Coming up, your detailed analysis of last night’s win over the Dolphins, including details on Kenrick Ellis’ debut, the performance of the secondary and how well the offensive line is gelling. Don’t forget, if there’s anything you’d like me to investigate in more detail, leave your requests in the comments and I’ll get to them in BGA Extra, which will this week be on Thursday, albeit a little earlier.
I always try to watch the game first time through as a fan, rather than trying to analyze things as the game is going on. However, yesterday, late in the second quarter, as I struggled – like most of you, I’m sure – to come to terms with the reasons behind the Jets’ poor performance, I already had the introduction to this week’s BGA semi-written in my head.
Even if they go on to win this game 31-6, I reasoned, I’m going to discuss how inexcusably flat the team came out once again, how miserable their first half display was and how even if they turned it around later on, we can have no faith whatsoever that they won’t be just as flat against the Chargers on Sunday.
As it turns out, 31-6 wasn’t a bad guess. If you’d have offered me a 24-6 win before the game, I’d have bitten your arm off (although I'd have preferred a scoreline that doesn't remind me of the fake spike game every time I see it), but it came courtesy of a lot of unforced errors by the Dolphins that prevented the Jets from falling well behind.
The Jets did at least close out that first half with a good touchdown drive to give them a 14-6 lead which – though largely undeserved – provided the platform for their 24-6 win. However, we shouldn’t let that excuse a dismal performance for the first quarter and a half.
The offense often starts slow and conservative, but the defense keeps them in it and then they get going later in the game and take control, so this was not an unfamiliar pattern. However, the defense didn’t really play well either early on and were only really able to keep the Jets in it because of the Dolphins’ woes in the redzone. However, the Jets clearly have the better team and it showed in the end.
The offense and defense both improved significantly in the second half, to the point where you almost have to wonder if the Jets bothered to watch any film on the Dolphins this week, or just decided to let them do their thing, so they could figure out how to beat them as they went along.
Since this is a pattern, and one which usually resolves itself with the Jets taking control, I am once again forced to consider if the Jets are better off being conservative at the start of games, even if it leads to multiple three-and-outs. If they aren’t afraid to punt the ball and the defense plays well enough to keep them in it and control the field position battle, they can call plays off the tendencies they’ve developed in the early stages and take control later in the game.
If your offense isn’t performing well enough to take control, leaning on the defense has been a tried-and-tested formula for the Jets. In fact, had they been more conservative in the early stages against the Ravens, they probably wouldn’t have fallen behind in that game. As I’ve written before, they could have gone three and out on every possession and (all else being equal) they’d have won 17-13.
I’m also reminded – if you’ll indulge me - of the England Rugby Team’s triumphant World Cup win in 2003. England easily had the best team and had been building towards this tournament for four years, with everything peaking at the right time. However, their system was tailored to win tight, closely fought games against the elite teams. When they faced some lesser-known teams in the early stages, they won ugly, whereas some of the other nations had a more free-flowing style that enabled them to beat bad teams by a ton of points.
I remember constantly reassuring my friend that they weren’t built to look good in these games, they were built to stifle good teams. Sure enough, as they progressed, they were able to slow down the more explosive teams and win the tournament. Can I reassure all of you that the Jets will be fine too? Actually, no, because they’ve lost to the three best teams they’ve faced so far and cannot expect to win against teams like the Chargers if they start flat. However, there IS something to be said for tailoring your gameplan sensibly to give yourself the best chance to win.
So, it all turned out well in the end, but the offense remains a problem. They’re fine once they get going, but getting going has been a real struggle these past few weeks. Let’s delve a little deeper to see where the problems lie:
After Mark Sanchez began the game looking just as rattled as he did last week, what I hope we saw later in the game was him growing in confidence and starting to get back to the sort of form he displayed earlier in the season. It may just be that the Dolphins were demoralized and this made them easier to pick apart but, in either case, it at least seems like he is starting to trust his protection again.
Sanchez’s timing was still off on some throws and his accuracy cost him both completions and yards after the catch on several occasions. How he failed to spot a wide open Dustin Keller in the endzone on the pass he threw incomplete underneath to LaDainian Tomlinson, I’ll never know. However, on the flipside, the touch throw over the top to Keller on a corner route in the second half might have been the best throw he’s made since week two.
That third down call was particularly interesting, because they made the same call on third down in the first half and Keller wasn’t really any more open on the pass Sanchez completed, he just threw it better. They also repeated another third down call with Jeremy Kerley catching a first down (the Jets’ first) on a crossing route in the first half, but then tackled short of the marker on a great play by Yeremiah Bell in the second half.
What I hope these plays represented were the Jets going back to these and trying to execute them better second time around – which they did on the Keller pass, but not the Kerley one. What I hope these plays do not represent is some kind of statement by Brian Schottenheimer that the plays he call depend on execution to get them to work and it’s not his fault if they fail. Even if he has a point, you don’t want your offensive coordinator’s desire to make a statement clouding his play selection.
