BGA: Colts at Jets

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 win over the Colts, together with detailed analysis of personnel groupings and individual performance.

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

I needed that.

For reasons I’d rather not get into, this has been a somewhat traumatic week in the Bent household. However, I was able to enjoy a Jets victory to lift my spirits when I felt like I needed it the most. So, thanks to the Jets for that, at least.

Sure, it wasn’t against one of the stronger teams in the AFC and you’d expect most teams to be able to take care of business against an opponent like that, especially with all the injuries they were dealing with. However, sometimes we concern ourselves too much with whether the team is on the right path or looking like a force to be reckoned with and forget to enjoy the game itself. All I wanted this week was for our guys to beat their guys and that’s what happened.

Within that performance, there were some very encouraging signs, but these are of course tempered by the fact that the injury-riddled Colts were somewhat undermanned. Let’s get into some of these…

Quarterbacks

After I criticized the Jets for how they’d been using Tim Tebow over the past few weeks, I’d like to applaud them for their use of Mark Sanchez this week. Straightforward, low degree-of-difficulty short passes, getting rid of the ball and not passing unless they needed to.

Of course, everybody’s life is made easier when you can run the football and that was the key factor here. If Sanchez only has to drop back to pass 20 times (or less) and many of those are simple, low-risk passes, then you’re limiting the amount of times bad things can happen and hopefully increasing the chances of a big play when you do go downfield.

Critics will point to the fact that he only had 82 yards passing, but he didn’t need any more than that and it was good that the Jets didn’t fall into the trap of trying to boost his numbers and get more people involved. I’ll leave you to decide if that could have happened with Santonio Holmes in the line-up.

Sanchez’s response was perfect. He looked decisive and confident and his teammates seemed to feed off that. When the time came to convert some first downs, he was on point, also throwing accurately on two red zone touchdowns. He only really misfired on three throws all day – a wide third down throw to Kerley, which at least was safely out of the reach of any defenders, a dump off to Bilal Powell, which was underthrown as he came under fire in the pocket and one overthrow that was nearly intercepted by a diving safety. That last one was the only time he came anywhere near making a costly mistake.

Due to the fact he was getting rid of the ball, he wasn’t under pressure very much. The one time he was sacked, an unblocked blitzer came off the edge and Sanchez saw it and looked for his hot read on the outside. However, Jeff Cumberland didn’t look back for the ball in time, so Sanchez ate it. I’d give Sanchez credit there both for recognizing the blitz and not forcing the throw.

Despite not completing any long balls, Sanchez impressed on first down throws to Chaz Schilens (twice), Jeremy Kerley and Stephen Hill. He also managed to fit both touchdown passes into tight windows. By not asking him to do too much, the Jets enabled Sanchez to play within himself. However, that’s not an option they’ll have every week, because their offensive line isn’t always going to dominate up front. Still, it does get some of the stink off from his recent performances and allows him, the fans and his teammates to build confidence.

Tebow’s role on offense wasn’t a major factor (aside from the intangible aspects like preparation time in practice and on-field confusion). However, they FINALLY ran the shotgun sneak on third and short and, of course, picked up the first down in the process. I’d be okay with them doing that most of the time in that situation.

Tebow did throw one pass on offense, overthrowing Kerley on a tipped ball. His biggest contribution was, of course, on special teams, but at least he is starting to make something happen every week. When Brad Smith was a Jet, even in the days before they used the Seminole formation, he’d always do something to contribute, whether that was a tackle, catching a pass, running an end around or whatever. Tebow is starting to have a similar impact. Maybe we should be expecting more, but it’s a start.

Offensive Line

One of the main benefits of not passing the ball very much, is that it makes it a lot easier to protect the quarterback. The Jets gave up no pressure up the middle and although Jerry Hughes got the better of Austin Howard a few times, Sanchez basically went otherwise unpressured. The Colts linemen did almost collapse the pocket a few times, but Sanchez was able to get rid of the ball each time.

