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Pennington Looks to Chemistry for Missing Ingredient


Pennington holds an 82.3 rating halfway through the Jets season

Chad Pennington owns both the highest career passer rating and highest completion percentage in New York Jets history. So, it was a startling development when the 30-year-old quarterback completed just 39% of his passes and finished with a 21.1 quarterback rating against the Browns.

"I'm focused on the decision making," Pennington said Tuesday when asked about his poor statistical game. "If I focus on that, I think that will lead to a better completion percentage and more importantly lead to more success offensively."

In their past two road games, the Jets combined for a total of 13 points and six of those came on a 99-yard Justin Miller kickoff return Sunday. Pennington passed for 108 yards against the Browns and just 71 yards on October 8th at Jacksonville.

"I think we've made some really good plays in the passing game – it's been a lot like the running game," said first-year Jets head coach Eric Mangini. "There have been some routes there that weren't as crisp as they could have been and Chad puts the ball in the right spot and the receiver doesn't quite hit the right spot. Then we come back and the receiver is in the right spot and Chad puts it a step behind."

Pennington, the NFL's 16th ranked passer with a QB rating of 82.3, was intercepted twice against the Browns and three times against the Jaguars. He has thrown nine touchdown passes on the season, but he also has pitched in eight interceptions.

"My biggest concern is making sure I'm taking care of the football," he said. "When we don't turn the ball over, we win point blank. I have to make sure that I am protecting the football at all costs and doing everything I can not to put the team in bad positions with field possession and momentum swings and things like that on the road. That is my biggest concern. If I do that, it leads to better accuracy and better numbers."

Against the Browns, Jerricho Cotchery caught five balls for 43 yards and Laveranues Coles tallied four receptions for 40 yards. But the only other receiving contributions came from tight end Chris Baker and Kevan Barlow; each player had just one grab.

"The great thing about Chad is he goes with the reads, he goes with the progressions. He understands what we are trying to get done and what they're trying to get done," Mangini said. "He understands where the softness is and he's not biased. If you're open, you get it."

Pennington, in his seventh-season with the Green & White, knows spreading the ball out will make the offense more potent. Baker has often received praise from Mangini and he once again displayed tremendous athleticism on a disputed incompletion Sunday which probably would have sent the contest into overtime. You probably will see Pennington throw more to the tight ends and the backs in the weeks to come.

"That's when you're most efficient and effective. Guys like Chris Baker and Leon Washington, you like to reward those type players for their great play in other areas," Pennington said. "We want to make sure we're multifaceted and multiple and versatile within our passing game to make sure we're using all of our weapons and taking advantage of all of our guys' talents."

"You want a vertical stretch on the defense and then you want a horizontal stretch, so that they have a vast amount of area to cover," added Mangini.

The Jets had a great deal of success with their vertical passing game earlier in the season as both Coles and Cotchery got off to tremendous starts. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has talked to Pennington throughout the year about an interesting passing concept.

"One thing Brian always talks about is me-to-you, the whole concept of me-to-you communication," Mangini said of Schottenheimer. "It is where you just know where the guy is going to be; it's nothing that's verbal, it's just understood."

Pennington feels the chemistry with his receivers has dropped off. The gunslinger from Marshall came into the ring swinging, throwing for 319 yards in week one against the Titans and then 306 yards against the Patriots.

"Earlier in the year, our me-to-you factor, the chemistry - that's the word - the chemistry between the quarterback and the receivers, it was really good," he said. "Over the past few weeks, we've kind of let that slip a little bit. I really have to concentrate on getting that back, making sure that I'm doing everything I can to give our playmakers a chance to make plays."

Midway through the '06 campaign, the Jets are averaging a respectable 20 points per game. Rookie Leon Washington has provided some juice to the run game and the Jets are suddenly averaging 112 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 14th in the NFL. Pennington would like to see the Jets' 24th ranked pass offense improve during the bye week before the club visits New England next weekend.

"Now in the bye week, you just really take this time to evaluate your individual performance and see what you need to do to get better," he said. "The good thing is there are sparks of excellent football. There are sparks and examples of playing good, sound, fundamental football. We have evidence of that."

After the bye, we'll see if Penny and the Jets can convert those sparks into a fire.

Both veteran backup Patrick Ramsey and third-string rookie Kellen Clemens will receive increased work this week. The Jets are going to target the reps they give Pennington. "We are not as pressed to get him ready for that opponent, so Patrick will get some more reps and Kellen will get some more reps" Mangini said. "But we are also going to target the reps Chad gets to the biggest issues related to the passing game."… There are two important stats that bear watching in the second half. The Jets are averaging just 4.01 yards on first down, which ranks 30th in the NFL. That number has to increase so Pennington can become even more productive on third down. As is stands, Pennington is third in the league with 106.0 passer rating on third down.

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