BGA: 49ers at Jets – Part One

Bent , TheJetsBlog.com

This analysis is based on watching and re-watching TV footage. As such, it is not always possible to accurately determine everything that was going on. However, every effort has been made to ensure that the information below is as complete and correct as possible.

Note: Your feedback suggested you guys preferred BGA to be split into two parts, so we’ll deal with the offense first. Defense and special teams will be covered in part two to follow later today…

Coming up, your breakdown of yesterday’s loss to the 49ers, together with detailed analysis of personnel groupings and individual performance.

Although the Jets lost 34-0, they were victimized by some unlucky breaks and if not for a play here or there, it would have been a much closer game and probably gone down to the wire. Other than those few plays, the Jets actually played pretty well and, if only they hadn’t been playing against such a good team, might have had a chance to extend their lead atop the AFC East.

Only kidding. Join me after the jump as I realistically attempt to cover every angle.

Well, maybe we should have seen this coming. Just like they did in the game following each of the season ending injuries to Jim Leonhard over the last two years, the Jets got absolutely annihilated. Even worse, this time, it was at home. Just embarrassing.

I wrote last week that the Jets’ playoff hopes looked bleak without Darrelle Revis and the Jets played like they believe the same thing. My reasoning behind this was that in order to have a really successful season, you need everything to go right. By “everything”, I don’t actually mean everything but you need as few setbacks as possible and the loss of Revis is such a big setback that you totally lose any margin of error. The Jets could still be competitive against teams like the 49ers, but once they start suffering more injuries, having back-breaking turnovers at the worst possible time and seeing calls go against them, it starts to feel that nothing is going their way.

And then? They quit.

In the NFL, you’re going to get days where everything seems to be going against you, but you still can’t quit. If you’re the head coach and you see your players start to quit, you don’t let them. And when you get to the end of the game and the only thing that keeps the deficit below 35 points is that the other team is kind enough to quit too, you’d better be taking action after the game to make sure everyone knows you won’t accept that kind of effort ever again.

It’s not going to be easy. If this team believes it has nothing to play for, how can you convince them to keep playing hard? Rex has always been derided in the press for emphasizing how much he believes in his team, but if nobody’s buying it, do the words just fall on deaf ears?

The 49ers are a good team. Maybe better than good, even if they did lose to the Vikings last week. Time will tell. However, they just punched a Jets team already reeling after last week’s news in the face and the Jets’ response was to roll over and die.

This is a more talented team than they showed yesterday. In fact, I still believe they have more talent than most of the teams in the NFL, but right now – not just last night but for the last three weeks – they are playing extremely poorly, making mental errors and looking flat, dejected and beaten. A great coach would be able to turn this around. Rex Ryan has achieved some things over his first few seasons, but this will be by far the biggest challenge of his coaching career and could determine whether he coaches in the NFL for the next 10-20 years or, alternatively, how soon his head coaching career will be over.

We’ll get into the individual and position group analysis, but practically everybody was at fault in this game – can’t anybody step up and make a play to get this team going? I didn’t happen in 60 minutes of football yesterday. This won’t make for pleasant reading, so you could be forgiven for sitting this one out. After all, is there a single player on the team who could say they didn’t take the week off too?

Quarterbacks

That’s three games in a row now where Sanchez has completed less than 50% of his passes. That’s not an aberration, it’s a worrying pattern. He’s throwing downfield more often, but not connecting and this is contributing to accuracy numbers even worse than we’ve become accustomed to seeing from him over the last few years.

In the last few games, it was almost forgivable because he’d at least been limiting the number of turnovers, but that renewed focus on ball security deserted him just as badly as ever yesterday and it could have been worse.

When your quarterback makes a throw down the seam and hits a linebacker in stride because the receiver isn’t close to being open, you have to wonder what he’s seeing. Yes, the 49ers have a fearsome pass rush, but he was making these mistakes when he wasn’t pressured too.

We knew the Jets weren’t going to have a high-powered offense this year, but at worst they were relying on them to string together a few first downs and punt the ball, then lean on the defense to win the field position battle. You’d hope to piece together the occasional scoring drive by getting into a rhythm, making some big plays or capitalizing on defensive mistakes. However, turning the ball over, constantly going three and out and failing to convert any big plays all day is a recipe for disaster. Especially when the defense has an off-day too.