The big story from the offensive line this week was the run blocking. Although the Colts had some injury issues, any time you can take advantage to the tune of 250 yards, you must be doing something right. I did say last week that there were some signs that the running game was starting to come together and this week they started off with some well-blocked plays where you could already see they were more in synch than they had been. From there, they seemed to grow in confidence as the game went on, presumably as the Colts players saw their confidence take a nose-dive.

The Jets’ favorite play this week was definitely a simple trap block with Brandon Moore looping behind Nick Mangold to lead the way up the middle. They did also run this with Matt Slauson leading the way, but it seemed to be more effective with Moore making that block. Overall, Moore didn’t grade out that well, because he missed a couple of blocks in space and didn’t always sustain his blocks at the second level, but he never got badly beaten and was the driving force behind a lot of the successful runs.

Mangold, after a rough performance two weeks ago and a mediocre one last week was back to his best this week, despite the ankle injury which limited him during the week. As you’d expect, he regularly took his man and turned him aside to create a running lane. Though he let his man get off his block a few times, he was more consistent than Moore. They took the opportunity to rest him at the end of the game, moving Slauson to center and Vladimir Ducasse to left guard.

Slauson had a couple of great blocks in this game, driving guys out of the play on a regular basis. He also had more success on pulling blocks than Moore, going in either direction. It was good to see the Jets punch in a touchdown with him at center and like Moore, while he didn’t always sustain his blocks, he never let anyone get into the backfield or anything. The only thing that let him down was a false start.

Although he got beaten a few times in pass protection, Howard made some good kickout blocks and set the edge well on one run. To nitpick, there was one play where he didn’t get his hands on the edge rusher, although he slipped as he turned the corner. There was another play where his man tried to avoid having to engage with him and he gave him enough of a shove with his initial thrust to prevent him from being able to stop the runner. I’d be more comfortable with Howard if I saw him engage with his man on a more consistent basis, but that play highlights how his athletic gifts can enable his block to still be effective even when he doesn’t.

The biggest revelation in the running game was D’Brickashaw Ferguson, who was more of a focal point in the running game than he has been all season. In the second half, he grew in confidence, doing a terrific job of blocking down on his man to create a huge seam or set the edge on a number of occasions. His first half performance was a little more uneven, with some good kickout blocks mixed in with a few instances of his man being able to get off his block to make a play. If he can build on that second half performance, he could be a force in the running game, as he was from 2008 to 2010.

Off the bench, Ducasse continued to rotate in at left guard (every third series) and the offense continued to perform well, scoring their second and fifth touchdowns with him in the game. Ducasse made some good contributions in this one, notably throwing a key block on the last touchdown and on another play where he drove his man downfield at the second level. He did fail to make a couple of blocks in space and may have been fortunate to avoid a couple of holding calls, but he isn’t getting beaten and helped create a seam on several occasions.

Jason Smith continues to have a role on offense, but his best block of the day came not from the jumbo tight end position. Instead, he lined up as a fullback and made a driving block to the second level. In his more conventional role, Smith got beaten a couple of times, but did do his job on a couple of big runs.

Caleb Schlauderaff was active for the first time all year, but did not play.

Running Backs

Earlier this week, I almost made a post on TJB about whether Shonn Greene is ready to breakout. I didn’t and he did. My reasoning was that the Jets running game had started to coalesce a little over the last few games and looked ready to put it all together. Couple this with the fact that Greene struggled at the start of last year just as he has this year and this was the point where he started to pick things up and you’ve got a recipe for a prediction that could make you look pretty smart. If you made it. Which I didn’t.

Greene looked like a completely different player this week. You’ll recall he finished a couple of runs strongly in the latter stages of Monday night’s game and he built on that in this game. It wasn’t all down to the offensive line, either. The least elusive running back in the NFL entering this game (per PFF) somehow managed to break eight tackles and had more than half of his yards after contact. On a number of occasions, his blocking failed him, but he still made something positive happen, no better illustrated than on his four yard touchdown run where he span out of a tackle in the backfield and then side-stepped another man in the hole.

