BGA: Chargers at Jets – Part One (Offense)

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.

Coming up, your breakdown of yesterday’s loss to the Chargers, together with detailed analysis of personnel groupings and individual performance.

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

Last week, I was talking about the defense when I said this:

How do we define how well somebody played? Simple. We look at the things they did well and the things they did badly and then we weigh up whether their overall contribution was positive and try to compare that with how well anyone else would have done if put in the same situation. Unfortunately, this can lead to situations where someone does mostly good, but the few mistakes they do make are so costly, it undermines any good they might have done. I guess it could work the other way too. If you play badly but then make the key play that wins your team the game, for example.

It’s the same for the team. Sometimes they play well and lose due to some costly one-off plays. Other times they’ll play badly and get rescued by a big play at the end. This makes my job tricky, because while I want to be as comprehensive as possible, nobody should be focusing on a quietly effective performance that was wrecked by one or two stupid mistakes.

During the week, I’ve been thinking back to this and wondering if we should be applying the same kind of logic to Mike Tannenbaum. When you look at the roster and cap situation he inherited in 2006 and weigh up every move he’s made, of course there are some bad ones, but I believe he’s done more good than bad since taking over. However, where he has failed is at the quarterback position – not just in terms of the guys he has (and hasn’t) signed, but in terms of putting together an offensive staff that could create a system within which the quarterback could develop and maintaining continuity and chemistry within the receiving corps.

In the context of a player’s performance, he might have strung together a bunch of five yard gains and picked up some first downs with some of his moves – maybe even hit paydirt once or twice – but the quarterback position is so integral to a team’s success that making a mistake there is big enough to undermine and unravel any other positives you may have achieved. So, in this context, that’s the kind of mistake that will stall a drive

With the way things have played out this season, the decision to extend Mark Sanchez is looking worse than a drive-staller … it could be a pick-six, because of the financial constrictions that getting rid of him will place on their ability to improve the team next season. We still don’t really know if Sanchez’s failure in New York is because he was the wrong guy, or because he wasn’t put in a position to succeed, but either way, that falls on Tannenbaum. The Jets bottomed out their cap in 2006 and 2007 which enabled them to spend money in 2008 and 2009 (and to a lesser extent in 2010), but that level of spending was always going to be unsustainable, so the consolidation phase of the plan, which really began after the 2010 season always depended on the quarterback continuing to develop and live up to the financial investment in him. That hasn’t happened – and I don’t think that quarterback will be the only person to lose his job over it.

Unfortunately, yesterday’s game did little to boost hopes that there is going to be any marked improvement at the position in the near future.

I was kind of looking forward to breaking down this game, because I figured we’d get an extended look at some players who hadn’t received much playing time so far this season, but unfortunately that wasn’t really the case. Other than Darrin Walls (who got extended playing time at cornerback due to an Ellis Lankster head injury), the rotations weren’t much different from usual.

Of course there was one high profile change that did lead to a youngster getting plenty of reps…

Quarterbacks

Greg McElroy only threw one interception and did manage to put 17 points on the board, which would have been enough to win each of the Jets’ last three games. However, while he showed the occasional flash, he was under constant pressure and didn’t handle it too well, taking 11 sacks. Very few of the sacks were what I would term “coverage sacks” although most of them came about because his first option wasn’t there and he was looking for a secondary option when the pressure came.

This was something I was concerned about after the Arizona game:

While there is some cause for optimism, I’d preach a heavy dose of caution. As an example, Ryan Lindley went 8-for-9 on his first drive last week, leading the Cardinals to a touchdown. Then he threw four picks over the rest of the game and you saw what he looked like yesterday [...] The Jets kept things relatively simple for him and seemed to run a lot of plays where he was on the move. That suggests they might not feel confident in his ability to sit in the pocket and make plays yet. Unfortunately, as recent games against teams like the Raiders have shown, you can’t rely on rolling out too often because it cuts down your options and ultimately can lead to the quarterback being under constant pressure.

The Chargers anticipated this and got their outside linebackers to rush upfield in an effort to prevent the Jets from being able to get McElroy on the move. As feared, it’s too early in McElroy’s development for him to be confident in the pocket and to progress through his reads fast enough to get rid of the ball decisively. The only real difference between McElroy yesterday and Lindley in the Jets’ game is that Lindley got rid of the ball every time he sensed pressure coming, whereas McElroy usually kept hold of it. On some of the sacks McElroy took, a more experienced quarterback may have been able to sense the pressure coming and move around in the pocket to be able to get his throw off, but McElroy often either held the ball for too long and went down, or took off at the first sign of pressure and ran into another defensive player, as the Chargers loaded up on the short/intermediate routes and dared him to try and beat them down the field.