It wasn’t until the turnovers started that the game transformed from a scrappy affair with the Jets clinging on (and hanging around waiting for each other to step up and make a play) to an embarrassing laugher and that’s where the biggest problem lies. Had the Jets kicked a field goal late in the first half to cut the lead to 7-3, I’m not saying they win the game or even keep it close throughout, but who knows? Even 34-3 looks better than 34-0 and one less reason to feel sorry for themselves and that the world is against them might have at least delayed the inevitable in respect of the team coming apart at the seams. But what happened? The 49ers dropped a bunch of guys into coverage and Sanchez couldn’t find anybody open, kept the ball for far too long and eventually lost the ball. What was he not on that play? Say it with me…DECISIVE. Right now, you get Sanchez thinking too much and you can shut him down completely.

As for Tim Tebow, they used him to complete a pass which ended up in an unfortunate turnover and tried to run him to the outside where he was stuffed for a loss. They also used him at least three times to cut block a pass rusher. It’s 3rd and one … how about you run Tebow up the middle? That shotgun sneak play never failed in college. Never. Sure, he’s not in college any more, but he’s not running behind a collegiate level line either (and you can insert a snarky comment there if you want, but that won’t make it accurate). Why did it need to be Tebow that flipped that pass over the top to Epps? It’s not like they’re capitalizing on the defense loading up to stop him from running, because they have yet to establish the threat of Tebow running. They’re just over-complicating things for no good reason – and getting Tebow doesn’t seemed to have helped matters, it’s just distracted the base offense from being well executed and run.

The use of Tebow so far has been awful. They simply aren’t making the best use of his skillset. People used to complain about the predictable nature of Brian Schottenheimer’s playcalling, but a lot of the time, he was establishing tendencies, which allowed them to make plays when they broke those tendencies to catch out the defense. Sparano seems to have skipped this step and gone straight to the creative-wrinkle section of his playbook. However, the defenses don’t know what they’re supposed to expect yet, so are just sitting back and reacting to someone who isn’t dynamic enough to make things happen unless at least one defender is caught out of position. If things carry on like this it will end up being one-and-done for Sparano with the Jets, just as it was the last time the Jets brought aboard a playcaller who was supposed to transform the offense (Mike Heimerdinger in 2005).

As for Tebow, he does have some abilities. How about trying to make use of them? Otherwise, what the hell was the point in getting him?

Offensive Line

Not to pile on, but a good deal of the pressure the Jets surrendered was attributable not to the line, but to Sanchez himself. As in the example mentioned above, Sanchez held the ball for too long and allowed himself to come under pressure on several key plays. While he was only sacked three times officially, there were two sacks negated by penalties. Perhaps the most telling thing of all was that four of the five were on third down.

However, how can you defend the line when it’s largely down to them that the Jets ended up in those situations? You can blame the running back – and I’m sure he deserves some of the blame – but when you manage to average just 2.6 yards per carry, that’s not good enough. Even when you’re facing a highly-regarded defense.

When evaluating offensive line performance, Nick Mangold stands out practically every week. However, this time, his performance stood out because he kept getting uncharacteristically beaten. An early hold looked like a phantom call and when his man sacked Sanchez it was mainly because Matt Slauson’s man drove him into the backfield and Sanchez had to step up. However, there were no excuses later on as he gave up another sack and a couple of pressures. He didn’t have anywhere near his usual impact in the running game either. Mangold was saying all the right things after the game and was facing one of the toughest defensive linemen in the NFL in Justin Smith, but you still expect him to set a better example than this.

Other than the play mentioned above, Slauson only gave up one clear pressure, but was bullrushed into the backfield a few times. He had a couple of good run blocks, but overall his impact was minimal. Vladimir Ducasse continued to rotate in and made a couple of solid run blocks without getting cleanly beaten, although they tested him with a few bullrushes too.

Both tackles struggled to restrict the pressure Sanchez was under. Austin Howard got thrown aside for an early sack and was beaten another four or five times, including the play where Sanchez was intercepted after his man got in Sanchez’s face and tipped the pass which otherwise looked like it could have gone for a decent gain. D’Brickashaw Ferguson was beaten about the same amount of times as Howard was, although most of it was late in the game. He did surrender a sack, but it was negated by a penalty. Neither tackle had a positive impact in the running game.

Finally, Jason Smith did bait a defender into a penalty flag, but that’s the biggest impact he had. He was badly beaten on the inside on one running play.

