BGA is back…and this time it’s preseasonal (again)!
We're breaking down last night’s win over the Giants. 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’m going to start off today by addressing the long touchdown run on the first play and, more importantly, the Jets response to it. Obviously the play itself was extremely depressing to see. With Garrett McIntyre specifically given the starting role in place of Quinton Coples due to his ability to play the run and set the edge, they ran the ball right at him, blocked him to the inside and took it all the way for a long score. McIntyre wasn’t the only player at fault, you could probably name a handful of people, including (but not limited to) Antonio Allen – who lost contain – and Dawan Landry – who came up too fast and didn’t have the angle to get back. In short, the play was a disaster, but if you can fix what went wrong, then maybe that’s not as disconcerting as if a team was running off the edge for consistent yardage throughout the game.
Believe it or not, fixing what went wrong was exactly what they did. I’d be very interested to see if they changed their approach as a result of what happened on the first play or if the approach they used was just something which didn’t happen on that first play for whatever reason. Either way it worked.
For the rest of the game, the Giants gained 55 yards on 22 carries and every time they tried to run to the outside, they were forced back inside. What the Jets did differently was to use their inside linebackers to set the edge, therefore forcing the run back inside to where the defensive linemen – the strength of the team – were well placed to make the stop. While I’m accustomed to seeing one linebacker attack the line of scrimmage so that the other is free to roam sideline-to-sideline (aka the Bart Scott approach) or both backers staying at home and then reacting to the run as the linemen take on blocks (aka the When Bart’s Injured approach), this was a different development. The inside backer on that side was making a concerted effort to get outside and upfield and for the most part it worked. As I watched this, I was thinking that this would make them extremely susceptible to a cut-back run, but the linemen did such a good job of working their way downhill that it never happened.
This puts the onus on the other inside backer to try and stay out of traffic so that they can meet the runner in the hole (if there even is one), but having guys like Landry and Allen/Jaiquawn Jarrett who can come up into the box and help out in run support lessens the strain somewhat.
I shall take great interest in seeing whether this approach is something they’ll continue to use, some or all of the time.
Before we get to the individual player evaluations, I also want to talk about game planning. While there’s no question the Jets will be saving some things for the regular season, the Jets – who used a pretty consistent rotation over the first two games – used some specific packages last night that were obviously designed to make life difficult for the Giants. While you expect to see vanilla gameplans on both sides of the ball in preseason, the Jets did some experimenting last night, but were also, I believe, specifically tailoring what they did to the Giants’ strengths and weaknesses in an effort to win the game.
They did one or two interesting things in coverage, for example using their linebackers on slot receivers at the line quite a lot, with the option to press, drop off, pass off to a defender behind them and rush the passer or just slow them at the line and stay at home. However, I was most interested by what they did with their linemen.
Both Sheldon Richardson and Muhammed Wilkerson were used standing up in pass rush situations and not just at the line. Wilkerson lined up as a middle linebacker three times and came charging up the middle very effectively. The first time they did it, Eli Manning noticeably rushed his throw and it was incomplete. The second time, a back stayed in to pick him up and he just drove him back into Manning, knocking him down. Finally, on the third one, they managed to prevent him from getting pressure, but still had to get rid of the ball quickly. Something like that can be great, because the threat is always evident. As long as you don’t use it too much, the offense will have to adjust on the fly and you can probably set some traps for when the oppositions tries to counter it with a screen pass or something.
Anyway, it was anything but vanilla for the Jets on defense – you could tell Rex Ryan wanted this game. Now let’s look at the contributors.
Hey, did you see that new running back the Giants got? His name is “Muhammad Wilkerson”. I know, right, he’s supposed to be a Jets player, but he definitely spent most of the night in the Giants backfield. With constant penetration and a constant pass rushing threat, Wilkerson either directly or indirectly caused several running plays to be stuffed and Manning to be under pressure several times too. Maybe his most impressive play of the night, albeit not flashy, saw the Giants use another lineman to help out the first lineman and then a back to help him too, but Wilkerson just slipped between the three of them like an eel to generate a pressure.