While McElroy has a reputation for being smart, we should still take into account that he has basically zero NFL experience and there were signs that the game is moving just a little too fast for him at this time. The best illustration of that was this play on a third and three in the third quarter.

McElroy has a pretty clean pocket, although Brandon Moore’s man has just about started to gain a leverage advantage on the left side. Nevertheless, McElroy was able to stand there for a couple of beats, with apparent clean sightlines. The primary option on the play is obviously Chaz Schilens running down the right seam, because McElroy stares him down the whole time. However, if he’d been able to see the whole field, he could have hit Bilal Powell in the right flat or Braylon Edwards coming back to the ball on the left side. He might also have been able to get it to Jeremy Kerley in the right flat, although he’d have had to hit him in stride to give him a chance to turn the corner.

Now we can see how fast things move, by rolling things forward to just a split second later…

Now, he has stepped up and looked to the left but it’s too late. Edwards’ man has jumped his route and Kerley’s man is in position to make the stop if he gets the throw. However, had he continued to look right, Schilens is making his break and would have been in a position to catch the ball if it was thrown to him at that moment. Powell is no longer looking for the ball, but the other option he did have was underneath.

Hayden Smith did a good job on this play of breaking beyond the first down marker and boxing the defender out on his back. Had McElroy tossed it to him as he stepped up, that would have been an easy conversion. In the end, McElroy took off running and almost picked up the first down – as Smith kept the defender on his back the whole time.

So, in the end, McElroy made a safe decision, as he’d perhaps been instructed to do in such situations, and the Jets had to punt. What this shows is how fast things move and how quickly you need to be able to see and anticipate things. Had McElroy seen what we see in that first image and then thrown the ball to Edwards or Kerley, it likely wouldn’t have worked (unless he really zipped it in there). At that point, he needed to be anticipating what we see in the second image. While you might think it unfair to expect him to “see into the future”, he should know what routes his receivers are running and be able to trust them to make their breaks at the appropriate time, so that the ball is already on its way as they get open. In fact, knowing that, it appears he was looking right while routes were developing on the left and looking left while routes were developing on the right.

When McElroy did throw the ball he missed a couple of throws, had one bad interception and almost had a second one picked off down the stretch. However, he was better than Sanchez has been on short passes, did hit a couple of guys in stride, had a couple of nice runs and his one fumble in 11 sacks gives him a much better protecting the ball ratio than Sanchez (eight in 32).

While he did have some nice throws – and over the course of the two games he’s appeared in has had a 61% completion percentage – there are obvious limitations to McElroy’s game at this stage of his career. That perhaps partially exonerates Rex Ryan for having considered Sanchez as a better option all this time, but then the light shines back on Tannenbaum for engineering a situation where he’s the best option in the first place.

It’s pretty clear that, unless McElroy gets hurt, the season (and perhaps their Jets career) is over for both Sanchez and Tebow. It will be interesting to see what the plan is this time round.

Offensive Line

The offensive line had performed well since the bye week, but yesterday’s performance has to make you wonder whether they have already checked out for the Summer. The running game didn’t work, as the Chargers loaded eight men in the box a lot of the time and the 11 sacks surrendered were the most since the first game with the “scabs” during the 1987 players’ strike.

The Chargers generated pressure by blitzing a lot and stunting linemen. This enabled them to capitalize on the fact that McElroy was never sure where the pressure came from. On almost every sack it seemed apparent there was more than one person at fault, so attributing the blame is not easy (ignoring the fact that McElroy himself could have been at fault for not switching the protection or a lack of pocket presence). The best thing to do is to break down each sack individually, as painful as that is…

1. The Chargers rushed five. Powell was driven back into McElroy’s face and D’Brickashaw Ferguson was beaten with McElroy unable to step up.

2. Another five man rush with the safety coming off the edge. Brandon Moore was driven back into McElroy as the defensive end stunted underneath and Austin Howard failed to get over to prevent him getting up the middle. The safety was unblocked coming off the left edge, so he and Howard’s man were able to finish off the play. That may have been one where the protection should have been slid across.

3. A four man rush this time, with the defensive end on the right side stunting underneath and going past Matt Slauson for a clean pressure. McElroy evaded a couple of tackles before being sacked near the line of scrimmage by an inside linebacker who had been sitting underneath.

4. On a five man rush, Moore and Nick Mangold initially double teamed a defensive tackle, but Moore came off the double team and picked up another blitzer. Mangold then got beaten one-on-one and when McElroy stepped up he was sacked immediately by an outside linebacker who had stunted from the right side with Howard unable to get across and Vladimir Ducasse too late to recognize this and pick him up.

5. On another five man rush, Howard fell back into a bad habit he used to have from the past and was unable to get his hands on his man coming off the edge. McElroy had a bit of time here to get rid of this one, but no real options other than throwing the ball away.

