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We all knew that if Geno Smith was going to being taking snaps in October, the season must have taken a turn for the worst. However, that was the case again here, as the Jets struggled to move the ball all day and Ryan Fitzpatrick was benched for the fourth quarter.
Could the team be about to go with Smith as the starter? They're saying no, for now, but if Fitzpatrick continues to struggle, that day can't be too far off. He started off by looking pretty sharp, but was benefiting from a soft defense from the Cardinals that was sitting back and allowing the offense to take what they gave them. Indeed, Fitzpatrick himself benefited from this on his last drive. Prior to the interception, he had padded his stats by completing 7-of-11 passes for 66 yards in the third quarter.
As soon as the Cardinals applied some pressure, Smith's old issues returned on a strip-sack as he was hesistant, didn't anticipate pressure off the edge and displayed woeful ball security. Shortly afterwards, he forced a throw into tight coverage and was intercepted. It's difficult to judge Smith too harshly on such a short performance, especially with the game already over, but he hardly did much to instil any confidence in his supporters.
Fitzpatrick seemed overly cautious with the ball, perhaps reluctant to risk throwing an interception. He missed on a bunch of passes where he threw the ball out of his receiver's reach, either too high or out in front of them. He made a few nice throws and did have to deal with some pressure, but was simply too inconsistent to keep the Jets in the game.
When the interception finally came, it was in the last minute of the third quarter and, typically, saw Fitzpatrick forcing a tight throw in the red zone after having moved the team downfield against a soft zone.
Wide receiver Brandon Marshall told the media he was again responsible for this because he ran the wrong route. With the Cardinals in a zone defense, he allowed his man to step in front of him where he perhaps needed to run or settle down in front of the defender but I believe the key here was not Marshall himself being open, but instead running a route that would draw the safety out of the middle.
A review of the film shows that Fitzpatrick had an open Jalin Marshall at the back of the end zone on a post pattern, but forced the ball to the other Marshall instead because the safety was able to stay at home long enough to make that a tight window throw. A more horizontal drag or crossing route would have forced the safety to commit and ensured that one of the Marshalls was open but I can only speculate on what the play design was.
This goes beyond grading and evaluating individual throws now. The team seems to have lost faith in the guy who last year established himself as the kind of leader the team had been lacking. Unfortunately, I don't think the team has any faith in the alternatives either.
Should the Jets be regretting making a move for Matt Forté in the offseason? After missing most of preseason, Forté looked sharp for a couple of weeks but since then has elicited memories of late-season Thomas Jones. In case you're not sure, that isn't a good thing.
It's difficult to lament the loss of Chris Ivory when he's gained just 75 yards on 31 carries all season and is earning considerably more than Forté, but it's obvious the Jets need someone with exceptional burst or the ability to break tackles and right now Forté is providing neither. Was this inevitable or are they just paying the price for over-using him early? If it's the latter, then could he get his legs back if they opt to under-use him for a game or two - and I don't just mean abandoning the run because it's failing and you're getting blown out.
At least Bilal Powell does show some burst and break the occasional tackle. He picked up just 22 yards on six touches last night, but that included two first downs with a third being negated by a hold. Forté had the same yardage total on 10 touches - with no first downs - and also dropped two short passes.
Can we not get a look at Troymaine Pope? He's been active, but they never use him. While he might be raw and still learning the playbook, at least he has fresh legs and could provide a spark if they create a few packages for him. Even if he gets stuffed, at least that would give Forté a rest in between plays where, right now, he would probably only get stuffed himself.
Beyond that, I'm left scrambling for answers. Does the running game miss Tommy Bohanon, perhaps? Did I really just ask that?
Receivers & TE
The Jets definitely continue to miss Eric Decker, but now that his absence has been confirmed as permanent, the receiving corps suddenly looks like a weakness rather than something that can tread water until his return. At the same time, it forces some of the younger players to try and step up, so it will be interesting to see who does.
It seems the cat might be out of the bag in terms of Quincy Enunwa now, as the Jets were unable to get him into the game in the first half. Now a permanent starter that teams are aware of and game-planning for instead of the Jets' best-kept secret, it will be difficult for him to maintain his excellent production so far. Sure enough, he ended up having his least productive game of the year in terms of both receptions and yardage.
However, the fact his three receptions and 42 yards were his lowest output of the season speaks volumes as to how far he's come. Last year, he only achieved that yardage total three times and only had more than three catches six times. He made three nice catches in the second half, including two first downs.
Brandon Marshall had the biggest play of the day, but ended up with just 70 yards on three catches. He also had a penalty and took responsibility for the Fitzpatrick interception. It's clearly been a tough year for him to take and he deserves credit for at least trying to keep everyone positive. How long can that last though?
