BGA is back…and this time it’s preseasonal (again)!
Coming up, part one your breakdown of last night’s 24-21 overtime win over the Giants with detailed analysis of the offensive players, including the obvious talking point of the day.
Join me after the jump as I attempt to cover every angle.
This week’s BGA is going to be two parts, so I’ll be back with the defensive analysis later. For now we’re focusing on the offense.
It’s what everyone has been talking about, a battle that’s been raging on throughout the summer. Should it be the much-maligned veteran whose inconsistent performances belie his high draft spot or the flavor-of-the-month rookie, who most are hoping will be a bargain and of whom we got our first extended look yesterday?
Yes, it’s the battle for the starting left guard spot! With Vladimir Ducasse being given a chance to start only to limp off early in the game, that shone the spotlight on Brian Winters, making his NFL debut following an ankle issue.
So, how did the rookie look? Regrettably, not so hot. Winters struggled really badly and seemed to be the primary reason why the offensive line struggled so much during the game. The Jets managed to rush for a pitiful 39 yards on 29 carries and there was a lot of pressure up the middle.
My initial assessment of Winters, having looked at footage from his college career and the Senior Bowl in particular, where he played guard, was that he was pretty raw and would need some seasoning before he would be ready to start at the NFL level. Many pencilled Winters in as the potential starter and he did seem to be progressing well at camp, based on reports. Missing time due to the ankle injury was without doubt a setback for him and the fact he’s not as far along as hoped should perhaps take that into account. It may also be true that the injury is still bothering him to some extent and maybe that limited his performance.
I can only judge him based on how he performed last night though and there were a lot of plays where he was badly beaten. He was driven into the backfield, failed to sustain blocks, missed blocks in space and got beaten several times in pass protection, including on the play where Geno Smith threw his first interception and a couple more where he was bullrushed into the backfield. Worst of all, he was the guy who allowed his man to get off his block to nail Mark Sanchez and knock him out of the game.
Winters is not a complete lost cause by any means. He showed some flashes of promise on the move and did settle down somewhat once the Giants started resting their starters. On Bilal Powell’s touchdown run, they ran behind him, although he never engaged his man cleanly and it was only Powell’s momentum that enabled him to break the plane. Perhaps his best block saw him pulling to the right and it looked like his man was going to beat him outside, so he flung himself sideways to prevent that. Even on that play it was more a case of effort and desire enabling him to make the block despite bad technique rather than all-round good execution. He deserves a pass because of the time he’s missed and the fact he was thrown into action against a very good Giants defensive line without first being able to get his feet wet against lower competition. Hopefully he can learn and adjust from some of the things that happened in this game.
One interesting observation was that, while Ducasse was in the line-up, they never pulled him, despite the fact he’s proven to be more than capable of carrying out such an assignment. Then when Winters entered in his place, they pulled him immediately on the first play (and regularly thereafter). I wonder if that was playing to Winters’ strengths or could they perhaps not see that as something Ducasse will succeed at on a regular basis? One theory I had is that the Jets were running their more straightforward plays early on, with a view to breaking out some of the more complex stuff as the game went on. If that’s the case, then Ducasse never got the chance to benefit from these tendency breaking runs that might have allowed him to excel. As it happens, he was never quite able to get it going.
Ducasse did make one very good block on the play before he limped off. That may even have been where the injury took place. He cut down a linebacker in the open field to spring Chris Ivory for a nice gain on a screen pass. The line as a whole did block well on the opening touchdown drive too, although mostly in pass protection. However, Ducasse was not faultless by any means. He didn’t really have any dominant blocks in the running game and there was one play where he let his man get off his block, albeit after driving him off the line. He allowed penetration on one play too, although he recovered well to drive his man upfield and out of the play. He was beaten twice in pass protection, once on a play where Nick Mangold came across to bail him out (and, to be fair, it’s possible Ducasse knew he had help behind him and directed his man in that direction). As Bassett noticed this morning there was also one play where both Ducasse and D’Brickashaw Ferguson were beaten on the outside and Geno Smith was nailed high and low (although he did get the throw away).
