One of the major themes of this season was the way the offensive coaching staff managed the game as if they were petrified of the turnover. I've commented on this quite a bit, which led to much gnashing of teeth over the definition of "risk averse", but my basic argument was always that it seemed the coaches stressed not throwing picks above all else, which hindered the offense and Jordan Jefferson's development.
Well, since I like to cherry pick articles which support my position, James Varney of the Times-Picayune picks up with my theme in today's piece on Jefferson.
But in the passing game Jefferson hurt himself in two ways. First, his natural inclination to protect the football was heightened by a coaching staff petrified by the interceptions that haunted the team in 2008. That mindset created both a reluctance to take a chance and a frequent failure to get rid of the ball quickly. Those factors contributed to the alarming 35 sacks LSU allowed in 2009.
So pronounced was Jefferson's gunshy approach that on more than one occasion he scrambled out of bounds for a loss rather than hurl the ball away even when he was well outside the tackles.
When asked to assess his game's strengths and weaknesses Monday, Jefferson cited his fear of interceptions. While his ball control instincts are sound, he said he must balance them with a team's need for its quarterback to make plays.
"It has," he replied when asked if his tendency boosted the sack total. "Some of the sacks were errors that the line had, but I take responsibility for them."
There's both encouraging and discouraging things in that snippet, but let's first focus on the most important thing: I was right. This was a staff that was so intent on not having another interception meltdown that it absolutely dominated their mindset. Sure, we didn't throw many interceptions. Mission accomplished. But we did it at the expense of big plays, the use of the middle of the field, and taking way too many sacks. Frankly, the cost was way too high. A few interceptions is the cost of an offense that actually takes chances once in awhile. The reward is more big plays and the use of the whole field.
Let's start with the discouraging part of this clip since we're there already: this is what bad teams and bad coaches do. They obsess over the last mistake and overreact to correct that mistake at the expense of everything else. The cure becomes worse than the disease, and there's really no way to say we had a good offense this season. In fact, it was one of the worst in all of football, which is completely inexcusable given how much talent we line up every snap.
Jefferson seems like a very coachable player. You tell him to avoid an INT at all cost and that's what he'll go out and do. Jefferson did exactly what he was coached to do, and the end result was a gunshy quarterback and offense that couldn't consistently move the football or score points. The fault there lies on the coaching staff. Just like a bad general, they were fighting the last war.
However, let's focus on the positives. First, there is the fact that Jefferson is coachable. Tell him X, he does X. But what I really like is his maturity. Jefferson takes responsibility and deflects blame from the much maligned offensive line. That's what leaders do. He knows he has to get rid of the football and he wants to do better. And he takes responsibility for the offense's failures.
Jefferson is still a work in progress, but I like the progression so far.