BGA: Bills 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 win over the Bills. 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.

As I touched on in part one, there are quite a few negatives to draw from the defensive performance yesterday. However, all of the breakdowns came after the Jets were already well in control. If the game had remained close, the Jets hopefully would have been more disciplined. Also, they might have been playing soft and surrendering easy yardage to keep plays in front of them and keep the clock moving.

Nevertheless, even in a 20-point win you can only make judgments based on what happened on the field and although the playmaking nature of the defense unquestionably provided the platform for the Jets’ big offensive day, it’s not surprising that Rex Ryan was upset with some of the things he saw.

Before I get into the individual evaluations, let’s go over the personnel groupings used by the Jets. They opened up in nickel – 4-2-5 with Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas at defensive end, Muhammad Wilkerson and Kenrick Ellis inside. David Harris and Bart Scott were at linebacker and Kyle Wilson at nickel back (with Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, Yeremiah Bell and LaRon Landry joining him in the secondary). Coples rotated in for Ellis in this package.

They also had a 3-3-5 nickel package with Thomas playing the end position and Pace standing as an outside linebacker on the other side. Coples also rotated in for Thomas in this package. Mike DeVito, Marcus Dixon and Aaron Maybin also rotated in on the nickel packages later on.

The dime package was a 3-2-6 and Isaiah Trufant was the dimeback, although he blitzed a few times. Josh Mauga replaced Scott (who was otherwise in the game when they were in the nickel package, even on passing downs) and the front three was Wilkerson at the nose, Pace at one end and Garrett McIntyre at the other. They also had a seven DB package where Ellis Lankster came into the game for Mauga and Maybin came in for McIntyre. Lankster would also get some reps later on when Revis was injured.

They were in a base defense for just a couple of plays. McIntyre and Coples were the defensive ends as they lined up in a 4-3. The goal line defense featured six linemen, three linebackers (Harris, Scott and Mauga) and the two safeties. Rookies Josh Bush and Demario Davis were not involved.

Defensive Line

It was thought that the Jets might not miss Sione Po’uha too much in this one, because the Bills would be unleashing their spread attack. In the final reckoning, they didn’t, but the run defense had some serious breakdowns that perhaps wouldn’t have happened with him in there.

While he didn’t play much, Dixon was a big reason behind the two biggest breakdowns of the game – CJ Spiller’s 56 yard touchdown run and his 49-yarder to set up another touchdown. Dixon was double teamed and driven way off the line on each of these plays to give Spiller a huge hole to break into the open field. Of course, it was tackling at the second level and beyond that led to these being such big plays, but we’ll get onto that later.

Aside from those two runs, the Bills still averaged about four yards per carry, although they were able to exploit the fact the Jets were backed off into a pass defense, especially when they had a big lead (and were probably happy for the Bills to take modest chunks of yardage as long as if kept the clock moving). However, the run defense did its job early, forcing the Bills into passing situations which would enable the Jets playmakers to get them off the field. Until Spiller’s first touchdown, by which time the Jets had built a 21-point lead, the Bills had managed to gain just 21 yards on eight carries. Still, the breakdowns do give some cause for concern, especially if Po’uha’s back issues will be ongoing.

In Po’uha’s place, Kenrick Ellis didn’t make an auspicious start, driven back off the line and turned around on his first play. He had a missed tackle shortly afterwards. Thereafter, he didn’t actually play very much, although I think this was a planned rotation rather than any sort of benching. The rest of the way, he held his own when he was in and had one great play where he pulled the runner down with one hand for a short gain.

Mike DeVito did a better job, although he was handled at the point of attack on Spiller’s touchdown run. He got some good penetration and showed athleticism to chase a runner out to the sideline and make a stop for a short gain. He even flashed as a pass rusher, driving a double team back so that his teammate could register a pressure off the edge. It was ultimately a quiet performance by DeVito, but that’s generally a good thing.

I wasn’t sure what to make of Wilkerson’s performance, which is probably best described as uneven. He started off being extremely disruptive in the running game, but then got victimized by a couple of double teams (perhaps something he’ll see less of when Po’uha returns). Then he had a couple more good plays against the run and a pressure on a quick throw, but followed that up with a couple more plays where his blockers got the best of him. As the Bills started to air it out a bit more down the stretch he hit Fitzpatrick once and pressured him a couple more times, so it was definitely encouraging to see some production from him in that area.

Quinton Coples finally discovered what it’s like to play in an NFL game and not record any sacks, but he wasn’t completely quietened, registering a tackle for a loss and a quarterback hit – although he was flagged for roughing the passer on the hit (which looked clean, but close enough to the head/neck area that I’m not surprised it was called). He had a missed tackle as Spiller hit the hole on his big touchdown run and was boxed out in the running game a few times. He did have one other good play where he shed his block and got enough of the runner in the hole to blow up a run. Overall, it wasn’t a bad start for the rookie, but he didn’t quite match the heights he was able to reach in preseason.

