BGA: Jets at Bills – 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 Bills, together with detailed analysis of personnel groupings and individual performance.

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

Somewhere within the Jets organization, there will be a team of people who do the same thing as me, every Sunday night and during the day on Monday. Poring over hours of footage, trying to apportion credit and blame as best as possible. That information would ordinarily be used to correct mistakes, reward good play with increased playing time and make strategic adjustments.

The way I’d imagine it works is that lower level staff cut up the film overnight to reduce the amount of time it takes to review it. Then coaches at the assistant level would review the film and highlight the most important plays that would need to be reviewed at the top level. Coordinators and the head coach would then focus their attention on those most important plays, using the information gleaned to make informed decisions.

This process becomes even more important now, as the team decides which personnel to retain, not just on the field but in terms of the coaching staff and whoever it was that was responsible for putting the on-field talent together.

While I can’t make as informed of an assessment due to the fact I don’t have full access to the playbook or total knowledge of things like protection schemes and coverage responsibilities, I’ve formed my own views from carrying out this process to the best of my ability and as objectively as possible on a weekly basis. It will be interesting to see whether the team feels the same.

Of course, if the powers-that-be use these processes to inform their decisions, they’re putting their faith in the process and those involved in making assessments – some of whom could be in the crosshairs themselves, so have every reason to find other scapegoats. What if those are the people who don’t know what they’re doing?

Whoever it is, I feel sorry for them for having to watch that terrible game again.

Let’s get into the player and unit analysis one last time…

Quarterbacks

I was looking forward to seeing Greg McElroy play once more, hoping there would be signs of improvement over last week’s performance, so it was disappointing to be forced to watch Mark Sanchez one more time.

The first drive summed things up perfectly. The Jets carried the ball down into Bills territory with eight straight runs (not including a Sanchez incompletion that gained five yards because the ball was snapped with 12 defensive players on the field). The ninth run was stuffed, as the Bills started to load the box and the Jets were forced to throw the ball. Jeff Cumberland had a step on his man, but Sanchez failed to hit him and then threw the ball at the feet of Braylon Edwards on third down. Drive over and the Jets were forced to settle for a field goal.

The Jets then stopped the Bills and got the ball back, opening up with two more runs to make it third and five. Sanchez was called upon to throw again and, of course, threw a pick-six to give the Bills the lead. They had not asked Sanchez to do anything particularly difficult at that stage and basically everyone else on both sides of the ball was playing well, so Sanchez – playing the most important and influential position – was the sole reason they trailed at that point.

The Jets drove downfield on their next drive to cut it to 7-6, but Sanchez passed for just 11 yards on the drive – an off-target pass that Konrad Reuland made a diving catch on and a dump-off pass where Lex Hilliard had to break a couple of tackles to get the first down. They then got the ball back again and took a 9-7 lead, but again Sanchez had little to do with it, as 40 of his 46 passing yards on the drive came on a screen pass to Jeremy Kerley. After the team fell behind, Sanchez was given a great chance to take back the lead when the Jets forced a turnover in the red zone at the start of the second half, but again couldn’t take advantage. It was never more apparent that he was the person most responsible for holding back the offense.

The mistakes he was making were all things we’ve seen before. His passing was so inaccurate, you again have to wonder if he’s injured – but we wonder this every year, so even if that is his excuse, it merely shows he lacks the durability to play the position at the highest level. His pocket presence was a step up from McElroy last week, but he still failed to see the rush a couple of times and had one ball stripped from his hand and another tipped as he threw it for a near interception. Worst of all was the pick-six which is something we’ve been seeing over and over again from Sanchez since early last season.

Sanchez has a tendency to lock on his receiver and, as Bryan Scott said after the game, this can enable defenders to predict where he’s going to throw it and get a jump on the ball. The bigger problem, though, is that Sanchez is so focused on hitting his man as they get separation that he fails to see the other defender poised to jump the route. This inability to see the field has been his biggest issue all year.

There were actually two other plays which easily could have been pick-sixes and Sanchez managed to get away with it, as it was clear the Bills were trying to bait him into a mistake. On the third down play, just before the third field goal, I was ready to criticize Sanchez for dumping the ball to Braylon Edwards on a crossing route, where he was tackled short of the marker, because Bilal Powell had lined up out wide left and his defender had backed right off, leaving him wide open when he broke his route off just short of the marker. However, on closer inspection, the slot corner had backed off his man and was potentially primed to jump that route for a potential 85 yard pick-six.

Take a look:

You might argue that Sanchez should be able to make that throw anyway, or that even if he did want to make that throw, he couldn’t because he is too busy staring down Edwards, but either way it’s probably just as well he didn’t make that pass to Powell.

On the other example, Scott was lurking over the middle in similar fashion, but this time Sanchez just about squeezed the pass in to Braylon Edwards, because he threw it decisively and put zip on the ball. If he’d been as decisive all season, he might have got away with it on some of those plays where he didn’t anticipate the defender coming across.

