BGA: Bills at Jets (Part Two – Defense/ST)

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.

We’re breaking down yesterday’s win over the Bills. Part one is here. In part two, we’re focusing on the defense and special teams.

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

Overshadowing a sensational defensive performance was the Kyle Wilson meltdown which has some Jets fans calling for him to be cut today. Let’s get that out of the way before we move into our individual player analysis.

The whole episode began on the Bills’ first drive of the fourth quarter. Wilson had already been talking a lot of trash throughout the game and this is what happened on the first play:

Clearly Wilson is getting in the receiver’s head, presumably through something he said. (Stevie Johnson would later confirm that Wilson was talking trash, saying, “They walk around like they’re bigger than us”). It’s pretty ballsy for Wilson to actively taunt the opposing receiver in the middle of a play like that and Graham was targeted on the throw as he ran down the left sideline. Wilson ran with him and the pass was incomplete as Wilson felt the receiver had pushed off and appealed for a flag.

A couple of plays later, Wilson was in press coverage on Johnson in the slot. Johnson initiated contact (within five yards) by trying to lean across in front of Wilson on a quick slant and Wilson was hit with a holding penalty as he tried to jam him legally and then break up the pass. That’s a borderline call, but you don’t often see a defensive player get away with that kind of contact. The penalty was offset because Johnson reacted to Wilson who initially celebrated the incompletion before realizing he’d be hit with a penalty.

On the very next play, they went after Wilson with Johnson again. This time, Johnson got a cleaner release as he broke to the inside and Wilson clearly made contact with him well beyond five yards down the field. That was certainly the correct call and some officials might even have (wrongly) called that as pass interference.

The play after that was a run and there was a pile-up at the end of the play because there was a fumble (although this would not have counted because Sheldon Richardson almost removed Colin Brown’s helmet and was flagged for illegal use of the hands). Wilson was in the middle of the pile and Eric Wood aggressively hauled him off the pile which led to Wilson’s instant reaction to shove him over and draw another flag.

Finally, the play that led to him coming out of the game saw him flagged for the fourth play in a row, as once again Johnson beat him for a first down. I guess you can get away with talking trash against a TJ Graham, but when you do it to a player of Johnson’s caliber, you’re just poking the bear. I really don’t think Wilson did anything wrong here, as he just tackled Johnson to the ground because he perhaps wasn’t sure he was down after making the low catch and then getting back up. Johnson took a bit of a dive too, by the looks of it.

At that point, the Jets removed him from the game and probably should have done so one play sooner. It was interesting to note, however, that every player he saw on his way back to the sideline was offering him positive support. Contrast this with the reaction to this incident and maybe the Jets are a closer-knit group that they get credit for.

Anyway, Wilson obviously lost his cool and was pulled for a couple of plays, but was soon back in the line-up. I don’t think there is any chance his job is in jeopardy and it would probably take some scheming around to operate their defense without him, because although the likes of Darrin Walls, Ellis Lankster and Dee Milliner have talent and potential, Wilson is probably better suited than any of them to playing in the slot right now.

Other than all the penalties, it was a great defensive performance, so let’s look in more detail at who were the main protagonists…

Defensive Line

After receiving constant double teams in the first two games, Muhammad Wilkerson had not been the disruptive force he had developed into at the end of last season, while everyone else was feasting on being single-blocked and performing well as a result. The hope was that when Quinton Coples returned, the opposition would have to pick their poison. (And also, as I noted in the BGA Preview, Colin Scott needs help a lot of the time too, so by moving Wilkerson away from him they could force the Bills to choose between blocking Wilkerson one-on-one or leaving Brown to his own devices). When the Bills, already without key backup Doug Legursky, lost their starting right guard to injury, their prospects of stopping Wilkerson dimmed even further.

Wilkerson was a constant threat in the pass rush, especially in the second half, recording two sacks and several hits and pressures. If there’s any doubt about how disruptive he is, check out his contribution to Demario Davis’ 4th down sack, as he gets TRIPLE TEAMED and still collapses the pocket! He also stuffed a couple of runs and had a forced fumble.

