This week, Bent analyzes Week 5 performances by Todd Bowles and the coaching staff, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Forte and the running backs, Brandon Marshall and the wide receivers, Brandon Bostick and the tight ends, Nick Mangold and the offensive line, Marcus Williams and the defensive backs, the linebackers, defensive line and special teams.
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Bent: Local fans might remember back in August when the New York Mets hit rock bottom, after which Terry Collins went on a rant to the media. The team responded by going on a successful run and unexpectedly making it to the postseason. Maybe that was influential in the run they made, or maybe it had no effect whatsoever and their upturn in fortunes was due to other factors. Either way, the message he sent was eerily similar to what Todd Bowles needs to be telling his team right now...
Collins accepted blame for some of the team's issues, but resolved to continue working towards getting things turned around, while also highlighting the individual responsibility that professional players have to keep working hard and show discipline, focus, camaraderie and pride in their performance. That isn't happening on the Jets and Bowles needs to adjust. He can't do it alone, though. It requires a buy-in from each of his players, especially the veteran leaders.
Bent:Fitzpatrick actually put up pretty good numbers yesterday and, as I try to resist pouring cold water on that by nit-picking every little thing that he did wrong, it seems appropriate to acknowledge that this is a major step forward from his previous two performances... not that the bar was set very high, of course.
Nevertheless, there has to be concern that the offense essentially did nothing in the second half, punting on every possession -- other than the last one where they turned the ball over on downs. Part of that was no doubt because they lost Nick Mangold halfway through the third quarter, but it also perhaps suggests the team had an overly conservative approach in an effort to ensure Fitzpatrick didn't turn the ball over.
His numbers were good, but he was mostly just taking what the defense gave him. He also had a couple of plays where his accuracy prevented or reduced the yards after the catch and a few more where he forced the ball into coverage when he could have dumped it off. He didn't complete a pass 20 yards past the line of scrimmage all day, other than his touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall, which only travelled that far because it deflected into the air before Marshall was able to snatch it away from the defender. That sums up how the Jets weren't taking too many chances.
It seems like an odd approach to be so conservative given that Fitzpatrick has played one good game this year and it was the one where he threw downfield a lot and got into a nice rhythm, but I suppose the Jets are just too nervous that he'll throw too many interceptions if they play that way. I've just spent a couple of paragraphs talking about Fitzpatrick's limitations, which seems unfathomable considering the fact the Jets are paying him $12 million this year in order to avoid having to field a team that has a quarterback with limitations.
The opening drive seemed like it was probably scripted, which would explain why they operated out of a spread formation and threw a low-percentage pass on 3rd-and-1 when they got into the red zone. The drive stalled, which was one of 11 frustrating plays where they were one yard short of a first down. Three were fourth downs and they opted to kick each time with two punts and a field goal. Of the other eight, they ran for a first down three times and converted one on a pass, but also got stuffed twice on a run and a shovel pass and threw two incompletions. The Steelers, by contrast, went 3-for-4 in such situations, with the only failure being a wide open drop.
The decision to constantly kick on fourth and short - and they kicked twice more on 4th-and-2 - angered me greatly, not so much for the message that it sent or the effect it had on their chances to win, but because it reminded me that Gregg Easterbrook exists.
Matt Forte and the Running Backs
Bent: After the game plan had worked reasonably well in the first half, why did the Jets run the ball just five times for 12 yards in the second half - especially once the Steelers' best lineman, Cameron Heyward, was knocked out of the game due to injury? First of all, they struggled to sustain drives, which meant they didn't get as many chances to forgo running the ball as you'd expect in one half of football. Secondly, perhaps the Jets figured they would struggle to run the ball successfully after Mangold's injury. Finally, as the game slipped away, they obviously sought to get back into it by hurrying things up and focusing on the passing game...
