BGA: Bills at Jets (Part One – Offense)

Bent, TheJetsBlog.com

Welcome to Bent’s Game Analysis, which 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.

Coming up, part one of your breakdown of the Jets’ win over the Bills, with detailed analysis of the offensive players. Join me after the jump as I attempt to cover every angle.

This week’s BGA is going to be two parts, so I’ll be back with the defensive analysis later. For now we’re focusing on the offense.

After a terrific first half performance, the Jets could have been out of sight if not for a couple of defensive breakdowns. Still, they made a late stop and kicked a field goal as time expired to go into a 17-6 lead, which they would stretch to 20-6 early in the second half. However, their inability to turn their dominance into a more healthy lead came back to haunt them and they squandered the lead with more breakdowns and an incredible 15 second half penalties. Just as the offense was stalling in the second half, they retook the lead with a long touchdown and the defense stiffened to preserve the win.

It’s obvious this team still has some flaws, but what was also obvious to anyone who was prepared to admit it, was that they have some strengths, which the hope was that they could lean on to keep games competitive. Clearly through three games that’s happening. Now if they can just get some luck, eliminate the errors and remain more consistently disciplined, maybe they can continue to win more than they lose.

Quarterbacks

You can add a 300-yard game, a team record for rookie passing numbers and a second career fourth quarter game winning drive to Geno Smith’s résumé after this game, but how do we assess his performance? There were ups and downs, but overall he did a good job of limiting the mistakes, getting rid of the ball and improving his accuracy and decisiveness.

The opening drive saw him open up with a big play to Stephen Hill, although he again underthrew the deep pass as he was leaning back slightly. After that, he had a couple of big third down conversions to the returning Jeremy Kerley and finished off the drive with his first career touchdown on a designed quarterback draw. The way he took a hit at the goal line and still broke the plane was extremely reminiscent of this play, where Mark Sanchez opened the scoring in similar fashion and would also go on lead his team to a labored seven point win at home in his third NFL game.

Underthrowing deep balls has been a problem for Smith in his first two games and he did it one more time here, as Jim Leonhard was easily able to undercut his deep throw for an easy interception on the first offensive play of the second quarter. However, if he can get his footwork right, he can be accurate with those passes and he showed that on his 51-yard touchdown pass to Stephen Hill, stepping into the throw bravely despite having to take a hit. He would later make another good deep throw on a gadget play, which was broken up at the last second and his game-winning touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes hit his man in stride even though he was tightly covered, with the defender not looking back for the ball.

His second interception was a bad read rather than a bad throw as Mike Pettine set a classic Rex Ryan trap with the inside linebacker dropping off to jump the route on a square-in to the outside receiver. It is possible that some of the snafus such as illegal shifts, offside penalties and the one bad snap might have been partially attributable to him, but he did do a good job of overcoming any mistakes and keeping his head.

There was one play late in the game with the Jets up seven where Smith seemed to throw an extremely risky pass out to the flat, which looked like it easily could have been a pick six. However, re-reviewing that play seems to show that the design was for a bubble screen to the slot man Kerley and Smith actually saw that a defensive player had dropped into the passing lane and deliberately overthrew it so that it landed safely at the feet of the outside receiver Holmes, who wasn’t even looking at the ball.

Despite the good numbers, the one concern would be that the Jets offense stalled for long periods of the second half and didn’t really string together any decent drives after the first drive of the half. The only drive that lasted more than five plays went just 26 yards and ended with a failure on downs. The way the Jets overcame this was to take a lot of shots downfield, essentially Tony Sparano’s promised-but-never-delivered “Chunk Play” philosophy.

The fact the Jets threw downfield so much no doubt contributed to Smith’s lower-than-ideal completion percentage of 55% and it was certainly reflected in his stellar 11.4 yards per attempt average.

It’s clear Smith isn’t the finished article yet, but this is a performance he can draw confidence from and build upon.

Offensive Line

Maybe the biggest plus of all from Smith was the fact that he got rid of the ball, throwing it away several times to avoid any mistakes. The Bills are a team that generates a lot of pressure, but they only managed to sack Smith once (and that was officially negated when they opted to accept a holding penalty instead). However, the offensive line deserves plenty of credit too.

At tackle, D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Austin Howard were both penalty-free and did a great job of limiting pressure off the edge. Howard had a rude awakening early in the game when Mario Williams rocked him onto his heels and then blew past him, but Willie Colon came across and bailed him out that time. Other than that, with Williams matched up with Ferguson much of the time, they did a good job of shutting him down. Williams did generate pressure to lead to the sack-that-wasn’t, but that was because of a screwed up protection that left Jeff Cumberland isolated one-on-one with him. In the running game, both tackles had their share of mistakes, but they each made several key blocks to contribute to Bilal Powell’s breakout performance.

Colon was the outstanding lineman in the first half and was a force in the running game all day. He did have a holding penalty and gave up pressures on consecutive screen passes in the second half, but overall it looks like his comfort level within this offense is growing.

Mangold’s role in the running game was also important, especially in the second half and he has the group functioning well as a unit. He did have a bad snap and there was one play where he failed to pick up a blitzer, although Powell should have been able to pick the blitz up behind him and failed to do so. He even added a couple of tackles!

The elephant in the room is Vladimir Ducasse, who made headlines with his four penalties. After a terrific performance last week in New England, Ducasse was tasked with handling Kyle Williams one-on-one and struggled. Williams is every bit the player Wilfork is, but – unlike Wilfork – he was able to prepare for facing Ducasse and it looked apparent that Williams had looked at the film and found some holes in Ducasse’s game. He allowed Williams to get into the backfield a few times, getting to Smith once – although this play still ended up being a touchdown. He also failed to pick up a couple of blitzes, with one getting to Smith on his outside for a pressure and another sneaking between him and Mangold for another pressure.