In terms of negatives, he did jump offsides three times and was driven off the line once by a double team. Other than that, he was pretty much unstoppable.

The media has scoffed all summer over the Jets’ plans to move Coples to linebacker, despite the fact that the position he was moving to – Rush Linebacker – was more of a defensive end role and something he’d already been doing with increasing regularity. As it happens, the Jets were in nickel packages for a lot of this game, which means Coples saw more reps than he usually would on the inside.

Do I really need to point Coples out on this picture?

However, you get the sense Rex Ryan was trolling to some extent when the Jets lined up in a 4-3 set with Calvin Pace as the rush linebacker and Coples as a conventional linebacker. Coples burst into the backfield and tackled the runner low for a one yard loss. I’m sure I don’t need to point him out in the image to the right, since he sticks out like a sore thumb and makes Davis and David Harris look tiny.

Other than that play, Coples didn’t have any issues setting the edge, coming off to make one other stop. He also generated some pressures, one on an impressive bullrush and another on a play where it led to a sack for a teammate. His only negatives were that he jumped offsides once (on the same play as Wilkerson). The officials actually called his number twice, but one was a mistake.

While the media made a big deal over the fact Coples would sometimes be required to carry out coverage assignments while in his “new” “linebacker” role (which will seldom be the case, since he’ll be on the weakside or on the interior), there was one play where Sheldon Richardson dropped into coverage and did a good job. With nobody open, EJ Manuel eventually tried to scramble and Richardson was able to come off his man and assist Harris on the tackle to force a field goal attempt.

However, that play is worth highlighting because although the Jets dropped eight and had blanket coverage across the board, Richardson almost blew it by coming off his man too early. This image is right at the moment where Manuel pump-fakes to his left and then tries to run up the middle. Had he just thrown that, you can see that Graham is open in the end zone because Richardson has stepped up a beat too early.

However, if he stayed with Graham a second longer, would Manuel have had the room to get past Harris and into the end zone? It’s a tough call and Richardson’s athleticism and unnatural closing speed obviously enabled him to help make the stop.

Richardson continues to be a disruptive force as well. He had a sack, after initial pressure forced Manuel to step up, a tackle for a loss and a couple more pressures, as well as being in on a couple of other run stuffs. He was driven off the line a couple of times and did have the hands-to-the-face penalty which would ultimately negate his own fumble recovery, but overall he continues to be a handful every week.

Hopefully he’ll learn from his biggest mistake, which saw him too busy celebrating to recognize that Fred Jackson had broken into the open field.

Damon Harrison continues to man the middle with aplomb. He only had two tackles, but you don’t judge how well a nose tackle played by their statistical production and he helped bottle up several runs by holding his ground. He even contributed as a pass rusher this week, with one good bullrush and another play where he got into the backfield and was held, leading to Richardson’s sack. His only negative saw him blocked to the ground once. In 40 snaps, that’s impressive stuff.

Kenrick Ellis clearly isn’t 100% yet because he only played six snaps, although part of that was because they used a lot of nickel packages. Ellis continues to produce when he does get reps though. In those six plays he got one good penetration and got off his block in pass protection to pressure Manuel. He was also blocked to the ground once.

Finally, Leger Douzable did his part too in a backup role. He flushed the quarterback from the pocket on one play and made a spin move to hit Manuel as he threw on another. He was also in on three run stuffs, one as he shed his block and one in the backfield.

Linebackers

For Harris, his career resurgence continues. Like Holmes, many people had been assuming he’d be gone at the end of the season, but he had seven tackles, including two in the backfield, did a solid job in coverage and had one sack and another pressure that led to a Davis sack. He isn’t getting blocked out of plays at all thanks to the stellar play of the defensive line and looks faster in space than last year. Thankfully, the injury that caused him to miss two snaps was just a grazed shin.