One final positive is that Sanchez called some successful audibles in this game. That’s something that will dramatically improve how well the offense functions. This possibly included the QB draw for a touchdown (although I’m not 100% sure about that, because he never actually “killed” the play and it actually sounded like he was just changing up the protection). I saw some people suggesting that the offensive coordinator deserves none of the credit for those plays, but I disagree because the play design includes an option for the Quarterback to audible to – otherwise you’d have to attribute more of the offensive struggles to Sanchez NOT audibling to a better option. The fact that Sanchez made a correct read on more than one occasion reflects well on himself and his coaching. Let’s hope that continues.
Sanchez is still not playing as well as he did earlier on in the season, but one positive is that he’s actually been able to generate pretty good statistics even when he’s played poorly. His QB rating has been over 85 in five of the six games and he has a QB rating of 91.8 and a completion percentage of over 60% if you exclude the Ravens game. If only we could.
Earlier in the week, Michael Lombardi commented that the Jets shouldn’t continue to persist with John Conner as their starting fullback because they look slow and predictable when he is in the game (and I was labelled a homer for poking holes in that comment, not that I’m bitter or anything). Last night, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the Jets offense looked “fast and unpredictable” with him in there, but Conner had one of his better games as a blocker and helped the Jets grind out 104 yards on 29 carries. Although Conner was called for a hold when he tried to set the edge on Cameron Wake, I only counted one bad block other than that. He had several positive blocks, including a couple of big pops in the hole.
For Shonn Greene, it was tough going all day, but he managed to pick up 74 yards on 21 carries and again was right around his season’s average with 2.2 yards per carry after contact. The defense wore down towards the end of the game and he was able to break a 20-yarder and also had a 10-yarder called back for a hold. LaDainian Tomlinson added 46 yards on 10 touches and both of them had good blitz pickups, although they only stayed in to block five times between them.
Joe McKnight flashed again, lining up out wide and catching a 24-yard pass down the middle. He also had a couple of nice returns, but didn’t look confident catching punts, almost muffing one and fumbling another after he was hit from behind. He was replaced by Kerley later on. At the moment, McKnight is starting to remind me of Brad Smith in terms of how he does something different to make a contribution every week.
The offensive line started the game just as flat as the rest of the team, with D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold in particular missing a couple of run blocks. However, as the game went on, they settled down and were the driving force behind the offensive competence from the last drive in the first half onwards.
If you watched the TV broadcast, you’ll have noted how the ESPN booth was gushing over the pass protection and Wayne Hunter in particular. Last year, Hunter gave up two sacks, three pressures and three QB hits against Cameron Wake, so this was a tough matchup for him and he basically shut him out with no help.
Hunter let himself down by giving up a late sack by Koa Misi, otherwise he’d have ended up with the best offensive grade on the team. It was the unit as a whole that excelled in pass protection though. Sanchez was only under pressure four times with Mangold and Brandon Moore keeping a completely clean slate. On those four plays, Sanchez was 0-for-3, so that underlines how important keeping the pressure off him is.
In the running game, Moore started off well but struggled to consistently sustain his blocks late in the game, perhaps as he tired. He and Ferguson – who started badly but finished strong – each had a negative grade for run blocking.
Hunter, Mangold and Matt Slauson each had good performances in the running game. Mangold drove his man out of the play on several occasions, notably on Sanchez’s touchdown run. As for Slauson and Hunter, there was one play where Hunter pulled left and Slauson pulled right. If they manage to get that one down, it could pop for huge yardage up the middle. On this occasion, it got a modest gain.
Maybe you didn’t notice, but Nick Mangold took a rest with four minutes to go and Slauson moved to center with Vladimir Ducasse – who also had a couple of Jumbo Package TE reps - getting some reps at left guard. Ducasse didn’t make any mistakes and even made one good driving block on his eight snaps. That was good to see.
After a slow start, the offensive line really seemed to get in synch, especially in pass protection. The Dolphins didn’t test them that much – blitzing only nine times – but I’m sure they expected to get more pressure from their edge rushers. Wake alone entered the game averaging 5.5 QB disruptions per game. If they continue to trend upwards, that can only be good for the Jets.
While the offensive line – and the fullback – looked good, the tight ends still aren’t really doing their part. Matthew Mulligan had a holding penalty and twice let his man beat him to stuff a run. Dustin Keller was more consistent, but still could have done better on at least three running plays. In addition, neither of them looked comfortable when they stayed in to pass block – which Mulligan did 10 times and Keller twice.
Keller isn’t relied upon to block, though. He needs to produce in the passing game. They threw to him five times and he caught two for 51 yards. As noted before, he should have also had a touchdown.
