BGA: Dolphins 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 loss to the Dolphins, together with detailed analysis of personnel groupings and individual performance.

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

The camera panned over to Rex Ryan, as he pumped his fist to celebrate another well executed play. “Yes!” he seemed to be saying. That play? A five yard run by Lex Hilliard on fourth and one with one minute to go in the third quarter and the Jets trailing 27-3. Really, Rex? Yes? No. No no no no NO…

(No!)

This has happened many times before over the last few years and, as a result, I’ve written about it many times before too. It was one of those spiral-out-of-control games the Jets seem to keep having under the current regime. The Jets entered the game looking pretty confident and almost forced Miami to punt on their first drive, only for a costly penalty to keep the drive alive. Then another dumb penalty moved the ball into field goal range and Miami had taken a 3-0 lead despite only having a couple of plays where they really out-executed the Jets. Then every time the Jets made a move to try and get themselves in it, a big play would set them back even further and the hole would deepen. An onside kick, a blocked punt, a lost fumble, a red zone pick. It was two steps forward, three steps back all day long, culminating in a humiliating loss to Miami.

I do think the Dolphins are a much better team than anyone anticipated, but the 21-point win could have been even more – the Jets did actually outscore Miami 6-3 over the last quarter and a half, largely because the Dolphins went conservative on offense.

Despite the fact this was a game where Miami capitalized on several momentum-shifting big plays, that doesn’t mean that the Jets necessarily outperformed them the rest of the time, even though they allowed less than 250 yards and racked up almost 400 on offense. Miami won some key individual matchups and kept the pressure on even when they had a big lead, preventing the Jets from having a chance to come back.

Let’s look at some of those individual performances:

Quarterbacks

In the end, Mark Sanchez’s passing numbers don’t look too bad. He completed over 50% of his passes (barely, but this still represents an improvement over most of the last month), averaged over 10 yards per completion and had one touchdown and only one interception. However, these numbers are pretty misleading because 70 of his 109 first half numbers came on the drive at the end of the first half with Miami backed off into a prevent-style defense and most of his second half numbers came in similar fashion with Miami holding a big lead. He was 5-for-11 (for just 39 yards) until that late first half drive and 4-for-14 with an interception in the third quarter.

As always, not everything was his fault, but there was plenty that was. His interception looked like a horrendous throw, although the fact that Dustin Keller was knocked off balance may have been a factor. That might not have happened if it wasn’t so clear that he was going to throw Keller’s way though. There were also at least three other bad throws that could have been intercepted and would have been his fault.

You can also attribute his lost fumble to the fact that Hilliard let his man get off his block in pass protection on the blind side. With a blitz coming off the corner, that should have meant that one of his receivers could have made themselves available for a quick pass, but neither of them made that adjustment and it was third and seven so you can understand why they’d want to get beyond the sticks. Sanchez should have got rid of the ball sooner, but then again, he needs to be able to trust his protection in those situations, otherwise he’ll get back to the situation where he’ll be getting rid of the ball too quickly and forcing throws when he doesn’t need to.

Had the play been reviewed, it’s possible they could have ruled that his arm was going forward, but it wouldn’t have mattered because Paul Soliai caught the ball before it hit the ground. In fact, Sanchez is probably lucky it was ruled as a fumble, because another interception would make his season passing numbers look even worse.

While he wasn’t entirely to blame on either of those plays, Sanchez’s overall awareness and accuracy remains a major concern and it seems the Jets over-estimated his ability to pick up Sparano’s scheme. It says a lot that Sanchez did his best work when the Jets were in hurry-up, with three wide receivers and throwing the ball the majority of the time. Yes, the softer defensive coverages were a factor, but – as was often the case when he struggled with Schottenheimer’s offense – he seems to benefit from the consistency of the three wide sets. Rhythm and confidence seem to be the only things that can carry Sanchez to an acceptable performance, so perhaps the Jets should be doing everything they can to maximize these areas.

