This week, Bent analyzes Week 6 performances by Todd Bowles, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith, Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Quincy Enunwa and the Wide Receivers, Nick Mangold and the Offensive Line, Buster Skrine and the Defensive Backs, Darron Lee and the Linebackers, Leonard Williams and the Defensive Line the and special teams.
Todd Bowles and the coaching staff
Bent: Yesterday's defensive game plan got me thinking back to a Todd Bowles quote from before he became the head coach, when he said, "We have to make sure elephants stay elephants and giraffes stay giraffes."
I wrote about the elephant quote when I first tried to envisage what Bowles' defense was going to look like after he was hired by the Jets. However, it's been evident that he's gotten away from this - one of his core philosophies - over the course of the season so far. Playing key players out of position and giving them extra responsibilities like chipping pass rushers, maintaining pocket integrity and stepping into passing lanes prevents them from attacking as efficiently as you need them to.
Yesterday, however, with Muhammad Wilkerson out, Bowles was left with no choice but to put Sheldon Richardson back onto the defensive line and it paid off. Neither Richardson nor Leonard Williams had their most dominating of games, but it allowed players like Lorenzo Mauldin to play a more suitable role, leading to better contributions than they'd provided all season.
Also, on the back end, the Jets continued with a more assignment-based approach, playing a lot of two-deep coverages and leading to each of their five main defensive backs making key plays instead of showing confusion and looking overmatched as they had all year.
During this past weekend's roundtable discussion, Bassett and I both suggested simplifying things and getting players into situations where they can do what they do best. Whether or not Bowles was forced into making that move, it's obvious that the defense played better than it has since opening day - another game where they were missing one of their key starters in Richardson.
While it might be a challenge to keep everyone happy, this is clearly the best way forward. Believe it or not, yesterday's win could lead Bowles to an epiphany that might get the team back into playoff contention in a shaky AFC.
Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Quarterbacks
Bent: Nothing could sum up the Jets' season so far better than the quarterback situation getting even more discombobulated than before as a result of two guys actually playing quite well.
Let's not get too excited though. Ryan Fitzpatrick has set a low bar for quarterback play over the last month, so it was two statistically-sound but fundamentally imperfect displays that earn that "played quite well" moniker. Still, haven't we been saying for years that this Jets team could have a pretty effective offense if they just had a quarterback who could play competent, mistake-free football?
Geno Smith lasting less than one half of football was not a completely unexpected series of events. He's always done a poor job of protecting himself and the football, and with the Jets' offensive line having regressed significantly since he first became a starter, that was always going to put him in danger of getting banged-up. You'll recall he was briefly knocked out of the game in his only appearance last year as well.
Fitzpatrick was therefore forced to return and rode a smartly-conservative gameplan to a 24-16 win. He completed his first seven passes and ended up with a quarterback rating of over 100 (as did Smith), but also went over 18 minutes of game action without a completion in the second half and only completed two passes beyond 10 yards down the field.
Fitzpatrick's struggles this year have mostly been due to forcing things when playing from behind. The Jets were able to play with the lead down the stretch this time, which enabled him to play more of a game manager role rather than gunslinging. In that regard, it was perhaps important that Smith was in there when the Jets gifted the Ravens a 10-point lead in the first half.
Smith's 69-yard scoring toss to Quincy Enunwa got the Jets back into the game before he was knocked out. Although Enunwa did most of the work there and Smith didn't achieve much else, his contributions were still important at a time when you half-expected the game to spiral out of control.
Fitzpatrick would lead a long touchdown drive to give the Jets back the lead, although he again didn't do much of the work with the key play being a 30-yard end-around and the score coming on an easy dump-off pass. He then capitalized on two long interception returns to regain and extend the lead down the stretch.
As for Smith, he threw the ball quite well, going 4-for-8 with a couple of catchable passes dropped. A couple of his throws were slightly off-the-mark, but not drastically. It's his pocket presence that continues to be a concern though. On the first sack he took, he should have been able to check down to Bilal Powell, but waited too long and then easily could have lost the ball as he switched it into his left hand and held it away from his body. The second one, which knocked him out of the game, could easily have been avoided by being more decisive and taking off or throwing the ball away.
So, has Fitzpatrick re-earned the starting role or did Smith do enough to warrant a longer look if he's healthy enough to start again next week? Honestly, it's difficult to say.
Maybe they should put in a rotation like they did at right tackle.
Matt Forté and the Running Backs
Bent: After some disappointing performances, Matt Forté finally discovered the fountain of youth yesterday, scoring two touchdowns and racking up 154 yards from scrimmage. Forté seemed to have rediscovered his burst and at last found some room to make some open field cuts.
