In this week's BGA, Bent analyzes Week 8 performances by Todd Bowles, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Forte, Quincy Enunwa and the Wide Receivers, Breno Giacomini and the Offensive Line, Leonard Williams, Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson, the team's Defensive Line and Linebackers, and Brandon Marshall and the Special Teams, all which you can read here...
Bent: Yesterday's game was perhaps more challenging for Todd Bowles than some anticipated as the Jets came out flat and were 13 points down at the half. Somehow, the team managed to turn things around after halftime and while it does little to remove the bitter taste of a miserable first half display, it keeps the overall momentum of the team's season headed in the right direction.
The halftime message to his team was an appropriate one, imploring the players to look within themselves and impose their will on the game in the second half. Making significant adjustments could have potentially backfired, while getting overly critical risks alienating players against each other and the staff and further fracturing a disenchanted locker room. The Jets played with more of an attitude, stuck to their gameplan and gradually took control of the game in the second half to come away with an ugly road win.
It was the right move for Bowles, who correctly identified that the Jets had the talent and a plan in place to outperform their winless opponent. However, the halftime deficit forced them to play with a small margin of error and a momentum swing at any point, even due to a freak play or a lucky bounce, would have put the Jets at risk of being Cleveland's first victim of the season.
This is not an approach the Jets can afford to fall back on because repeating the same message will soon fall on deaf ears. While it paid off yesterday, the outcome had as much to do with the Browns' flaws than it did the Jets' surplus of experienced and talented players. When things were going well, the Browns were rolling, but as soon as the Jets settled the ship, that took the crowd out of the game and the Browns crumbled at the slightest hint of adversity. That's emblematic of most teams that are winless at the halfway stage of the season.
The Jets had a couple of performances exactly like this one last season - on opening day against the Browns where they trailed 10-7 just before half time but rebounded to score 24 unanswered points and then in October against Washington when they trailed 13-10 at the half before again scoring 24 with no response. Yesterday's game saw them recovering from a deeper hole but again saw them figure it out and take complete control with 24 unanswered.
The thing about these ugly wins is that they are still wins. Clearly the Jets found some kind of winning formula in each of those three games, something they were able to bring to the table in the games that followed. Last year, they gradually built on that to the point where they were able to beat some stronger teams and end up with a winning record. Repeating that feat is the challenge facing Bowles now as he seeks to get the season back on track.
Bent: Ryan Fitzpatrick put together a statistically impressive line in the second half (13-of-20 for 198 yards and a score), but the Jets maintained a very conservative gameplan after his recent struggles continued in the first half.
As we know, Fitzpatrick typically is at his worse when his team is playing from behind, so it didn't help matters that they were down by a touchdown before he even took the field. The Jets couldn't get anything going offensively for most of the first half as Fitzpatrick completed just three of his 14 pass attempts.
While there were a couple of near-misses downfield and he was let down by a couple of drops, Fitzpatrick was inaccurate for much of the game, even on passes he completed. He also threw late to the outside on a few occasions, a tell-tale sign that his confidence is at a low ebb.
As the game progressed, it seemed like the lightbulb came on for Fitzpatrick as the game swung in the Jets' favour and his confidence grew. He started stepping confidently into throws and hitting his receivers in stride. It will be very interesting to see if he can carry that over into the next game, but the Jets' gameplans should probably remain tentative because an over-confident Fitzpatrick might be the worst Fitzpatrick of all.
The Jets put together four extended touchdown drives of 78 yards or longer, including three in a row to open the second half, leaning heavily on their running game and a short passing attack. The first of those four was in danger of stalling but Bilal Powell bailed the Jets out with a 35-yard touchdown run on third and long to provide their only points of the first half.
Of the four drives, only one was less than 12 plays. That was sparked by a 57-yard bomb to Quincy Enunwa as the Jets smartly decided to attack downfield having come close to connecting a few times earlier on. Enunwa was also responsible for Fitzpatrick's only touchdown pass, breaking four tackles inside the 10-yard line to get into the end zone.
Even with his solid second half, Fitzpatrick completed less than half of his pass attempts and had three passes that could have been intercepted, not including the three he had batted down at the line of scrimmage. He'll have to be more consistent in order to keep the Jets winning over the next few weeks, which he'll need to do to retain his job. However, it's encouraging that he's actually been picked off just once in the last four games.
Bryce Petty is going to get his chance soon if Fitzpatrick falters, but the Petty era almost had to begin prematurely when Fitzpatrick took a big hit while trying to run for an early first down. It goes without saying that he will need to protect himself a lot better, otherwise any improvements he continues to make will be all for naught.
Bent: The Jets smartly relied on their running game to get them back into this contest while facing an opponent that has struggled to stop the run and, for the first time, the potential of a Powell and Matt Forté one-two punch was fully realized.