Matt Forté had 49 yards at half time, but gained just four yards on three carries in the second half, though that first half number was inflated by a 28-yard run. There was another play where it looked like he had room to run on the outside, but couldn't turn the corner. The blocking was poor on the edge, which is another example of a slow-developing play where Forté seemed not to have the burst he had at the start of the year.
Once again, Bilal Powell provided a productive change of pace. He picked up 51 yards on 10 touches. Over half of that production came in the fourth quarter after the Jets fell two scores behind though. Powell's continued production in the passing game is nice, too, but I still feel like it makes one of Forté's best attributes redundant.
Brandon Marshall, Wide Receivers
Bent: When a leader steps up and vows to take action, it's always disappointing he fails to deliver. That's why I was disappointed in Brandon Marshall. Sure, Marshall caught eight passes for a season-high 114 yards and scored a touchdown for the second straight week, bailing out his quarterback in the process. Hey, he didn't twerk though!!! You promised, Brandon!
Eric Decker continues to be missed. Thankfully, Quincy Enunwa made his presence felt when he caught a first down pass on the very first play. He ended up with 51 yards on four catches. Is it too soon to worry about what he's going to cost when his contract expires at the end of next season?
Meanwhile, rookie receivers Robbie Anderson and Charone Peake continue to be forced into action, but each had just one short catch and came up shy of the marker. Anderson was targeted unsuccessfully one other time on a deep ball.
Brandon Bostick and the Tight Ends
Bent: The big story this week is that the Jets finally completed a pass to a tight end, as Brandon Bostick caught a nine-yard pass early in the game. Newest Jet Austin Seferian-Jenkins did one better than Bostick, catching two passes for 17 yards, including one first down. The three tight ends (Bostick, Seferian-Jenkins and Kellen Davis) combined to spring Matt Forté for his longest run of the day, as they all lined up on the right side and each of them made their block to open a lane for him.
By the way, is Davis being phased out? He had 54 snaps in week one, 49 in week two, 32 in week three and only 23 in each of the past two weeks...
Nick Mangold and the Offensive Line
Bent: The last thing the Jets needed was Nick Mangold getting injured, even though it was almost lost in the shuffle with everything else that was going wrong Sunday. It remains to be seen if he will be out for an extended period, but Wesley Johnson is likely to be a significant downgrade. In this game, Mangold didn't play badly, but the offensive line still seemed out of sync. Johnson's worst mistake came on the final play, as he badly messed up on a fourth down screen pass that otherwise looked like it might have worked.
Unexpectedly, Ryan Clady is now officially the healthiest first-stringer on the offensive line. Clady was beaten on consecutive plays in pass protection in the first quarter, but then settled things down. He otherwise didn't allow any direct pressure until Jarvis Jones beat him for a hit on a late inside move, although he was called for a hold on a play where Fitzpatrick was sacked after pressure from Clady's side forced him to step up. Remember, he has a $10 million salary next year, so decisions will need to be made in terms of whether to retain, restructure or release him.
Now playing right tackle full time, Ben Ijalana was beaten for one sack. On the play, Fitzpatrick initially looked a little indecisive, but reviewing the film suggests it was a designed play out of a three-back set to fake a swing pass to Forté going left and then reverse course and throw a screen to Powell leaking out on the right side. It was nicely set up too, so it was unfortunate that Ijalana lost leverage on his man and Fitzpatrick couldn't get the throw off. Other than that play, Ijalana held up well and seems to be proving he can handle a full-time role.
Brian Winters was out, but the Jets didn't miss him too badly as Brent Qvale held up quite well in his place at right guard. When Winters returns, does he take back his job? And, if so, does Qvale get added back into a rotation with Ijalana?
James Carpenter seemed to struggle in the running game, which can't be attributed to not having Mangold next to him because they only ran the ball three times with Johnson in. On one early play he was blown up completely on a run stuff and later on overshot his target while pulling to the right.
