the Jets have seen their No. 1 wideout Santonio Holmes go down with a foot injury, their running game flounder and their quarterback play inconsistently in working with a hodgepodge cast of targets. But after career games from Sanchez and Kerley at Gillette Stadium this past week, the New York faithful have hope their offense can keep the team in playoff contention.

Sanchez completed nearly 70 percent of his passes on the day for 328 yards and recorded a 90.3 passer rating. Kerley hauled in seven passes for a career-high 120 yards.

The tandem's budding chemistry was on full display as they connected for big gains on multiple occasions. Sanchez felt comfortable going to the second-year wideout time and time again and confidently delivered accurate passes downfield.

One of the first examples was on New York's first possession of the game, a seven-play drive that was capped off by a Shonn Greene touchdown run. On third-and-7 on the New England 45-yard line, Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington drew the assignment of covering Kerley, lined up to the right in the slot.

New England had only one deep safety to help defend the Jets' five-wide formation. Kerley would use his quickness to beat Arrington by a step and then sharply cut his route to the outside where he would be wide open near the sideline.

The safety, who had slightly shaded to Kerley's side, would have no chance to get into a position to back up Arrington in coverage. Sanchez would perfectly place the throw for a 26-yard pickup.

The Jets would run this play with Kerley a number of times throughout the game. Kerley would cut his route according to the position of the safety. What is unclear is whether this read is done by Sanchez, via audible, or by both Kerley and Sanchez on an option route. The latter would require confidence in the route-runner by the quarterback, something that seems to be developing between these two young players.

Later in the game, New York would use this concept again on a critical third down situation. Down by 10 points with 10:45 left in the fourth quarter, the Jets needed to convert to keep their hope for a comeback alive.

Kerley would go in motion as the slot receiver, once again covered by Arrington. This time, New England would have two deep safeties. Kerley would, once again, use his quickness to gain a step on the cornerback.

Kerley would then use his advantageous position and his concise route running to both deceive the deep safety (out of frame) and create more separation from his coverage.

The safety was still too far to close the window that Kerley created, and Sanchez would accurately place the ball into the open void in the defense to convert the crucial third down.

The Jets would come back and take the lead briefly late in regulation. The ability of Sanchez and Kerley to gain yards in chunks was vital to New York's upset bid.

In the end, this game would count as a crucial win for the Patriots in a tight division race. But the Jets and their fans have much to be encouraged about with Kerley and what he can bring to the offense.

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