I mentioned how some of the way Richardson is playing reminded me of the way Wilkerson played as a rookie last week. (Aside: That’s the sort of comment that, if Ryan said it, would be used by some beat writers as a condescending “Rex thinks Richardson is as good as Wilkerson” punchline for the next few years, probably until it became apparent that – even if he didn’t say it – it was becoming true. I’ve already witnessed some fans responding to one beat writer’s tweet by saying that he looks like a bust). Anyway, I want to expound upon my thought from last week.
Over the past year, we’ve looked at the development curve of Quinton Coples through a prism of having seen Wilkerson develop one year ahead of him. Essentially, Wilkerson was great against the run with flashes as a pass rusher in his rookie year and Coples was great as a pass rusher with flashes against the run. So, with Wilkerson developing into a more rounded player in year two, making plays in both disciplines, the hope is that Coples will do the same thing in his second season. All on board with that so far? Hopefully.
There’s one major difference though. Maybe it’s just a product of having pass rushing as a specialism, but Coples seems to make a higher proportion of impact plays – a sack, a big hit, a tackle for a huge loss or whatever – but also has more mistakes or negative plays where his blocker gets the better of him than Wilkerson. So, while Wilkerson is much more consistent in terms of good plays versus bad plays, Coples is more inconsistent, but makes more of an impact with the type of good plays that he makes. Still with me so far? Good.
Now, what’s incredibly exciting about Wilkerson is that he’s ramping up those impact plays and making more and more of those, while still keeping up a high standard of consistency. The Jets are recognizing this and setting things up for him to succeed wherever possible. Coples will continue to make impact plays and hopefully improve his consistency as he goes along. Which brings us to Richardson. Richardson reminded me of Wilkerson because he was consistently making positive contributions with not many errors. So, I put him on the Wilkerson developmental curve. However, yesterday, he showed a few tantalizing glimpses that maybe he’s going to make some impact plays too.
Richardson had his first sack on an explosive burst into the backfield. That didn’t look like an aberration, as he added a hit and a pressure later on. Remember, Wilkerson only had three sacks as a rookie and wasn’t very productive in terms of pressure. Richardson still contributed in the running game too blowing up a run in short yardage and getting in on a tackle at the line and his desire to chase down plays is phenomenal. His game ended prematurely but he’s not seriously injured and definitely looks set to be a big contributor this year.
They weren’t the only two high level performers on the line, though. Perhaps the main beneficiary of the force-back-inside run stopping philosophy was Damon Harrison, who once again filled in at nose tackle with Kenrick Ellis out. Mostly by simply holding his ground and leveraging his way into the path of the cutback lane, Harrison got in on a series of tackles at or near the line of scrimmage. He actually led the team with seven tackles, including one where he sniffed out a screen pass and another where he was completely unblocked and able to pull the runner down in the backfield. Harrison actually missed three tackles too, but that’s a sign he was getting off blocks to slow the runner down for his teammates. He even had a pressure as a pass rusher. As I said last week, the Jets have a viable replacement in place if Ellis misses any time during the season. In fact, if he plays like this, Harrison will deserve to split time and maybe even challenge for the starting role.
Leger Douzable was another high level performer on the line. He got plenty of additional reps once Richardson left the game and played well into the second half. He had a sack, a hit, a batted pass and a couple of pressures as a pass rusher, but he is best known for his run stopping and he got plenty of penetration to blow up runs as well as getting in on a tackle near the line and one in the backfield. He was blocked out of a play right near the end of the game, but was otherwise difficult to criticize. While he did do a lot of this damage against backups, plenty of it came earlier in the game too. He looks like being a strong contributor this year too.
Antonio Garay has had a quiet preseason so far, but he started to show some signs last night. He got some good penetration on a couple of plays, drawing a holding penalty and got off his block to stuff the runner at the goal line on third down. Garay did allow himself to be driven off the line by a couple of double teams, but he is starting to pick things up.