The three rookies saw more targets than usual with Charone Peake surprisingly leading the team with five catches and in terms of how many targets he saw (10). He made a nice spin move to get to the marker on one play and had a clutch conversion on a slant route on another. That pattern of him being inconsistent with his physicality continued on the pass where Smith was intercepted though and there were two plays where he had his hands on the ball but couldn't complete the catch. All the same, he's definitely progressing.
Shame on the announcers for glorifying the hit on Peake that knocked him out of the game. That was a blatant helmet-to-facemask hit on a defenseless receiver and that bothers me - not because it cost the Jets a first down, but because it makes little sense to have rules designed for player safety being inconsistently applied. I already resent Jon Gruden for the fact that I repeatedly spend ages breaking down a play and discover something interesting only for him to then mention that during the TV broadcast anyway.
The pattern with Robbie Anderson has been the same as with Devin Smith last season. They're looking for him downfield and he's almost - but not quite - coming up with big plays. The one constant variable here is Fitzpatrick, but Anderson still had a chance to come up with that underthrown deep ball. He did make a career-high four short catches though, including one where he was able to bail out Fitzpatrick with a nice leaping grab.
As for Jalin Marshall, he was only in for a handful of plays when Peake - who seems to have moved ahead of him - was being evaluated for a head injury. He had one tough drop, but responded immediately with a nice first down conversion. He also seemed to be coming open on the pass where Fitzpatrick forced a throw to the other Marshall for an interception, as mentioned.
Even with Austin Seferian-Jenkins inactive, the Jets continue to phase out Kellen Davis, who played less than 10 snaps. However, maybe that was performance related rather than planned in advance because he had a rough game. Davis was badly beaten as the Jets were stuffed for a loss on their first snap, then later false started and allowed his man to get off his block for another stop.
Brandon Bostick didn't play much either, but fared better than Davis as a blocker. He wasn't targeted though.
With a non-existent running game and Fitzpatrick's struggles at least partially attributable to being forced to deal with pressure, it's difficult to give the offensive line much credit.
The Jets saw Brian Winters return at right guard and reverted to a rotation at right tackle with Ben Ijalana starting. However, Brent Qvale was injured in the first half and Ijalana went the rest of the way.
So far, Ijalana has done a good job of limiting pressure from the right side, but when he does surrender pressure, it often seems to be at key moments. While partially attributable to coverage and Smith's hesitation, he surrendered a strip sack and also gave up the pressure that led to Fitzpatrick's interception. Other than that, he only gave up one pressure, on a spin move to the inside.
As you can see, on the interception, Ijalana is beaten upfield, but instead of moving his feet to try and stay in front of or regain leverage on his man, he simply shoves him upfield to try and slow his pursuit around the edge. It's semi-effective, but Fitzpatrick is still pressured into forcing his throw. This is something Ijalana does quite a lot and it's a habit which might be lazy and/or poor technique, but you could consider it to be the smart thing to do in situations where the defender gets half a step on you. If the quarterback steps up and throws that before the edge rusher can get to him - something you see repeatedly around the league - that's likely viewed as a well-executed block.
Ryan Clady, on the other hand, isn't giving up big plays, but he is surrendering constant pressure off the edge and against the bull rush. He also had a bad hold to negate a first down run. Part of Clady's issue - other than the obvious adjustment involved in blocking for someone who lacks the awareness and quick release of Peyton Manning - might be that he's being left on an island and that might be influenced by the man to his immediate right.
James Carpenter executed well all day, but it's becoming more and more apparent that his lateral movement is compromised. He looked good on running plays where he could pull or drive and block someone straight ahead of him, but at the second level or in the open field on screens, he looked leaden-footed when trying to stay in front of his target. That must be affecting his pass protection, preventing him from being able to help Clady and likely causing him to require more help from his center Nick Mangold. It's not something that's been an issue in the past, so I have to conclude this is a by-product of being banged-up.
Mangold's effectiveness is always compromised when he has to help other players and that proved to be the case here, as he had a few low snaps and allowed his man into the backfield a few times. Left more to his own devices, Winters had mixed results in the running game but did get bull rushed a couple of times into the backfield and also had a holding penalty.
When Carpenter went down with an injury, it was Dakota Dozier, not Qvale or Wesley Johnson, who replaced him. That was right before half time and Dozier barely held up in pass protection before Carpenter was able to return for the second half. Dozier - active for the fourth time this year - played his first offensive snap of the year, as the Jets can't seem to decide who their third-best guard is. It's probably Winters.
I was looking forward to seeing what the approach would be in this game after the Jets - desperate to give as much help as possible to their beleaguered secondary - hardly ever blitzed in the Pittsburgh game. That was such a failure that it was inevitable they'd cook up some creative blitz packages in this game. So it proved, but - predictably - the secondary couldn't hold up and the Cardinals were easily able to counter with quick passes much of the time.
