Coming up after the jump, an analysis of yesterday's win over the Chiefs, including a look into what impact Jim Leonhard's injury could have on the Jets' playoff chances, an appreciation of the unsung heroes on the special teams coverage units and insight into how the Jets fooled everybody by having a gameplan that relied heavily on Vladimir Ducasse of all people. Remember, if you want me to look into anything in particular or go into more detail, leave a comment and I'll include it in BGA Extra, which will follow in a few days.
For me, this game was practically over before it began. Technical issues meant that my friends and I weren't able to get coverage of the game, necessitating a cross-town trip from yours truly to fetch another laptop to try and get the game. By the time I returned, the Jets already led 7-0 and - with the Chiefs only having averaged seven points over their previous five games, there was a good chance that was going to be unassailable, as long as the Jets didn't do anything stupid.
They remained conservative, instead feasting on errors by the Chiefs, to extend the lead in the second quarter, until they had built a 28-3 lead that even the most pessimistic Jets fan would have felt pretty secure with. The second half was a mere formality, with the Jets ultimately winning 37-10.
The Chiefs are struggling, but the Jets took care of business and neutralized those things that they do well, en route to an easy win. That's what Jets fans have been hoping for, so it should serve as an ideal preparation for the last three games, all of which promise to be tough, yet winnable.
While some aspects of the team seem to be gelling and perhaps peaking at just the right time, there are still some areas that give cause for concern, so let's look in depth at all of them.
The two main areas I identified in the offseason where Mark Sanchez needed to improve most were in the red zone and his accuracy on short passes. All season long, he's done dramatically better in both areas and yesterday was perhaps the best evidence yet that his hard work in these areas is paying off.
In terms of the red zone, the Jets were already number one in the NFL entering this week's game and will have stretched their lead on the rest of the league by going five for five yesterday. It was interesting to hear the announcers remark who Sanchez gives much of the credit for the red zone success to. If you missed it, have a guess. (Answer at the end of this section).
In terms of short passes, the Jets had terrific success just dumping the ball off to their backs (108 yards on five completions). So much so, in fact, that they never really needed to throw the ball downfield to advance the ball.
The Jets did make a concerted effort to take a few deep shots this week, without successfully completing one. They picked up a pass interference call on one throw down the seam to Dustin Keller and Santonio Holmes wanted a call on what seemed to be a well-thrown ball down the sideline. However, with Sanchez delivering the ball on time to his receivers underneath, in space and with accuracy so they could get upfield impetus, they managed to dink and dunk their way to a productive first half.
Sanchez was actually 0 for 4 in the second half, although two of those were dropped and he did have about five more throws that resulted in first downs via penalty.
It's very difficult to assess Sanchez's performance accurately because, while he didn't make any obvious mistakes, most of his pass completions were pretty simple. However, he does deserve credit for consistently taking what the defense gave him and getting the ball to guys in space who were then able to make things happen.
I'd also give Sanchez credit for his two well-executed touchdown runs. Sanchez has a real nose for the endzone. As someone who grew up watching Ken O'Brien (who had ZERO rushing touchdowns in 129 games as a Jet), that's refreshing to see.
Mark Brunell came in for mop-up duty and completed the same number of passes in the second half as Sanchez did. In fact, he handed the ball off every time.
Oh, and who does Mark Sanchez credit much of the Jets' red zone success to? QB coach Matt Cavanaugh. That surprised me.
For the third straight week, the offensive line performed tremendously, creating space for the running game and doing a solid job of protecting Mark Sanchez. It had to be a good sign when they ran the "Blast" play on the first snap of the game and Matt Slauson's pulling block was perfectly in synch with John Conner's straight ahead pop in the hole. One broken tackle later and Shonn Greene was out to the second level...and not for the last time.
Perhaps even better was some of the blocking on screen passes. Nick Mangold got out in front of Shonn Greene on the long play that set up the second touchdown, finding a guy in space at about the ten yard line and driving him back into the endzone. Mangold also blocked his man to the ground to enable LaDainian Tomlinson to break out to the second level on another screen pass - Tomlinson did the rest, going in for a 19 yard touchdown.
The Jets did give up three sacks. One came as the Chiefs sent two guys off the left side and Tomlinson blocked one, but the other was left unblocked. That's presumably on Sanchez. Justin Houston beat Wayne Hunter on the inside, but I think that was a communication breakdown, because Hunter took a wide step to the outside as soon as the ball was snapped, as if he was expecting inside help from Brandon Moore, who actually pulled left and helped Dustin Keller, who was about to be beaten on the blindside. The last sack came on a meaningless fourth and four play late in the game and saw Tamba Hali beat D'Brickashaw Ferguson with an outside speed rush. I'd agree with those that said they probably shouldn't have been passing the ball in that situation anyway.