It was far from a perfect performance though. While Forté ran for 100 yards for the second time this season, it again took him until his 30th carry to get there. At half time, he had just 32 yards on 10 carries and if the Jets had continued to trail and abandoned the running game as they had in previous weeks, then we'd probably be talking about another disappointing display. He also lost a fumble inside the Ravens' five-yard line and there were a couple of plays in the first half where he seemed to have a big enough hole to pick up the first down quite easily, only to dance around behind the line of scrimmage and end up short of the marker.
It was in the short passing game that the Jets were able to get Forté going. You may recall last year that when Chris Ivory was struggling, he finally broke out in a game where they got him going on a few short passes. When the run blocking is struggling, that seems to be a good way of allowing your back to shift through the gears and get their engine running smoothly again.
One of the reasons Forté was able to make contributions in the passing game was that he was getting plays which would ordinarily go to Powell. Once again, this was perhaps not something that was planned in advance but rather a reaction to the Smith injury. Powell was the Jets' emergency quarterback, so they stopped using him in case Fitzpatrick got hurt as well.
The masochist in me would have perversely enjoyed seeing Powell at quarterback. Jets fans with long memories might remember his one NFL pass - a wobbly left-hander over the top to Jeff Cumberland for 30 yards in Miami, but I've seen him attempt to throw a pass on a trick play at practice and it wasn't pretty. Before they stopped using him, Powell had 18 yards on four carries, including a short yardage conversion for a first down.
Rookie Troymaine Pope finally saw his first NFL action and the nerves obviously got to him as he was stuffed on his first carry and then dropped an easy catch on a dump-off pass.
Finally, the Jets made use of a full back a lot this week, with tight end Brandon Bostick playing 10 snaps there and making some good lead blocks.
Brandon Marshall and the Receivers
Bent: It might not seem like it, but Brandon Marshall played a huge part in the Jets' win yesterday. On the face of it, this was one of his worst games as a Jet, as he caught just three passes, had a couple of dropped passes and was called for a false start. However, the great ones find other ways to contribute when things aren't going their way and Marshall did exactly that yesterday.
On each of the Jets' biggest plays - the 69-yard touchdown pass to Enunwa, Robbie Anderson's 30-yard end-around and a 31-yard screen pass to Forté - Marshall had a key block down the field. Then he had one of the biggest momentum-changing plays of the game as he ripped the ball away from Timmy Jernigan after Forté's fumble looked to have ruined the Jets' chances of adding to a 17-16 second half lead. Forté extended the lead to eight a couple of plays later.
Anderson continues to show flashes that suggest he could be on the brink of a break-out. His leaping 28-yard grab over the middle in the fourth quarter was spectacular and he led the receiver group with four catches overall in addition to his big gain on the reverse.
Enunwa has struggled to get many looks over the last two weeks, with just five catches, but his playmaking ability was apparent on the touchdown run where he turned a short pass into a long touchdown. That's what happens when you get an inside linebacker matched up on a receiver with 4.45 speed and the Jets should look to get him the ball more often.
Charone Peake was only targeted once, but made a really nice play to shake a tackle in the flat and pick up a third down conversion. Jalin Marshall barely got on the field though. Watching the Packers on Thursday night, I wonder if the Jets could run some packages for Marshall with him in the backfield as the Packers did with Ty Montgomery. While he's slightly bigger, Montgomery has a similar skill-set to Marshall, who is familiar with such concepts from his role at Ohio State.
So much for phasing out Kellen Davis. The veteran played 50 snaps at tight end, with predictably mixed results. You can't say he didn't make some contributions to the success of the run game though.
Bostick, as noted, made some good lead blocks from the full back position, but also dominated a defensive back on one block from tight end. He's shown some real improvement in his blocking, but still made a couple of mistakes. Bostick also caught a short pass and should have had added an easy third down conversion but Fitzpatrick's pass to the flat was knocked down at the line.
Nick Mangold and the Offensive Line
Bent: The Jets' offensive line has been struggling to find any cohesion all year long. Who'd have believed that it would take a Nick Mangold injury for them to finally find some? Mangold was lost very early on in the game and Wesley Johnson took over at center the rest of the way.
It's the second time this year that Johnson has entered the game in relief of a key starter and the Jets have committed themselves to the run successfully to lead to a win. He replaced James Carpenter early in the second quarter of the Bills game with the Jets trailing 7-6 and they went on to win 37-31 with over 100 yards and three scores from Forté. While Johnson hasn't been individually outstanding in either of those appearances, he held his own and they were able to function better than they had been as a unit.
Maybe this was because some of the other guys will step up when a key player is lost. I almost can't believe I'm about to say this but Brian Winters looked like a really good player yesterday. Winters has shown signs of improvement over the years, but he still has frustrating lapses during each game. Yesterday, he only had a few negative plays, but for the first time showed signs of consistent dominance up-front.