Davis had an extremely active game as well. He had a sack, a couple of tackles close to the line and a couple of plays where he forced the runner to redirect to blow up the play. In coverage, the Bills went after him quite a bit and did have some success, although only one of the passes he was targeted on went for a first down and he did make some plays in coverage, dropping off just like Kiko Alonso did on Geno Smith’s second interception to deflect a pass near the goal line, reading a screen pass which was dropped with him in position to make the stop and nearly intercepting another pass off his hands. Davis was driven out of a play at the second level and did jump offsides (on a play wrongly credited to Wilkerson), but continues to settle in nicely alongside Harris, which is now starting to look like the kind of partnership the Jets will want to keep together for another few years.

Calvin Pace had eight tackles and a sack with a couple more pressures and a few run stops. He seemed to be caught out on the touchdown pass, as Scott Chandler dropped into the gap behind him with the other safety having crept up to the line to pass rush off the edge, and had a couple of missed tackles, including the one that led to Jackson’s big run. Like Harris, though, he looks a lot better than last year and continues to deserve his spot.

Garrett McIntyre didn’t have a major impact, but was in on a couple of run stuffs and pressured Manuel once. Nick Bellore was in for two plays with Harris out and made a good open field tackle on a pass to the flat, but that play was negated by a penalty.

Finally, Antwan Barnes did a terrific job as the designated pass rusher, showing why he has been one of the league’s most productive pass rushers over the past five seasons or so. Barnes had a quiet first half, but was constantly in the backfield in the second half, generating several pressures and a couple of hits. He had the most awesome play of the day, when he hurdled over Jackson for a pressure midway through the third quarter. I might do a gif of that one in BGA Extra if you ask nicely enough.

Cornerbacks

While I’ve already spoken at length about the Wilson meltdown, the dirty little secret from yesterday’s game (and the first two games) is that he’s actually been playing about as well as he ever has in a Jets jersey. Five penalties is ridiculous (and the other penalty, a pass interference call downfield midway through the third quarter was clear-cut), but he was in a good position on seven incomplete passes, made two good open field tackles and helped string a run to the outside in run support. He might not grade out that badly in coverage. It’s obvious he needs to work at some things though, so the defensive staff need to get on the same page. As for his irrational cockiness, it doesn’t sit well with me, but I do worry that if they tried to coach that out of him, it might reduce his effectiveness. Somehow, they need to get him to dial it back a bit, without damaging his confidence and how motivated he is when he plays.

On a brighter note, could Antonio Cromartie be working his way back? Cromartie was called for one pass interference penalty, but only gave up one short catch and had a forced fumble, a touchdown saving tackle and two plays where he was in good position on incomplete passes. The Bills avoided him for the most part, but he still contributed. The only other possible negative was that on the pass Davis tipped, it looked like Johnson had won the battle for inside leverage and might have had a touchdown if the pass hadn’t been tipped. Either way, he looked much more comfortable than last week, so perhaps his comments about being limited by his hip in the first two games ring true.

Darrin Walls and Dee Milliner each saw plenty of action with Milliner encouragingly in perfect position on each of his two targets, although he did miss a tackle. Walls almost had an interception on two wayward throws and helped blow up a screen pass with a good read. Isaiah Trufant filled in for Wilson when he was benched, but the Bills went after him straight away and Johnson caught a pass for a first down. He continues to be very limited in terms of who he can match up with, so Wilson’s sudden return was perhaps not so surprising.

Safeties

Dawan Landry had a forced fumble that was incorrectly called down, an unblocked pressure, a good play in coverage and a run stuff, but there were a couple of coverage breakdowns that warrant a second look since he’s the “quarterback of the secondary”.

Let’s first address Chandler’s touchdown. As noted, Jaiquawn Jarrett crept up to the line of scrimmage and rushed off the edge, so Calvin Pace had nobody immediately behind him with Landry backed off all the way to the goal line and the receiver on that side running a wide route to draw the cornerback (Walls) out of the middle. Landry probably should have recognized this sooner and stepped up, but as it happens, he took a misstep in the wrong direction as the pass was thrown and that’s what prevented him from getting across in time to stop Chandler getting to the goal line. Again, this might not be Landry’s mistake, but he needs to do a better job of recognizing someone else’s error and covering for them (as was the case on the big completion to Kenbrell Thompkins last week), especially if he’s the deep center fielder.