Marcus Williams and the Defensive Backs
Bent: Steelers WR Sammie Coates blew by Marcus Williams and caught a deep ball for an easy touchdown, the third touchdown of 70 yards or more and fifth of 40 yards or more allowed by the Jets this season. Maybe Calvin Pryor should have been in a position to give him some deep support, maybe not. But, it's almost irrelevant because you a coverage screw-up can be pinned on almost everyone in yesterday's game...
The coverage was embarrassing all day, and a veteran quarterback - like Ben Roethlisberger - is always going to exploit it. He threw two other touchdowns where the receiver was all alone - once as Rontez Miles, Darron Lee and Erin Henderson all basically tried to cover the same assignment leaving Jesse James uncovered and once as Marcus Gilchrist collided with Pryor at the goal line with Williams too far off. These weren't isolated incidents, though, and it all seems to come down to communication.
Did the Jets miss Darrelle Revis? I'm not sure he would have made too much difference. With so many wide open receivers, Roethlisberger would have found someone open eventually anyway. And if the Jets opted to put Revis on Antonio Brown to try and roll safety support elsewhere, recent history suggests Roethlisberger would have had a lot of success simply going at that match-up.
Could the Jets be missing Antonio Cromartie more than anyone expected? Certainly not based on his level of play, as he struggled badly last year, but it makes you wonder when you consider the Jets have drastic communication issues despite the fact they have the same coaches, the same system and essentially the same group of players.
We're into conspiracy theories now, but what if last year's group was close-knit and team-oriented and Cromartie's personality and approach to practice was a major factor in that? While his on-field play was disappointing, could he have been a glue guy, without whom the team has developed bad habits and struggled to get on the same page? I'm wildly scrambling for answers, because the regression of this unit and some of its individual components make no sense.
In terms of direct coverage, Williams was in position a couple of times, but dropped a possible interception and after earlier getting burned was susceptible to hitch routes and back shoulder throws for the rest of the game. Buster Skrine seemed to fall asleep on a play where the Jets jumped offside, giving up a first down and he and Miles were each penalized in coverage. Gilchrist and Pryor's confounding and disappointing season continues too.
Pryor continues to look slow at times and I'm still wondering if he's not not healthy because there's a definite difference in him since last year. The coaches have noticed, apparently, since Miles has been taking more and more of his reps. Miles made some good stops, but I don't know if he's a viable option to replace Pryor, because he's also been prone to errors at times.
With Revis out, two young reserves - rookie Juston Burris and former Patriot Darryl Roberts - saw significant action, but didn't seem to be involved in the blown coverages, which were almost all attributable to players who were here last year. Burris gave up a couple of first downs on the last touchdown drive. Roberts, making his first appearance as a Jet, only gave up two first downs, but he has Coates to thank for that, since he had four drops with Roberts covering him. Roberts also had a bad missed tackle, but did break up one pass in the end zone. That could easily have been pass interference, though.
Bent: David Harris was actually having a good game in the first half, but things soon unravelled once he departed with a hamstring injury. Three plays later, the Steelers took the lead for good, as they would outscore the Jets 24-0 after Harris' departure. The offense went in the tank after that point too. Was this the bizarro-world version of when Ryan Fitzpatrick got hurt in Oakland and the Jets defense seemed so distracted by this that they fell apart?
Despite only playing half a game, Harris was credited with six tackles, including a couple of run stuffs, and a pass defensed. Erin Henderson led the team with eight tackles, but both he and Lee were picked on a lot in coverage as neither proved capable of covering Le'Veon Bell underneath.
After some recent struggles, Lee didn't play much early on. While that might be because the Jets were simply playing more base to match with the Steelers' personnel, it could also be a sign that the team doesn't trust him as much as Henderson yet and some of the coverage mix-ups show why. Lee had one defensive penalty, but stuffed two runs close to the line and was credited with one pressure.
If Harris is out next week, it will be interesting to see how the Henderson-Lee tandem is employed next week. An alternative might be to use Bruce Carter in Harris' mike role. He played a few snaps yesterday.
