Coming up, your breakdown of yesterday’s win over the Rams, together with detailed analysis of personnel groupings and individual performance.
Join me after the jump as I attempt to cover every angle.
Thank goodness for that. As a writer, there's nothing worse than the same old story, so it was refreshing to see the Jets flip the script and produce a different outcome this week.
The NFL continues to confound with any team seemingly capable of turning it on against an elite opponent or stinking up the joint against a cellar dweller from week to week and hardly anyone capable of getting any positive or negative momentum going. Perhaps we should have guessed that the Rams had peaked last week against the 49ers and the Jets were due to break out of their slump.
For much of the first half, the Jets were making many of the same mistakes which landed them in the 3-6 hole in which they entered the game. However, they were at last able to capitalize on some mistakes by their opponents and finally imposed their will for the first time in what seems like forever to give themselves some breathing room in the second half.
Let’s look at some of those individual performances:
Mark Sanchez has born the brunt of the criticism this week following two miserable performances against the Dolphins and Seahawks, but is he a terrible quarterback or was he just in a slump? In any sport, players can go into a slump. Sometimes you just need to make a four foot putt, or knock down a couple of free throws or get that bloop single off the end of the bat and suddenly you can string together a few good moments and put together a solid performance. For Sanchez, it was his throw to Joe McKnight in the second quarter to set up a field goal that got him going.
Prior to that throw, he was already 3-for-4 as they opened - as they often do - with some simple short passes to try and get him going. His throw over the top to McKnight was thrown with excellent touch and right on the money, hitting him in stride. From that point on, Sanchez wasn't flawless, but did seem to throw the ball with a lot more confidence.
Last week, many people poked fun at Sanchez's tendency to pump-fake while in the pocket. As we all know, Sanchez sometimes lapses into a bad habit of being hesitant before delivering the ball. However, this week they put some plays in the gameplan where Sanchez was able to use the pump-fake to set up some decisive throws. His touchdown pass to Chaz Schilens saw Jeremy Kerley cut his route short as Sanchez faked the toss to the outside on a bubble screen. Schilens didn't even need to make a double move as the cornerback and safety both came up fast, anticipating the short throw. While Sanchez's throw wasn't perfect, it was good enough. On the next drive, he pump-faked left on the quick slant to Schilens who was lined up out wide and then threw down the seam to Kerley for 32 yards. This time, it wasn't the pump fake that opened up the middle of the field for the deep ball, but he looked at the check down option underneath and the slot receiver was drawn to the outside by Clyde Gates staying out in the wide flat. Could it be that Sanchez feels more in rhythm when he pump-fakes first, so the Jets can facilitate this with some quick decoy routes that will have the added benefit of preventing him from staring down his primary intended target? Late in the third quarter, he pump-faked to Stephen Hill coming across the field and then found Konrad Reuland wide open in the left flat. On this occasion, Hill was wide open and was definitely expecting it to be thrown to him judging by his reaction. Sanchez never looked at Reuland, so I don't know if he somehow sensed that Reuland (who had thrown a block at the line of scrimmage that put the safety on the ground) would be wide open. Maybe Reuland yelled at him or maybe Sanchez has just lost confidence in Hill and just got lucky that Reuland was open when he decided to pull it back and look elsewhere. Either way, all these plays add up and can only be good for Sanchez's confidence.
Sanchez did get a bit lucky on a couple of plays - he was able to recover his own fumble, he had a pass go through McKnight's hands that was almost intercepted and he had a deep ball that easily could have been picked off because Hill lost it in the lights. None of these were his fault though. While a couple of his completions could have been slightly better placed and one of his incompletions was thrown slightly too late, he only had two really inaccurate throws all day and neither proved costly or were in danger of being picked off.