Overall, there were these three sacks and not a great deal of other pressure on Sanchez, with the success of the screen pass no doubt helping to slow down the rush. However, the linemen still deserve credit because they are looking more and more comfortable individually and as a unit when called upon to pass protect for any length of time - and Hali and Houston are no slouches. It was good to see some nastiness from Brandon Moore in pass protection as he came over to double team Armon Gordon and just shoved him to the floor.
In terms of the running game, the interior line were dominant, whereas the tackles made a few too many mistakes, especially Wayne Hunter, whose pass protection has been encouraging over the past few games, but his run blocking hasn't been as good. He was responsible for a couple of plays that were stuffed, although many of these were after the game was already in the bag.
What I haven't mentioned yet is the role played by the much-maligned Vladimir Ducasse. Ducasse played 24 snaps, which is 32% of the time, both season highs. This is about the point at which the Jets increased Rob Turner's workload last year, using him as an extra tight end in the jumbo package. The Jets did the same thing here with Ducasse, who had most of his snaps as the inside of two tight ends on the edge of the line. However, he did have five snaps on the edge of the line as the only tight end, or as a tackle in an unbalanced line set.
With Ducasse in the game, the Jets had plenty of success and he was basically error-free, other than being called for a holding penalty which looked debateable at best. While he doesn't always manage to sustain his blocks, he did have some success moving guys off their spot and didn't allow anyone to beat him badly. I know Ducasse is in his second year, but based on this game, he is further along than Slauson (who started in HIS second year) was as a rookie.
Caleb Schlauderaff got into the action for three unremarkable, but mistake free, garbage time snaps.
Greene's run on the first play from scrimmage set the tone nicely and he did a good job of grinding out yardage, even later on in the game when the defense was anticipating a run. Although he's played well in three of the last four games, he hadn't broken a single tackle, so it was good to see him break two on the first play. His 187 all-purpose yards was easily a career high, as were his 58 receiving yards. He also had the longest pass reception of his career. This is definitely a guy who seems to be peaking at the right time.
The one criticism I would have is that he lost the ball on consecutive plays in the second quarter. However, he was correctly ruled as down by contact on the first one and had broken the plane on the second one, as he ran over a defensive back on his way into the endzone, so it's not really fair to say he didn't protect the ball.
Greene had a fourth catch negated by a penalty and would have had a huge gain on the play where he was held by Tyson Jackson, giving rise to a first down as well as a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on a teary-eyed Todd Haley. For Haley, I can see why he might have felt that a few decisions went against him, although these were more borderline than actually seeming to be incorrect. However, I can't see how he picked that moment to complain, because that was the most blatant penalty of the day - so much so that I even noticed it in real time - and actually, it was probably a smart play by Jackson. For Greene, he's come a long way since not catching a single pass until the playoffs in his rookie year.
The other two backs - Tomlinson and Bilal Powell - couldn't get anything going on the ground, as they each averaged less than two yards per carry. In fact, Tomlinson was cut down for a loss four times and probably couldn't have done anything about any of them. With the line blocking so well for Greene, it was obvious how frustrated Tomlinson was when he slammed the ball into the ground after being stuffed just a split second after receiving a handoff.
However, Tomlinson had two huge plays in the passing game - catching a 31-yarder as he was wide open on what I'd like to call a "skinny wheel" route and then taking a screen pass to the endzone for his first ever touchdown at the Jumbo Slinky.
Powell still hasn't shown any spark, which is a shame, because it would have been a good time for him to make his fresh legs count. Once McKnight returns, Powell will probably be inactive for the rest of the year, unless the Jets fall out of contention.
Finally, John Conner had some punishing blocks, as usual. He wasn't perfect, but continues to have a positive impact overall.
With the short passing game working so well, there's not much to say about the receivers today. Plaxico Burress did not catch a pass and Santonio Holmes had just 12 yards on two catches. Dustin Keller fared slightly better, with a team-high four catches (all, obviously, in the first half). They did combine to create some first downs via penalty though - and all three got involved with downfield blocking, even Holmes who currently ranks dead last in the NFL for receivers' blocking on PFF.
Although they didn't need to pass the ball in the second half - and Holmes did contribute a key first down and one of the touchdowns - it's still a little concerning about the lack of production. They did try to get everyone involved in the second half, knowing that this is something they will have to do in next week's game, but it didn't work out. I'd imagine that will be a focus of this week's practices.
