BGA: 49ers at Jets – Part Two

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 indicated you prefer me to divide BGA into two parts. Part One covered the offense and can be accessed here

We’re recapping yesterday’s blowout loss to the 49ers. After the jump, Part Two looks at the performance by the defense and special teams and also draws final conclusions. Remember, if you want me to go back and look at anything, or have any other questions, let me know in the comments and I’ll respond in BGA Extra later in the week.

Before the game, there was concern about the Jets’ ability to stop the run, but also about how the secondary could possibly hold up without Darrelle Revis. If I told you before the game that Frank Gore would be held to 62 yards on 21 carries and that Alex Smith would go 12-for-21 for 143 yards and no touchdowns, you’d probably have expected that to represent a pretty good defensive performance. Unfortunately, everybody else rushed for 183 yards on 23 carries (eight yards per carry) and Smith’s numbers could have been much higher than that.

The Jets are still having real problems with their tackling, are not holding up at the point of attack as they would have expected to and are not generating enough pressure to help out their undermanned secondary. Right now it looks grim for the self-anointed “best defensive coach in the league”. Let’s see if he can fix this one.

Let’s try and isolate where the problems lie.

Defensive Line

For the second straight game, Sione Po’uha had a rough afternoon. He did draw more double teams this time, but found himself driven back off the line several times. He also missed a tackle in the hole on one play. He played a bit better in the second half, making a few plays upfront, but the game was over by then and the 49ers were mostly just keeping the clock moving. You have to wonder how much of this is attributable to his back injury and when will matters improve, if ever?

On the basis of recent performances, it would have been a reasonable suggestion to give Kenrick Ellis more reps in Po’uha’s place, perhaps even rest him until his back is 100% recovered (if that is the factor I’m assuming it is). Early on in this game, Ellis was holding up at the point of attack much better than Po’uha, but later on he started to get driven back off the line just as badly. He was alarmingly driven back a good eight yards on one play. You can attribute some of that to fatigue, perhaps, but if that’s the case, then he may not be well-conditioned enough to handle starters’ reps at this stage of his career.

Over the first three games, Muhammad Wilkerson had been grading out as one of the best run stopping defensive ends in the NFL. He was particularly dominant last week. However, in this one, Wilkerson had nowhere near the same impact against the physical 49ers front. He beat his man once in pass protection and did get some penetration at times, but he also found himself driven back by some double teams and caught inside on a big run to the edge.

Mike DeVito’s impact was also minimal, although he did hold up more consistently at the point of attack than most of his teammates. They employed him as a 4-3 DE quite a lot in this one, which put him in edge rushing situations, as the plan was presumably to have a front line that could match up against the physical Niners line and stop the run. The 49ers countered by running to the outside and running end arounds and option plays put the onus on the outside linebackers to set the edge rather than trying to go up the middle. This, in itself, would have softened up the middle.

Finally, Quinton Coples got much more playing time and did make an impact with three pressures and two tackles for losses. There weren’t many obvious examples of him being taken out of a running play, but he did miss a tackle in the backfield. He definitely showed something in this game, in terms of beating his man or getting off a block. It would be interesting to see how he performs when the rest of the linemen give a better account of themselves, though.

Linebackers

Yesterday’s flat defensive performance was summed up by Kris Jenkins tweeting that he couldn’t “hold [his] tongue any more” and that Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas were “just taking up space out there”. “Taking up space” would be a good thing for a defensive lineman such as Jenkins himself, but he didn’t mean that in a good way. Ironically, Thomas and Pace recorded sacks on consecutive plays to force the 49ers back almost immediately, but these were rare positive moments for each of them and both were basically coverage sacks anyway. In fact, those two would be the only sacks the Jets registered on the day.

As noted above, the 49ers exploited the Jets’ lack of speed in the linebacking corps by running to the outside. Pace lost contain or was optioned on several occasions, whereas Thomas, who didn’t play as much, lost contain once.

The other issue was that David Harris kept getting caught inside, or struggling to get off blocks. He also missed a couple of tackles. He did get in on five tackles near the line of scrimmage, but needs the rest of the front seven to be playing well to be effective.

When it comes to Bart Scott, you have to ask – what is there to motivate him right now? The team is playing like they have no chance of going to the postseason. His salary for this year is guaranteed and his cap number is so big next year that everyone realizes he’s not going to be back at that amount. If he’s expected to mentor the young players, then he’s being asked to help someone take his job. The media kills him every game and there’s no point him being motivated to prove them wrong because even when he plays well, they kill him anyway.

Other than professional pride and a sense of loyalty to Rex Ryan (which may no longer exist with the talk of potentially trading or releasing him in the offseason), it difficult to see what he has to play for.

Despite what the media will tell you, he has been playing pretty well, at least in comparison to some of his teammates. However, I’m concerned that this solid play might not continue for long. As bad as the defense looked yesterday, they’re going to look even worse if he isn’t doing his job any more.

A glimmer of hope exists in the form of Demario Davis, who many have predicted will transition into Scott’s role next year. He did see a little more playing time in this game – some of it on the outside, but also alongside Harris in some coverage packages. It looks like he’s moved ahead of Josh Mauga. This is the first real chance we’ve had to evaluate him against starters, but we still need to see more.