Sanchez has now had a quarterback rating of over 100 in three of the four Jets wins, with the one exception being the game in Miami where they easily could have lost. Hopefully that doesn't mean the Jets need him to perform at that level to win games. Instead, when you consider how they didn't really ask him to do anything too difficult, it should be a sign that adequate play from the quarterback position shouldn't be beyond our expectations with this offense. If he can build on the confidence yesterday's win should have given him, hopefully he can play well against New England for the second time this year.
Clearly Tim Tebow's offensive contributions were non-existent this week. Perhaps more troubling than his lack of statistical production and apparent bad reads was the fact he showed frustration after one play where Jeremy Kerley motioned into the backfield and took a handoff for a one yard loss. He appeared to be remonstrating with Reuland after the play. Reuland, a tight end on the right side, initially appeared to make his block, but there was a defensive lineman in the hole because he stayed at home even though Austin Howard and Brandon Moore pulled out left to try and get some misdirection going. However, having watched this a few times, it seems possible that Reuland was supposed to get outside leverage on his man to allow Kerley to run parallel to the line of scrimmage and get to the outside on the right. He was unable to set the edge and Kerley was forced to cut back inside. It's not clear whether Reuland missed his assignment or just failed to execute the block as intended. Either way, if the Tebow package is going to hardly be used and Tebow himself will get frustrated with teammates who don't come in and execute the plays, then he's not being the selfless, team-oriented, role player he's been advertised as.
With how predictable the packages have been in recent weeks, I wonder if they have some special wrinkles saved up for this week. They've certainly developed some tendencies, but I don't necessarily think that the Patriots have the kind of personnel in their front seven that will takes themselves out of plays or overpursue.
Headline news on the offensive line this week was the performance of Austin Howard in the running game. Howard has been an above-average run blocker so far this season and I would rate this performance as comfortably his most consistent of the year. He had some good kickout blocks, got a consistent surge as a drive blocker and had no real negatives in the running game. Perhaps his best block saw him get to the outside and turn his man back to the inside to spring Gates for a 12-yard run on an end around.
Howard continues to struggle in the passing game compared with his teammates, but managed to limit the damage to one sack. He did also fall down on Sanchez's touchdown pass, but Nick Mangold proved his worth by coming across to pick up his man and enabling Sanchez to get the throw away cleanly.
Mangold had a slow start by his standards, but really started to dominate in the second half. There were some uncharacteristic missed blocks in the running game, but his overall contribution was excellent and he had no issues in pass protection. In fact, the pass protection on the interior continues to be solid as neither starting guard gave up a pressure either. Both starters were up and down in the running game though. Brandon Moore pulled a lot and was often the guy they tried to run behind. As you'd expect that led to several positive and negative plays from him. Matt Slauson had less of a key role and was also inconsistent, but did make a couple of solid blocks in the running game.
At the other tackle position, D'Brickashaw Ferguson once again didn't allow a hit or a sack as he continues to excel in pass protection. His run blocking was up and down, as he had some good kickout blocks and a good second level block on Bilal Powell's second touchdown but also had a handful of plays where he let his man get off his block to make a play.
For all his talk of wanting to show something against his former teammates, Jason Smith made a couple of mistakes and didn't have a major impact. He false started on one play and missed a couple of blocks in the running game. Vladimir Ducasse continues to rotate in for every third series at guard. This week, his three drives saw them go three and out and miss a field goal, drive from inside their own 30 to set up a made field goal and drive 38 yards for the final touchdown. Ducasse made a couple of minor mistakes but did get out in front of a screen pass well and led the way nicely for Powell's second touchdown. As it begins to look increasingly likely he'll be starting at guard next year, Ducasse is managing to hold his own and it's encouraging to see them producing with him in the game.
Shonn Greene has never been thought of as much of a "boom or bust" type back, but on Sunday 15 of his 18 carries went for four yards or less, netting just 30 yards total. However, on the other three carries, he read the hole well, broke to the second level and finished the run strong, picking up 10, 10 and 14 yards. 64 yards on 18 carries is a disappointing output, but he had 49 of those yards on his first nine carries and most of his second half carries amounted to little more than softening up the defense.
