We're breaking down yesterday's win over the Falcons. Part one is here. In part two, we're focusing on the defense and special teams.
Join me after the jump as I attempt to cover every angle.
I'd imagine most people were pleased with the defensive performance this week, but the Jets actually gave up 40 more yards than they did in the loss to the Titans last week. They also surrendered 26 first downs and allowed Matt Ryan to complete 80% of his passes, but most disappointingly of all, they seemed to lose the ability to tackle after half time, with 14 of their 16 missed tackles occurring after the interval. Fatigue played a noticeable role, perhaps contributing to those missed tackles in the second half.
The Falcons entered the game struggling in the red zone, but ended up scoring four touchdowns on five trips with the only failure coming when the clock ran out on them even though they had first and goal at the one. Maybe the red zone defense is something that the Jets need to shore up somewhat too.
However, for all their struggles stopping some of the Falcons' high-powered weapons, the Jets won matchups up front and made life difficult for the Falcons while also, at last, forcing a game-changing turnover and underlining their playmaking potential by almost forcing several others. While they gave up 363 yards, that was actually 35.5 yards below the Falcons' average entering the game.
In the trenches the Jets had their way with the Falcons for the most part. Unlike most of the previous games so far this season, several different Jets saw themselves double teamed, but that strategy didn't pay off for Atlanta as everyone else dominated when single-blocked.
Sheldon Richardson had a particularly interesting game, as he actually got off to a really bad start. He was driven off the line by a couple of double teams early on and then blocked out of a play where the Falcons converted in a short yardage situation. However, he was outstanding in the second quarter, exploding up the middle for a sack, blowing up a run with a tackle in the backfield and making the tackle on the Jets' goal line stand to end the half. In the second half, he went from strength to strength, swatting a pass, bullrushing Justin Blalock into Matt Ryan's lap and shedding a block to stuff another run. He did miss a couple of tackles though, although one was negated by a penalty.
Damon Harrison had to deal with a few double teams in this one, which of course frees up those around him to make plays. I marvel at his efforts to keep fighting to get off the block, which usually ended with him leveraging his way back into the path of the runner and limiting the yardage surrendered. There were two plays where he was driven off the line by a double team, but when single-blocked he made a positive impact as ever, including one play where he burst into the backfield to trip the runner for a loss. Harrison also got some good push as a pass rusher, getting in Ryan's face twice.
Behind Harrison, Kenrick Ellis continues to be extremely productive despite not playing much. In just 10 snaps, he blew up a run in the backfield, got crucial penetration on the Jets' stop at the goal line, stood up his man on another short yardage play and, perhaps most impressively of all, collapsed the pocket by bullrushing against a double team on third and one. Harrison is currently behind just Ndamakong Suh, Jurrell Casey and Gerald McCoy in PFF's NT/DT rankings, but Ellis is number two on a per play basis, behind just Jonathan Hankins of the Giants. If you combine Ellis and Harrison's grades, that beats Suh, Casey and McCoy's grade despite the fact they've combined to play at least 44 fewer snaps than each of them. In other words, the Jets can claim that they are getting the best nose tackle play in the NFL right now, especially against the run.
However, it was the star of their defense, and one of the main reasons the nose tackles are grading out so well, that without question shone brightest of all last night. Muhammad Wilkerson drew a holding penalty and had a strip sack, two pressures, two tackles in the backfield and two other tackles on plays that went for a short gain. If he could have just got a finger on that shovel pass to Jason Snelling, it would have been pretty much a perfect performance and on a big national stage, too. I can't get my head round how Jon Gruden kept saying he is going to be a star like he'll become even better than he is right now. Is that even possible?
Last but not least, Leger Douzable got the Jets their first turnover since opening day when he recovered a Ryan fumble forced by Wilkerson. Douzable also had one pressure, but did jump offside on another play.
It was a disappointingly quiet performance by Quinton Coples in terms of impact plays, leading some to question how far along he is in his recovery from his ankle injury back in August. However, there were flashes from Coples, who definitely played his part in terms of drawing plenty of attention from blockers. Early in the game, he beat the right tackle handily with an inside move and the back had to come across and pick him up. That was important, because it established the threat and that led the Falcons to dedicate extra bodies towards stopping him at various times. Coples did get close to pressuring Ryan three times, only for Ryan to make a quick throw, and then on the one time he broke free and hit him, there was a penalty on the backend coverage. In the second half, he did look like he started to tire, playing 60 snaps overall.
Against the run, Coples came up big at the goal line, shooting a gap into the backfield to blow up the run on the last play of the half. He did come too far upfield on Jacquizz Rodgers' first touchdown run, although to some extent it's his assignment to get upfield and force the run back inside and there were bodies there, they just failed to make the play with Jaiquawn Jarrett getting initially blocked and then missing an arm tackle when he got off the block at the last moment and Darrin Walls overpursuing to the inside and losing contain.