Running Backs

Offensive line struggles or no offensive struggles, when your 1,000 yard back raises his yards per carry average by going 11-34, you have a problem. Bilal Powell didn’t do anything either, but I’m sure he can average three yards per carry. He’s a better blocker and pass catcher too, so what are they waiting for? Is Greene being showcased for a trade or something? If so, his value is only going down at the moment, so even that’s backfiring.

Maybe the reason they’re waiting on Powell is that he’s not ready. If he’s staying in to block and the 49ers are getting third down sacks, then that’s not helping – even if none of the sacks are directly attributable to him. In fact, a few of them were coverage sacks, so where’s the checkdown option? Powell was thrown to three times, but did not make a catch.

To be fair to Powell, his did a good job of picking up the blitz in this game, taking Patrick Willis down to the ground on one play, but if the Jets are looking for him to read his blocks better than Greene has so far, then it was worrying to see him cut back inside on the same play where he had a big run in overtime last week. He was stopped for a short gain when he probably should have had an easy 8-10. One thing I will give Powell credit for is chasing a lost cause on Carlos Rogers’ fumble return. There were three or four blockers with Rogers, but Powell still made the effort to get back and almost stopped him inside the five.

I wouldn’t bank on Jonathan Grimes to save the Jets because he’s another back from a zone blocking background, just like Greene, so he’ll take time to adjust. Was it a mistake to remove Joe McKnight from the mix at this stage?

Obviously John Conner’s return didn’t have much of an effect. He didn’t get a great deal of playing time, although he had time to drop a pass before going down with yet another hamstring injury. Don’t these guys stretch since Sal Alosi had to leave because of the Tripgate Scandal that probably would have been a non-issue if it happened on any other team?

Receivers

It was a moment that will probably live in infamy as the defining moment of this season and – if things go from bad to worse – maybe even this era. Santonio Holmes caught a low pass, got his foot caught in the turf and – without being touched – threw the ball away and started writhing around on the floor in agony. Carlos Rogers ran it back 51 yards for a score. Let’s be honest – at 17-0 early in the fourth, the game was over anyway, but if ever there was an example of “when it rains, it pours” losing Holmes in that manner was it. Holmes, who had been the one bright spot on offense last week, looked to have suffered a serious-looking injury (reports are that it’s a possible broken foot, which might not be as bad as first feared) and literally handed the Niners another seven points.

Holmes will no doubt come under fire for letting the ball go in that fashion. You can’t do that, no matter how much pain you’re in. However, although I agree that the “ballcarrier giving himself up” rule doesn’t apply, I’ve seen an illegal forward pass call in similar situations in the past. This would lead to a loss of down penalty, but the Jets would retain the ball. Even before that play, Holmes had been a disappointment with less than 30 yards on eight targets. That’s not much better than handing the ball off to Greene.

To sum up: Holmes throws the ball away and Sanchez holds onto the ball. Only the Jets. Maybe they should just swap positions.

With Stephen Hill and Dustin Keller also out, it was left to guys like Jeremy Kerley, Jeff Cumberland and Chaz Schilens to try and pick up the slack in the passing game. Between them, they actually caught nine of 11 passes for 74 yards. That means Sanchez was just 4-for-18 for 29 yards on passes to everyone else. In fact, if you also exclude Holmes too, he went 0-for-10. Schilens was the pick of the bunch, catching all three targets for 45 yards, but when Holmes isn’t producing, the Jets need more than that from their number two. Kerley and Cumberland’s six catches went for less than five yards on average, although they did make a couple of nice plays. Cumberland was beaten once in pass protection though.

Patrick Turner was targeted five times and came up empty, including one bad drop on third down. Clyde Gates barely played. He was almost certain to be released tomorrow, but now the Holmes injury could mean he retains his spot for the time being.

Konrad Reuland filled in at fullback again after Conner went down but looked a bit shaky in pass protection, giving up one pressure in his own end zone.

I don’t know how serious Dedrick Epps’ injury is, but he was probably going to be released on Monday anyway. In fact, unless it’s so minor that he could play next week, that’s likely to cost the Jets some cap space and cash in the form of an injury settlement. That was a bad fumble in that situation, and – as with Holmes – I don’t know if you can excuse him based on the fact that he was hurt on the play. It did look more like an incompletion or down-by-contact than a fumble. The sooner we get the replacement refs back, the better.

We’re only halfway through – I’ll be back later with a look at the defense and special teams, together with final conclusions…