Davis looks pretty good blitzing off the edge, but when called upon to cover, he looked a bit hesitant and gave up a first down over the middle. However, they haven’t used him to take out blockers in the same way Bart Scott does yet. Scott spectacularly took out Will Tukuafu as the Jets stuffed a run on 3rd and goal from the one, only for the 49ers to go for it on fourth down and score anyway. Scott also had a QB hit, was in on a couple of run stuffs and did a good job in coverage, although he did get hit with a holding penalty and was caught out in the running game on a few occasions.

Garrett McIntyre didn’t play much this week, especially after he got blown up by a fullback on Colin Kaepernick’s touchdown run. He gave up contain one other time, but did make a good open field tackle. Aaron Maybin’s impact was muted once again, although he did actually make a good play on a running play to the outside.

Defensive Backs

I pride myself on being mild-mannered, but one of my pet hates is when a defensive back puffs out his chest or talks trash following a play where he basically got burned and the only reason it wasn’t a completion was because he got lucky. That being the case, Kyle Wilson is on a fast-track to becoming my least favorite player on the team right now. With everyone hoping he would step up in the absence of Revis, his numbers in terms of completions and targets don’t look too bad. However, he was burned down the sideline on several occasions where all it would have taken was a more accurate pass and it would have been a huge gain or possibly a touchdown. He also had one penalty and may have been lucky not to draw one on a few other plays.

Last week I suggested that Ellis Lankster could challenge Wilson for playing time and several people thought I was joking. However, Lankster wasn’t really targeted in this one, whereas Wilson was picked on all day. They continued to employ Lankster on the outside and Wilson in the slot when they were in the nickel package. Lankster did have one missed tackle on Mario Manningham’s big run, but Wilson gave up a couple of first downs, including one on a mental error where the Jets were running a trap coverage and he should have run with the slot receiver as Scott picked up the outside receiver in the short flat.

Something that was encouraging to see was Antonio Cromartie actively trying to jam the receiver at the line. This is something the coaches have been trying to get him to do more often because they’ve identified that when he does, he has good results. There was one downfield completion in between Cromartie and LaRon Landry, but other than that, Cromartie’s results speak for themselves because he was mostly matched up with Michael Crabtree, who was held to just two catches for 15 yards, neither of them while being covered by Cromartie.

This performance shows that Cromartie can potentially succeed in the Revis-like role of playing the best opposing receiver in press coverage at the line. He broke up three passes and the only catch he gave up downfield wasn’t really his fault, as it looked like Landry was supposed to drop back with Delaine Walker because Cromartie had to pick up a receiver running deep. Despite this good performance, Cromartie may still need to refine his technique, because he was flagged for getting his hand up in Crabtree’s helmet, surrendering a costly first down. However, there was one other play where he got such a good jam at the line that it blew up the play – an attempted screen pass to the flat.

Landry, bizarrely, had perhaps his most disciplined performance of the season so far on a day where the team was as ill-disciplined as they’ve ever been under the Rex Ryan regime. Other than the coverage mix-up above, he was only beaten for one first down on a crossing pattern, although he did get blocked out of some running plays. He did have a good pass breakup on Randy Moss in the end zone.

The other safety, Yeremiah Bell, had five tackles, but didn’t make any impact plays. Eric Smith continued to play the third safety role on 3rd and long situations. Finally, Joe McKnight saw action on a couple of plays as a slot corner, rushing the passer.

Special Teams

In games like this, I usually try and look for positives where I can, but when “at least Nick Folk should be well-rested” is the best you can do, what’s the point? Even Robert Malone, who had been punting well over the past few games, had a dismal 32.3 yard net average and one of his punts blocked.

The blocked punt, by the way, was probably Cumberland’s fault. Initially, it looked like Cumberland let his guy go and Tebow just waited in the middle when he was probably supposed to move to his left to pick up Cumberland’s man. However, Josh Bush replaced Cumberland in that role on the next punt, so I’m guessing it was his fault and he was benched for it. I may be wrong though.

It’s typical that after kickers went 28-for-29 on field goals last year when the Jets were in the midst of a battle for playoff position, they’ve been the beneficiary of four missed field goals in two games. That’s regression to the mean for you. Unfortunately, any good fortune of that kind at this stage of the season looks like it will be wasted.

In coverage, Bellore and Davis had good special teams tackles. Davis also forced a fumble, although the official scorer incorrectly attributed it to Lankster. Isaiah Trufant did a good job getting downfield as a gunner, but was lucky on a couple of occasions not to be flagged for fair catch interference.

Conclusions

It’s virtually impossible to be positive after a performance like that. Even the guys whose performance you can usually take for granted stunk up the joint and any positives were difficult to identify.

Right now, this season has the air of 2003, 2005 or 2007 to it. In each of those seasons, the Jets had some early injuries that they tried to overcome only for more injuries and some tough losses to lead to the wheels pretty much falling off. They went 6-10, 4-12 and 4-12 in those three years. In each case, they were a better team than their final record, but the injuries took their toll and holes in the roster were exposed. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong, but that seems to be the way this season is headed right now.

Now the good news. If I am right, it might not take too long to turn things around. In the years following each of those seasons, the Jets benefited from a last place schedule, a high draft position and the fact that most of the league underestimated the amount of talent they had once they entered the season with a full compliment of players again.

I’m not ready to concede the season yet, though. We’ll continue to look ahead to next week, not next year.

Next up, Houston, who – I’m sorry to report – looked pretty awesome yesterday too.