Coming up, your breakdown of yesterday’s win in Jacksonville, together with detailed analysis of personnel groupings and individual performance.
Join me after the jump as I attempt to cover every angle.
The big story this week is how Mark Sanchez returned to the lineup and the Jets played conservatively all day, leaning on their running game to just about do enough to get him and the team another win. However, I'm going to shake things up today and start by talking about the defense.
Last week, I shared how much I enjoyed the Jets' 7-6 win over the Cardinals, because I like low scoring football. However, although yesterday's game again went into halftime with the score just 3-0, I actually enjoyed the second half more. Rather than repeating the dominant defensive performance of the previous week, the Jets were playing more of a bend-but-don't-break style in the first half, with a red zone turnover and a missed field goal helping to limit the damage. A return to the Henderson/Sutton era wasn't exactly what I was envisaging in my enjoyment of last week's display. However, in the second half, the Jets stepped it up, sacking Chad Henne three times, pressuring him repeatedly and holding him to just 11 completions on his last 30 pass attempts.
As a measure of how they weren't living up to last week's performance in that first half, you may recall that I noted last week how the Jets achieved a "win" (by their own grading system) on 37 of 43 plays last week. This week, in the first half, it was just 18 of 33. In fact, they had six "losses" on the first drive alone. The second half was much better, of course. 27 of 38, including 11 of 12 in the third quarter.
In the end, they generated more pressure than they have in any other game so far this season, including two that directly led to passes being intercepted. The run defense wasn't very impressive, but did well enough to force the Jags into passing downs, so they could rely on their pass rush and secondary to get them off the field.
There are still cracks, but it was another step in the right direction defensively. It's obviously important for Rex Ryan that the defense finishes the season strongly, because that's something he can hang his hat on in terms of justifying his job security.
Let’s look at the rest of those individual performances:
We have to start by discussing the superb performances from Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples. They each generated a lot of pressure, picking up two sacks and three hits between them. Wilkerson continues to use his hands superbly and is giving offensive linemen fits with a variety of pass rush moves. He even got close on a spin move this week. In the running game, he stuffed a couple of runs and did get some good penetration, but was also blocked out of a few plays. As for Coples, he showed great interior pass rushing ability when he bullrushed up the middle and almost sacked Henne and then later did the same thing and this time did pick up the sack. At the end of the game, he got pressure on Henne on consecutive plays, with the second one leading to Ellis Lankster's game-clinching pick. For Coples, there weren't many negatives either. He did have a facemask penalty and a missed tackle and - while he had no realistic chance of affecting the play - it was disconcerting to see how half-heartedly he jogged after Montell Owens on his touchdown run one play after Coples' sack. On the whole, though, this was the kind of breakout game we've been hoping for from Coples since he showed an ability to be productive in preseason.
While the Jaguars had some success running the ball, especially between the tackles (70 yards on nine carries), it was difficult to determine whether any individual was at fault because the Jets seemed to have the wrong "run fit" on a lot of the plays. While this is sometimes due to an individual error - for example, Kenrick Ellis shot the same gap as Wilkerson on one play, leaving a huge lane up the middle - it usually seemed to be a case of them not lining up correctly or adjusting to the Jaguars blocking scheme.
Another difference from last week may simply have been the fact that they only had seven days rest, so older guys like Sione Po'uha, Bart Scott and Bryan Thomas who responded so well to having ten days rest wouldn't have benefited in similar fashion this week.
That's perhaps not entirely fair to Po'uha, who did make a couple of big stops, including one on third and one. He was driven off the line badly on a second half play, but that was the only time that happened all day and the run actually ended up going for a loss, as Po'uha continues to solidify his play while still falling well short of what he capable of when healthy.
Mike DeVito found himself driven off the line a couple of times early in the game, but had a much better second half, generating one pressure and stretching a run out to the sideline well. Kenrick Ellis is seeing his playing time creep upwards too and, other than the apparent mistake mentioned earlier, was getting some good penetration.
One of the biggest disappointments of the season so far has been the play of David Harris. Granted, that's a by-product of guys like Po'uha and Scott not being 100% and being unable to do their usual job of keeping blockers off him, but it's still a major concern - especially when he feasibly could be the only starting linebacker to return next year. The good news is that he turned in his best performance of the year against the Jaguars with ten tackles (including one for a loss) and a key pass defensed. He also added a sack, a hit and a pressure in the pass rush and had a forced fumble overturned by the replay booth. It wasn't a perfect performance - he did get caught in traffic on some of those runs up the middle - but it's good to see Harris is still capable of playing at a high level.