This did generate more pressure from the line, though, with Muhammad Wilkerson generating four pressures, including two hits, and also deflecting two passes at the line. Sheldon Richardson added three pressures and Leonard Williams knocked Carson Palmer down twice. They still didn't register a sack though.
It seemed like the Jets were making a concerted effort to give Wilkerson and Richardson some reps inside. They did this in a variety of ways, including using Steve McLendon as a 3-4 end or Williams as an edge rusher - which was how he got one of his pressures. They had begun the game in a 3-4 look but this backfired when the Cardinals had some success with short passes and outside runs.
Clearly things haven't gone to plan with the linebacker group this year. Mike Catapano, Jordan Jenkins and Erin Henderson have all missed time in earlier games, David Harris was unavailable for this one and Darron Lee went down last night with a nasty looking ankle injury.
These absences have clearly contributed to the Jets being able to play less 3-4 than they intended entering the year. It's also necessitated them using Richardson as an outside linebacker. This was something they vowed not to do this year but they've seemingly had little choice. Even yesterday, as they made an effort to use him on the interior, he ended up playing more snaps standing up than in any other game so far this year.
One other adjustment the Jets tried to make was using one of their inside linebackers on the edge and dropping their rush linebacker to the inside. Lee and Bruce Carter each saw some reps on the outside with Richardson or Catapano at inside linebacker. I don't think that's what Richardson had in mind when he was told he'd play inside more this year.
Other than the linemen, several pressures were generated by the players who blitzed, although Calvin Pryor was the only player with more than one. Carter and Jordan Jenkins each had a hit on Palmer.
Catapano and Lorenzo Mauldin each got to the quarterback on blitzes up the middle, but didn't have any tangible success rushing off the edge with Mauldin only getting close once. Of the three outside linebackers, Jenkins was again the most impressive and saw more playing time than Mauldin and Catapano combined.
Deon Simon and Jarvis Jenkins both saw time off the bench, but didn't generate any pressure and, in fact, have just one pressure between them all year.
What happened to the run defense? The Jets entered the game with the second-best run defense in the league, although part of that is presumably because their pass defense has been so bad. In this game, Gruden wondered why the Cardinals were continuing to run the ball, but they ended up with 171 yards and three scores so it paid off.
Having said that, on 35 running plays, the Cardinals had 20 plays that were stopped for a gain of two yards or less, so the defensive line was doing a solid job of bottling up runs most of the time. The exception was on the first drive of the second half, where the Cardinals drove downfield to turn a manageable 14-3 game into a 21-3 blowout. On that drive, they had six straight carries that went for five or more yards, although one was negated by a penalty.
While some of the yardage was attributable to mistakes in the back seven, you can't attribute all of it to that and, while they combined to make a lot of stops, the defensive linemen were occasionally controlled at the point of attack. That might be due to their efforts to employ a traditional nose tackle less often.
As noted, Richardson was employed as a linebacker despite the fact he apparently added weight during the offseason to enable him to play on the line more. That was evident on two end-arounds and a short pass where he was too slow to prevent the runner from getting to the edge. The decision to employ him at inside linebacker also cost the Jets on the long David Johnson touchdown as Richardson run-blitzed up the middle and the run was bounced to the edge.
There was a lot more to that play though. Let's look at it in more detail:
The first thing to note is Lee on the edge. That's a blatant holding penalty that was not called, which changes the whole complexion of the game.
Next up, Henderson - the inside linebacker on the left side of the formation - gets across to fill the lane as Richardon run-blitzes, but gets schooled by a spectacular open-field move by Johnson. The problems don't stop there though.
Marcus Gilchrist is badly at fault as he comes up far too fast and gets caught inside, Darrelle Revis can't get off a block from Larry Fitzgerald, whose blocking stood out all day, and Buster Skrine loses outside contain as he misses the tackle on the edge
How badly did the Jets miss Harris on this play? Not only were two players out of position due to him not being there, but also Henderson failed to make a play Harris perhaps would have made and the run fit wasn't ideal so there may have been a communication issue.
It will be a real shame if Lee's injury keeps him out for an extended time. If the wheels are going to fall off, at least that would mean that the team has scope to let young players learn from their mistakes. Until he got hurt, this was shaping up to be his best game so far, as he was disciplined and made a couple of plays. He may be better as the mike and therefore not ideally suited towards playing with Harris in the short term. He also perhaps benefited from the Jets not playing as much zone in the back end.
Henderson struggled, as he was constantly blocked out of plays at the second level. Carter saw a lot of playing time on defense for the first time and was in on a couple of stops.
One silver lining from last night's game was that the Jets didn't have any major defensive breakdowns in the secondary. In fact, the longest pass they gave up all day was just 14 yards. However, it's difficult to draw too many positives from a performance where the team struggled to get off the field.
