BGA: Bucs 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 your breakdown of the Jets win over the Bucs, 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.

In the first week of the season, it’s always hard to put individual and team performances into context. Was the team the Jets beat a potential playoff contender, or has everyone been overrating them all along? Clearly they have plenty of talent, but right now are they a collection of talented players that aren’t on the same page and that was ripe for the taking in the first game of the season? No doubt everyone will be adjusting their power rankings and I would imagine the Bucs will be adjusted downwards further than the Jets get bumped up the list. For the time being, we can only judge what happened in this particular game and speculate on whether the next opponent (New England) eeked out a win over a good team or if the Bills game was just two sloppy teams going at it.

The Bucs approach to this game on defense was fairly predictable, but had the potential to be very effective. They brought a lot of bodies close to the line of scrimmage, tried to apply pressure with blitzes and tested the Jets offensive line chemistry with plenty of stunts. All of that was designed to rattle and put the onus on the Jets’ rookie quarterback making his first start, it certainly put the responsibility on his shoulders, but exactly how rattled was he?

Quarterbacks

The overwhelming takeaway from Geno Smith’s first start was how unflustered he was by the situation. He seemed calm, composed and under control. When you can remain even-keel whether you’re leading, trailing or just coming off a bad mistake, that’s part of the battle. Jets fans are well aware of what happens to a quarterback when he loses confidence, but Smith remained focused on executing the gameplan and was rewarded with a win (even if he did get some help). In fact, longtime TJB contributor R in CT emailed me after the game to tell me we should start referring to him as “LL Cool G”.

After the game, Geno said this about how he remained so calm:

I can’t tell you why. I just be myself. I never panic. It’s just a game.

Leaving aside the issue of how different that quote would have sounded if he made it following a loss, that is what we saw from him. Even in preseason, where his mistakes piled up in his one start, he did bounce back with a nice touchdown drive. Looking back, perhaps we can attribute those errors to the fact he was pressing, knowing he needed to impress having lost time and ground in the quarterback competition.

Of course, back in 2009, Deadspin ran a series of posts mocking what they probably saw as lazy journalism, by pointing out how absolutely everyone was talking about Mark Sanchez’s poise. Clearly they had a point, as that assessment was obviously premature (laughably so, in hindsight). However, if I talk about how much poise Geno Smith showed, maybe they’ll link to us when they do the same for him this year. Just gotta make sure it shows up on a google search: Poise poise poise poise Geno poise #Genopoise.

For what it’s worth, USA Today’s Jarrett Bell, The Star Ledger’s Steve Politi, Gerald McCoy and Mason Foster of the Bucs, Newsday’s Kimberley Martin, the Metro’s Kristian Dyer, SI’s Don Banks, The Record’s Tara Sullivan, the Post’s Brian Costello and Rex Ryan all specifically praised the rookie’s poise following the game.

Maybe it is lazy to focus on abstract concepts such as how poised he was or his command of the huddle, so let’s get into actually analyzing how he performed. In the darkest days of last season, I clung, perhaps naively, to the thought that the Jets would actually be a competitive team if they could just get some competence from the quarterback position. Yesterday, Smith showed that it’s not out of the question that he’ll be able to provide at least that on a consistent basis. In fact, yesterday, he was better than competent.

One key factor was his contribution as a runner. The Jets had no running game to speak of, with the box stacked, but his willingness to take off and pick up easy yardage was extremely useful in terms of keeping the chains moving. This was definitely something Mark Sanchez didn’t do enough of in the past. The Jets can’t expect Smith to rush for 50 yards every week, but the fact he’s shown the ability to do that will give teams something extra to gameplan against, which could loosen up the coverage elsewhere.

Smith’s rushing might have surprised some, because the book on him is that although he has good speed, he doesn’t run and hasn’t been a successful runner in college. However, much of that is based on his statistics (1.4 yards per carry and less than 10 yards per game). What many people have failed to take into account is the fact that sacks are included in college rushing numbers for quarterbacks. If you exclude the sacks from his rushing yardage, he actually rushed for 898 yards in three seasons, at an average of 5.3 yards per carry.

In terms of throwing the ball, Smith’s numbers were good. After starting off 7-for-15 – a stretch that ended when he threw high under pressure and was intercepted – he completed 17 of 23 passes to finish the game. His decision making was pretty solid – he smartly threw the ball away a few times, only had a couple of risky throws and showed an ability to hit open receivers down the field. His touch, timing and placement on short passes is way beyond that of Mark Sanchez already and, while that alone isn’t going to be enough to produce a high-level offense, he showed enough other things – throwing on the run, scrambling and completing passes when pressured – to at least function well in this particular game. If we view this game as a progression from his preseason appearances, then it seems like he’s trending upwards. He now needs to build upon that.

Geno wasn’t flawless by any means. He had a few bad throws when he was under pressure (including the interception), took a couple of coverage sacks, lost a fumble and didn’t always anticipate unblocked blitzers. He did find his hot read (Bilal Powell) for a third down conversion on one play – another thing Sanchez didn’t do with enough regularity, but he provided a clear reminder that he’s a rookie when he took a huge loss on one sack by trying to make something happen. On the whole, these mistakes were not the kind of killer mistakes that proved so costly last year when Sanchez was struggling. That’s got to be positive too.

