The funny thing about the Jets' quarterback competition, as sputtery as it's been with Geno Smith's ankle injury, Mark Sanchez's shoulder and Greg McElroy's leg, an interception here and a fumble there, is that the passing game has been remarkably good all around.
One way to measure that is by the NFL rankings. The Sanchez/Smith-McElroy-Simms depth chart has produced an average of 301.7 passing yards per game. That's good for the No. 2 passing offense in the NFL after three full preseason weeks. Our average of 7.5 yards per pass play, including sacks, is third in the league. Points, with all but seven of their 78 scored by the offense, is 26.0 per game, comes in at fifth.
I know what you're saying. Preseason stats, what are they good for? Absolutely nothing. Say it again. To a certain degree that's true. Yet consider the Jets' rankings in those same three categories at the end of last preseason still has a certain echoic effect: 32nd, 32nd, 32nd.
The numbers don't mean a lot, but the trend is better than a sharp stick in the eye. And a lot of the credit has to go to coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and QBs coach David Lee. Last summer's team passing accuracy was 56.0% and the passer rating an almost identical and ugly 56.3. This year, with one changeup (Geno instead of Tim Tebow in the four-man rotation), the accuracy is 63.7%, the rating 86.5.
"I think when you look at it, we have a system here that we run regardless of who the quarterback is," head coach Rex Ryan said at today's news conference. "I think that's Marty's system. And quite honestly, he feels comfortable with all four of our guys."
Here are a few more summer ranking comparisons to feel comfortable about (* indicates one more preseason game to be played this year):
Needless to say, sparkling summer rankings will have very little to say about the regular-season performance, when one QB has won the job and taken over the offensive controls. But who that player is yet remains to be seen, and Mornhinweg/Lee can only help him so much.
Ryan said the timeline continues, with about the only thing he was willing to concede being that he wouldn't like to take the competition to Friday, Sept. 6, two days before the opener against Tampa Bay.
"Well, you can conceivably do anything, I guess," he said. "We'll probably have our decision before that, but as we said, we're not going to rush the decision until we're completely comfortable with that decision and we'll stay by that. Hey, I don't know what else to say about it."
Meanwhile, Sanchez and his sore right shoulder have been ruled out of practice this week and Thursday night's finale against the Eagles.
"I'm obviously not happy that I'm hurt," he said in the locker room today. "I felt like I was putting together a good camp, so it's an unfortunate thing. But there's no time to gripe about it. I just have to rehab as hard as I can. I know we have the best trainers and they're going to get me in the best position possible to try and get back for the first week."
Smith, meanwhile, reflected on his "pretty uneven" three-INT, one-TD showing against the Giants but maintains his confidence in his ability and said he's ready to claim the job from Week 1.
"Yes, I am," he said. "I've been working extremely hard this offseason, preparing myself to be a starter Week 1, and if I'm given the chance, I'll be prepared for it."
Smith will be prepared for playing time against the Eagles as well, but will Ryan break with his and Andy Reid's tradition when he was the Birds' boss of not playing any starters in their annual preseason finale? Ryan was mum on that, as he was on many things today as he plays the last week or two of this competition close to his vest.
But when Simms or McElroy gets the ball on Thursday night, consider it in good hands. McElroy's 99.7 passer rating is impressive. And Simms' 137.5 is off the charts, the second-best in the NFL among all preseason passers with at least 10 throws. That won't pay off in Atlantic City or Vegas, but it's one more indication that whoever wins the job, he'll have some good receivers and Coach Marty's system to lean back on.
Ryan on the releases of Joe McKnight and Braylon Edwards among the 15 who were trimmed today to get the roster to 75: "Joe and Braylon had tremendous moments for us and they contributed a lot to our franchise, without question. But we're trying to move forward. We showed you [some video on] Ryan Spadola, some young receivers that we think can help us and I think that's the direction that we're moving in. Will we close our door on a player returning? No, I don't believe so. But right now, again, this is what we felt was in the best interest of our football team overall." Spadola is tied for third in the NFL this preseason with 169 receiving yards (trailing Stephen Williams of Seattle with 186 and Dez Bryant of Dallas with 183) and seventh in the NFL with those 169 yards from scrimmage.