Skrine made a nice break-up but otherwise had a complete nightmare. Jerome Boger's officiating crew victimized Skrine all day long, calling him for four penalties, at least a couple of which were extremely dubious. Skrine was trying to play physical coverage, but that proved impossible with how the game was being officiated. Later on in the game, the team obviously instructed him to play off instead and he gave up three consecutive identical plays where the receiver stopped and caught a back shoulder throw.
Skrine has had issues with penalties in the past, but seemed to have fixed that to some degree. Since the NFL tightened up their rules in 2014, he had 20 penalties in the first 20 games, but only five in the last 17 games prior to yesterday night's game.
Revis was flagged once too and surrendered a couple of first downs. He was also blocked out of a couple of plays downfield and would have given up a touchdown if not for Wilkerson rescuing him by batting down the pass at the line.
Marcus Williams held up quite well, although he almost gave up a deep catch inside the 10, just about managing to prise the ball loose. He also had a big contribution as a pass rusher, jumping into Palmer's face to prevent a screen pass as he came unblocked off the edge. That play looked like it was going places.
Pryor - much like Lee - showed more discipline this week. Again, perhaps not playing zone was a key factor here. He made some plays in coverage and did well overall. He wasn't perfect though, as he was badly caught inside on an end-around.
Other than his bad mistake on the long touchdown, Gilchrist played quite well too, making one nice play in coverage.
Darryl Roberts drew some praise after his last performance, but I wasn't really convinced because he was let off the hook a few times by Sammie Coates' unreliable hands. In this game, he only played briefly but got beaten for a first down, a touchdown and a pass interference call. He also seemed to be responsible for a 12 men on the field penalty.
Rontez Miles and Antonio Allen played briefly off the bench, but did not contribute much.
Surprisingly, despite Harris being absent, the linebackers were hardly targeted in coverage. Carter gave up one easy first down though and was also late to react on a quick pass to the flat, leading to another first down.
Overall, the lack of big plays is a minor positive, but the inability of the secondary to prevent quick and easy throws when blitzing remains a concern. It's not helped by their inability to play physical man-to-man coverage without drawing a flag, though.
Once again, the Jets' renovated special teams unit didn't get many chances to influence the game, positively or otherwise. Only one field goal was attempted by either team, with Nick Folk's 39-yarder accounting for the only Jets' points. In the return game, every kick-off - by both teams - went for a touchback. Jalin Marshall also opted to fair catch four of the Cardinals five punts with the other one being downed. Only when the Jets were punting did anything worth discussing happen.
Lac Edwards had a disappointing game with a few short kicks including one that was shanked out of bounds. His one good punt was basically meaningless as he landed the ball inside the 10 with just seconds remaining in the first half.
It's worth pointing out that Tanner Purdum had an uncharacteristically poor game though, with Edwards having to reach for four less-than-perfect snaps in the first half alone. The snap was to his right on the one he shanked - also to the right.
That's the trouble with a struggling team. Even if you manage to fix some of the issues you've been having, you can't guarantee that the things you could usually rely on week-in and week-out won't have an off-day and end up costing you anyway.
For someone with a supposedly booming leg, should we be concerned that Edwards hasn't had a gross average of 44 yards or above in any game since opening day? Perhaps not, because at least he's getting enough hang time that the short kicks aren't getting returned.
In this game, Juston Burris - who didn't see any time on defense - did a good job of getting downfield in coverage. He made one terrific tackle after blowing past the vice on the outside and blew up another punt even though he missed the tackle. On another play he drew an illegal block in the back penalty, one of two penalties he drew on the day.
Peake also did a good job of getting downfield and blew up a punt return for a loss. He was well-blocked on another play though.
Even with the Jets getting downfield well, one of the punts was close to being broken for a big return, but Bruce Carter made a solid open field tackle after four players (Burris, Miles, Henderson and Josh Martin) overpursued.
Mercifully, the Jets finally made it through the tough part of their schedule. They now face a slate of games against the Ravens, Browns, Dolphins and Rams which seem winnable and could enable them to get their season back on track before their first meeting with the Patriots.
Unfortunately, those four games aren't actually as easy as they once seemed. The Ravens were 3-0 to start with and even though they've lost three in a row, all three were games they could and probably should have won. The Rams also had three wins in a row, including two against teams that beat the Jets, and could easily be 4-2. Even Miami just beat the Steelers and the Browns might still be the Browns, but perhaps they are due or something.
Moreover, the Jets don't look capable of competing with anyone right now, let alone beating them. It's difficult to remember a season where things looked so bleak at such an early point. Even in 2014, where they also began 1-5, there was a sense that they'd been unlucky in some games against good teams and might be on the brink of a turnaround.
Hopefully I'm overreacting, but things don't look too promising right now.