Between the pair of them, they rushed for 158 yards and three scores, with Forté grinding out the tough yards and Powell picking up big chunks of yardage on draw plays against pass defense personnel.
The Jets have had some issues in short yardage situations over the course of the season, but Forté converted on 4th-and-one, powering over for a four-yard touchdown to give the Jets their first lead at 21-20. Had the Browns stuffed that play, the outcome might have been very different. He would later power over for another short touchdown to pad the lead.
Most of Forté's yards - and one of his touchdowns - came from plays where he bounced the run to the outside as he continues to display good vision and patience most of the time.
Powell ended up with 76 yards on just six carries and also had a 17-yard run negated by a holding call. His 35-yard burst on third and long provided the Jets with their only first half points as Fitzpatrick smartly audibled to a draw play with the defense spread out. Powell would later add 20 yards on a cutback run.
At the halfway point of the season, Forté has rushed for 542 yards and six scores, but he's only averaging 3.5 yards per carry. Powell is averaging more than twice that at 7.1 per carry, but that's mainly due to the fact that Forté is mostly running into stacked boxes while Powell is entering the game in passing situations and running a lot of draw plays against pass defense personnel.
Could they switch roles for a game or two at some point, in order to cut back on some of the wear and tear for the veteran Forté? It's possible, although you'd expect Powell to see diminishing returns as his workload increased. You'd probably see Forté's yards per carry average take a leap forwards though. Based on their respective injury histories, the team probably favors Powell in a less demanding role due to Forté having superior durability, but Powell has carried the ball 15 times or more three times before, including a career best 149-yard performance in 2013.
Despite the conservative gameplan, the pair didn't get much done in the passing game as the Browns disrupted some screen pass attempts by getting in the passing lane. Each had a key play though, with Forté taking a side-armed dump-off by Fitzpatrick down to the two-yard line to set up his second score and Powell making a low grab on 3rd-and-short to extend the drive on which Enunwa's touchdown made it a one-possession game.
Bent: Enunwa continues to spark the Jets, as his spectacular 24-yard touchdown catch saw him slip past four Browns defenders to get into the end zone. Enunwa led the Jets with 93 yards on four catches and remains on course for a potential thousand-yard season as he has 502 yards at the halfway stage. However, it wasn't Enunwa's most consistent performance, as he let three catchable balls hit the turf - not including the ball which he ripped away from a defender to save a turnover, but then couldn't hang onto for what could have been a long touchdown.
He might not be emulating last season's terrific production, but Brandon Marshall is making plays to help this team win over the last couple of weeks. He caught four passes for 68 yards, all in the second half, but also contributed with his blocking for the second week in a row. Marshall threw the key block on Powell's touchdown run but also made a couple more good blocks in the first half.
Maybe they were avoiding Joe Haden or maybe they wanted Fitzpatrick to avoid falling into the trap of forcing the ball to him, but whatever the reason, they barely looked for Marshall in the first half. Marshall almost came up with a deep throw where he had half a step on Haden late in the first quarter and then drew a flag for illegal contact on the next snap. Otherwise, he wasn't thrown to until the third quarter. In the second half, he was open over the middle for three first downs, including a 31-yard catch-and-run, and converted a third down on a back shoulder throw.
So, maybe Fitzpatrick needs to be forcing the ball to Marshall to be successful? Or maybe he was only able to force the ball to Marshall and enjoy second half success because they made a concerted effort not to do that in the first half. Either way, the Jets need to be careful about how much they involve him in the gameplan and they seemed to pick their spots well in the second half.
The Jets' youngsters continue to deliver in key moments as Robbie Anderson and Charone Peake each extended drives with clutch third down catches. Peake leapt up to high-point the ball on a long out in the first half, while Anderson managed to scoop a low throw off the turf to extend the Jets' go-ahead touchdown drive.
Peake wasn't otherwise targeted, but made a good contribution with a downfield block. Anderson had two other key catches - another low grab for a first down and a short third-down grab where he managed to get close enough to the first down marker to entice Bowles to go for it and score the go-ahead touchdown on fourth down.
Kellen Davis made some contributions as a blocker but appeared to get hurt on Forté's first touchdown run. He seemed to grab his elbow at the end of that play and did not return, but the running game functioned just as well without him.
Brandon Bostick saw more action than Davis, even before he went down with the injury. He continues to get work at fullback as well as tight end and missed three or four blocks badly but also made some positive contributions including a good lead block and a short catch.
Bent: The Jets made the interesting decision to plug Breno Giacomini back into the starting line-up for Ben Ijalana at right tackle. However, they seemed to be operating a rotation early on. In the third quarter, Giacomini suffered a finger injury, but he returned in the fourth quarter and the Jets reverted to a rotation down the stretch.