Going back to what I said in the introduction, we don’t really know if he did this against a good defense or one which has room to grow. However, they have a lot more talent than most teams and were able to pressure him more than he will hopefully be in most games. That bodes well for his chances of being able to replicate this performance on a week-in week-out basis and potentially build on it going forward.

We can’t crown him yet though. Remember Browning Nagle’s first game? (He had 366 yards, two touchdowns and a 108.6 rating then never passed for more than 200 yards in the rest of his career). Today, though, we give kudos to the rookie, for an encouraging display.

Offensive Line

As noted higher up, the Bucs really tested the Jets offensive line in this game. They ran a lot of stunts and there were some plays where the tackles didn’t even try to rush the passer, they just walled off a lineman to create a blitzing lane for somebody else. This was pretty effective, as they had plenty of pressure on Smith. However, at the same time, the Jets were often equal to the task and for the most part communicated well. There were plenty of plays where they picked up stunts and blitzes and afforded Smith the time to make a throw.

I already have a favorite play of the season so far. On Smith’s first down completion to Santonio Holmes at the end of the first quarter, Willie Colon blocked three different guys, one at a time, to allow Smith to get the throw off as the Bucs ran a complex stunt. I’ll gif that for you later in the week, once the coaches film is available.

As a general rule, the Jets dealt with four man rushes as I’d anticipated, with Nick Mangold and Vladimir Ducasse blocking in tandem and everyone else blocking one on one. That required plenty of read-and-react when there was a blitzing linebacker or the ends stunted inside. While they handled that well as a unit, they did mess up a few times, leading to some pressure.

Gerald McCoy was everything he was advertised to be inside for the Bucs. When he wasn’t generating pressure himself, he was disrupting to free up other people. Luckily, the Jets don’t have to face a Gerald McCoy every week. Give Ducasse credit though, because on one play, he handled McCoy one-on-one and held his ground in the pocket, enabling Smith to scramble for a first down from his end zone.

On the whole, Ducasse’s first game as a starter (officially it was his second career start because he was on the field as an extra tight end on the first snap of a 2011 game) was not great. He did his job well for the most part and did have some positive plays, driving his man out towards the sideline on one running play and pancaking Gary Gibson in pass protection. He also did a good job of picking up a stunt on Smith’s touchdown pass. However, he made too many mistakes, most of which seemed to be because he reacted too slowly at the snap of the ball and couldn’t recover. Hopefully, that’s something which is fixable. He was beaten inside on a run that was stuffed and missed a couple of other blocks in the running game. In pass protection, he was beaten a handful of times, including once for by McCoy, who got a hit on Smith and once as he wasn’t able to pick up Mason Foster’s blitz, leading to a strip sack.

One major thing for Ducasse was that whenever he made a mistake, he responded by doing a good job on the next play. In the past, there’s been times when he made a mistake one play and then an even worse one on the play after that. Like I said, there was some good mixed in with the bad though and I’m confident Brian Winters wouldn’t have handled himself as well overall. As the unit gels and Ducasse gets more confident, his performance should hopefully become more consistent.

Something else the Jets can usually rely on which will help Ducasse is that they don’t often give up a lot of pressure off the edge. However, Adrian Clayborn was almost as impressive as McCoy and D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Austin Howard were tested at tackle.

Ferguson was beaten inside a couple of times – including on Smith’s interception – and outside a couple of times, one flushing Smith from the pocket and the other where he had to commit a blatant holding penalty. There were also a few of the plays where pressure arose that I would attribute to Ducasse, where Ferguson might have been partially at fault. It’s always tough to tell. Ferguson also false started once and did not have much success in the running game, missing a few blocks on runs that were stuffed. After such a solid preseason, it was a disappointing start to the year by his high standards, although to his credit, whenever he was beaten, he was able to at least recover well enough to enable Smith to get the throw off.

Howard was beaten a couple of times for pressures and once where Smith got hit. I’ve noticed that he often surrenders a pressure on screen passes, because he seems to struggle with finding a healthy balance between allowing his man to get far enough upfield to take himself out of the play and keeping him away from the quarterback. Fortunately, Smith is usually pretty good at buying enough time to make a well-placed throw in these situations, so while that might be something Howard needs to work on, it hasn’t been costly when Smith is the quarterback. Howard also appeared to slip on the turf twice in pass protection, so maybe he needs to work on his balance – or just get some better cleats. In the running game, Howard did have a positive impact, although obviously it didn’t translate to much statistical success. He made one mistake, but drove his man out of the play on a couple of occasions and also made a good block on a screen pass.

When he wasn’t blocking three men on one play, Colon had his ups and downs. He false started once, got beaten a couple of times in pass protection and allowed his man to blow up the run on a couple of occasions. He did have a few good blocks in the running game, including one on a short yardage play where he drove his man out of the play to create a seam, and one good block on a screen pass.