The only thing I can say to maybe pass off some of the blame elsewhere is that maybe some of these plays could have been designed a little better. For example, on the image above, Reuland ran a kind of mini-wheel route, whereas if he ran a route with a sharper inside break, perhaps this would have drawn the slot cornerback far enough to the inside that Sanchez would be confident enough to make that throw to Powell. If your quarterback struggles to see the field, you need to get the other receivers doing a better job of running clear-out routes so that there aren’t other defenders in the area when he looks to hit his primary option.

Speaking of offensive coordinators, if we’re going to assess how far Sanchez has regressed this year, we should bear in mind that he was making just as many bad throws in previous seasons. It just doesn’t seem like it because a lot of the vitriol was spewed at the offensive coordinator.

Can Sanchez be fixed? As he’s making the same mistakes over and over, I do wonder if a top level quarterback coach could iron out some of these mistakes pretty easily. You only have to look at the deep throw he made to Jeremy Kerley – a beautiful, perfectly timed and on-the-money throw – to see that there is still some talent there. Unfortunately, that type of throw has been all too few and far between this year.

Most likely, he just needs a change of scenery.

Running Backs

Something curious was going on with Shonn Greene this week. I wonder if he got injured or something. With more than five minutes to go in the second quarter, he looked great – 81 yards on 16 carries. Ordinarily, this should have led to a situation where he could capitalize on the worn-down defense in the second half and put up monster numbers. That never materialized – his final numbers: 19 carries, 74 yards. Those last three carries (for minus-seven yards) seemed to all be really slow developing, which – when coupled with the fact he didn’t return – lends weight to the fact he might have been hurt.

This play in particular saw Greene with plenty of room over the left side, but he couldn’t get out of the backfield as he was caught from behind by the safety coming off the opposite edge:

Maybe he just wasn’t used in the second half much because they know he’s not coming back, but if you’re going to assess Greene, it’s worth noting that once he got used to the scheme, he did a solid job, averaging over 4.2 yards per carry over the last 11 games (over 4.3 until those last three carries). He ended up with 1,063 yards on the season.

Bilal Powell had another good game and has been a bright spot this season, after a rookie campaign so underwhelming that many of us expected him not to make the team. He had 68 yards on 14 touches, but again could perhaps have benefited from getting more second half carries – he only got six. The play where Sanchez’s arm was hit and he was almost intercepted (reversed by the booth) was probably Powell’s fault though. Austin Howard had his man locked up on the right side and the other blitzer (that man Bryan Scott again) started to go outside but then reacted to Powell taking a premature step in that direction and came underneath for a clean shot at Sanchez.

The only time we saw Joe McKnight (and Tim Tebow, for that matter) was in the Wildcat (and, yes, for once, this was the Wildcat and not just a spread or two-read option). I do wonder if a lot of McKnight’s preparation time saw him working in the Wildcat package and then the fact they hardly used this contributed to McKnight being criminally underused this season. This was an interesting play and perhaps a missed opportunity, so I wanted to recap this one in detail.

While Tony Sparano’s scheme is (was?) regarded as a pure power/gap blocking scheme, he does use zone principles on Wildcat plays. Tebow starts off in the shotgun with nobody in the backfield, but Joe McKnight comes from out wide to take the handoff on a “Jet Sweep”. Ordinarily, that would see him running parallel to the line of scrimmage and then turning the corner on the outside. As you can see, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Brandon Moore and Matt Slauson are all moving to the right. You may be wondering how Ferguson got out in front, but that’s because he started off on the right side with the Jets in an unbalanced line formation. Jeff Cumberland (the de facto left tackle in this formation), Nick Mangold, Austin Howard and Jason Smith all block straight ahead.

McKnight starts out running parallel to the line as expected. However, a linebacker clatters into Moore, rocking him slightly. McKnight seems to react to this, perhaps thinking he won’t be able to make it to the outside.

He instead makes the decision to cut back up the middle. Mangold has done a good job of turning his man to the outside and Howard has done an exceptional job of gaining leverage so he can drive his guy to the inside and create a small seam. Slauson is on the move, so although he appears to be in the way, he can drive through Moore and his man to ensure that doesn’t bottle up the gap up the middle. However, you can see that Moore has been able to anchor himself and if McKnight had been able to trust his blocking he probably would have had the angle to get outside.

Howard does indeed manage to create that seam and McKnight, now committed to going up the middle, follows Slauson into the hole, but that gain he’s going to make is always going to be small because there are three Bills players who have stayed at home. Even if Slauson and Cumberland can make clean second level blocks, he’s still going to struggle to get more than a few yards. On the right side, Smith has sustained his block the whole time and Ferguson now makes his block at the second level.

Inevitably, the run is bottled up and gains just a few yards. Slauson did make his second level block, but that meant he didn’t stay on the double team with Moore long enough and Moore lost leverage. Had McKnight instead gone outside, you can see that Reuland has made his block downfield and Ferguson has wiped out the defensive back.