Ijalana was on the field for each of the last two touchdown drives, the only time he was in for two drives in a row, but it was actually Giacomini who was in the game on the first two touchdown drives.
I'm not sure it helped the lack of cohesion on the line in the early stages though. Giacomini showed some initial rust and was still struggling to move well enough laterally to prevent edge rushers from turning the corner on him as was the case for much of last season.
Those early struggles were summed up by this sack, where four pass rushers arrive at the quarterback simultaneously as each of them beats or drives back their blocker and James Carpenter had no idea who to help.
I felt sorry for Carpenter in the first half, as there were several plays where he executed his block really well, but someone else made a mistake so the run got blown up. Later on, his contributions had more of a direct impact, notably on the go-ahead touchdown. Carpenter had a couple of negatives, including giving up a pressure on a stunt and negating a third-down conversion with a holding penalty, but his run blocking performance was influential, especially with Nick Mangold out.
Mangold's replacement, Wesley Johnson, once again was just about good enough for the Jets' offense to function effectively. He was overmatched at the point of attack on a few plays and struggled on a couple of bull rushes in pass protection but made a couple of good second level blocks and made a good block on one of the Forté touchdown runs. Make no mistake though, despite the decent rushing stats with him in the game, a healthy Mangold will produce a significant upgrade.
After an impressive game last week, Brian Winters fared quite well again, although he let his man get off his block to make a few plays in the first half. He had some good run blocks in the second half and didn't get beaten in pass protection, although he was driven back into the pocket a couple of times.
Ryan Clady had two false starts and was again beaten a handful of times in pass protection, but was at least able to limit the amount of clean pressure this week. He was inconsistent in the running game too, albeit better in the second half, like everyone else.
I'm not sure what they will do with Ijalana and Giacomini going forward. Ijalana wasn't flawless in pass protection either, giving up a hit, and he messed up a couple of assignments to lead to a run being stuffed for a loss and another being stuffed at the goal line. He made a key block on a screen pass and a couple of good run blocks though.
In light of his struggles, Clady losing time to Ijalana could even be a consideration. Also, where will Brent Qvale fit in once he is ready to return?
For the second week in a row, the Jets employed Dakota Dozier liberally as an extra tight end and he made a good block on the go-ahead touchdown run. Brandon Shell also saw action on one short yardage play.
Bent: The Jets did exactly what we suggested last week with their defensive line, rotating Leonard Williams, Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson into two spots on the defensive line and occasionally playing all three together as a three-man front.
This meant there was less work for nose tackle Steve McLendon, who was averaging about 45 snaps per game in the first six weeks, but that snap count has halved over the last two.
Early returns were not good, as the Browns marched downfield for a touchdown on their opening drive and led 20-7 at the half. However, it began to pay off down the stretch, as the Jets perhaps benefited from each of their three stars being fresher than usual in the fourth quarter.
The Browns were held to 68 yards rushing on 18 carries, including just 20 yards in the second half. In fact, almost half of those yards came on two plays, otherwise the Browns were only gaining about two yards per carry. The Jets now have the number one run defense in the NFL despite losing Damon Harrison in the offseason. They also generated a decent amount of pressure.
Perhaps the biggest play of the game came just before halftime with the Browns potentially about to take a seemingly unassailable 24-7 lead. Wilkerson burst into the backfield for a sack and the Browns eventually had to settle for a field goal.
What I liked most about the play was that Wilkerson looked angry afterwards, rather than being exuberant about having compiled an individual highlight. There have been times this year when players have celebrated big defensive plays while having played poorly overall a little too excitedly for my liking. That attitude perhaps helped make Bowles' halftime message effective.
Wilkerson came up big again later on when his pressure set up an interception to set up the clinching field goal. He also got in on a couple of run stuffs. Overall, Wilkerson may still be struggling with injuries as he hasn't been putting together the consistently dominant performances we're used to seeing from him, but he was the pick of the Jets' linemen yesterday.
Richardson was held without a tackle, which might get a lot of attention given how it's been assumed he'd automatically ramp up his production once he moved back onto the line. However, he was mostly rushing the passer, so he didn't get many opportunities to make tackles against the run. In that role, he had four pressures.
It's possible Richardson might take time to adjust to playing full time on the line again, assuming they persevere with that. He was uncharacteristically driven off a few times, missed a tackle in the backfield and false-started with the Browns backed up to their goal line. For the game as a whole, Richardson was standing up on just two plays, so the team wasn't tempted to use him as a linebacker even with all the injuries there.
Williams didn't have much production either, although he was in on two run stuffs including one for a loss, got close to Josh McCown a couple of times and made an open-field tackle to force a field goal attempt.
Back-ups Deon Simon and Jarvis Jenkins saw brief action, with Jenkins getting in on a run stuff and penetrating well to flush the quarterback from the pocket. Simon was blocked out of the middle on Isaiah Crowell's touchdown run though.