Alongside Harris, Scott of course gets some of the credit for keeping him clean, although he wasn't attacking the line of scrimmage with as much abandon as he did in the Arizona game and managed to run himself out of a few running plays. He came up big with the interception in the red zone and also had an impact as a pass rusher. While he gave up one first down catch, that was on a blatant pick play and he otherwise acquitted himself well in coverage.
On the outside, Calvin Pace had a poor game, although with news surfacing that Thomas may be unavailable for the rest of the year, I wonder if he could replace Thomas in his role as more of a primary edge setter, a role he handled well in Thomas' absence last year. Pace had a couple of missed tackles, only one pressure in 30 pass rush attempts and gave up three catches on three targets in coverage (although he was able to limit these to short yardage). He did get in on a couple of stops, but continues to be a disappointment. PFF have only given him a positive grade once since Week 2.
Before he got hurt, Thomas had a decent game. He made a couple of plays against the run and had one pressure. He was blocked out of two running plays that went for good yardage though.
While it will most likely be Coples that gets additional reps due to Thomas' absence, it also puts pressure on Garrett McIntyre to perform constistently, with Ricky Sapp waiting in the wings. We saw something good from McIntyre, as his hit - albeit unblocked on a delayed blitz - led to Scott's interception. However, we also saw something bad, as on Owens' touchdown run, he was swallowed up and blocked to the ground by a double team, creating the pile which Owens hurdled over to get to the second level. In McIntyre's defense, this came one play after the Thomas injury and he had to run onto the field and was barely in position as the ball was snapped. Other than that, he did get in on one run stuff, but didn't register any other pressure in 22 pass rush attempts, although he did help flush Henne from the pocket once.
Demario Davis rotated in for Scott a little more than last week, (five snaps instead of two), but it's apparent they don't trust him in coverage right now. He came out of the game to be replaced by Scott on one third and long play. I wonder if a healthy Josh Mauga would have made any impact this season.
The Jets secondary held yet another quarterback under 50%, which is especially impressive considering Revis is out. However, there were some disappointing breakdowns and the damage could have been worse if not for some dropped passes.
Antonio Cromartie turned in another confident performance, which he punctuated by breaking up a key pass down the stretch. His tackling this year has really improved, as evidenced by his excellent open field tackle on third down in the flat. He did give up a bit too much of a cushion on a couple of plays, but this might have been something the Jets were doing deliberately to perhaps set up some sort of trap. The thought of a healthy Revis and a Cromartie that plays with this kind of consistency is certainly enticing. One minor issue could be that he jumped a couple of routes, where maybe a double move would have allowed his man to get beyond him. I can't really criticize him for that unless it happens though, and the only time I can recall him getting caught out like that in recent weeks was on the WR-option gadget play in Seattle.
Kyle Wilson also seemed to play off his man on a few occasions. In assessing Wilson, I think he's become more physical in coverage this year and really improved his tackling (as shown on two good open field tackles yesterday). However, it seems like he gets involved in too many coverage breakdowns. There was one play yesterday where he was ten yards off the line of scrimmage on the right side with the only wide receiver on his side of the field lined up close to the edge of the line, but then another receiver motioned across and went out wide left. LaRon Landry came up into the box, as if to pick up the slot receiver and then you'd always expect Wilson to pick up the outside guy, but he was left completely uncovered for an easy 12 yards. It's almost as if Wilson fell asleep on that one. They also got lucky on another play where Wilson's man ran a crossing route and was completely uncovered, only to drop the ball. It looked like Wilson expected that to be a zone coverage, but every other receiver seemed to be accounted for and both safeties seemed to be too deep to pick that route up.
As always, I have to mention that I can never really be entirely sure who was responsible for any coverage breakdowns or if the communication in the secondary was adequate, but Wilson does seem to be involved in these situations quite a lot in recent weeks.
It looks like the Jets have a lot of faith in Lankster. When Cromartie left the game with his head injury, it was Lankster who was operating mostly without any safety help, something he seems to be doing a lot of in recent games. Lankster had two major negatives - giving up a first down catch on third and seven and letting a fourth down pass go through his hands for a first down that kept the potential game tying drive alive. Of course, he should have just knocked that last one down, but then he wouldn't have been able to actually ice the game on an interception two plays later. It's worth emphasizing that even on these two negative plays, he was still in good position, so it's rare that he gets beaten cleanly. There was one other play where he gave up a catch on the sideline only for the receiver to have stepped out of bounds. Again, I would give him credit on that play because he did a good job of funnelling the receiver to the outside. He did get blocked out of the play on Owens' touchdown run, but he's becoming pretty reliable in coverage and definitely seems like he has a future with the team.