Maybe trying to keep Sanchez in rhythm explains why they aren’t using Tim Tebow much in the running game. Perhaps they feel that creating an ideal situation for Sanchez outweighs the importance of the contributions Tebow could make over and above those of any other runner getting those carries. If that was their intention, it didn’t work and using Tebow as a receiver just to get him out there seems futile.

Time for a rethink? I reckon so.

Offensive Line

This was a challenging game for the offensive line. The Dolphins blitzed a lot, especially after building their lead, and in a variety of different ways. Sanchez also dropped back to pass approximately 60 times, so the linemen were forced into a big pass protection workload. This affected D’Brickashaw Ferguson in particular, who kept Sanchez clean for most of the game only to give up a couple of pressures right near the end as he was no doubt exhausted. As usual, Austin Howard gave up the most pressure, but he did fare slightly better than last time against Cameron Wake. You’ll recall Wake beat Howard nine times on the outside in their last meeting. This time, Howard did give up a sack and a couple of hits, but only a few more pressures on top of that, despite the much bigger workload.

There were some discouraging breakdowns in pass protection, with rushers coming unblocked off the edges on a number of occasions and Miami able to generate some quick pressure by sending the house. The Jets inability to capitalize on that enabled Miami to keep doing it. One of the hits surrendered by Howard came as he was clearly expecting help from the inside, but Brandon Moore instead double-teamed to his left. Moore and Nick Mangold were both uncharacteristically beaten for pressures.

With the Jets not getting onto the field until mid-way through the first quarter due to the extended opening drive and the onside kick buying the Dolphins another possession, they would have been eager to set the tone, but Matt Slauson did the opposite by getting badly beaten on the first offensive play of the game, leading to a tackle in the backfield. Shortly after that, he again let his man get off his block to stuff a run. Over the rest of the game, he actually had some pretty good run blocks and didn’t have any issues in pass protection, but it was those early mistakes that were so costly because of the hole the Jets found themselves unable to dig their way out of.

Once again, the Jets rotated Vladimir Ducasse in at left guard for every third series and saw some success in doing so. Ducasse was on the field for their only touchdown drive of the day and also had the key block on Shonn Greene’s 36-yard run in the second half, as he pulled to the right and buried his man.

I’ve come to take Mangold’s contributions for granted, but this was an underwhelming performance by his standards. He had a few uncharacteristic mistakes and didn’t have many dominant run blocks until late in the game. While he had his hands full with a formidable and deep Dolphins front and was often left in to block one-on-one, the Jets need him to be dominant because he’s the driving force behind the offense.

Moore had a solid game as a run blocker and both tackles seemed to do more right than wrong in the running game, but they weren’t generating much yardage other than Greene’s big gain and were unable to impose themselves the way they’d like to because the Jets more or less had to abandon the running game while trailing so heavily.

Jason Smith’s impact was pretty insignificant this week. He did fail to sustain one block that led to a run being bottled up.

Running Backs

Greene actually had a pretty good game, picking up over 100 all-purpose yards on just 17 touches. Having said that, other than his 36-yard burst early in the second half, he did average less than three yards per carry. He does seem to be making much better reads over the last few games and those numbers were partially attributable to a few plays where he had nowhere to run. The 36-yarder was a career high (not including postseason play) and his 21-yard catch also represented the second-longest of his career. If it had been a closer game, it would have been interesting to see how well he could have built on breaking that long run over the remainder of the game, but the fact the Jets were forced to pass limited him to just four more carries (for 16 yards).

With Bilal Powell still out, Hilliard got most of the work as the third down back, along with being the fullback. He continues to make contributions in a variety of areas, converting a couple of short yardage runs, getting a nice gain on a draw play, picking up a blitz well as Wake beat Howard on the inside and making a good lead block on one run. However, his blocking remains inconsistent and his mistake in pass protection was extremely costly.

Jonathan Grimes got a few snaps as Greene’s backup, with Joe McKnight re-aggravating an injury early on while returning a kick. He drove for a tough five on his only carry and picked up a first down on a screen pass, but also allowed his man to drive him back in pass protection to bat down a pass.