Once again, the outside linebackers didn't contribute much. In fact, they had zero tackles between them officially, although Jordan Jenkins had a big hit on Bell on the outside, only to see that negated as he was dubiously called for illegal hands to the face. He and Lorenzo Mauldin had one pressure each but Mike Catapano and Josh Martin barely played.
Bent: The Jets only finally got to Ben Roethlisberger in the fourth quarter, when Leonard Williams wrapped him up from behind and forced the ball loose for Sheldon Richardson to recover. Williams continues to be the only player actually sacking the quarterback on a regular basis, which underlines how the team is mostly generating pressure on the interior rather than off the edge. In this game, the pocket was constantly on the verge of collapsing, but Roethlisberger had the composure to stay settled with the walls closing in and pick off easy opportunities to advance the ball down the field.
Muhammad Wilkerson hasn't produced much this year, and he's not getting many chances to attack the interior. Playing almost exclusively on the edge and on the field for every snap but one, Wilkerson stuffed a couple of runs and seemed to make more plays in coverage than in the pass rush as he deflected a screen pass and made a tackle on a tight end to force a 3rd-and-short. There are fans and media suggesting he's simply not equipped to produce on the edge, but that's nonsense because he played there for most of last year.
From this game, it was clear Wilkerson had additional responsibilities in terms of containing the pocket and denying passing lanes as he kept dropping off and hanging back. He was also used to chip tight ends and receivers, which limited how quickly he could apply pressure on Roethlisberger. The Coates touchdown is a perfect example of this, as he chips two receivers to slow them down and still gets into Roethlisberger's face up the middle, but too late to prevent the clean throw.
The Jets are obviously desperate to help out their struggling secondary, but if they put so much on Wilkerson's plate that he's not making an impact in the trenches, that's counter-productive.
Nose tackles Steve McLendon and Deon Simon contributed well in the running game again, as the Jets held Bell to just 66 yards on 20 carries and stopped DeAngelo Williams for no gain on his only carry. McLendon was controlled at the line a few times, but got in on three run stuffs and Simon combined with Jarvis Jenkins on a stop for no gain. Jenkins had one other run stuff, but then jumped offside on the next play.
Bent: The special teams unit made an impact play for the first time in a few weeks when they reacted well to a fake field goal by the Steelers. Rontez Miles brought down the holder in the backfield to force a turnover on downs after excellent pressure up the middle from Josh Martin.
They blew it on a couple of other chances to put the Steelers under pressure though, as Lac Edwards expertly landed two punts inside the five yard line, only for Marcus Williams and Juston Burris to fail to down them before they bounced into the end zone. Statistically, it was a rough day for Edwards, who had one short kick and then outkicked his coverage on two punts that were returned for 33 and 18 yards by Antonio Brown.
On the first of those, Edwards' kick had Brown backpedalling but he had too much room as it seemed to be Burris that was most guilty of getting out of his lane. Williams overpursued and Kellen Davis lost outside contain on the second long return.
Burris compounded a rough performance by getting burned by the gunner on a play where Jeremy Ross might have had a chance to return a punt but was forced to take a fair catch. Ross must have been frustrated, as the only chance he got to return a kick all day saw him bottled up at the 20 on a kick-off and it sounds like Jalin Marshall is close to returning.
In coverage, Calvin Pryor led the Jets with two tackles, both downfield after Brown had broken into the open field. Bruce Carter and Mike Catapano also combined to make a stop at the 20 on one kick-off. The rest of Nick Folk's kick-offs were touchbacks and he also made both his field goals and one extra point. After a rocky opening day, Folk has now made 17 kicks in a row, including 10 field goals.
Here's an interesting special teams note to close on. With Darrelle Revis, Nick Mangold and David Harris all injured by the time the fourth quarter began, the only healthy players left on the Jets roster who were with the team before 2011 are Folk and Tanner Purdum. That means Purdum and Folk are the only ones left to have suited up for the Jets in a postseason game.