LaRon Landry turned in another solid display too, although he was a bit too deep on several downfield completions and seems to be involved in too many of those coverage breakdowns. He was terrific in run support and made some good plays in coverage too. If he continues to play consistently over these last few games, that's going to make a tough decision for next year even tougher for the Jets.
Yeremiah Bell was also excellent in run support - he and Landry combined for 20 tackles and several of these were close to the line of scrimmage. He also broke up a pass and got to Henne once, but did give up a catch downfield and got caught up in traffic on the touchdown run.
Eric Smith was another player badly blocked out of the play on the Owens touchdown, but that was really his only negative. He had two pressures off the edge and recovered a fumble, only for the booth to overturn it. It was interesting to see rookie Antonio Allen re-enter to mix too. He made an impact as a pass rusher and while he only dropped into coverage seven times on 20 plays, he was in good position on one incompletion. He also drew a holding penalty as he forced a run to the outside.
Finally, Darrin Walls saw his first action of the year on defense. He replaced the injured Cromartie, but then did get back into the game once Cromartie made his return. All in all, he was in for eight snaps and thrown at once with the receiver dropping a wide throw.
Once again, special teams were a bit of a letdown. The Jets were very lucky not to have two punts blocked, either one of which could have cost them the game. The first one saw Tanner Purdum knocked over as CJ Mosley exploded up the middle and the second saw Lex Hilliard miss his block. To his credit, Robert Malone got both punts away superbly including one that was fair-caught by a receiver who had to run back 10 yards for to catch the 59-yarder. Malone did have two poor punts as well though.
Lankster had a great game on special teams. He's probably the closest thing they have to a primary gunner right now, because they're mixing up who gets that assignment. Wilson got down there quickly one time, only to get lit up by a huge block. They've also been using Landry in that role and Mardy Gilyard is more than capable too. In the return game, Joe McKnight, who was suffering from migraines overnight, saw one returnable kick dribble past him into the end zone. Jeremy Kerley had a good punt return, evading two tackles to set up a score.
I continue to wonder where Eric Smith's reputation as a good special teamer comes from. He has one special teams tackle this year. Last year's top special teamer Nick Bellore got in on one big hit, but also missed a tackle and has been a lot less productive than last year.
The Jets got Mark Sanchez to play within himself this week and it proved to be a winning strategy. However, failing to put up any points against one of the league's worst defenses in the first half can't have been the plan.
To give Sanchez some credit, he showed progress in some of the areas where he struggled last week. He opened the second half with a decisive, on-time throw to Chaz Schilens coming back to the marker for a first down and hit Jeremy Kerley on an identical quick slant to the one he chose not to throw last week for a third down conversion. He also hit his hot read a couple of times - maybe a hair late on the first one where Gilyard came up just short of the marker, but right on target to Kerley on another play (only for Kerley to fumble). So, there are signs that they're at least trying to work out the kinks.
Sanchez also had a good throw on the rollout to Schilens and the big throw down the middle to Jeff Cumberland in the fourth quarter was also well-thrown. He also created three other first downs, two on penalties and one on a smart, decisive tuck-and-run.
Was it perfect? Of course not. He badly overthrew an open Jeremy Kerley on a comeback route and lost a fumble, but let's face it, if Greg McElroy won the game posting the same numbers (12-for-19 with two drops) then we'd all be saying he was the future and that there's no way Sanchez could have achieved the same. Maybe this is enough to give him something to build on.
Before I move on, I must repeat what the announcer said during the game:
"Now you tell me...is there anyone getting separation against man to man coverage?"
Here's the play he was talking about. You be the judge:
His conclusion was no, for some reason. I see four, maybe even five open receivers. If he dumped it to Kahlil Bell on the left side, that's a touchdown.
Of course, Tim Tebow and Greg McElroy did not play. I wonder how long that will be the case.
The second half display by the offensive line was phenomenal. If the reports about Brandon Moore ripping into them are correct, then the effect was obvious, particularly with the established veterans. Nick Mangold didn't have much of a first half impact, but looked as good as ever in the second half, moving guys all over the place. D'Brickashaw Ferguson missed a bad block in the first half and got beaten for a strip sack, but in the second half he had two tremendous blocks - a trap on the Bilal Powell touchdown run and a driving kickout block pulling to the right on the play just before it.
Other than that sack - the first Ferguson has given up all season - Sanchez was under pressure just twice. Once was on the play shown in the screen grab above, where he held onto the ball waiting for the routes to develop - which he was right to do - and Jeremy Mincey eventually got off Vladimir Ducasse's block to hit him as he released the throw. The other was a play where Austin Howard's man eventually got pressure, again after some time.