Receivers

This was something of a breakout game for Clyde Gates who, along with Dustin Keller and Jeremy Kerley, was targeted 11 times. Gates entered the game with four catches for 56 yards in his NFL career, but managed to rack up 82 yards on seven catches here – six of them for first downs. Granted, much of that came as he ran some underneath slant routes with defensive players dropping off him, but he did have a few catches down the field and showed some good hands and route running, which had been problem areas in his previous Jets performances.

Keller caught seven passes for 67 yards, including one spectacular diving grab and would have led the Jets with eight if they didn’t accept a penalty instead on another short grab. However, he missed a couple of blocks, dropped one ball and allowed himself to get out-physicalled on Sanchez’s pick, so it wasn’t a flawless performance by any stretch.

Kerley ended up with a disappointing 43 yards on five catches. However, the fact that’s a disappointing outlay is a sign of how far he’s come. In his rookie year, he only caught five passes once and only exceeded 43 yards twice. He did have a couple of passes bounce off his hands, but also made some good yardage after the catch on both of his first downs.

Chaz Schilens opened his Jets account with a short touchdown catch and did make four catches on five targets, albeit only for 29 yards. The only one he didn’t catch came as he slipped before the ball arrived and still almost made a catch lying on his back. That actually came one play after a nice diving grab.

Steven Hill hasn’t produced a lot since his opening day display against the Bills, but continues to look like a potential gamebreaker. He only caught two passes on seven targets, but did drive several defenders for several extra yards on one of those, in impressive fashion. The Jets threw his way three times in the end zone, but he didn’t do a good enough job of locating the ball, dropping one and seemingly misjudging two others. He did have a good downfield block, but also missed his block on a screen pass, causing Kerley to be tackled a yard short of the marker.

Konard Reuland was targeted once in backup tight end duties and almost made a tough diving catch underneath. Hayden Smith got on the field briefly and did play special teams. I would expect his promotion to be temporary, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Defensive Line

Surprisingly, the Dolphins averaged less than three yards per carry, although it seemed watching live that the Dolphins were able to bust through the line to the second level on a regular basis. Again, the numbers are slightly misleading here, because the Dolphins were running the ball to keep the clock moving in the second half, where they gained just 40 yards on 16 carries. They also took a knee four times, which skewed the numbers somewhat. Still, on the whole, it wasn’t a bad performance by the run defense against a good running team, albeit one that has seen a drop-off in their numbers over recent weeks. What the front seven was unable to provide was any semblence of a pass rush.

Last time the Jets played Miami, an ailing Sione Po’uha struggled badly, by his standards, despite the fact he was routinely single-blocked by Mike Pouncey. In the rematch, Po’uha was mostly double-teamed and there was only one occasion where he was well-handled by a single team block. Having said that, Po’uha was driven back off the line by double-team blocks on several occasions and was only disruptive at the point of attack a couple of times. His back is clearly still bothering him because he’s a shell of the player he was last season.

Although he wasn’t very productive, Po’uha’s return did have a positive impact on the performances of Mike DeVito and Muhammad Wilkerson either side of him. However, DeVito was forced to play plenty of reps at tackle too and he also found himself driven back in those situations. He did blow up a couple of runs though. Wilkerson was constantly able to leverage himself in the direction of the run, as he has been doing all season, blowing up a series of running plays at or close to the line. He also batted a pass at the line of scrimmage. He wasn’t perfect, as he was forced to the inside a couple of times, jumped offsides on 3rd and four to keep the opening drive alive and failed to make a tackle in the hole on Daniel Thomas’ third down touchdown run. He also didn’t offer much in terms of a pass rush, but was in on or around the football on 10 plays that were stopped at or near the line of scrimmage, which is a sign of how effective he’s been against the run.

Quinton Coples was the only lineman to generate any pressure, with one hurry and one hit, one of which led to a touchdown pass anyway. He did get some good penetration in the running game, but was forced to the inside on Thomas’ touchdown run and was dominated by Jake Long on one running play. Overall, he does seem to be heading in the right direction.