6. Yet another five man rush, but with Jason Smith staying in as a sixth blocker. Mangold was half-beaten, although he did manage to recover well enough to ride his man out of the play at the last moment. However, McElroy took off immediately and ran right into Moore’s man.

7. This was a four man rush. I don’t think it was by design, but the way the lineman got free here was quite interesting. The defensive end half beat Ferguson with a spin move, but he recovered and tried to drive him to the inside. Unfortunately, this pushed him into Slauson, which enabled the defensive tackle who was being double-teamed by Slauson and Mangold to get around the outside and pick up the sack.

8. Another four man rush here and again Howard was beaten cleanly. The ball was batted out of McElroy’s hand before he could step up in the pocket, but if he had, he probably would have been sacked anyway, because Moore was also badly beaten.

9. A four man rush with another stunt on the outside. More miscommunication here, as Moore initially blocks the defensive tackle, but then picked up the end as he stunted inside. Howard stayed with the end the whole time, so the tackle came free on the outside.

10. Another four man rush. Ferguson was beaten cleanly and McElroy stepped up to avoid it and got sacked by Moore’s man who he had initially blocked well, but allowed to get away from him to chase the quarterback down.

11. Another four man rush. Ferguson was again beaten by a spin move and again recovered to drive his man out of the play, but McElroy stepped up and was sacked by Ducasse’s man. Ducasse had blocked his man well initially, but ultimately let him get off the block. This sack happened after 3-4 seconds.

It’s difficult to quantify accurately, but is certainly clear that all six linemen had breakdown. Also there were breakdowns as a unit as well as individually. It wasn’t the case that there was one guy losing his matchup over and over again and to some extent the quarterback and maybe the playcalling didn’t help.

Late in the game, CBS aired a graphic that said McElroy had been knocked down 12 times and hurried 15 times, seemingly in addition to all the sacks, but I assume they must use the same system as NFL.com whereby QB hits include sacks, because McElroy wasn’t under that much pressure on the rest of his throws. (For what it’s worth, NFL.com, has the Chargers with 16 hits, including the 11 sacks.)

There were a couple of plays where McElroy was hit by unblocked rushers off the edge or on designed screen passes where the defender was let through on purpose and a few where the running backs were at fault. Other than on the plays which ended up with sacks, the only offensive linemen to surrender pressure were Ducasse, whose man beat him for a low hit late in the game and Slauson, whose man drove him back and got to McElroy, also late in the game. Earlier on in the game, the protection had been holding up pretty well, although Howard’s man flushed the quarterback out of the pocket on one play and he was half-beaten on another. Slauson also found himself bullrushed into the backfield a couple of times.

The running game clearly didn’t enjoy too much success either. The tackles had some positive moments, although Howard let his man get off his block to make a play late in the game. On the inside, Mangold was badly beaten on one play and both Slauson and Moore found themselves blown off the line on runs that were stuffed.

Ducasse was back to getting every third series this week, which included one of the touchdown drives. The Jets went three-and-out on five of the first six drives with Slauson in the game, but not on any of the drives with Ducasse in.

Running Backs

Disappointing numbers this week from the running backs, who combined for just 42 yards on 18 carries. Shonn Greene did get in the end zone twice and also had a 30 yard catch on a dump-off pass. Powell carried the ball just three times and was stuffed every time, but did make some plays in the passing game, where he had 37 yards on four catches. Finally Joe McKnight didn’t play much again, but did turn a certain loss into a decent gain with a nice spin move.

In pass protection, Greene missed a cut block leading to a pressure and Powell gave a hit on a play where he initially blocked his man but then let him get past with a counter-move.

Lex Hilliard was inconsistent once again as a blocker and dropped another pass. His best moment was negated by a penalty as he made a first down catch.

Receivers

It must have been frustrating for the receivers to see McElroy not even throw the ball on over one-third of his dropbacks. Jeremy Kerley in particular saw his impact reduced, as he was only targeted once. He did, of course, see some action as a quarterback, completing one pass on a badly underthrown deep ball and having another negated by a penalty.

Clyde Gates caught that underthrown Kerley pass for 42 yards and ended up with 65 yards on three catches as he also added a nice leaping grab. Braylon Edwards also made a good contribution with three first down catches, a good block on the Greene catch-and-run and a penalty flag drawn in the end zone.

Chaz Schilens had two catches including a 24-yarder as he got open on the outside. However, Jeff Cumberland – who had been a big part of the passing game in recent weeks – was shut out.

The only tight end who did catch a pass was Smith, who made his first career reception and gained 16 yards on a well-executed throwback screen. Konrad Reuland has looked good in recent weeks, but had some bad moments as a blocker, including one where he was knocked on his backside.

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Part 2 will follow later today…