While the likes of McIntyre, Maybin, Thomas and Pace all played more with their hands down this week, I am still going to continue to treat them as “linebackers” for the purposes of BGA.

Linebackers

Before we talk about the edge rushers, let’s discuss the inside linebackers, because you’d usually expect Scott and Harris not to allow the long runs Spiller was able to get. Scott was clearly at fault on the touchdown, as he tried to strip the ball from behind and ended up colliding with Landry. I saw it suggested that he perhaps wouldn’t have done that if the Jets weren’t 21 points ahead and hopefully that’s true. Harris was caught inside on that play and had a bad missed tackle at the second level on Spiller’s other long run.

Missed tackles were a bigger problem for Scott in this game. He has a reputation among some of the beat writers as being someone who misses a lot of tackles, but that’s not really accurate, although his number of missed tackles did increase to eight in 2011, having only been two in 2010. In this game, however, he had several missed tackles. Obviously the Spiller one was costly and there was another where the runner evaded his diving tackle to get outside for about a seven yard gain, but the rest were just products of him being overly aggressive and didn’t really cost them any yardage – in fact on some of those plays he will have redirected the runner and helped set the play up for a teammate to clean up.

After last year, where Scott was forced into a more disciplined role with a focus on gap integrity when Bryan Thomas got hurt, it is good to see him attacking the ball carrier aggressively. However, he needs to keep his emotions under control and play with discipline, because it’s actually that element of his game which leads to him grading out as one of the top run stopping linebackers each year. Those missed tackles were certainly uncharacteristic, but at least we can be encouraged by some of the positive things he continues to do on a regular basis – he had a tackle for a loss, one pressure, drew a holding penalty, took out the fullback on a goal line play and was in on another couple of run stops. He even held up well in coverage. So it wasn’t all bad.

Returning to Harris, he was the first guy to get a hit on Fitzpatrick, stuffed three runs close to the line of scrimmage and made a good open field tackle on a screen pass. He also deflected a pass, although it was still caught for a first down. He was beaten for one other first down. Other than the two big runs, it was a good performance and things like that hopefully won’t happen as much once Po’uha is back and helping the line to keep blockers off him.

Bryan Thomas got off to a good start, setting the edge well and getting a couple of early pressures, although Fitzpatrick got away from him to scramble for nine yards on one. His injury may have contributed to some of the breakdowns in the running game too, so we’ll await his status for next week.

Calvin Pace had a very solid game, hitting Fitzpatrick three times (one of which led to an interception) and pressuring him two more. Pace also kept contain on the outside well and set the tone with an early tackle for a loss. He also drew a holding penalty and I only saw him blocked out of a running play once.

The backups: McIntyre, Maybin and Mauga didn’t make much of an impact. McIntyre was blocked to the ground on Spiller’s second big run, but did atone for it by penetrating into the backfield to redirect the runner, who was stuffed for a loss. Mauga was beaten in zone coverage on the play that Stevie Johnson ran in for a touchdown. Maybin disappointingly didn’t make much of an impact as a pass rusher.

Defensive Backs

Perhaps the key to this game was the trio of interceptions by the three Jets cornerbacks. After Mark Sanchez threw an interception, Revis did a great job of jumping an out route to Stevie Johnson to really show who owns who. (Johnson is now 0-7 in his career against the Jets, while Revis has won eight of the last nine and is 8-3 overall against the Bills). Wilson followed that up with a great play after the Jets had gone 7-0 up. Finally, Cromartie’s pick-six early in the second half put to rest any hopes the Bills might have had of a comeback.

Revis did allow Johnson to catch three passes on him, but only one went for a first down and they only totalled 26 yards. He also broke up a pass and was in good position on two other incompletions. His concussion symptoms are obviously a major concern ahead of next week’s game.

Cromartie was in good position on a couple of incompletions, but it looked like his man had half a step on him on a deep ball early in the game. He also got blocked out of a few running plays. He didn’t give up any big catches though and he did have a touchdown saving tackle on Spiller’s second big run.

For Wilson, it was particularly good to see him play so well. With all the talk of the “Big Nickel” packages, it sounded like his playing time would reduce, but he was on the field for almost the whole game here. He did a good job of blowing up a screen pass and didn’t give up any big catches, although he did lose contain on one run to the edge.