With Damon Harrison back on the inactive list, Daniel Muir was the only other lineman to get any reps. He did get in on one run stuff, but was driven out of a couple of plays.

Linebackers

With Bart Scott out, attention turned to Demario Davis, making his second consecutive start. Davis was encouragingly around the football quite a lot, getting in on six tackles at or close to the line of scrimmage. He wasn’t flawless by any means, as he often found himself getting blocked at the second level. This included one play where Richie Incognito pulled right and absolutely drilled him, knocking him on his backside. Davis didn’t generate any pressure as a pass rusher, but at the same time wasn’t targeted in coverage like last week. On the whole, this was an encouraging display and if he can improve his comfort level in the system so that his instincts improve and he becomes a step faster, maybe he can replace and emulate Scott’s production by next year.

Something else to watch is how Harris played without Scott beside him. Harris has built his reputation over the last few years with Scott doing a lot of the dirty work to keep him clean. Without that, could he still perform at a high level, or would he revert to his 2008 form, where he struggled through an injury plagued season? Early returns are pretty positive, as Harris was around the football quite a lot. Like Davis, he found himself blocked out of a few plays though, as they mixed up who was the Mike. Harris did force a fumble and made five stops including one for a loss. There was just one play where he was attacked in coverage, on a play where he initially took a step forward like he was going to blitz, but then backed off but this left a huge gap in the zone in front of the safeties, enabling Brian Hartline to catch a big pass inside the five from the slot.

On the outside, Bryan Thomas and Calvin Pace each had a sack, although Thomas’ was a cheap one as the quarterback couldn’t find anyone open, so he rolled out and then tried to scramble, losing a yard. Thomas actually did a pretty good job against the run too, other than on one play where he got kicked to the outside. Pace was more up and down in the running game and also got beaten for a first down in coverage and missed a tackle in the flat.

Aaron Maybin had no real impact and Garrett McIntyre barely played. Marcus Dowtin got on the field and got to the quarterback, only to gift Miami a first down on third and long by hitting him in the head.

Defensive Backs

Although he put up some good coverage numbers again, Antonio Cromartie hurt the team with his retaliation penalty on the opening drive. On his two targets, he made good open field tackles, although he was lucky on one of them as the officials blew the play dead when the receiver had actually escaped his grasp. He also overpursued badly on one screen pass. Plays like that make me worry that if teams avoid throwing to Cromartie’s side, he’ll try to make something happen rather than remaining disciplined and teams could exploit that. However, he is definitely doing a good job overall in recent weeks.

The other cornerbacks had their struggles, especially Kyle Wilson, who missed two tackles and was burned deep twice (although one was dropped). Ellis Lankster came in to replace Cromartie for a few plays when he had hurt his hand and was immediately targeted, missing the tackle to allow a first down catch. However, they threw his way again a few plays later and he rode the receiver up the sideline perfectly so there was no way he had a chance to make a catch inbounds. Something tells me this kid has been watching Darrelle Revis closely. Isaiah Trufant got plenty of reps in the slot again and didn’t do too badly, breaking up one pass, making a good stop in run support and hitting the quarterback once as a pass rusher. However, he definitely got away with a pass interference penalty on one play and did get beaten for a first down. He also got beaten for a touchdown, but it’s difficult to see whose fault that was because the Jets were in zone coverage and while Wilson, Harris and LaRon Landry all picked up another receiver, it seems unlikely that Trufant would have been the one responsible for a receiver leaking out towards the back pylon based on his position. It appears that was a well-designed play that caused each of those other three to follow the receivers to the inside and leave the tight end leaking to the corner for someone else.

At safety, Landry had a pretty solid game, aside from his potential culpability in the above incident. He came up to make a handful of plays in run support and was mostly good in coverage, other than on one play where he didn’t get across the field in time to prevent a long completion. He almost got beaten for a touchdown too, but the receiver’s foot landed about an inch out of bounds. He then overpursued to allow the touchdown run on the next play. Alongside him, Yeremiah Bell recovered a fumble and made a couple of plays in run support, but did give up a couple of plays in coverage and missed a couple of tackles, including one in the hole on the Thomas touchdown.

