Four years ago, Tony Sparano roamed the sideline in week 17 against the Jets as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins. It was his first season as the head coach and it was a mightily successful one, as he won the AFC East division crown in New Jersey. However, after three below average seasons the Bill Parcells protege is back roaming the sidelines in New Jersey – this time as the Jets offensive coordinator.
Sparano teams up with former division rival Rex Ryan to improve what was a porous offensive display the past few seasons under Brian Schottenheimer. Schottenheimer was a stale play-caller that lacked imagination and the ability to make in-game adjustments. As a consequence the Jets defense was consistently at a disadvantage despite providing quality performances from their side of the ball.
Unfortunately for Jets fans, Sparano is cut from a similar cloth, as his offenses in Miami were similarly vanilla and struggled to play with any consistency on Sunday’s.
The offense was based on ball control with the running game out of 21 (2 backs, 1 tight end) or 12 (1 back, 2 tight ends) personnel while also using a plethora of horizontal routes that stretched the defense the width of the field and gave quarterback Chad Henne, who was still developing at the time as a passer, progressions to read through and find the open receiver. This led to a lot of 2-man combination routes as well as mirrored route concepts that were simple reads for the quarterback.
An example of this is the Levels concept that was popularly ran by Miami during his time there. This play creates a Hi-Lo read for the quarterback when two receivers run the similar routes, square-in’s, at different depths toward the middle of the field, consequently putting the play-side linebacker in a difficult situation. The quarterback throws it to the open receiver that is dictated by the reaction by the linebacker, who either comes up to cover the underneath square-in ran by the outside receiver or drops deeper to cover the square-in over the top that’s ran by the inside receiver.
While the horizontal pass routes, such as the aforementioned Levels, were the go-to concepts, the offense also featured a few vertical stretches that put pressure on the defense on one side of the field.
An example of this type of concept is Smash. The Smash concept is a 2-man route combination that puts stress on a single defensive back.
Typically seen used with success against Cover 2 (five-under, two-deep zone) that has a cornerback defending the flats, the Smash concept requires the outside flanker receiver (1) run a Hitch route while the inside slot receiver or tight end (2) runs a Corner route that is typically broken off at about 18 yards and is ran to 22 yards deep.
Because the defensive back is a flat defender, he is put in a bind when the two routes are ran outside the numbers to one side of the field. The concept serves as a “Hi-Lo” concept, as it’s called in football parlance, because it has a pass catcher in front (“Lo”) of cornerback as well as behind him (“Hi”), thus forcing him to choose which one to cover. Subsequently, the quarterback throws it to the open one and has a completion.
This concept is very popular throughout the league because it’s a simplified read for the quarterback and creates a numbers advantage for the offense by having two pass targets in one area against a single defender.
While Sparano’s offense does utilize complementary run and pass concepts, it struggles to adjust when defenses start to sit on the routes. The key for Sparano and the Jets offense is the in-game adjustments that they’ll have to make to counter defenses. Sparano must do a better job of controlling the offense and making adjustments that enable the team to succeed in the second half of games as well as in situational football, which his offenses in Miami consistently struggled with.