The main beneficiary of that was Powell, who was able to run for the first two touchdowns of his career. His 11-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter was also the longest run of his career so far. He added two catches, including one to set up that second touchdown. On the downside, he was beaten three times in pass protection, including once for a sack. Watching him, I was wondering whether his injury has compromised his lateral movement. Greene also gave up a sack as he missed a cut block.
McKnight gave the offense a spark with his first down catch and also showed good burst on a decent run over the right side. However, he did allow a short Sanchez pass to deflect off his hands and there was one play where he ran to the outside and was unable to turn the corner.
At fullback, Lex Hilliard got off to a pretty good start with some thumping blocks in the hole. However, as the game wore on his inconsistencies as a run blocker resurfaced.
Schilens led the team in receiving this week, although Kerley wasn't too far behind. Schilens made a nice adjustment on Sanchez's touchdown throw and had two other first down catches. He did badly mess up a block on the play where Tebow rolled out and was tackled though, although he was matched up with a much bigger player.
Kerley had the big play down the seam and two other short catches, one for a third down conversion and one where he made a few extra yards by slipping a tackle. Teams are starting to show respect for him when he runs decoy routes now too.
Disappointingly, Stephen Hill had another bad drop and also lost the deep ball in the lights and was called for an offensive pass interference penalty. I continue to be impressed by his ability to get open, although if Sanchez has lost faith in him, then that could be a problem. I'm reminded of when Anthony Becht was dropping a lot of passes during the Chad Pennington era and then Pennington had a couple of interceptions or near interceptions where Becht was wide open but Pennington took something off the throw as if trying to lob him a beach ball. Hopefully Sanchez won't fall into the same trap. To Hill's credit, after badly missing a block early in the game, he did make some good ones later on.
It was a quiet game for Dustin Keller, which doesn't really fit into the theory that Sanchez needs Keller to be performing to play well. Keller did catch a couple of balls and didn't do a bad job as a blocker, but he wasn't a major part of their offensive success this week. His backups, Reuland and Jeff Cumberland caught a pass each. As noted, Reuland seemed to mess up his block on the Tebow/Kerley play. Cumberland also messed up one block but did set the edge well on another play.
Finally, Antonio Cromartie saw some offensive snaps this week. He also had a badly missed block as they ran the ball to his side of the field for some reason.
It's good to see Muhammad Wilkerson's performance getting some recognition. Wilkerson has been playing well all year, but a lot of what he does goes unnoticed in the trenches. However, this week, he did some of his best work as a pass rusher for a change. This was the most disruptive game I've seen from him so far as a pass rusher, despite the fact he saw plenty of attention from double teams. It was highlighted by his strip sack in the first half, but he got close several other times. As noted last week, he had already emulated the amount of total pressure he recorded last season. If he carries on at this rate, he's likely to more than double last year's output. He actually made a slow start in the running game, but had more and more of an impact as the game wore on, getting plenty of good penetration and blowing up several runs in the second half.
Alongside Wilkerson, veterans Mike DeVito and Sione Po'uha each had positives and negatives. It wasn't a good sign for Po'uha when Robert Turner handled him easily one-on-one on the first play of the game. However, Po'uha did make a positive impact as the game went on and was getting double teamed a lot. Three times he was able to shed his block to stuff a runner, but the difference from last year is still apparent. Those plays would probably have been one yard gains last season, but are going for four or five yards this time. DeVito has likely been playing more than the Jets intended due to the injuries to Po'uha and Kenrick Ellis. He entered the game having been in on over 62% of the snaps - his career high being 57%. He did get handled at the point of attack a few times and only disrupted a couple of plays.
Ellis barely played (three snaps) before suffering another injury. When he has played this year, he's looked good most of the time. However, it has to be a concern that he can't stay on the field, especially with DeVito being stretched and Po'uha playing hurt. The fact the Rams fell behind and starting passing a lot afford the Jets a good opportunity to limit their reps, which they took.