This goes back to something I’d spoken about last week and that had been a concern since the offseason began. While Ducasse might be individually capable of outperforming the incumbent starter, Stephen Peterman, the chemistry on the line was not as good. I was impressed by the cohesiveness of the line last week and, although Peterman didn’t play as well as Ducasse, I had worried that this would suffer if they made the switch. Sure enough, the chemistry was nowhere near as good and went downhill even further when Ducasse was replaced by Winters.
I wonder if the Jets made a bad mistake here. Ducasse hasn’t had many reps with the first unit but found himself performing well enough to get a shot with the starters, only to find that this had a detrimental effect on the unit as a whole. With most of the starters to be rested next week (one would assume) have the Jets painted themselves into a corner where they’re forced to choose between inferior individual play at the left guard position or inferior cohesiveness as a unit? (Obviously the injury would affect this too, but I don’t know anything about the severity yet).
As for Peterman, after struggling in the first two games, will he find himself back in the driver’s seat by default? (Whether that be by virtue of the injury or just the fact that the line perhaps won’t gel as fast with Ducasse in there). Could a platoon/rotation system be in the cards again, at least until the decision presents itself?
For his own part, Peterman struggled again, but it was difficult to know how much of that to attribute to him being uncomfortable with playing center and how much was just poor play generally. Peterman had one bad snap, although it wasn’t the one Mark Sanchez fumbled. He also gave up a sack on his and Sanchez’s first snap of the game. Peterman doesn’t really look a viable option as the emergency center, although it is very early in the day in terms of the experiment. However, it could be taking valuable preparation time away from someone who might need more reps with the starters, so it’s another tough call.
If Nick Mangold can remain healthy then the backup center is not an issue, but I got the sense he spent most of last night babysitting Winters and this impacted on his own effectiveness. There was a lot of pressure that came right up the middle and he had to save Winters on a couple of occasions, one of which was when the Giants pressurized Smith into an interception. They sent six on a blitz and the Jets had six men in to block, but Winters was the only guy to get beaten and the fact that Mangold had to step across to prevent his man from getting to the quarterback meant that Powell was left with the impossible task of picking up two blitzers at once.
Mangold did make some Mangoldesque blocks in the running game, but he also missed some and seemed to have a lot more on his plate, with rookies to his left and right behind him to worry about.
The other three starters felt the knock-on effects of all this too and none really stood out, especially when run blocking. Ferguson did set the edge well on Powell’s touchdown and, other than the play where both he and Ducasse were beaten for a hit, there was only one other time where he was troubled in pass protection (but he recovered to drive his man upfield at the last moment). Willie Colon allowed a couple of pressures – one as his man stunted around Mangold and another as he was driven back by a bullrush and knocked over. At right tackle, Austin Howard did hold up well in pass protection, but wasn’t as consistent as a run blocker, where he was called for a hold.
On the second unit, JB Shugarts and Oday Aboushi swapped roles and Aboushi looked more comfortable on the right side. On one play he took his man and drove him to the inside on a running play. He did get beaten outside for a pressure though. Shugarts made two errors – one leading to a pressure as his man shot the gap between him and Winters (although Winters was probably equally to blame). On another, he inexplicably gave his man a clean release to easily tackle Kahlil Bell in the backfield. Someone (presumably Shugarts) must have missed a call there, because he blocked that play like it was a screen pass.
Operating at guard again, Caleb Schlauderaff didn’t have much of an impact. On one play he was driven back into the way of a running back on a screen pass. None of the third stringers got to play this week.
With not much going on in the way of run blocking ahead of them, there wasn’t much the running backs could do. Chris Ivory did run for about 100 yards, unfortunately 85 of them were horizontal, as he twice showed some elusiveness to try and make something out of nothing on a busted play, but was unable to break away cleanly either time. He did have a couple of nice runs, a good gain on a screen pass and picked up the blitz well, but there wasn’t any production, highlighted by how he almost got tackled for a safety, just about managing to get out of the end zone.