The backup receivers made an impact, with Jeremy Kerley picking up a couple of short gains and making some nice punt returns after Leonhard's injury, although he allowed Brandon Carr to strip the ball away from him for an incompletion on a ball he should have held. Patrick Turner had an important third down catch on the opening drive, but was just in for nine plays, most of which were in garbage time. Josh Baker was in for six plays, making a nice 17 yard grab, the longest of his career.
Matthew Mulligan had a big role this week and was only in for one less snap than Keller (47). He whiffed badly on one block, but was otherwise an important factor in the running game. I noticed that the Jets shared the load between him and Keller this week in terms of who stayed in to pass block, so they are perhaps trying to focus on what he does well.
I seem to say it every week, but Sione Pouha continues to perform superbly, constantly shedding blocks (including double teams) to blow up plays and rarely ever getting moved off his spot. Pouha actually sat out most of the second half, showing up late to register a safety on yet another play blown up in the backfield on his only snap in the last 24 minutes. He's not just blowing up runs though. Not only did he have a sack, but on another play he got a terrific surge on a bull rush to drive his man back into the quarterback and on another, he dropped into coverage, saw Dwayne Bowe running a shallow crossing route and shoved him completely off course. That's Kris Jenkins type stuff right there, people.
With Mike DeVito out and Pouha resting for much of the second half, we got an extended look at Marcus Dixon, Muhammed Wilkerson and Ropati Pitoitua. Dixon seems to be the one who is benefiting most from DeVito's absence and really seems to have upped his game over the past few weeks. Here he picked up half a sack and did a good job of penetrating and getting in on tackles. Pitoitua hasn't been as productive as he was earlier in the season before he hurt his knee, but is completely reliable whenever called upon and did stuff a couple of runs. Wilkerson, as you'd expect, has his ups and downs, but is usually good for one spectacularly blown up play per game and on Sunday he got some good pressure on Tyler Palko, forcing him to throw it away.
With Kenrick Ellis inactive, Martin Tevaseu wasn't used, although he did play the last three snaps.
While the Chiefs offense really didn't pose much of a threat all day, the linebackers still put the work in. It was business as usual for Calvin Pace, David Harris and Bart Scott. Pace did a good job of maintaining contain all day and came off the edge to blow up a couple of runs in the backfield. He was also credited with half a sack. Harris had a sack, blew up one run in the backfield and led the Jets in tackles. Scott had a sack, blew up one run and attacked the line more than in some recent games. He was actually in for 33 of the first 39 snaps this week, so a much bigger part of the game plan. The Jets often left base personnel in on passing downs for a change this week.
While Pace, Scott and Harris combined for 2.5 sacks, two Jets that have been piling up the sacks recently were unable to get on the board. However, the Chiefs linemen had their hands full with Aaron Maybin all day, as he rushed the passer on 20 of his 27 snaps. Jamaal Westerman, on the other hand, only rushed the passer seven times in 29 snaps, as he was called upon to play a more disciplined role.
With Westerman taking his spot, Garrett McIntyre didn't play on defense until the last series, with Nick Bellore joining him for the last three plays. Josh Mauga saw action on six snaps.
While the game was still competitive, the defensive secondary was as impenetrable as ever. In fact, the Chiefs only had four total yards in the first half. In the second, they did have some successes against the Jets' defensive backs, who were tending to play passive and giving the receivers a cushion.
Darrelle Revis had a shut-out going until Dwayne Bowe made a first down catch on him early in the third quarter, getting away with the most blatant push-off you're ever likely to see. After that, Revis did give up a handful of catches, but none for any significant yardage. He also made one great play in run support and one spectacular pass breakup.
Antonio Cromartie didn't give up a catch for most of the game, until Jonathan Baldwin made a spectacular, leaping grab.
The likes of Kyle Wilson and Donald Strickland, while obviously playing most of the time in the slot, also had a lot of snaps where they were basically lined up as an in-the-box safety, but their assignment was to pick up a receiver that had lined up in the backfield in a two back set. Marquice Cole saw 14 snaps, mostly as an in-the-box third safety.
After going into the lead, the Jets were mostly in a soft zone, so it's difficult to apportion too much blame for any of the yardage that was surrendered in the second half. The Chiefs did pick up 26 on a screen pass, which any one of a number of players could have prevented from being such a long gain, and did score a touchdown, although on that play, there were four defensive players in the area and they may even have got into each other's way. The biggest coverage breakdown was on Dwayne Bowe's late 4th quarter dropped pass in the endzone. Darrelle Revis was covering Bowe, but passed him off to someone behind him. This would either have been Kyle Wilson, who was in the slot, but reacted to the inside as his man ran a skinny post, or Eric Smith, who was closer to the middle of the field. It's not really possible to say who was at fault there, but this is the sort of breakdown they must avoid over the next few weeks.