Quinton Coples had a pretty quiet game and did get blocked out of a couple of plays. However, he was credited with a QB hit and three tackles, including one for a loss (on yet another play blown up by Wilkerson's penetration). It must be a good sign that he's still making contributions like these even on his quietest days.
The linebackers didn't make much of an impact against the run this week, with the Rams picking up 114 yards at almost six yards per carry due to a bunch of missed tackles and players getting blocked out of plays. David Harris had four tackles and the rest of the linebackers had just six between them. Harris actually graded out poorly against the run, but did contribute well in the pass rush, getting a handful of pressures. He also made a couple of good plays in coverage, although he was clearly at fault on the Rams' first touchdown because he picked up the halfback when he motioned to the slot and followed him to the outside, leaving the middle unattended. It was clear that at least one of the cornerbacks on that side (Cromartie and Kyle Wilson) thought they were in zone coverage because they both stayed out there rather than following their man to the middle of the field.
Bart Scott will make more headlines for his performance in the locker room than on the field this week. He did get in on a run stuff, recovered a fumble and took out a few blockers to enable teammates to stop running plays, but his overall impact was muted. Probably his worst moment on defense saw him too busy communicating with Wilson about where to go in coverage, so he wasn't ready for the snap and the run up the middle went for a decent gain.
After a terrific performance last week, Bryan Thomas didn't do as well this week. He had one pressure and was inconsistent against the run. On the other side, Calvin Pace had a couple of pressures, but didn't have much of an impact against the run either.
Demario Davis got plenty of playing time and there were signs that he's making some progress. He had a couple of pressures, made some good plays in coverage and showed good instincts on one run to blow it up in the hole. He did get lost in zone coverage once and had one missed tackle, but overall it was a more consistent performance than last week and he is hopefully getting more comfortable at this level.
Garrett McIntyre contributed well again with some good pass rushing, a good stop against the run and a key fumble recovery. However, he did have a roughing the passer penalty for helmet-to-helmet contact. Maybe activating Ricky Sapp (and releasing Aaron Maybin) has sparked McIntyre to raise his game. Sapp looked good again, getting close to Sam Bradford on a number of occasions. There were only two plays where Roger Saffold managed to neutralize him easily. Sapp almost got to Bradford on a quick throw as he was unblocked coming off the edge and followed that up by beating his man on the outside to force Bradford to step up, just avoiding his grasp. He also got in Bradford's face on his second touchdown pass, forcing him to throw off his back foot.
This week, Cromartie had a bit of a letdown as he was beaten for a touchdown and two first downs and also had two missed tackles. On one of the first downs, he lost Danny Amendola on a whip route, a matchup which I could have told you in advance wasn't likely to end well for Cromartie (who will likely draw the Brandon Lloyd assignment on Thursday). Cromartie did have good coverage on one throw to the end zone and also broke up a third down pass with a big hit, so it wasn't all bad. He also managed to avoid getting flagged, which is an achievement in itself when Jerome Boger's crew is working the game. That may have factored into some of the plays he gave up though.
The other cornerbacks - who will be tested on Thursday - did pretty well, apart from Wilson being involved in the mix-up on the first touchdown. Wilson did give up five other catches on nine targets, but none of them were for more than 10 yards and he was in good position on three other plays including a two-point conversion that he broke up. Ellis Lankster also broke up a pass and was in good position on a throw to the end zone. He ended up surrendering just an eight yard catch on four targets, although it was for a first down. He should also have had a sack, but missed the tackle and did jump offside once.
Despite Bassett writing earlier today that LaRon Landry played great, the film shows otherwise, as he had two bad missed tackles and a third that was negated by a penalty. He also gave up a first down in coverage. While he was correctly credited with two forced fumbles, one of these merely saw the receiver drop the ball as he was tackled in the open field and then easily fall back on it, so it was never really a potential impact play. The other, however, was a huge play and Landry did have two other positive contributions - one good open field tackle on a short pass and a pressure as he guessed the snap count and shot a gap to flush Bradford.