When Greene burst through a seam for 21 early in the game, would it have surprised anyone if his next 15 carries netted only 30 yards and left him with another underwhelming statline? Instead, Greene was picking up big chunks and falling forward for positive yardage when there wasn’t room. He’d been struggling with his reads in this new offense, but seems to have figured it out, bouncing one run outside for 19 and cutting back up the middle for one of his other touchdowns.

The bad news is that Greene’s sudden rise to prominence coincides with injuries to each of his backups. The Jets have options: Jonathan Grimes has been inactive in two of his three games and hasn’t played on offense yet; John Griffin, who was having a good camp until he got injured is a phone call away; and fullback Lex Hilliard has played as a tailback in the past. However, they would prefer to have Powell or McKnight available.

Before getting hurt, Powell stayed in to block three times, showed good power on a short yardage conversion and bounced a run off the edge for eight yards. However, he also got stuffed on two other runs. McKnight’s role already seemed to be increasing even before Powell went down. He had two first down runs including a 61-yarder that ended with him injured.

At fullback, Hilliard had a couple of good run blocks including one on a short yardage play but was driven back into the runner a couple of times too. His run blocking hasn’t been that good so far, but I think the Jets are benefiting from his consistency. One play they ran a couple of times was a double-trap from a three back set with both fullbacks (Hilliard and Cumberland) leading the way up the middle.

Receivers

There weren’t many opportunities for the receivers to shine in the passing game, but they all caught at least one ball. Stephen Hill, in particular, made a welcome return, catching all three balls (his first since Week 1), including one for a touchdown and two first downs.

Jeremy Kerley also caught three passes, including two where he took a dump-off in the flat and picked up some yardage after the catch. Those types of passes are important to get Sanchez going.

Chaz Schilens made two nice first down catches and looks to be something of a go-to guy for Sanchez in third down situations. He did miss a couple of run blocks, though.

Finally, Jason Hill didn’t play very much, but got on the scoreboard with a well-executed route to the inside and a clean catch.

At tight end, Dustin Keller only caught one short pass, but his return still provided a boost. You could imagine someone making the joke that Keller’s return gave the running game just what it needed, but that wouldn’t actually be that far from the truth as Keller had several key blocks in the early stages. He did a particular good job of setting the edge, but his best block saw him lead the runner on the outside and drive his man out of the play at the sideline. As you’d expect, he did get beaten a couple of times, but maybe Keller’s blocking is going to be improved this year.

With Keller doing a solid job, Konrad Reuland was only in on four snaps. Cumberland did see plenty of time in two tight end sets, but his blocking was extremely inconsistent as he got beaten inside four times. Cumberland sometimes fails to anchor himself when making his block, but when he did, he managed to sustain a few good blocks on the edge. He was also the only Jets player to drop a pass, on his only target.

Even Antonio Cromartie made a contribution on offense this week, running a fake reverse that definitely opened up the middle for a modest gain.

Defensive Line

Moving onto defense, other than the four sacks and four turnovers, the first thing that jumps out at you from the boxscore is the rushing numbers. 41 yards on 17 carries – an average of less than 2.5 yards per carry. For the defense to achieve this without Kenrick Ellis and Sione Po’uha is extremely impressive, even with the Colts a few men down.

As expected, Mike DeVito got the bulk of the workload at nose tackle, with the Jets also using Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples on the inside on certain four man fronts. Daniel Muir rotated in for 12 snaps, whereas Damon Harrison barely played until he got five of his seven snaps on the final series.

As BGA readers will know, I’ve been saying DeVito can hold his own at the nose tackle position for some time. He only got taken out of a couple of plays and did a great job of holding his ground. On one play, he got good penetration to redirect the runner, on another he assisted on a run stuff and on the best of the bunch, he threw aside a double team and stuffed the runner for no gain. Whether he would be able to handle this role against a bigger offensive line like San Francisco or Pittsburgh is another matter, but yesterday’s performance was outstanding.

