BGA: Bucs 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 last night’s game against the Bucs. 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.

Interior Line

The last thing I want to do is start on a negative, but perhaps the biggest story from this defensive performance was that the Jets were able to do it without Muhammad Wilkerson being anywhere near his best. In his gameballs post from this morning, Bassett wrote this:

While his stat line might not jump out, we have to expect that a site like PFF will grade Mo out extremely well.

As soon as I read that, my first thought having already broken down the footage was that they probably won’t. (Sure enough, they gave him a -2.2 grade overall – his lowest since the 49ers game last year). Yes, Wilkerson’s contributions go beyond the stat sheet and although he only had two tackles, he disrupted a couple of other plays and it’s good that people are noticing that at last. However, this game was different to what you’d usually see from Wilkerson, as he would usually disrupt a lot more plays, but moreover there were a handful of plays where he was uncharacteristically driven off the line or turned around.

The Bucs definitely made Wilkerson a primary focus of their blocking schemes and he had to deal with plenty of double teams, but it wasn’t just on double teams that he was getting moved off his spot. I have to hand it to tight end Luke Stocker, who dealt with him superbly on two one-on-one blocks. Yes, the Bucs caught Wilkerson by surprise by getting someone to block down on him while he was about to engage with his man, but this still isn’t something you ever expect to see from Wilkerson.

Even while I’m pointing out these negatives, Wilkerson is having a positive influence on the game, even if his own grade does not reflect it. The fact he didn’t disrupt as many runs as usual was a direct result of the Bucs running it away from his side as much as they could. Also, the fact he was double teamed a lot meant that Sheldon Richardson and the nose tackles were being single-teamed and were able to disrupt more of those runs themselves.

With no Sione Po’uha and Mike DeVito, two guys who were constantly double teamed in the running game, Wilkerson is going to find himself in this situation a lot more, but if the other guys do their job then the offense will be forced to change things up. As it turns out, even with all that attention, he was in on three run stuffs and got penetration to force another run back inside. The Jets are also able to scheme him into situations where he can go one on one and they did that effectively to lead to his sack. On that play, Ricky Sapp lined up outside him and went on an outside speed rush, then changed course and stunted back to the inside. This led to a situation where three blockers were occupied by Sapp, who kept moving laterally to the opposite side to create space, and Wilkerson was one-on-one which enabled him to clean up with a sack. Wilkerson’s other “sack” was negated because he was offside, although it probably should have been a false start. Either way, the play wouldn’t have counted.

If Wilkerson is still going to make impact plays, then you can forgive him for being blocked out of plays that end up being unsuccessful anyway. Don’t forget the Jets still have Quinton Coples set to return too and that’s another guy that will make hay if single-blocked.

Turning to some of those guys that were beneficiaries of the attention the Bucs paid to Wilkerson, we must start with Sheldon Richardson. Before we even get into how well he played, I should point out that he played 64 of 67 snaps. That’s incredible. It works out as over 95% of the snaps, which Wilkerson had never done until the last three games of his second season. It speaks volumes about his remarkable motor and what a big part of this defense he is.

With that said, his performance was sensational as well. He was terrific in the running game, getting in on several tackles, all close to the line of scrimmage and blowing up several other runs with penetration. I only saw him driven off the line once. He sheds blocks, never gives up on a play and has cat-like quickness over short distances. As a pass rusher he even added half a sack, although he did jump offside on one other pass rush attempt. I was tentative about making Wilkerson comparisons during preseason, but if Richardson will benefit from other players being doubled like Wilkerson did when he was a rookie, then he’s showing that he can be every bit as productive as Wilkerson was back then. In fact, he’s ahead of the curve. If he can continue to improve at the same rate, watch out.

Both nose tackles did a stellar job too. Damon Harrison was in on four tackles close to the line of scrimmage and helped bottle up one other run by holding his ground well. He sniffed out a couple of plays really nicely and did a good job of moving laterally along the line. Ellis didn’t play as much as Harrison (only 12 snaps) but he helped blow up four runs with penetration. He was blocked to the ground on Doug Martin’s touchdown run though. Yes, the Bucs were dealing with some injury issues, but the interior line battle was clearly won by the Jets and having two viable nose tackle options on the roster is a luxury not many teams can boast.

Off the bench, Leger Douzable filled in and was driven off the line once. They also used him as a blitzing middle linebacker as they had with Wilkerson in preseason, but the difference in how quickly he was able to get into the pocket was immediately apparent.