I’ve already spoken about being impressed with Junior Aumavae and he once again got in on a couple of run stuffs in this game. However, Tevita Finau is making a late charge too. He got good penetration on a couple of plays and had a sack and a pressure. I did not see Lanier Coleman out there.
As noted, Garrett McIntyre was caught inside on the first play, but he didn’t let it happen again, keeping contain well on a couple of other plays, including one where he made the tackle himself for a short gain. He was one of the guys they employed in coverage a lot, which is something they have done before with him in preseason. He did give up a first down on a short pass and didn’t generate any pass rush.
Calvin Pace also failed to generate any pass rush, although he did make a couple of good plays against the run and was able to stay with his man on a throw to the end zone. Antwan Barnes didn’t make much of his extended playing time though, not really making any kind of an impact.
Working with the second unit, Ricky Sapp was double teamed a ton, but was getting off blocks much better this week and generally causing a nuisance. He hit the quarterback once and beat his man to get into the backfield on three other occasions, but the pass was released before he could get there. More enticing was his play against the run, where he made two good stops at the line. The first saw him diagnose a play and shoot a gap into the backfield to force the runner back inside, then trip that player low for no gain. The other saw him chase a play down from the backside and make a tackle for a short gain. If that’s somewhere he can contribute, it could put him in line for a bigger role.
Some of the third stringers made an impact this week too. Troy Davis blew by a running back for a hit and then had another one negated because he accidentally hit the quarterback’s face mask. Jacquies Smith had a pressure and a cheap tackle for a loss after a fumbled snap. He also dropped into coverage a couple of times, getting beaten once, but doing well the next time on an incompletion. Finally, Sean Progar-Jackson broke up a pass.
After their disappointing performances last week, David Harris and Demario Davis made much better contributions this week. Maybe the edge-setting role was something that will work well for this tandem. Harris was blocked out badly on the touchdown run at the second level, but managed to stay clean most of the time this week. He created a pressure by driving his man back into the quarterback and stuffed a run as he was unblocked. Davis helped to blow up a screen, stuffed a run for a short gain with a big hit near the goal line and pressured Manning once. He did get badly driven out of a play by a tight end on one play, but otherwise put forward a disciplined performance.
The second unit employed the same approach to stopping outside runs, with Nick Bellore contributing to keep contain on one play. He also stuffed a run and had one pressure, although he was blocked out of one play at the second level.
Danny Lansanah made some noise with a couple of nice stops and a forced fumble. He also blew up a screen and almost made an unblocked tackle in the backfield that ultimately led to a run being stuffed by his teammate. However, he did have some issues in coverage, getting beaten for a first down on one play and showing poor awareness on another.
Jojo Dickson got some playing time, but didn’t manage to make an impact.
Dee Milliner missed this game, but so did Ellis Lankster. After the last game, where Milliner was poor but Lankster played great, it will be very interesting to see where they stand on the depth chart. The Jets should have enough depth that they don’t need to play Milliner if he’s not 100% ready. Lankster apparently has a minor foot issue and was rested as a precaution.
Of those that did play, that meant an increased role for Darrin Walls and Kyle Wilson. Of the two, Walls had the better day. Wilson was flagged for pass interference three times and beaten for a long catch by Hakeem Nicks. He was in position on one incompletion, but overall was disappointing, with the old problem of not getting his head turned around seeming to return. Walls, on the other hand, was in pretty good position on five incompletions, one of which he broke up, and made a good play in run support. He wasn’t flawless though – on one of those five plays he didn’t get his head turned around either and was pretty physical with the receiver, so was lucky not to get flagged. He was also beaten a couple of times on third down, although one was dropped.
There’s not much to say about Antonio Cromartie. He was challenged deep once, but in perfect position. He was blocked off the edge on the opening touchdown run, but otherwise couldn’t really be faulted for anything.