So, did McKnight’s reluctance to trust his blocking there cost the Jets a touchdown? Or, was the play in fact designed for the runner to cut back up the middle? Mangold and Howard’s assignments did seem to suggest that this was at least an option, but I’d imagine it’s a read the runner has to make. Going up the middle was always going to be a limited option, because although some defenders might have expected the run to go outside and therefore get drawn out of the middle, the defenders on the other side are going to be drawn into the middle by the fact that they have to stay at home in case Tebow has opted to retain the ball. Poorly designed play, or a bad read? You tell me. Either way, pretty interesting.

Finally, Lex Hilliard actually had some good plays in this one – a couple of good lead blocks, a short yardage conversion, the third down catch where he battled to get the first down – but he’s not been very good and I can’t see him returning. He did have a couple of bad missed blocks and was lit up on the fourth and one failure.

Offensive Line

After last week’s 11 sack debacle, the pass protection was much better this week. Sanchez gets part of the credit for that, but the offensive line were on their game, stoning Bills pass rushers in one-on-one situations nearly all day. The Bills did get pressure a couple of times by stunting, although the Jets handled such situations much better than last week.

The biggest breakdown in pass protection came, disappointingly, from Mangold. It was him who let Spencer Johnson into the backfield for a strip sack and he also got beaten one other time. On the other hand, his value in pass protection was also on display as a couple of times he stepped in and prevented another lineman’s man from getting to the quarterback.

Slauson was badly beaten once and ended up getting called for a hold. He played a bit less yesterday, although there may have been an injury issue – he left the game midway through a drive in the second half, giving Vladimir Ducasse a few extra reps at left guard.

The Bills were able to generate pressure a couple of times by stunting on the right side against the Ducasse-Ferguson combo. In each case, Kyle Williams bullrushed his man (once Ducasse and once Ferguson) and the end came underneath. Ducasse handled the first of these correctly (with Williams getting the pressure by driving Ferguson back), but could have done better on the other one. Ferguson again did a solid job in protection otherwise, only getting beaten a couple of times, although one of these led to him getting called for a hold.

On the right side, Howard bounced back well from last week’s game. It would have been difficult for him to come off his block and prevent Scott’s pressure on the play where Powell went to the outside. Other than that, the only time a pass rusher got close to Sanchez from his side was on a couple of plays where he blocked the rusher out of the play, but they almost got to Sanchez on the backside as he took a while to get rid of it.

Moore gave up a couple of pressures too, including a big hit late in the game. There was also a play where Moore’s man stunted all the way underneath and around the left side to get to Sanchez.

In the running game, Mangold was the driving force behind most good things, but did make some uncharacteristic mistakes. Ducasse had some good moments too, especially on the move, but he lost leverage once badly. Ducasse’s strength was Slauson’s weakness, as he had a few bad moments while pulling. He did a little better in the second half. Moore and Howard were getting some good straight ahead surges, reminiscent of Woody and Moore a couple of years ago. It would be nice to keep that pairing together, because they’ve started to develop some good chemistry. Howard did have a seemingly unnecessary holding penalty that negated a big gain on a screen pass though. Finally, Ferguson had some good moments too, but wasn’t perfect. He got beaten badly on the fourth and one play that essentially ended the game.

I can confirm that Jason Smith did NOT get enough playing time this year to void his deal so he remains under contract with the Jets. However, he has a huge cap number that contains no guarantees and is never going to be paid to him, so they will look to restructure that down, perhaps all the way to the minimum. That gives the Jets a small amount of leverage as they have control over his rights, whereas if his deal voided he could seek a deal with another team. Similarly, Ducasse fell short of his playing time incentive so he will remain under contract at a low salary next year.

Receivers

While the Jets probably threw the ball too much, there still isn’t too much to evaluate the receivers on. Edwards made some good catches again and did a good job as a blocker, but did have a pretty dumb penalty when he removed his helmet. He obviously wants to be back, so the Jets should get that done as soon as possible, especially now that one of the idiots he was obviously referring to is on his way out.

Kerley had another fine game, with two separate and very different 40-yard plays displaying his versatility. I wonder what production he could have had if Santonio Holmes and Dustin Keller remained healthy all season.

Jordan White saw plenty of reps and made his first NFL catch, although he might have got away with a push-off on that one. If Holmes, Edwards, Kerley and Hill return next year, there aren’t many roster spots available for the likes of White to fight for.

Poor Clyde Gates once again got his bell rung on a pass that was well behind him and he made a great effort to catch. With Sparano apparently gone, that’s one less person who has Gates’ back, so he is probably an outside bet to return.

At tight end, most of Cumberland’s catches were in garbage time, but he has made significant strides this year. He’s a restricted free agent, but if I were the Jets, I’d get him signed to a lower level deal with guarantees as a priority, so that they have some leverage in the Dustin Keller situation. His blocking was a mixed bag.

Reuland made a nice first down catch, but had a couple of mistakes as a blocker. He looks like a guy who is worth hanging onto as well.

Finally, Hayden Smith saw some brief action but did not make an impact.

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Part 2 will follow later today…