Despite these struggles, Ducasse still made several good contributions in the running game, although there were also plenty of plays where he failed to sustain or missed blocks in space. As for his penalties, two were false starts. The facemask and holding calls looked a little harsh – the facemask came as he was hand-fighting in the pocket and seemed to be the kind of thing you’d see on every other play and the hold came as he pulled to the right and turned his man back to the inside and it wasn’t clear that he’d gained an advantage by holding him. With that said there were one or two other plays where he could have been hit with a hold and perhaps got away with it.

We know Ducasse is going to have his ups and downs, but he did play his part in how well the unit performed overall (no sacks, 182 rushing yards). He just needs to go away and clean up his technique on a few of those plays where Kyle Williams schooled him. Next week, he has another potentially tough matchup against Jurrell Casey.

Running Backs

The running game continues on an upwards curve with Powell’s breakout 149-yard game leading the charge. Powell was just 10-for-40 at the half, but carried 17 times for 109 yards in the second half, breaking runs of 21, 27, 13 and 14 yards. He was never stopped for a loss on those 27 carries and showed a good ability to slip tackles and get to the outside. His second half success does cause a pang of regret in terms of last week’s game. I still feel like they shouldn’t have abandoned the run while trailing, because they can do damage by wearing the other team down.

The disappointing news is that Chris Ivory suffered a hamstring injury, even if it did spur Powell on to establish himself as a viable bellcow. Ivory carried four times for five yards before being replaced by Alex Green, who picked up 14 on five carries and had one good play where he broke a tackle in the backfield to turn a potential loss into positive yardage.

Tommy Bohanon was stuffed on a fourth down run, but did catch a pass in the flat for a first down. He had one good block on the edge on one of Powell’s long second half runs, but didn’t fare so well as a blocker in the first half, missing one block and getting blown up on another play.

As a blocker, Powell had the one error where he failed to bail out Mangold, but he did bail him out on the bad snap, falling on the loose ball.

Receivers

Just a few weeks ago, speculation was that Holmes might not suit up this season and was absolutely certain not to be here next year. However, this looks like a different Santonio Holmes. He looks excited, engaged and happy to be part of the team in a way he hasn’t since the “Flight Boyz” were broken up after the 2010 season.

While he ended up with five catches for (a career high) 154 yards and a touchdown, a lesser receiver could have gone home empty handed as all five were great plays. He had a leaping catch over the middle, two diving grabs, a deep catch where he adjusted to the flight of the ball in the air and made a falling grab and the game winning touchdown where he not only caught the ball despite being tightly covered, but also kept his feet while the defensive back fell. It’s not nice to think about where they’d be without him, but Holmes put forth an elite (yes, I said that) performance yesterday and deserves all the credit in the world for returning from his serious foot injury just under 12 months ago.

Holmes could have had an ever bigger day – he had one first down catch on a screen pass negated by a penalty, another catch knocked away from him (initially ruled as a fumble and then overturned) and a third tough catch go off his hands. He did also get called for an illegal shift on one play, but a-Tone’d for it on the next play with the winning score.

Holmes terrific performance almost overshadows a break-out performance from Stephen Hill. Hill got open deep with ease on three occasions, leading to a 45-yard gain on the underthrown Smith pass, a making-it-look-easy 51-yard score and a pass interference flag. He also had one low falling catch to rack up over 100 yards in the first half. Hill didn’t have a catch in the second half, but did draw the penalty and had one good downfield block. He made one error – a false start late in the game – but the ease with which he blew by Justin Rogers for that score was scary and that threat will open up so much more for the offense by drawing safeties out of the middle of the field.

Let’s put this in a little perspective. The Bills were missing three of their top five cornerbacks once Leodis McKelvin went down (and their best defensive back in Jairus Byrd). However, the fact that the Jets went after a weakness and had success in doing so bodes well for the rest of the season, because that’s something the previous offensive regimes have not been able to achieve.

Kerley’s return was a welcome one and his ability to extend drives with third down conversions was big on the first drive. He didn’t have another catch after that, although he almost got his feet inbounds on a pass out to the sideline. There was another play where they looked for him on third down out of an interesting formation. The Jets lined up with three half backs in a row, Powell on the left, Bohanon on the right and Kerley in the middle. Kerley then motioned out to the right slot and ran out towards the right flat. It was pretty congested, but Smith would have been able to throw a pass out towards the sideline as he rolled right to convert, had Kerley not tripped over coming out of his break. Smith smartly threw the ball away.

Clyde Gates was targeted once (intercepted), Ben Obamanu didn’t play much and wasn’t targeted and Ryan Spadola was inactive for the first time in his career.

At tight end, Kellen Winslow was shut out. He has just three catches for 16 yards since leading the Jets in receiving in week one. He did draw a pass interference penalty and had a good block on Smith’s touchdown run, but overall his blocking was ineffective, as was Cumberland’s. Winslow did have one play where he locked on to Jim Leonhard and drove him 10 yards downfield to set up Holmes on the screen pass, but his timing was off and he made the block before Holmes caught the ball, so it was an obvious offensive pass interference call. Cumberland missed a series of blocks, but did have one positive block keeping Mario Williams to the outside. He caught three passes – an 18-yarder down the middle on 1st and 25 and two short passes where he couldn’t break free in the open field. That opens his account for the season, after he went catchless through the first two and a half games.

Konrad Reuland got most of his reps in the second half, usually in a blocking role. He had one missed block at the second level.

Part two will cover the defense. We’ll be posting this later today.