At wide receiver, Plaxico Burress continues to be a disappointment. He had a bad drop – the only one for the Jets - and looked a bit slow running routes at times. Hopefully he has just hit a wall and he will benefit significantly from the bye week. He did grab one 16-yarder.
Santonio Holmes showed his playmaking ability on his touchdown catch, making a man miss and using his downfield blockers well. Although he only caught three balls, he gained 63 yards and drew a penalty on third down, but whiffed badly on a couple of run blocks.
Jeremy Kerley had perhaps the biggest play of the game when he picked up the Jets’ first first down on the game. As we know, the Jets offense doesn’t look good until it gets going, so Kerley’s catch helped open the floodgates, so to speak. I liked what I saw out of Kerley in terms of getting separation, even though he only had one other catch.
Patrick Turner still hasn’t been able to block like he did in the Raiders game, but he did at least have two special teams tackles.
The Jets actually got quite a lot of quality pressure in this game – four sacks, nine QB hits and six pressures. However, three sacks, six hits and one of the pressures were attributed to coverage rather than linemen getting beaten. The rush wasn't getting there quickly most of the time, especially not in the first half. Still, it’s encouraging that players are playing with relentlessness and a high motor.
Not much of the pressure came from the defensive line, but Marcus Dixon did get two quarterback hits. Muhammed Wilkerson added one and fellow rookie Kenrick Ellis had a pressure. I’d liked to have seen what Ropati Pitoitua would have done against this team.
Run stoppers Mike DeVito and Sione Pouha played a similar amount of snaps to last week, but because the Dolphins had 15 fewer offensive plays, they were in for about half of the time, rather than being on the sidelines two-thirds of the time. DeVito started slowly, but got better as the game went on. Pouha was excellent, only allowing his blocker to get the better of him once or twice and constantly penetrating and shedding blocks.
Wilkerson didn’t make much of an impact against the run this week, but did a good job of getting upfield on one play to force a run back inside. That wasn’t his best play of the day, but I highlight it to demonstrate that he seems to have learned from last week. Dixon made one terrific play against the run, shedding a double team to make a stop for a short gain, but he was also up and down in the running game.
Martin Tevaseu, making his first ever regular season appearance in the NFL, was part of the goal line defense that forced Miami to settle for a field goal in the second quarter. On one of the two plays, they ran right at him and he got penetration and the runner had nowhere to go.
On that play, Kenrick Ellis shot the gap and tackled the runner down low for a loss. Ellis – in for 18 snaps – graded out well, especially against the run. However, I’d observe that it wasn’t his size and strength that helped him make plays, rather his quickness. When engaged with a blocker, he was often moved off his spot, whereas he was able to blow up a couple of plays by taking the defense by surprise. I hope this doesn’t start to happen less and less once teams look at the film on him and are ready for his quick first step. Ellis’ cross field pursuit for a man his size is also quite something, but to be the dominant force the Jets need, he has to hold up at the point of attack and get off blocks better. That’s nitpicking though. He basically blew up four runs, which – even if he got driven back a few times – constitutes a superb debut in my book.
While the Jets gave up a disappointing amount of rushing yardage, it was really only two breakdowns that inflated the average. On the very first play, Jamaal Westerman was double teamed on the edge and forced inside, then Antonio Cromartie took a poor angle on the outside, leading to a 37 yard run by Reggie Bush. Bush was just 9-for-35 for the rest of the game. Also, on 3rd and 10, Daniel Thomas picked up 15 yards after Westerman was blocked to the inside and David Harris was swallowed up by a blocker leaving the Jets DB-heavy personnel exposed at the second level. Thomas gained 32 yards on his other 14 carries. In each case, it was clear the Dolphins had learned from the Patriots last week, but the important thing is that each mistake was only allowed to happen once.
Calvin Pace picked up two sacks and two pressures, as he continues to be productive. He also forced a fumble, made a good open field tackle on a screen pass and made a couple of plays against the run. However, he did have a couple of bad missed tackles in the running game, so he wasn’t perfect.
Westerman didn’t have a particularly good game. Other than those two costly mistakes in the running game, he was also burned down the sideline, although the receiver dropped the pass. He did get credit for one QB hit and split a sack with Bart Scott.
Scott also added a hit and two pressures and could easily have been awarded another half-sack on one of Pace’s sacks. He was good against the run, with a forced fumble and a couple of good run stops close to the line, but he was badly blocked out of the play on a screen pass.
David Harris had two QB hits, including on one of Matt Moore’s interceptions. He also broke up a pass in coverage and made a couple of unassisted stops at the line of scrimmage. Interestingly, he was the one who attacked the line of scrimmage more often than Bart Scott this week, so it’s encouraging that – aside from the breakdowns mentioned above – the run defense held up without Scott having to crash into the line on every play like he did against the Ravens. That has to take a physical toll on Scott, plus you have the added bonus of making it more difficult for the defense to figure out who the MIKE is.