In a performance I'd consider to be his most impressive game as a Jet, Winters did an outstanding job of creating holes in the running game and displayed better technique than I've ever seen from him in terms of locking onto his man at the point of attack, controlling the block and leveraging his man out of the hole. That's even more impressive when you consider he was playing between two career back-ups in Johnson and Ben Ijalana.
Speaking of Ijalana, he had perhaps his most impressive run block since becoming the temporary (?) starter when he picked off a linebacker at the second level and drove him well out of the play to set up a run down inside the five, as you can see below.
However, on the very next play, he allowed his man to shed his block and stuff the first down run. That's the kind of thing that would happen to Winters in the past. Ijalana also got beaten around the outside for a sack, although Smith arguably had plenty of time to get rid of the ball. Once again though, Ijalana held his own for the most part.
At the other tackle spot, Ryan Clady fared better than he has in recent weeks but gave up a couple of pressures. He made some good contributions in the running game, although there was one play early on where he looked totally lost and ended up blocking nobody.
Carpenter had been the Jets' most consistent lineman so far this year but he had some issues yesterday, surrendering heavy penetration a couple of times, giving up two sacks - although one should probably go down as a coverage sack - and getting called for a holding penalty. He still had some excellent run blocks to open up lanes though.
Prior to Mangold going down, the Jets had started off reasonably well with 23 yards on six carries and 19 yards on four pass attempts. However, he was driven back into the backfield for a run stuff by Brandon Williams on the first play of the game.
One wrinkle, other than employing Bostick at full back, was that the Jets went with six linemen on several plays. This enabled Dakota Dozier to get some playing time, but also allowed rookie Brandon Shell to take the field for his first NFL snap, on which he executed a key edge setting block perfectly, as you can see below. Winters' contribution - and reaction - is also worth paying attention to.
Wilkerson, Richardson and the Defensive Line
Bent: As noted, with Wilkerson out, Richardson moved back onto the defensive line full time and responded well. He led the team with eight tackles and had three tackles for loss - one against the run, one on a sack and one in coverage. He had just one other pressure as a pass rusher and there weren't many chances to make plays against the run, but his disruptiveness boosted the defense to their best performance since Richardson himself was out on opening day.
This leads us to another elephant; the one in the room. What are they going to do once Wilkerson is back in the line-up?
It's been established that two heads are better than one, but - based on the season so far - two heads are also better than three when it comes to elite defensive linemen. Wouldn't they be better off just keeping all three fresh by playing two at a time and giving them two-thirds of the reps each? And does it really make sense to retain all three long term if this is the reality of the situation? Maybe one of those Elephants is going to be a Bear or a Dolphin or a Lion in the not too distant future.
Without Wilkerson on the line, Williams had his quietest game of the year so far, although part of that was because the Ravens abandoned the running game. Williams still made some good contributions as he stopped two plays in the backfield - one as Joe Flacco slipped over in the pocket - and had one quarterback hit.
Steve McLendon blew up a couple of plays with excellent penetration and was disruptive in the pocket, but missed a tackle in the hole on one play. Deon Simon and Jarvis Jenkins only played briefly but each had a pressure and Jenkins also penetrated to stuff a run.
Lee, Harris and the Linebackers
Bent: With Darron Lee already out injured, Erin Henderson now on the NFI reserve list and Bruce Carter going down early in the game, the Jets had to rely on Julian Stanford - who had been on the practice squad until Saturday - to play a full time role for most of the game.
Stanford held up pretty well alongside David Harris with Lorenzo Mauldin, Mike Catapano and Jordan Jenkins splitting most of the reps on the outside.
As improbable as it was, this group - with Wilkerson already missing from the front three - set a franchise record by holding the Ravens to just six yards rushing.
Despite how impressive that number sounds, the primary reason was the Ravens' mind-boggling decision to completely abandon the run. They ran a few times at Mauldin and he was routinely being driven out of the lane off-tackle by kick-out blocks. Fortunately, the Jets were able to rally to the ball well enough to limit the gains on these plays, other than on Terrance West's 52-yard burst that was negated by a hold.
Had the officials missed the obvious hold on Harris, that play would single-handedly have given the Ravens a much more impressive total. It also might have not only spurred the Ravens on to keep running, but could have demoralized the Jets defensively as well. Maybe the run defense would have had a similarly impressive statistical performance if the officials didn't miss a similarly blatant hold on the long touchdown run last Monday night.
Although he struggled on the edge, Mauldin did an excellent job rushing the passer, generating a handful of pressures, including one on an inside move that led to Flacco's second interception. As a pass rusher, Mauldin obviously has burst and even displayed some power on one good bull rush, but for the most part he doesn't really seem to show textbook technique. However, he seems to be unpredictably awkward and this seems to give his blockers issues when trying to prevent him from getting off their blocks.