Bassett noted Isaiah Trufant’s gutsy performance this morning and also described him as the NFL version of Hit-Girl on twitter, which I thought was great. Trufant is very willing in run support and was in on several plays here and also displayed a neat spin move to register a pressure on a blitz from the slot. He did get beaten for two first downs, one on a play where he was badly fooled by a double-move, though.
I was interested to see Royce Adams get some decent playing time towards the end. You may recall that, until he was injured in camp last year, Adams was 5th on the depth chart and looked set to make the roster. Adams broke up two passes and made a good open field tackle to force a punt. He did get beaten for two catches – one for a first down and one for 17 on 2nd and 22 as he was backed off. I liked what I saw from him though.
After his poor start to the game (losing contain on the Wilson touchdown), Allen had his ups and downs. He was in position in coverage a few times, made a nice open field tackle and almost forced a fumble, but he was badly burned by Nicks for what should have been a touchdown. He gave up one other first down, but he was in a pretty good position on that play. It’s a little disconcerting that nobody has really stepped up at the “other” safety spot so far.
Relegated to second team reps, Jarrett made some good plays – a run stuff near the line, an open field tackle and a fumble recovery. He displayed pretty good recovery speed on one coverage play but was beaten on another and bailed out by a drop.
Landry didn’t do too well on that opening play either, but settled down and made some good contributions, breaking up a pass on fourth down and getting in on a run stuff near the line.
Finally, Josh Bush almost (and perhaps should have) made a diving interception on a tipped pass but gave up a first down in zone coverage.
This wasn’t a good week for special teams, what with all the missed tackles and missed field goals (whether or not they counted). However, there was one sparkling play I wanted to highlight. After Simms touchdown pass, he was flagged for excessive celebration and the Jets, protecting a three-point lead with two minutes left, were forced to kick off from their 20. Billy Cundiff unleashed a monster kick that was fielded by the return man a couple of yards deep into the end zone. However, you’d worry that he out-kicked his coverage on that play. Not so, as Adams got down there before everyone else and forced the return man to change direction by clattering into his lead blocker and knocking him flying. The next man down, Bret Lockett, broke the return man down and Rontez Miles followed up to trap him so that Lockett could get him down inside the 15. The Giants still tied the score, but that was a great play when the Giants probably expected to get the ball at about the 40.
Cundiff also managed to make the winning kick, but can’t have impressed when he missed it initially with Tom Coughlin trying to ice him. Of course, Nick Folk had already missed both in the same situation moments earlier, so maybe Cundiff has a lead now.
After missing last week, Robert Malone is probably back in the lead in terms of the punter battle, especially following a horrible shank by Ryan Quigley.
The coverage units missed Lankster. Sapp, Miles, Demario Davis and Lockett all made good tackles, but Jarrett, Bush and Troy Davis all missed tackles.
On the kick return unit, Mike Edwards didn’t help his cause by fumbling and Chris Pantale had a bad missed block. Wilson didn’t look that good returning kicks and the punt returners (Jeremy Kerley and Zach Rogers) didn’t make much headway.
Finally, for those of you interested in the long snapper battle, Pat Scales got in on another tackle this week, but also had one bad snap that Robert Malone did well to rescue.
I was extremely concerned by the run defense after the first play, but as noted they seemed to fix this pretty sharply so I feel a lot better about the run defense now. The potential on that line is incredible and if there are some weaknesses elsewhere on defense, you can still be very successful when your line is elite. There’s no better example of that than the Giants themselves over the past five or six years.
Of course, the big story is whatever happens at the quarterback position, but also to a lesser extent the left guard, backup center and number three quarterback. I’m not convinced the safety position is set yet, either.
Next week is the Bollinger Bowl, so named not as a slight to the caliber of players that will be getting the reps, but as a tribute to Brooks Bollinger’s fourth quarter heroics (three late TD’s to overturn a 27-7 deficit) in the same fixture back in 2005. It’s my favorite game of the year, but this year there is still much to be settled.
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