Aaron Maybin certainly made an impact with a sack, two forced fumbles and a QB hit. In truth, he was handled pretty easily on each of his pass rush attempts, but his relentlessness is a sight to behold and he chased down Moore on his second effort a couple of times. When he stripped the ball from Daniel Thomas from behind, that showed tremendous speed. On that play, he was never doing anything other than an outside speed rush, so the Dolphins ran it right at the spot where he lined up, but it was an impressive recovery to get back into the play from so far away. He’s a weapon as long as he continues to play this hard. Hopefully, the coaching staff will be able to harness that and see him start to get to the QB on his first move.
Josh Mauga was in for two snaps. Did anyone hear Mike Tirico say that his named should actually be pronounced Maunga? Where’d that phantom N come from? Hopefully he’ll have a better career than Matt Monger.
Another day, another quarterback held to a completion percentage of under 50% by the Jets. However, Matt Moore was unlucky, with five of his passes dropped.
Of course, Darrelle Revis was the big story, with two interceptions, two other pass breakups and no penalties. He even ran one of the picks back 100 yards, which was crucially important considering the offense’s early struggles. Overall, Revis was targeted a stunning 14 times and Brandon Marshall made five catches for 63 yards on him, although on the longest of those – a 20-yarder – he appeared to get away with a push-off.
On the Revis pick-six, the announcers seemed to suggest that Revis should have been flagged for interference or illegal contact, but the replay appeared to show that Marshall lost his footing before there was any contact and Revis was backing away from him the whole time. While Revis did momentarily grab a handful of jersey, he didn’t pull Marshall off balance, it seemed like it was more to steady himself after Marshall initiated the contact between them. I would definitely have been furious if that call had gone against Revis.
Antonio Cromartie had one of his better days in coverage…statistically. Unfortunately, despite giving up just two catches, he was once again disappointing. One of the completions he gave up was a 46-yarder after he let Marshall get behind him and he was beaten on two of the three incompletions thrown his way – Brian Hartline failed to stay inbounds on one and dropped the other. Cromartie did make one great play to break up a throw to Marshall at the goal line, but he also had the bad mistake on Bush’s run and ended up the game on the sideline with a groin problem.
Often criticized, the two starting safeties had a rare strong performance in coverage, giving up just one catch for 10 yards between them. Both were pretty quiet though, although Jim Leonhard did make a terrific open field tackle to perhaps save a touchdown as Thomas cut back and a forced fumble and Eric Smith had a QB hit. Leonhard did miss one tackle and completely lost sight of the ball when Charles Clay went deep and dropped it, whereas Smith was washed out on a couple of running plays, including Thomas’ 3rd and 10 run.
Brodney Pool saw plenty of action, but had a bad missed tackle to allow Thomas to convert on that 3rd down run and another on special teams. He wasn’t exposed in coverage though.
With Donald Strickland out, Kyle Wilson was the third cornerback and did a pretty solid job, although he was beaten for two first downs and blocked at the second level on a running play. Marquice Cole also saw some action and came up with a fumble recovery, while giving up just two catches for 12 yards.
The whole secondary deserves some credit for holding Hartline, Anthony Fasano and Davone Bess – three guys who have produced against the Jets in the past – to six catches for 61 yards between them.
After last year’s meeting where Brandon Fields racked up a stunning 564 yards, it was particularly encouraging to see TJ Conley (48.5 average, two punts inside the 20) outkick him.
Mike Westhoff said this week that because teams are trying to boom the ball out of the endzone, it makes it easier for them to predict where the ball will go and set up a return. Perhaps he shouldn’t have said that, because Miami made it difficult for them with several short kicks, one of which rebounded off Garrett McIntyre’s knee for a potentially costly fumble. On that play, it may have been partially Joe McKnight’s fault for not guiding his wedge blockers where to set up well enough, but you cannot lose sight of the ball in that situation. After the Cromartie fumble in Oakland, I was hoping we’d seen the last such breakdown for a while.
On coverage, Cole, Ellis Lankster and Emanuel Cook were among those making good tackles. As I predicted before the season started, the Jets are hanging up their kickoffs at the goal line and trying to peg teams inside the 20. I believe that’s by design rather than Nick Folk being unable to reach the endzone.
The Jets have yet to put together anything like a complete game, but they managed to win their third game of the year to stay within two games of the division lead. Guess when they won their third game the last time they won the AFC East. Give up? It was Week 9. If the Jets can iron out some of their issues, they’re ahead of the curve. Those issues cannot be ignored though, so Rex and his staff have a ton of work to do in the short week.
At the end of the day though, the Jets just beat the Miami Dolphins. Let’s just appreciate that.
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.