If Mauldin can add some technical polish to his game, I could see him becoming a really good situational rusher, but I must admit that the game yesterday caused me some concern about how well he'd hold up against an opponent that forced the issue with their running game.
Other than Maudlin, the Jets didn't get much production from their outside linebackers. Jenkins, Catapano, Josh Martin and rookie Victor Ochi all saw time, but had just one tackle between them. They didn't produce much in the pass rush either but Catapano and Martin each got close a couple of times. The most notable thing Jenkins did was to get away with what could have been called as a late hit over by the sideline. Ochi, making his NFL debut, did an excellent job on the edge on one play, driving his man back to help bottle up a run.
While they didn't produce much, this group also avoided mistakes, although there was one blitz package where Mauldin and Catapano dropped into coverage and the tight end was left alone over the middle for an easy third down conversion.
Harris had a quiet game in his return to the line-up. Drawing that hold was probably his biggest contribution but he made some good open field tackles in coverage and had one pressure. He was beaten for what should have been a first down on the final drive but the pass was off-line. Stanford had seven tackles, including a key one on third down and two close to the line.
Carter made a couple of good plays in coverage before going down injured on the play where he chased down West on the negated run. Will Carter and Lee be back soon or is Stanford going to be required to play the role for an extended period? Maybe the Jets will sign Taiwan Jones back onto their practice squad as cover or something.
Skrine, Revis and the Defensive Backs
Bent: After all their struggles so far this season, the secondary came up big with all five of the main contributors making key plays in the second half to help the Jets nail down the win.
Buster Skrine and Marcus Gilchrist each set up scores with interceptions, Darrelle Revis broke up a third down pass in the fourth quarter, Calvin Pryor set up two third downs with tackles close to the line of scrimmage and Marcus Williams broke up a fourth down pass to ice the win,
That has to be good for the confidence of these players, individually and collectively. As noted, they seemed to benefit from a simplified defensive system, enabling them to focus on their assignment rather than blowing coverages by passing players off to one another and attempting to set traps. They didn't start off the game as well as they finished it though.
Williams gave up two bad 3rd-and-long conversions and could easily have been called for pass interference in the end zone on a long pass that he broke up, so it was good to see him defend that last play well.
I'd been wondering why Skrine has been playing on the outside more over the past two weeks but it must be because the Jets prefer Williams inside. That might be connected to their struggles with boundary screen passes earlier on in the season. Skrine blew one of these up on a great play in the fourth quarter. However, while playing outside, he again gave up a couple of easy first downs by playing too far off. The Jets attempted to mitigate this by dropping their linebackers to the outside, but to no avail.
Skrine had his ups and downs all day but the biggest play he gave up was a long bomb to Mike Wallace. However, Pryor should have easily been able to knock that down. He tried to intercept it and it went right through his hands. Other than that, it was a refreshingly mistake-free performance from Pryor, though.
Gilchrist also bounced back from some recent struggles. Other than his interception he was also in a good position on another downfield incompletion.
The Ravens seemed reluctant to go after Revis, even though he looked like he was playing prevent on an easy first down pass. He was in good position on a couple of other throws, but his effort on the negated West run was disappointing.
Rontez Miles was the only other defensive back to see any action on defense.
Bent: Punter Lac Edwards gifted the Ravens a touchdown when he allowed a snap to go right through his hands, leading to a recovery in the end zone. The Australian showed poor instincts on the play by trying to recover the ball because the best case scenario is that they'd have 1st-and-goal (and the Ravens actually didn't run a single play inside the 25-yard line all day). The correct play there is to kick the ball through the end zone and surrender two points so that you can at least kick away.
I pointed out last week that Tanner Purdum had a couple of less-than-perfect snaps and this was another example of that. You can't really excuse Edwards' mistake though because it wasn't that bad; just slightly high.
I'd like to be able to say that Edwards bounced back from his blunder but he had a rough day in the East Rutherford winds. He had a series of poor punts, including a 17-yarder. Edwards' overall numbers weren't too bad because the coverage was good, although they didn't get down their fast enough to recover Devin Hester's muff.
Peake stood out in coverage, forcing a fair catch on one punt and bringing Hester down in the open field on another. Martin also got in on a stop.
There wasn't much room to run for return man Jalin Marshall as rookie Juston Burris had a bad missed block on a kick return and Darryl Roberts got burned by the gunner on a punt. Marshall also didn't help himself by making a couple of questionable decisions to field or run back kicks. However, he made a nice return on a punt, breaking a few tackles to gain 16 yards.
Despite - or perhaps because of - the winds, Nick Folk had a touchback on all five of his kick-offs. He also made a field goal and three extra points, but his 51-yarder that would have clinched the game with a few minutes remaining was blocked. Simon was blown up on that play.