Powell continues to start and did get in the end zone, as well as making some nice moves on a screen pass for a first down. However, he was beaten a couple of times in pass protection, dropped a pass and almost fumbled as he was ruled down. He also turned a big loss into an even bigger one on a play where he was blown up in the backfield.
Bell also had his best moment as a pass catcher, making a nice move on a screen. He too struggled in pass protection as he was driven into the quarterback on one play. Mossis Madu saw brief action and Chad Spann seems to have fallen back.
The fullback, Tommy Bohanon, had his ups and downs again. His consistency is mostly okay but there were still errors. His missed block led to Ivory nearly getting tackled for a safety and then on the next play he probably picked up the wrong blitzer, leaving another to have a clean run at Smith. There were some good lead blocks and one nice catch, but he’s still as much of a work in progress as most of his rookie counterparts.
On a day when the Jets offense racked up 420 yards, despite only managing 39 on the ground, there were obviously some productive outings for some of the receivers. For Stephen Hill, there was good mixed with bad. His four catches were encouraging, with one of them showing the deep separation we’ve been looking for since he was drafted. That exceeds the number of catches he had in the first two games combined. He’s also now drawn three first downs via penalty. However, he lost his cool badly and got flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, then fumbled moments later. Nitpicking perhaps, but the long catch he did make didn’t exactly look natural or comfortable either.
The other would-be starter, Jeremy Kerley, had a poor day. After starting off well with a third down conversion, he had two plays you could classify as drops and missed a couple of blocks badly in the running game.
By contrast, Ryan Spadola had a rocky start, but finished strongly. Some will say he shouldn’t have allowed Smith’s first interception to happen, even if the throw was slightly behind him. He bounced back late in the game with three big catches, including the go-ahead touchdown with two minutes left and the 70-yard catch and run to set up the game winning kick in overtime. Spadola certainly solidified his spot there, although he did it all against the Giants third secondary which was really bad. On the touchdown, the deep safety overran and basically let the pass fly right past him and on the long pass, Spadola immediately ran downfield and was wide open, so there must have been some kind of a breakdown.
Newest Jet Mohamed Massaquoi saw brief action and made a couple of catches including one where he found an open space downfield after the play was extended. He wasn’t able to get open deep on one pass that was broken up, though.
Ben Obomanu has now had two nice games out of three as he looks to earn a spot. He caught three passes for 56 yards, doing well to get into the end zone for the first score and catching a couple of other first downs including a 24-yarder.
Reserves Zach Rogers, Joseph Collins and Michael Campbell were all targeted at least once. Rogers had two catches.
At tight end, no touchdown for Jeff Cumberland this week and he also had a rough start as a blocker. However, later on he redeemed himself a little with two of the better blocks I saw from anyone on the day. Operating as a left tackle on an unbalanced line play, he blocked his man out of the play and then later set the edge really well.
Kellen Winslow Jr. had a good day in the passing game and was Smith’s favorite target, with four catches. I suspect he got lucky on the diving catch because that may have hit the ground as he landed. He twice caught short passes and had to try to elude defenders to get the first down, managing to go one-for-two in that endeavor.
Backup Konrad Reuland had a quiet game but that’s okay because when he stood out in the earlier games it was often for blocking mistakes. He caught one short pass. Chris Pantale failed to sustain his block on one running play, but he remains ahead of Hayden Smith in the unlikely event that the Jets would consider carrying four tight ends.
So, I guess that’s it for part one, we’ll be back later with … ah, wait a minute. Did I forget someone?
Smith’s eagerly anticipated debut didn’t go well. Prince Amukamura did the analysis for me when he said that Smith was locked onto his target all day. (Thanks, Prince). On the second interception in particular, he missed the end dropping off into coverage, which was very Sanchezian. Yes, Justin Tuck was well-hidden behind the enormous Shaun Rogers as the pass was being released, but that’s no excuse. When I saw his first interception, I knew people would defend him and say that it was the receiver’s fault (although Smith was still partly at fault for hitting him in the back hip). However, once you get to three interceptions in one half, that’s too much of a pattern to ignore.