Bent: The Jets had to rely on Julian Stanford to start again and, while he made a few plays, the Browns were successfully able to exploit him on a number of occasions.
Stanford was beaten a few times in coverage, caught inside a couple of times and also overpursued a few times in the open field. He was credited with a tackle for loss and made a good stop in the flat, but the Jets will be better off once Darron Lee or Bruce Carter is able to take over this role.
David Harris was also caught out of position a few times, both in the running game and in coverage. He made a couple of plays in coverage and stuffed a run at the goal line late though. Harris has played his best football this year when Erin Henderson was alongside him, so Lee or Carter returning to the starting line-up might not help him that much.
As you'll recall, last week I expressed concern about the ability of Lorenzo Mauldin to hold up against the run in a full time role, but that wasn't as much of an issue this week. Mauldin actually played over 60 snaps - easily a career high and more than any of the linemen. On one play, he did a good job of getting upfield on Joe Thomas to force the run back inside. However, for the most part, the Jets schemed around this, getting Mauldin to crash inside with one of the inside linebackers - usually Stanford - peeling outside to contain the edge. Rex Ryan used a similar scheme against the run at times while with the Jets. This was mostly effective other than on one play where Stanford still got caught inside because he allowed a pulling lineman to get outside leverage on him.
With Mauldin and Mike Catapano freed up to take the majority of the edge rushing reps, they were able to pressure McCown several times between them. Officially, they had four quarterback hits, three of them credited to Mauldin. Each also got in on a run stop and Mauldin also added an interception on a nice diving play.
Jordan Jenkins continues to provide solid but unspectacular play in his rookie year. He was in on a tackle in the flat and had one pressure, but what's more valuable is that he isn't making many mistakes.
Victor Ochi was the only other front seven player to see any time on defense but did not record a tackle or generate a pressure.
Bent: One pattern that carried over from last week was that the defensive backs made some big plays in the second half to help secure the win as Marcus Gilchrist intercepted another pass and Calvin Pryor had a hit in coverage to lead to another interception.
Gilchrist almost had another interception earlier on, but was late getting over in coverage on one play and also had a missed tackle. Pryor had some good plays, including a third down tackle and a pass broken up with a hit, but was badly beaten on one play where he committed pass interference in the end zone.
With Buster Skrine out, Marcus Williams was forced into a starting role and, as usually seems to be the case, a bigger workload exposed Williams' weaknesses.
Williams was beaten for two scores and a first down, was completely lost on a deep completion where he appeared to be in position to break up the pass and his effort on the play below left a lot to be desired.
Maybe Darrelle Revis isn't breaking down after all. He set a career-high with a team-leading nine tackles! Of course that's mainly due to him making the tackle after getting beaten for a catch though. Terrelle Pryor had over 100 yards by half time, although the Jets shut him out other than his last minute two-pointer in the last minute. Revis made some solid tackles and deflected a pass late in the game but also got lucky on a couple of incompletions and had a missed tackle on third down.
Rontez Miles made some nice contributions this week in a relief role. He made a good tackle in the flat and was able to prevent a completion on a throw to Gary Barnidge in the end zone.
Rookie Juston Burris didn't fare so well off the bench. He gave up a catch on third down and missed the tackle badly, so he wasn't used again. Darryl Roberts fared a little better with a couple of plays in coverage and a tackle in the flat. He was beaten on a first down and a two-point conversion though and was also lucky not to get flagged on a pass break-up.
Bent: The special teams unit executed well when it counted, with Brandon Marshall comfortably recovering an onside kick to ice the win. The Jets also got a boost from their special teams when punter Lac Edwards pinned Cleveland down at the one-yard line with an excellent boot in the fourth quarter, expertly downed by Burris.
Edwards had another rough game though, with a couple more bad punts. On one of those, he nearly fumbled the snap, which was wide. Tanner Purdum is usually one of the most reliable long-snappers around, but he's been extremely shaky over the past few weeks.
Also shaky was Jalin Marshall, who only played a couple of snaps on offense but it didn't seem to help his focus on special teams. Marshall made a couple of questionable decisions in terms of whether or not to field punts and almost fumbled once before being seemingly benched for Nick Marshall. Burris and Ochi each missed blocks in the return game, which didn't help matters.
Nick Folk did a solid job in the kicking game, nailing all five kicks and getting a touchback on all but two of his kickoffs. Neither of the two that were returned went past the 20 with Josh Martin in on each of the tackles. He has very quietly moved into a tie for the NFL lead with 10 total special teams tackles.
Miles was also in on a tackle in coverage, despite the fact the officials missed an illegal block in the back on him. Peake and Taiwan Jones were also credited with special teams tackles.