Edge Rushers

Calvin Pace remained as the strong side backer, with the Jets seemingly sticking with their base personnel a little more than usual. He had a half-sack, but his only other pressure was on Freeman’s touchdown pass. Pace didn’t have a single tackle, but this a great example of someone playing to their strengths as he was flawless at setting the edge all day, bottling up one run, blowing one up by taking out a blocker and redirecting another runner after getting penetration. The announcers also praised him for staying with his man on a wheel route and forcing a throw away, but we didn’t really get a good look at that. I still think 57 snaps is a bit too much for him to maximize his effectiveness, but Pace can still play a role here and maybe that number will reduce once Coples is back.

Antwan Barnes showed his trademark speed off the edge as he blew past the running back to get the Jets’ first sack of the season. His speed was also a factor in the safety that opened the scoring, following a bad snap. He had one other pressure, which led to another sack for a teammate and dropped off into the passing lane to deflect a pass out to the flat. With Coples out, he did also get some reps in non-pass rushing situations and didn’t fare so well with these. He was driven off the line once in the running game and had a couple of missed tackles. There were also a couple of plays where he dropped into coverage and didn’t seem sure of his positioning. On one he went after the quarterback when he rolled out, vacating his zone with the safety supporting behind him too far off.

While Garrett McIntyre started the game for Coples, he actually only played four more snaps than Barnes did. He was unblocked on his only pressure of the game and only had one tackle, but he did play a role in setting the edge, bottling up a couple of runs. He also was in good position on a pass to the flat which was dropped. He did get kicked out by the offensive tackle on one play against the run, but performed his role well for the most part.

Ricky Sapp was only in for six plays, one of which was a false start, and blitzed inside on most of them with other rushers coming off the edge. He did assist on one tackle.

Linebackers

Is David Harris back? Over the last year or two, there seem to have been more and more games where Harris can’t negotiate traffic, makes mistakes in space and is a step slow to the ball. The hope was, with a healthy front seven, that he might be able to bounce back this year, although fans were wary after a quiet preseason. In this game, Harris was in on five tackles near the line, forced a fumble, had a couple of unblocked pressures on the blitz and did a good job in coverage. Perhaps more importantly, he only really had two negative plays – getting taken out at the second level on the Martin touchdown and overpursuing on Martin’s draw play on the final drive.

Alongside Harris, Demario Davis did a fine job too. He had some good tackles, three pressures, didn’t make any coverage mistakes and took out a pulling guard to blow up one run. He also probably saved the game with his touchdown-saving tackle on Jackson. The only real negative he had was one missed tackle. A very promising display from the second year player. He also worked well in tandem with Harris – the pair of them sniffed out a swing pass to the running back and moved in unison so that they were in position to stop him if the pass had been caught.

Cornerbacks

Vincent Jackson’s spectacular performance was a stark reminder that the days of Jets fans being able to look ahead to a game against a team with a top receiving talent and know that the team will be able to turn him into a non-factor are probably over. Like Wilkerson, Antonio Cromartie is one of the few players you can rely upon to have a great performance most weeks, but he too got his season off to a disappointing start yesterday. Cromartie got beaten for three first downs, including some yards after the catch. One of these saw him fail to make an effective jam at the line, giving Jackson a clean inside release. Another saw him peeking into the backfield and then perhaps looking to jump the route. The third saw him give up too much of a cushion. He also missed one tackle, but was in a good position for two late incompetions.

I’m afraid I can’t talk in the same glowing terms about Dee Milliner’s first NFL game as I did for Richardson. He was targeted nine times and only gave up four catches, but they went for 65 yards and he got lucky on most of the incompletions. Right now, Milliner’s main issues are the old standards: He doesn’t get his head turned around quickly enough or he leaves too much of a cushion. He got beaten for a touchdown and then compounded that with an unnecessary roughness penalty, although I never did figure out what that was for. On one play, his coverage deep downfield was good, although he was very physical with the receiver, which can get dicey. He does seem to be able to stay with a receiver and the building blocks are there for him to become very good once he starts to read plays and react a bit quicker.

In the slot, the Jets – along with using their base personnel more than usual – went with Kyle Wilson and Isaiah Trufant. This relegated Ellis Lankster and Darrin Walls to special teams work, although those two are probably seen as competing to be the next guy up at starting corner in the event of an injury or if Milliner continues to falter. Both Lankster and Walls are better on the outside and each of them had better preseasons than Milliner, Wilson or Trufant.