The second blown coverage saw Robert Woods wide open on a crossing pattern for 29, although it would have been 40+ if he didn’t accidentally step out of bounds. Here’s an image of that play…

As you can see, Antonio Allen starts off opposite the receiver on the left side, but as he makes his break across the field, Allen is passing him off, suggesting that it’s a zone coverage. Woods snakes in behind David Harris, but Harris appears to be sitting keying the running back CJ Spiller (#28). Behind Allen, Wilson drops off deep and the tight end on Allen’s side has stayed in to block.

On the right side, Johnson (#13) runs a go route and Cromartie runs with him even though Landry is already back there. So, he’s essentially double covered while Woods ends up in the area vacated by Cromartie. The other tight end (#84) moves out to the right flat to draw Antwan Barnes away from that area. Essentially you’ve got half of the team playing man and half playing zone and Woods falls through the cracks. I can’t really apportion blame here because I don’t know what the coverage was supposed to be. Again Landry or Harris could arguably have communicated the coverage better, but the Bills lined up quickly on this particular play and caught them out.

In terms of the rest of his performance, Allen had a sack and made a couple of plays in run support, but did get beaten for a first down and a two point conversion, although the former could have been a pick play. Jarrett continued to rotate in at safety and he had a fumble recovery on the play that was incorrectly ruled down and one nice hit in coverage. He was too far off in coverage on one play, allowing a 14-yard catch on 2nd and 20. On one play, he lined up as a press cornerback, but blitzed from there with Cromartie eight yards behind him to pick up the receiver.

Special Teams

Special teams came up big at the end of the game, with debutante Ryan Quigley’s punt beautifully downed at the one by a combination of Trufant and Ellis Lankster to effectively ice the game. Quigley’s debut was statistically underwhelming, but his hang time was solid and the Bills’ four punt return yards fell well short of New England’s 72 in Robert Malone’s last game. Lankster showed up big time with a nice hit in kick coverage inside the 20 and a play on a punt where he did enough to slow the return man down so that Trufant and McIntyre could make the stop.

Clyde Gates was disappointing as a kick returner, failing to catch one and getting stuffed on three others, although poor blocking by Douzable and Josh Bush was to blame for two of those. Bush did have one good special teams tackle.

As a punt returner, Jeremy Kerley’s decision making was actually pretty good this week. He didn’t generate much yardage, but every little counts and he did judge one kick well as it bounced through the end zone.

Nick Folk nailed two field goals and had three touchbacks again, as he’s once again off to a great start. His 47-yarder just before half-time was right down the middle and comfortably long enough.

Finally, Barnes came very close to blocking a punt. Right now, I can’t predict who will be the first Jet to block a punt this season, since it seems like someone different comes close every week.

Conclusions

After an extremely encouraging first half performance, the game descended into near-farce in the second half and was starting to approach “even if we win, I’ll be disappointed with this performance” territory. Maybe that’s a good thing. The Jets do still have plenty of things to improve upon and did get a few breaks with some of the Bills players that were unavailable or suffered injuries during the game, so it might not have been for the best if they won easily and became too complacent.

The defense is starting to live up to its potential, but not every team has a Colin Brown you can pick upon. Next week’s opponent, for example, has pretty solid depth. Of more concern is the Titans impressive pass rush, so the Jets will be hoping that they aren’t forced into penalties and mistakes next week. With the Titans coming off a last gasp win, they’ll head into next week’s game with plenty of confidence. So will the Jets – although in some cases, they’d be well-advised to keep a lid on that.

If you have anything you’d like me to take a closer look at or any other questions for me, leave them in the comments section of either BGA post, tweet them to @Bent_Double or email bentdouble@gmail.com and I’ll respond in BGA Extra on Wednesday.