Unfortunately, Jim Leonhard's knee injury - incurred while making an important interception with the score still 7-3 - means he is out for the season and again the Jets will have to make do without him. As I wrote last year, Leonhard isn't such a great player that they lose out significantly when he isn't there, but the fact he calls the coverages means the Jets have to do a lot of work to get on the same page by next week.
Last year, I boldly predicted that they would cope okay without him, but acknowledged that I was wary about them only having two days to prepare for life without him before their next game. Sure enough, Tom Brady picked apart the secondary after Leonhard's injury ten minutes before the end of the Jets' final practice in preparation for that game had thrown their gameplan into chaos. However, Rex Ryan vowed to fix the defense and they performed superbly in a loss to Miami the following week, after which they beat Pittsburgh and of course went on to play well in the postseason.
The major difference this time is that the Jets cannot afford to have a one-game hangover and then fix the defense, because one more loss could eliminate them. However, at least they've got all week to prepare.
During the postseason, it was Eric Smith and Brodney Pool, the two obvious starters now, who got the job done with Dwight Lowery as a third safety off the bench. However, people forget that Smith was injured too at the end of the season, so it was actually Pool and Lowery who were starting, with Cole as the third safety, in a couple of those games where they had started to turn things around.
Given the complexity of the Jets' scheme, I think it's unlikely that the Jets will sign anyone to fill the void. Instead, I anticipate that they will employ Cole or Strickland in the box, or perhaps sometimes in center field. I could see them using Cromartie to roam deep on some passing downs too and Cole and Strickland have the versatility to line up opposite their man with Cromartie eight yards behind and then they have the option to rush the passer and have Cromartie pick up their guy in off-man coverage. When Pool was out earlier in the year, they did run some two safety packages with three or four cornerbacks, so the biggest upheaval will almost certainly just be in terms of how well they can communicate back there.
On Sunday, Pool actually started and then it became apparent that they were going to rotate Pool and Smith like they did in the Buffalo game (but not last week). Obviously, once Leonhard went down, Smith and Pool were in full time (although Tracy Wilson got three snaps for Smith at the end). Neither was badly exposed in coverage and Smith even added a sack, although he did also miss a tackle.
Pool has always concerned me because he seems more susceptible to blown assignments than anyone else (remembering that I can't always be certain whose fault a given play is). However, he played smart, disciplined football at the end of last year, so perhaps if he's playing full time, his focus will be greater. I note that I've highlighted the discrepancy between how well Smith plays when he's getting the majority of the snaps compared with when he's in a backup role, so perhaps something similar can be said for Pool and how much more likely he is to blow an assignment if he's coming in cold off the bench.
Isaiah Trufant went into the game on defense with three plays to go, but then there was a timeout and he came out of the game again for some reason.
There's not much to be said about the kicking game, as Nick Folk didn't attempt a field goal. TJ Conley punted well, with a 45.0 average and three downed inside the 20, one of which set up Pouha's safety. One of his kicks was almost blocked, but he got away a great punt. However, he did have a short one from the endzone, which led to a field goal. Note: Other than Sebastien Janikowski's 61-yarder in week three, the Jets' opponents are perfect on field goals this year.
Instead, I want to focus on the coverage units, which were excellent this week. While Javier Arenas fared slightly better, Dexter McCluster was held to four yards on one punt return and 85 yards on five kickoffs, as the Jets did a great job of getting downfield.
In particular, I wanted to highlight the work of Nick Bellore, who had two tackles and has quietly moved up to 2nd place in the NFL in special teams tackles. However, it wasn't either of his tackles that stood out. Instead there was one kickoff where he just annihilated Jerheme Urban, the lead blocker, and knocked him flying. Tracy Wilson cleaned up behind him with the tackle on about the 15-yard line.
It wasn't just Bellore, though. Cole, Trufant and Tracy Wilson all did a great job of getting downfield all day, with Cole downing a punt at the five and Trufant combining with Mauga to down a punt at the one. McIntyre also contributed a forced fumble.
Most of all, it's good not to have to talk about another muffed punt, although Leonhard's injury gives further cause for concern. However, Kerley looked good and will hopefully be much more comfortable with a full time role than putting him out there at random times.
Same conclusion: One game at a time. These three wins in a row won't mean anything if they don't win on Sunday.
The Leonhard injury presents a huge challenge and they will probably need to open up the playbook a bit more to win this one, but the play of Greene, the offensive line, the defense, the coverage units and Sanchez avoiding any serious mistakes give them a solid foundation with which they are capable of beating anyone. Hopefully, they will carry over some momentum from this game in all of those areas.
Remember, if there's anything else you'd like me to comment upon or go into more detail about, let me have your suggestions in the comments and I'll respond in BGA Extra later in the week.