Smith was clearly rattled by pressure, including on the third interception, an overthrow, and showed a disappointing lack of awareness when he stepped out of the end zone for a safety with the Jets up by one. (I would note, however, that this wasn’t a very good play call by Marty Mornhinweg. When close to the end zone, pulling a lineman in play action is asking for trouble – you’re not fooling anyone and it puts pressure on everyone to pick up the right guy.)
There was also a lot of pressure up the middle, for which Smith may have been partially responsible and there were times when he waited for his receiver to make their breaks instead of throwing them open. Most disconcerting of all, he didn’t hit many receivers in stride, despite the expectation that his accuracy would be better than that of Sanchez.
Now, Smith did have some quality moments, highlighted by his penalty-aided touchdown drive in the first half and another good drive to pad his stats after half time. Moreover, there was one area where he was unquestionably better than Sanchez has ever been and that’s in terms of the timing and accuracy of his short passes. Of course, the book on Smith in some circles was that short passes were all he could do, but we’ll have to wait and see how the rest of his game blossoms over time.
As for Sanchez, he wasn’t doing badly against backups – five for six with three first down throws – but there were still mistakes. The fumbled snap was disappointing and his sole incompletion came on a poorly timed screen pass (underscoring Smith’s superiority in that area). On another play, he did complete a screen pass for a first down to the left, but it looked like the receiver in the right flat (Reuland) had way more room to run and Sanchez didn’t see him. The injury obviously messes up whatever plans they had at that point (although the media seemed to have decided the competition was already over).
I won’t dwell on the decision to put him out there with the backups, but one point I haven’t seen made is that maybe it’s good to put him out there with an overmatched offensive line, so that they can prepare him for that situation in the event of a rash of injuries or whatever during the season.
Matt Simms came in and performed admirably again, albeit against a weak third string secondary. He wasn’t as flawless as last week, with a few wayward throws, but his touchdown and long throw to Spadola were spectacular. Next week should be interesting between him and Greg McElroy (who is still nursing an ankle injury), assuming that the third string quarterback job is between the two of them. While Simms has looked good late in games, he hasn’t had experience against starters like McElroy has, so I don’t think you can call either of them a viable starter option at this stage, as impressive as they’ve both been at various times.
So, where does this all leave us?
Last week I received a mixed response to a comment I made on the blog:
Part of me wonders whether Geno running a vanilla offense is that far behind Sanchez in terms of gives-us-the-best-chance-to-win-ocity … That’s if Geno is only capable of running a watered-down version as some seem to be suggesting.Allow me to re-visit that thought. Ignoring the possibility for the same excuses made earlier for Winters (reduced preparation time, possible lingering effects from previous injury), it did seem like Smith was just not ready. However, we’ve seen Sanchez run “air it out” and “play it safe” versions of multiple different offenses and he’s always struggled to limit the back-breaking mistakes in the “air it out” version, but isn’t accurate enough to move the chains on a consistent enough basis when playing it safe due to his lack of timing and accuracy in the short game. We’ve also seen Smith in a “play it safe” version (week one, after which everyone was asking whether he could perform with the offense functioning fully) and an “air it out” version (last night, after which the answer to that question would appear to be “not yet”).
So…with Smith not ready to run that kind of offense and Sanchez seemingly having worn out his welcome (as well as being hurt to the point that it may force their hand), is there a third option (no, not Simms/McElroy)? Could it be that the best option is a more conservative offense with a shackled Smith sticking mostly to those short plays he excels at and not taking undue risks? It’s a thought, at least.
The downside to this is that it’s going to undermine Mornhinweg, who seems to be one of the best things the offense has going for it right now. You’ll bring people into the box, gumming up the running game, and reduce the number of big plays being made downfield. Why neuter your best asset? However, on the understanding that this would buy Smith the time to gradually install the rest of the offense at a speed with which his comfort level can cope, could this be a workable plan? Maybe not, but to do that and lean heavily on the defense might be the best plan available to them, at least in the short term.