One interesting factor this week was his role. Throughout preseason and, to an extent since he's made his return, Coples has been on the outside on rushing downs and inside on passing downs. However, when the Jets went to a four man front on passing downs, that was when Coples was usually rested with Richardson and Wilkerson (and sometimes Douzable) used inside. Coples played just six reps inside overall, which would usually be where he generates some of his pass rushing production.
Those who misunderstand his role within this defense will point to the fact that he was just standing on seven plays as a sign that the "transition" to "linebacker" is not being implemented, but he was the primary weakside rusher more than half of the time, just opting to put his hand in the dirt on most of those reps. He dropped into coverage just four times and there was a mix-up on one as he re-routed Tony Gonzalez at the snap and then dropped off underneath, but the fullback ran out uncovered to the flat for an easy first down. That may have been Antonio Cromartie's responsibility though, because he dropped off with the wide receiver who was already covered and then came up late to make the stop.
Antwan Barnes had an interesting performance, which sadly ended prematurely when he suffered a knee injury. Newday's Kimberley Martin reports that she heard it was "just a tweak" although Rex Ryan said he didn't have an update yet, but it "didn't look good". If he's expected to be out for any length of time (and perhaps even if he isn't), I would anticipate that the Jets will bring back Ricky Sapp who was waived last week in a numbers move that was always likely to be temporary. Barnes was only credited with one pressure and no tackles, but actually got close three other times. His best highlight was definitely this though...
With Barnes hurt, the Jets turned to Garrett McIntyre who had three pressures in the fourth quarter, one on the outside, one on a stunt up the middle and one as he flushed the quarterback from the pocket.
David Harris and Demario Davis certainly filled up the stat sheet, with Harris' 14 tackles representing his best output since Thanksgiving Day in 2009 and Davis adding eight tackles of his own. However, neither graded out too well, in large part due to the success the Falcons had passing the ball over the middle. Harris and Davis gave up a combined 13 catches on 14 targets and had three penalties between them (and although #56 was called on two of these, it actually looked like all three should be on Harris). Harris also had three missed tackles, including one that led to a first down on a third and three play and, moreso than in recent weeks, was blocked out of a few plays including on both of Rodgers' touchdown runs. Davis was more disciplined as he didn't miss any tackles, but he was blocked out of one play that went for decent yardage by a pulling guard.
While they found themselves on the end of a lot of negative plays, there's no question that they each had a tough assignment, often having to deal with Tony Gonzalez (who has 22 catches for almost 250 yards in the last two weeks), but also having to pick up crossing routes from the Falcons' speedy receivers in zone coverage. With Matt Ryan in a nice rhythm and finding the gaps in the zone defense, they were always going to be on the wrong end of some plays. At the same time, there were plenty of positives with Harris making seven of his tackles close to the line of scrimmage, including one big hit in the flat for a loss. Davis shot a gap to make a tackle in the backfield, stuffed one other run and took out the lead blocker on a couple of plays that were stopped.
There's a lot of interest in Darrin Walls' performance this week. He didn't play too badly in coverage but he did make a mistake on Rodgers first touchdown run and also had a missed tackle on a cutback run that went for a solid gain.
Overall, he was targeted nine times and gave up six catches for 42 yards. While he did give up a 12 yard catch on third and three, four of these plays saw him close quickly to restrict the gain to between seven and nine yards. That actually benefited the Jets, who seemed to fare well in second and short situations all day long, often because the Falcons were tempted to run it and then unsuccessful in doing so, leading to a third down situation. The other catch he gave up saw him make a terrific play, closing to cut down Harry Douglas for a loss. He actually gave up two other catches, but both were negated by penalties, one on the Jets and one as his man pushed off.
It could have been a much better day for Walls, who stepped in front of a rare errant pass by Ryan and could have returned it the distance but dropped the potential pick. He had another two passes go off his hands, but these were tougher - one over the shoulder as Ryan was hit as he threw and one which was more of a well timed pass breakup on a throw to the end zone. Based on everything I've seen from him so far, Walls does not have very good hands. He also dropped an easy interception against the Chargers last season and dropped an easy pick six with the ball right in his hands when with the Falcons a couple of years ago.