Landry and Yeremiah Bell did combine for 14 tackles, though, with Bell in on two tackles in the backfield. He also had a nice pass breakup, but did also get burned down the seam for the 36-yard play that set up the opening score. The Jets got a surprise contribution from their other safety, Eric Smith, who jumped a route for a first half interception and made a tackle in the backfield on another pass play. Overall, his coverage numbers were great with just two catches for 17 yards on the seven throws into his coverage. He did get beaten downfield twice though, with one falling incomplete.
Finally, Josh Bush was on the field for one snap and Aaron Berry for two, before injuring his quad. Berry almost had a sack.
Let's face it, if Wilson's muffed punt had been recovered by the Rams, Nick Folk's blocked field goal had stayed in bounds and been returnable and the officials hadn't spotted the hold on Chris Givens' kickoff return for a touchdown, we'd probably be staring at yet another blowout loss for the Jets. Those are the sort of things that have been going against the Jets in recent weeks, underlining how a major breakdown can turn a potential win into a heavy defeat.
They weren't the only letdowns, either. The fake punt was doomed to fail, not just because the Rams had their defensive personnel in against the Jets punt coverage offensive line (which is essentially comprised of all the backup linebackers on the roster), but because James Laurinaitis was keying Hilliard the whole way with nobody in a position to block him, so it was a bad read by Tebow. The only chance the play would have had of working would have been in Tebow was able to keep the ball, get outside on Chris Long - who seemed to have him sized up pretty good - and maybe pitch the ball to the punter if he wasn't able to turn the corner. For that to work, the punter would need to catch the ball and run about 15 yards with it, which would never have happened unless Schilens and Eric Smith were able to sustain their blocks for several seconds. In other words, too many things would have had to go right for that option to work. Ultimately, I agree with the TV crew who said that Tebow should have realized they were in their base defense and audibled to a punt.
Despite kicking two field goals of over 50 yards, Folk's misses are starting to pile up as feared. Ferguson was at fault on the one that was blocked and he looked like he was blaming his holder, Robert Malone, on the other one. Malone fared slightly better as a punter, although he did boom one into the end zone. He did have one that bounced to a stop inside the five though.
The Jets also almost lost an onside kick after it careened up off Hilliard's heel and Keller had to make a diving smother. On the kickoff return, Bush had a bad missed tackle and Berry was unable to make the tackle in the open field. However, on one other kickoff, Berry chased the return man across the field and Bush made a solid tackle, so they did at least improve on that.
Other than a good kickoff return from McKnight, the one bright spot was Schilens. He had two good tackles and also maintained his lane well to lead to the tackle by Bush referenced above. He also drew the holding penalty that negated Givens' runback.
While this was an encouraging win for the Jets, I'm not yet convinced that this is a sign that they're about to turn their season around. In truth, this performance wasn't all that different from how the Jets played over the last two weeks in two games they ended up getting blown out in. What was different was that they finished drives, got a few lucky breaks and made some key plays at the right time. That meant they had the lead in the second half and were able to close the game out instead of chasing the game.
I'm sorry to say that this could indicate that this Jets team has a very fragile psyche and that they perhaps suffer from a tendency to let things get to them when not everything is going their way. That can have a negative affect on things like body language, motivation, effort and confidence.
However, the good news is that the boost in confidence they got from this performance will hopefully carry over to the next few games and if they can get off to some good starts they should remain competitive. When a team does have a tendency to respond negatively to adversity, that's not easy to turn round without anything positive to build upon. Now they've had a positive performance, hopefully there's more of a chance to get everyone on the same page and for more focused and opportunistic performances like the one against the Rams to be seen more often over the second half of the season.
We're back to normal service now, so hit me with your BGA questions in the comments section and I will answer them for you in BGA Extra on Wednesday or Thursday.