Howard continues to look really good at right tackle. He once again had a positive impact in the running game too, looking good on traps and kickout blocks. There was one interesting sequence on that second touchdown drive, where the Jets got the ball on the 46 and ran for a touchdown with Bilal Powell getting seven carries in a row. Howard had just made a great trap block and Powell went for 13, but on the next play, he let his man get into the backfield and blow up the run for no gain. Moore remonstrated with him after the play and of course the line re-grouped and ran it in three plays later.
Moore backed up his words with a standout performance. While he made a few mistakes, he had some physical blocks both on the move and going straight ahead. The other guard, Matt Slauson, turned in a solid display too, with more positives than negatives. Even the two backups, Ducasse and Jason Smith made an impact, leading the way on a third quarter run to the outside by Shonn Greene.
Greene and Powell both worked well in the running game, operating as a two-headed monster and proving Mangold's oft-repeated "keep swinging the ax" mantra (inherited from Alan Faneca, I believe) to be true. Powell gained a career-best 78 yards on 19 carries, but that included three carries at the end of each half where the Jets were more concerned with running clock than gaining yardage and were running into a heavy set. Those six carries netted just seven yards, but when it counted, Powell was picking up huge chunks - including that one-man drive for 46 yards and a score on seven carries.
Greene gained 77 yards on 20 carries, but was 13-for-55 in the second half, as he was tasked with the tough wear-down-the-defense role in the first half. It was good to see him get in the end zone again and he has very quietly racked up 883 yards on the season, with three games still to go. As I've noted, he is making much better reads over the last couple of months and I still believe you can attribute his slow start to the new scheme (which in turn caused the offensive line to start slowly), but he is running effectively within that system now. However, there was one play where he made the wrong read:
As you can see, had he bounced left, he looks like he could have had an easy first down. Dwight Lowery had crept up to the line, then backed off and although he was on the edge and perhaps would have been able to make the tackle, you'd expect Greene to have enough upfield momentum to at least get to the marker. As it happens, he just plowed into the line for no gain. Having said that, I present this because it's more of an aberration these days and he is making better reads overall.
At fullback, Hilliard had one good lead block, but also got pushed back into the runner once and did have a bad dropped pass.
Bell was in for just two snaps as a third down pass protector and McKnight was in for one play.
With the Jets not airing it out much this week, there's not much to judge the receivers on in the passing game.
Schilens had two solid catches downfield and one excellent block in the running game. Gilyard also got into the action with some good blocking and caught two short passes, although one of them saw him tackled just shy of the marker and the other saw him inexplicably step on the sideline just before the marker. He also failed to catch a low back shoulder throw by Sanchez, where the announcers felt his route wasn't great.
It's another blow to see Stephen Hill sidelined with what looks like a bad leg injury. He had seemed to be turning the corner only for this to come at a time when he looked set to get a ton of reps.
Kerley has had a good season, but it was disappointing to see him fumble the ball away on what otherwise would have been a good play. He did make one first down catch, but his other three catches were all quick tosses for short yardage.
Cromartie saw some brief action, catching one pass for a loss. I wonder if Cromartie and a healthy McKnight will be seen as better options than bringing in someone new and teaching them the playbook at this stage of the season.
The Jets used their four tight ends a lot, including Jason Smith. They combined for 114 snaps on 64 plays, despite the fact that Cumberland was injured for part of the game. Cumberland came up with the big catch, but had a poor day as a blocker, especially late in the game where the Jets were trying to run out the clock. Konrad Reuland, on the other hand, has his best game as a blocker so far this year. He was pretty inconsistent in the first half, but had an excellent second half making blocks at the second level. He also caught two short passes.
Finally, Hayden Smith saw his first meaningful action, getting in on 10 snaps. He didn't really do anything wrong, although I still sensed a slight hesitancy at times. However, once he locked onto a block, he seemed capable of holding his ground. If he can continue to get more comfortable, there's signs that he could harness the leverage techniques that will come naturally to him as a rugby player and turn himself into a competent blocker.
The Jets played this one pretty safe and came away with a relatively comfortable win, although they still needed a defensive stand to hold on. It's interesting that they're taking this approach now. As I noted last week, it was three years since they had won a low scoring game in the regular season, but now that's two in a row.
As a team, the Jets still don't look good. However, certain elements - the secondary, the running game, maybe even the pass rush - are starting to develop into the kind of staples you can lean on to get results in a late season game. Three games remain against teams that aren't very good, but probably still represent an upgrade over the last two teams they've faced, so getting to 9-7 will still challenge them.
However, if they continue to rely on those things they're doing well and avoid shooting themselves in the foot, then it's not out of the question.
Should they defy all logic and go on to scrape into the postseason, there's no way they look good enough to beat a playoff caliber team. However, you'd have said exactly the same thing in 2009, wouldn't you?