In this game, Trufant had two pressures as a blitzer, but wasn’t targeted. Wilson was targeted three times and all three were incomplete. One of these saw him make a great read on a wide receiver screen and although he didn’t look back for the ball that was enough to blow the play up. Another was an interesting play where the Jets tried to set a trap. The Bucs had two receivers on that side with Cromartie playing off-coverage on the outside guy and Wilson in the slot. Trufant was in the box as a strong safety, bluffing a blitz. At the snap, Wilson dropped off to the outside guy, Trufant came across to pick up the slot receiver and Cromartie backed off in support. Wilson didn’t quite get there in time, but the pass was kind of rushed and fell incomplete. Obviously what the Jets are looking for there is a quick throw that doesn’t anticipate the defensive player dropping off, leading to (hopefully) an easy pick-six.

Safeties

It shouldn’t be understated what an important role Antonio Allen played in the running game. Often the guy responsible for outside contain on runs to the edge, he did a disciplined job of ensuring runs were forced back inside all day and ended up with seven tackles. He did give up a couple of first downs, one as he overpursued, but his open field tackling was good and he had one big hit as the Jets swarmed all over a ball carrier. As the announcers pointed out, he did well do sniff out a screen pass and backpedal into the passing lane. With two other players in position to make the stop, that play was already blown up even if the pass had been completed.

Dawan Landry was having a pretty nice first game with the Jets, making a nice open field tackle to prevent Vincent Jackson from turning his long first half catch into a bigger gain, stopping a run near the line and intercepting a pass on a badly overthrown ball. His only negative at that stage was a first down catch where he was playing too far off in zone coverage. However, his costly missed tackle which allowed the Bucs to get into field goal range late in the game was the sort of reckless play I was criticizing his brother for all too often last year. Rex Ryan tried to take part of the blame by saying there was some kind of coverage mix-up, but you still have to make that play. According to PFF, the personal foul attributed to Milliner was actually on Landry too.

Backups Josh Bush and Jaiquawn Jarrett played sparingly. Each had one tackle.

Special Teams

In his first game as special teams coordinator, Ben Kotwica saw Nick Folk win the game for him with a last gasp field goal. Give Folk his due, whenever he’s had a big kick like this as a Jet, he’s made it. He usually starts the season really well, so hopefully that pattern will continue this year.

The punter, Robert Malone, unleashed an incredible 84-yard punt – the longest in the NFL since 2002. He also landed one out of bounds inside the five yard line, leading to the safety that gave the Jets their first lead. He wasn’t perfect though, as two of his kicks ended up in the end zone and one was returned 28-yards on a play that featured a missed tackle by long snapper Tanner Purdum.

The return game was fairly uninspiring. Every Bucs kickoff went through the end zone and Jeremy Kerley still looks unsure as to when to return, when to fair catch and when to leave well alone. Wilson replaced him at one point, but he’s never looked comfortable either. On his first return of the day, Kerley did make the first man miss to gain nine and he gained 19 on the free kick after the safety.

In coverage, Lankster had two tackles including a spectacular throwdown. Bush and Landry also contributed and Jarrett’s chasing down of Martin to tackle him from behind and force a fumble (crucially without committing any kind of face mask or horse collar penalty, which would have given the Bucs a chance to kick a game winning field goal) ended the game. Again, credit goes to Bush and Lankster on that play, because they were in front of Martin and should have been able to make the stop if Jarrett didn’t. Sapp was in on two tackles in coverage and recovered the fumble on the last play.

Other than that, Walls almost blocked one punt and Trufant did a great job getting downfield on three punts, but tried to down them inside the five and didn’t succeed on any of them.

Conclusions

A very promising first game from the Jets sees them head off to New England with the pressure off. Nobody is expecting them to beat New England, but if they can pull off the unthinkable – or even just hang with the Patriots on the road – the whole state of the division will be up in the air. Could this be referred to as a rare non-must-win game?

The short week, in conjunction with a road trip, is never a fun combination and the Jets will obviously be wary of getting blown out by the Patriots yet again, which will instantly undo all the hard work they’ve been doing to try and put the circus talk behind them.

In that short week, there’s plenty to work on – chemistry on the offensive line, coverage from the cornerbacks and building up some production from the running game. It was the front seven that sparked this win and that will be where they look to have the edge again. Look for the Jets to find creative ways to put Wilkerson into a position to make plays while Coples remains sidelined.

As for Smith, he’s going to be studying all season, because nobody becomes the finished article overnight. He gets a chance to build on his performance from week one and to emulate Sanchez and beat their fiercest rivals in just his second ever game. Let’s hope he can continue to improve.

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.