In his Jets debut, Muir held up well at the point of attack on one run, but was driven off the line on another. He rushed the passer on seven of his 12 snaps, helping to flush the quarterback on one occasion. Harrison, to his credit, looked excellent in terms of getting a push in the pocket, although he was blocked to the ground on his first snap. They didn’t run the ball with him in there.

Wilkerson had another disruptive day, recording a sack, a pressure, a forced fumble, a batted pass and seven stops. On one play he was once again double-teamed on a pass rush, but made a spin move to get to the quarterback for a pressure. While it was good to see him contributing as a pass rusher, it was in the running game where he really excelled himself, stuffing several runs at or near the line. His only major black mark was a roughing the passer penalty.

Coples also had his most productive game, with 1.5 sacks, a hit, a pressure, a tackle for a loss and two other stops. He made one good play against the run, shedding his block to stop the runner for a short gain, but the tackle for loss came as the runner tripped and he was taken out of one play early on. He had a facemask penalty on his first sack. Overall, he’s continuing to look – as he has since preseason began – like he’s going to be consistently productive at this level.

Linebackers

For the second straight week, the Jets did a much better job of tackling. After all their struggles early in the season, the Jets have missed just three tackles in the last two games. This might be because of an adjustment they seem to have made. On certain plays, it seems like one of the linebackers (usually Bart Scott, but sometimes Calvin Pace) will be a step further back than usual as the ball is snapped. Perhaps this is helping them to see the plays better and keeping them in their lane.

You can tell when Scott is feeling good, because he takes on the lead blocker and then chirps at him after the play is over. Last week, he was not doing that. This week, he was doing a lot of that, especially in the second half, disrupting a series of plays in so doing. He may have poked the bear a little too much, because on one occasion he got absolutely pancaked and landed flat on his back. However, he did get in on a couple of run stuffs, helped flush the quarterback out of the pocket a few times and broke up a pass in the flat. He did get beaten a couple of times in coverage, but they were zone miscommunications rather than being too slow, including one play where he let a guy get open behind him in the end zone, only for Andrew Luck to miss the throw.

David Harris wasn’t around the ball as much as last week, but did stuff a couple of runs and recovered a fumble. I’d like to know why Harris and Scott were both on the punt team for Robert Malone’s last kick.

The outside linebackers graded out disappointingly as Pace and Bryan Thomas recorded just one assist between them, although their primary role was to set the edge, as usual. Pace rushed the passer 31 times and generated no pressure, although many of these were from the defensive end position on a three man line, going 3-on-5. He’s used to that from 2010. As for Thomas, he did hit the quarterback once, but was also blocked to the ground on another play.

Demario Davis keeps seeing his playing time increase. He still hasn’t shown much against the run or in coverage, although he did recover a fumble this week. However, as a pass rusher, he continues to look pretty dynamic. He had a hit and two pressures this week.

Also off the bench, Aaron Maybin played a huge role this week, with 0.5 sacks, two hits and two pressures. Both of those pressures led to turnovers, as one helped cause Cromartie’s first half interception and the other caused Luck to step up to avoid him, from where Wilkerson swatted the ball out of his hand. Maybin also blew up the running play on which Coples made the tackle in the backfield. This is what the Jets have been waiting for. Let’s see if he can sustain it.

Since his breakout game in Pittsburgh, Garrett McIntyre has been a disappointment. He was limited to eight snaps this week, with no real impact. Nick Bellore saw his first defensive snaps of the season down the stretch. With Josh Mauga down, he might be needed to back up on the inside, so it’s useful to see him involved.