At safety, LaRon Landry made a huge impact and, it seems, is already a fan favorite. He certainly made some impact plays and brought a swagger to the defense that they sorely lacked last year. That has to be seen as positive for this team. However, he also made a series of mistakes that could prove costly against a more talented team or in a closer game. On the plus side, he had two quarterback hits, forced a fumble and made a few stops in run support. On the negative side, he had a late hit penalty (and was lucky that it wasn’t two) and got beaten for three first downs in coverage (although he did strip the ball away on one of these). More importantly, he had some costly missed tackles including the key one on Spiller’s touchdown run. Landry seemed to have Spiller lined up, which may have been why Scott tried to strip the ball, but he ended up missing him and taking out Scott instead. He also missed a tackle downfield on Spiller’s other long run and overpursued in the open field on Stevie Johnson’s catch and run for Buffalo’s last score.

Like Scott, Landry’s missed tackle numbers aren’t that bad, so hopefully these are out of character. There’s a time and a place for gambling and aggressive play and Landry will have to find the correct balance now he’s on a playoff contender that will be playing lots of tight games. Otherwise, he won’t be a fan favorite for long.

The other safety, Bell, settled in nicely to his role, breaking up two passes and recovering a fumble (which he then lateralled to Landry in an ill-advised move). Bell did get beaten for a few catches, but nothing to raise fears that the safety position is going to struggle in coverage like they did last year. He did miss a tackle too, though and he overpursued and was cut to the ground on Spiller’s second long run.

In a surprising move, Trufant was given the 4th cornerback role ahead of Lankster, although Lankster missed time with an injury over the last few weeks, so perhaps he is behind. Each of them got beaten for a touchdown late in the game and Lankster also got beaten for a first down. They both made positive contributions too, though. Lankster made a tackle in the backfield and Trufant broke up a pass. I still don’t have a great deal of faith in Trufant in coverage, but they sent him on a few blitzes yesterday which prevent the other team from being able to target him – especially if they put Revis behind him at safety, as they did at one point.

Special Teams

The star on special teams was Jeremy Kerley. His spectacular punt return showed some great acceleration and is a real boost for his confidence, especially when coupled with his receiving touchdown. Credit Lankster and Wilson for good blocks on that play. Unfortunately, Joe McKnight didn’t get many opportunities on the kickoff return unit, but he did look good on some of the other units.

Nick Folk is off to a good start, hitting both his field goals, six extra points and five touchbacks. The new kickoff rules brought in last year have really helped him. Those six extra points give him a good chance to get used to his new holder too. That holder Robert Malone nailed his first punt as a Jet, with Trufant downing it inside the five. However, his next one ended up being a long return, so was only a 21-yard net.

Other than that, the coverage units didn’t have much to do, with Nick Bellore making a good tackle at the 20 after Lankster, Chaz Schilens and McKnight had all missed their tackles.

Conclusions

I often re-watch the Jets after a big loss and am encouraged by some of the positive signs I am able to identify. After a big win like this, I find myself in the opposite position. There were far too many missed tackles, the least dominant defensive line performance in recent memory and weaknesses being exploited and mistakes being made in the secondary.

As I’ve often said on BGA, I enjoy low-scoring games more than high scoring games and maybe this is one of the reasons. I’d rather win 13-3 than 48-28. I liked the fact that the win was comfortable, but I didn’t like all the negative plays on defense, even if many of them came after the game was more or less already over. I’m reminded of a game I actually attended back in 2008 where the Jets beat Arizona 56-35 behind six Brett Favre touchdown passes. Everyone was buoyant after that game, but I was concerned that all the scoring they gave up in the second half was a sign they would be susceptible to passing attacks later on in the year. And so it proved, with Favre’s numbers in that game serving as little more than an outlier which skewed his overall season numbers for a long time and masked the fact he was probably too hurt and should have been replaced.

In that game, the huge offensive explosion was actually brought about by defensive playmaking in much the same way as yesterday’s game was. Revis scored on a pick six and there were several other turnovers setting the Jets up for some easy scores. They went in 34-0 up and lost the second half 35-22. While this game didn’t quite have the extremes of that one, it still leaves me with an aftertaste that says “that was great, but I hope it wasn’t fool’s gold”.

If Po’uha returns and Revis doesn’t miss any time, then I do have a lot of faith in this defense to be among the league’s best. The points and yardage they gave up yesterday wouldn’t have happened if they weren’t well ahead – at least, that’s what we must hope. The two major positives from yesterday are that the offense is going to be better than most people expected – especially on the offensive line and at wide receiver – and that the defense showed terrific playmaking potential.

Over the next three weeks, the Jets have some tough challenges ahead. As long as they remain healthy, they should be competitive in all these games, but they do have room for improvement and plenty to work on in several areas.

To be saying that after a 20-point divisional win has to be a good thing…right?