Antonio Cromartie had quite the battle with Julio Jones in this one, but also had to play plenty of zone coverage, which he appeared to struggle with at times. Cromartie stayed with Jones on a deep ball, as Jones wanted a pass interference call because Cromartie had a hand on his shoulder as he tried to stay with him. Later on, Jones got a step on Cromartie deep, but Cromartie was able to recover well enough to disrupt the catch and the ball fell incomplete in the end zone. Then on a throw to the outside, Jones was ruled to have pushed off, but on the next play Jones beat him deep for a 46-yard one-handed catch, despite Cromartie's interference this time. He had a couple of missed tackles and was too far off on a couple of other catches, but he showed great hustle to make a touchdown saving tackle after Jones recovered Roddy White's fumble. Cromartie's best coverage play of the day saw him break up a pass in the end zone, but that was negated by a flag on Harris.
Off the bench, Kyle Wilson drew the Gonzalez assignment a few times, giving up a first down on 4th and one. He also got lucky on an earlier play near the goal line where Gonzalez ran the exact same route, but this time the pass was offline because Jarrett hit Ryan as he threw it. Each time, Wilson was right with Gonzalez, but couldn't prevent the fourth down catch and likely wouldn't have been able to do much about the potential touchdown pass either. Wilson also got lucky when a pass near the goal line was off Douglas' fingertips. Overall, he gave up four catches on six targets, but limited the damage to 22 yards with good tackling (although he did have one missed tackle). He was badly blocked out of the play at the second level on Rodgers' long touchdown run though.
Ellis Lankster was in for a few plays and gave up a catch to Gonzalez on a play where he covered him about as well as you could. On another play, Gonzalez got away with a push off and made another catch. Lankster's physical play does make him a viable option to cover tight ends in certain packages, but I'd still like to see him get more conventional reps than he is.
One interesting wrinkle from this game was that Josh Bush got some significant playing time for the first time in his career. He was in for 25 snaps, having only previously played 20 snaps in his career. He made an immediate impact, jarring the ball loose downfield for what should have been the Jets' first turnover since week one, only for Dawan Landry to misfield it, tripping Davis over in the process. He gave up one first down and had a missed tackle, but did make a crucial touchdown saving tackle on a wide receiver screen at the goal line.
Rex Ryan said that Jarrett started this game for matchup reasons, but that Antonio Allen should return to the starting lineup this week. Jarrett bears no resemblence to the player who started for Philadelphia two years ago, making rookie mistakes all over the place and hardly any positive contributions. Here he had a forced fumble of his own, assisted on two tackles near the line and hit Ryan to disrupt his throw on a blitz up the middle in the red zone. In the second half, he did give up a couple of first downs because he was too far off in zone coverage and he failed to stop Rodgers on his first touchdown as mentioned above, but Jarrett is certainly making his presence felt out there with some big hitting and no major mistakes so far.
Allen still did play 16 snaps and had three tackles. His best moment on defense saw him make an open field tackle inside the five.
Finally, Landry had a bad missed tackle downfield on Rodgers' long touchdown run and was beaten for a touchdown in coverage. He did have one other missed tackle and gave up one other short catch on 2nd and 20. There were some positives though, as he was productive in the pass rush, pressuring Ryan four times off the same blindside blitz. He also helped Bush make the stop at the goal line. It would have been a better day for him if he secured that fumble recovery though.
This was definitely the best game so far on special teams, with Nick Folk's game winning field goal, long returns by Clyde Gates and Jeremy Kerley, each of which led to a touchdown and Allen's blocked punt on the first series which helped to set the tone. Aside from his perfect field goal kicking so far, Nick Folk added another five touchbacks to give him 17 on the year. In 2012, he had 12.
Give McIntyre credit too, because he had a crucial tackle following the blocked punt. That would have been a big blow if the Falcons managed to convert the first down off the rebound. He did have one missed tackle in coverage though. Konrad Reuland and Isaiah Trufant made the key blocks on the two big returns, although Reuland later had a missed tackle too. Nick Bellore did a solid job in coverage, with two tackles and Lankster forced a fair catch.
If I have one minor quibble, it's that Ryan Quigley had an underwhelming game as a punter. He'll have to improve quickly if he wants to quieten his quitics. Er, critics.
An exhilarating win for the Jets should be tempered by the fact that although it's the third game they've won this year, they nearly blew it in all of them. However, given the fact that this team wasn't even supposed to be competitive, they're already exceeding most people's expectations and it's clear that there is still some room for growth and some signs of life in those areas.
Up next is a home game against the winless Steelers, which I'll obviously be here to preview on Sunday morning. Naturally the Steelers have their issues so far this season, but they're no pushover and the Jets have shown that they can be inconsistent and shoot themselves in the foot, so they can't afford to take this one lightly.
If you have anything you'd like me to take a closer look at or any other questions for me, leave them in the comments section of either BGA post, tweet them to @Bent_Double or email email@example.com and I'll respond in BGA Extra on Wednesday.