Defensive Backs

This was a match-up I figured Cromartie would have problems with. Reggie Wayne is an excellent route runner. However, Cromartie gave him a tough time, getting his hands on several passes. He did give up a couple of first down catches and was burned deep on an overthrow to the end zone, but his biggest issue was with penalties. Cromartie entered the game with just two penalties in his last 13 appearances, but yesterday he was flagged three times. He returned two interceptions for scores, but neither counted due to his own penalty on one and a Maybin block-in-the-back penalty on the other. While the touchdown was negated, his first interception still stood and helped the Jets open up their lead in the second quarter. Penalties are the one area where the Jets will definitely need to improve next week.

While the Jets made this game look easy, it was a pretty difficult game to grade, due to the number of passes completed by the Colts that were either a receiver finding a gap in the zone or a legal pick-play on the outside. It’s always difficult to apportion blame in such situations. However, Luck’s overall numbers were nothing special so I guess you could say they played well as a unit.

Ellis Lankster was responsible for or involved in four passes that went for first downs, but had a good pass breakup and then intercepted a pass in the end zone. Kyle Wilson was targeted a lot (13 times) and usually in good position, although he did get beaten a few times on third down. His forced fumble basically ended the game and he also made a tackle for a loss in the flat.

At safety, LaRon Landry played pretty well, breaking up two passes and nailing Luck on a blitz. He also had a touchdown saving tackle and came up to make a play in run support. Remarkably, he wasn’t penalized.

Yeremiah Bell racked up another eight tackles, including one good open field tackle, but also gave up a couple of first downs in zone coverage. He should have added a sack, but let the quarterback get away from him in the pocket – the only Jet to miss a tackle all day.

With Eric Smith out, the two rookies – Antonio Allen and Josh Bush – filled the void nicely between them. Allen had a sack and a pass interference penalty (where he was in tremendous position but didn’t get his head turned around), whereas Bush was in good position on one throw and almost got to Luck on a blitz. It would be good for the coaching staff’s confidence in these two to increase so that they can establish themselves for a bigger role in the near future.

Finally, Isaiah Trufant was on the field for a handful of snaps, the first time he has played on defense since Week 1. Hey, they’ve won in a blowout every time he plays, maybe we should…? Um, no.

Special Teams

The highlight on special teams this week was the superbly designed fake punt toss from Tebow to Bellore. I’ve got to give Mike Westhoff (more) credit because the two previous fakes were (until this week) probably the two best-blocked running plays all season. On this one, they again sold the action to the left and Bellore ran clear down the seam, even finishing it off with a Superman dive. Great preparation and a perfect example of how to break a tendency for a big play. Maybe Westhoff should be the offensive coordinator too.

Robert Malone’s punting this week was fine, other than the one that bounced into the end zone (and even that was a 38-yard net, which is acceptable). Nick Folk only got to try extra points this week, but did have two touchbacks on kickoffs.

On special teams, McIntyre, Allen, Bellore, Lankster and Schilens all made good tackles and Trufant forced a fumble which Bush recovered, only to see it overturned by the replay booth.

In the return game, McKnight had one good kickoff return, with Reuland making a good block. Once again, Kerley didn’t get a chance to run back any punts.

Conclusions

This was Classic Jets: Just when you thought they were out, they went and pulled you back in. On Sunday, they actually looked like a pretty good football team from top to bottom.

Now…will they be able to build on that, or will we be looking back in a few weeks and wondering (as we have been with regard to the Bills game for the last month) whether this even happened?

Next up, New England. For once, the Jets head there with some momentum, but they’ve faced the Pats coming off a loss in the past and it hasn’t been pretty. If they can perform well in this one, maybe certain people will be forced to take them seriously. Let’s hope they have a viable plan in place.

I’m afraid that, for reasons beyond my control, I won’t be able to do a BGA Extra this week, so I’m really sorry about that. However, if there was anything from the game that you’d like me to look into later, please ask me anyway and I’ll mention it when I do the BGA Extra for next week’s game. Hopefully, normal service can be resumed by then.




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