Nick Mangold had a lot on his plate, what with calling the protections, ensuring Ducasse knew his assignments and handling the complexity of the Bucs blitz packages. He did give up a couple of pressures and couldn’t make much of an impact in the running game, but deserves credit just for minimizing what damage McCoy was able to do. On one play, both Ferguson and Mangold uncharacteristically blew their blocks as a run was stopped for a loss. Maybe that’s partially attributable to them each having an eye on the guy in between them.

Mangold missed two plays and Caleb Schlauderaff had to fill in at center. He had a nervy first snap, that was a little high, but blocked competently on those two plays.

Interestingly, the Jets did not have a backup tackle active for this game. This surprised me at first. However, had one of their tackles gone down, they had plenty of options. Brian Winters played tackle in college, Ducasse got plenty of work there in preseason, Schlauderaff has worked there in the past and Colon sliding out to his old position would have been another option.

Running Backs

Running mostly into a stacked box, Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell were unable to make much headway, picking up just 44 yards on 22 carries between them.

Powell’s contribution does look a little better once you factor in his pass catching though. He ended up with 64 all-purpose yards on 16 touches. He did have one nice wildcat run to go along with some good plays in the passing game, but also dropped a pass, fumbled and missed a couple of blocks, including one that led to a sack, so he needs to become more consistent in all facets.

Ivory also dropped a pass and had another high one go off his fingertips. Despite only gaining 15 yards on 10 carries, he did have a couple of positive moments, with a tough short yardage conversion, a nice side step to run for a seven yard gain and one excellent blitz pickup. He still obviously needs to get his sea legs under him though.

At fullback, rookie Tommy Bohanon was impressive early on, driving Clayborn off the line on one running play and turning a short pass upfield for a 21-yard gain on his first NFL catch. However, he appeared to be at fault on a play where Smith was sacked by an unblocked pass rusher and also got beaten for a pressure and missed a block in the running game. It seems like we’re always saying this about the Jets fullback, but if he can just be more consistent, he has the ability to be a solid contributor.

Receivers

Against his former team, Kellen Winslow Jr. proved himself to be one of the potential bargains of the offseason by catching seven of the eight passes thrown his way, for 79 yards and a touchdown. He’s such a natural pass catcher, as he showed by effortlessly catching a high pass to set up the touchdown. Even that score came on a ball thrown slightly behind him, but he made the catch look a lot easier than it was. Winslow also had a key catch down the middle on the final drive. As expected he made some mistakes as a blocker, missing his block on Revis when the Jets tried to run a wide receiver screen and missing a second level block, but he did show willingness, doing well to occupy Revis downfield on Smith’s first down scramble.

Stephen Hill was actually the player Smith targeted the most (nine times) and he responded with a career high six catches. Most of these were short passes, as he’s starting to show a knack for being a good possession receiver, which will hopefully open up the threat of him making double moves and getting open further downfield. I particularly liked his physicality on one play where he ran to the marker and then got himself open coming back towards the ball without pushing off. His hands almost let him down on one play, as he juggled a catch dangerously in the fourth quarter, but otherwise he was sure-handed. One under-the-radar contribution saw him alertly fall on Powell’s fumble, although he missed his block downfield on one running play and ended up colliding with the ball carrier at the second level.

Jeremy Kerley had a decent first game with three catches, all of which led to first downs (albeit that one was due to a penalty charged on his tackler). That included a catch deep downfield on Smith’s first throw. He almost made a diving catch on another throw down the middle. The Jets also used him as a wildcat quarterback (he threw out of bounds) and motioned him into the backfield for a third down run which did not work.

On that play where Kerley threw out of bounds, Jeff Cumberland was running down the seam and Kerley was looking at him. The deep safety was backed right off and Cumberland could have easily broken off his route to the outside in the direction Kerley was rolling and would have been wide open for an easy first down. While Cumberland shows terrific promise in the passing game, his instincts in terms of when he becomes the hot read or an ability to improvise occasionally appear to be lacking. I can recall Sanchez taking a sack when he had looked for Cumberland, but Cumberland had not been looking back for the ball on a couple of occasions last year, which may have led to Sanchez’s tentativeness in throwing before receivers have come out of their breaks. On that particular play, Cumberland continued to run downfield into the area where the safety was and Kerley had to throw the ball away with his other options covered. Cumberland looked good running down the seam on Smith’s throw which led to a helmet-to-helmet hit and a penalty. Hopefully he wasn’t dinged up too badly on that one.

Holmes and Clyde Gates were targeted a total of seven times, each catching one first down pass. It was good to see Holmes back out there and hopefully he’ll improve as the season goes on. Gates made a nice downfield catch over by the sideline and was also open running a post route on a play where Smith opted not to make the throw.

When Cumberland was out, Konrad Reuland filled in, catching one short pass. Ryan Spadola got some reps at wide receiver, but was not targeted.

Part two will cover the defense. We’ll be posting this in the afternoon.