Finally, Josh Bush saw some brief action and made one good play near the goal line to assist on a run stop.

Special Teams

If there was ever an image to sum up yesterday’s game any better than Rex’s ill-advised Fist-Pumpin’ Tony impersonation, it was Mike Westhoff with his head in his hands. The special teams performance this week, one week after they surrendered a huge touchdown return, was downright atrocious.

Unfortunately, this may be a product of the fact that the Jets have had so many injuries, they’ve been forced to put inexperienced players onto these units, where one player missing an assignment can be so costly.

As ever, the surprise onside kick call was a risky one. It worked, so the Miami coaches are geniuses. When the Jets tried the same against Houston, they were idiots, because it didn’t work. Had the Jets fallen on that ball and started their opening drive at midfield, maybe the whole game would have played out differently. Unfortunately, Bush and Dowtin were unable to grab it.

Perhaps an even bigger breakdown was the blocked punt, which the announcers attributed to Tebow. However, it was apparently long snapper Tanner Purdum’s fault, because everyone else blocked somebody and he was left grasping at air.

A further breakdown occurred on another long kick return in the second half. I counted four missed tackles (Lankster, Bush, Aaron Berry, Nick Bellore) but maybe I’m being kind to a few guys there. That wasn’t a case of poor lane discipline like the McCourty return last week. On this occasion, Lankster had the return man wrapped up, but let him get away. Lankster had one other missed tackle.

Another costly breakdown saw Nick Folk miss his first kick of the season, because Jason Smith and DeVito let Olivier Vernon split them for an easy block. Folk also had a poor attempt at an onside kick later in the game. Recent history tells us that now Folk has missed his first of the year, he could start struggling and miss a bunch of kicks over the next few weeks. Hopefully that’s not the case.

Finally, on the negative side of things, one week after he was criticized for fielding too many punts inside the ten yard line, Kerley kept leaving the punts in the same situation this time and nearly all of them took a kind Miami bounce and ended up pinning the Jets back anyway. (One made it into the end zone only because the gunner fell over when in prime position to down it at the goal line). That’s the worst thing that could have happened because his head will be swimming with indecision now.

On kick returns, Gates almost broke one for a touchdown, only for his own man (Davis) to run into him and knock him down at midfield. Hilliard and Dowtin had outstanding blocks to create the lane for that run.

Conclusions

For the third time in the Rex Ryan era, the Jets lost at home to the Dolphins. On each occasion, they were expected to win and the loss left them in a hole which they were not expected to dig themselves out of. On the first two occasions, they did rebound and make the playoffs, but the situation right now is even more dire.

They were able to bounce back by being able to take care of some weaker teams in 2009 and 2010, but there is so much parity and inconsistency in the NFL this year – especially the AFC – that I’m not sure there is much difference between the best teams (two of whom the Jets almost beat) and the worst teams. That means pretty much everyone is likely to remain in contention and the Jets – who already shot themselves in the foot by losing two of their three close games – will get burned whenever they underperform.

With the bye week coming up, attention is likely to center around the longer term future for this team and whether or not the likes of Tannenbaum, Ryan, Sanchez, Revis and many others should continue to be part of the foundation. What’s jarringly frustrating about performances like yesterday’s is the fact that the team is and has been capable of so much more and yet these flat performances where the team falls apart under adversity keep happening.

Perhaps the only crumb of comfort is the fact that this Jets team has been one that has looked as bad as this (and worse) on lots of occasions over the past few years and yet has found a way to turn things around, even if only temporarily. That this is the most positive thing I can find to say is a damning indictment on the current regime, even allowing for the fact that they’ve had good success overall.

I’m afraid things here have become further complicated for me this week, but should be back to normal in time for the next game. I’ll hopefully be back to catch up with your BGA Extra questions and an Expendables update in the lead-up to the Seattle game and normal service will be resumed thereafter. On the subject of major disruption, I’d like to extend my well wishes to everyone on the East Coast in light of the extreme weather conditions anticipated over the next few days. Stay safe, everyone.