BGA: Jets at Dolphins

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 after the jump, an analysis of yesterday’s season-ending loss to the Dolphins, including details of Santonio Holmes’ disappointing display within a disappointing display, Kyle Wilson’s rough afternoon and my thoughts on the Bart Scott rumors. Remember, if you want me to look into anything in particular or go into more detail, leave a comment and I’ll include it in BGA Extra, which will follow in a few days.

So, as we expected, the season is over. The Jets probably weren’t going to make the playoffs even if they won, which they should have, but didn’t anyway. The Jets ended the season the way they played throughout – by looking good in spurts, but undoing all that good work with costly individual errors.

The nature of the way the season ended, though, is extremely concerning. We’ve seen the Jets play well in the first half but not quite convert it into a big enough lead to carry their flat second half performance before several times (Oakland, Denver, Giants), but the extent to which everything unravelled at the end of yesterday’s game was jarring. I did not like what I saw at the end there. I said two weeks ago that this team was broken – what we saw yesterday looks dangerously close to irreparable.

We’ll have all offseason to dwell on that – there was a game yesterday, so let’s recap where it was lost.

Quarterback

As I said last week, I was half-hoping they’d reveal that Sanchez played through some injury that caused some of his issues over the course of this season. Over the last few weeks I feel like I’ve soured on him, but if there’s a reason why he ended the season in such uninspiring fashion, I’m all ears. Injuries, receivers not trying, a disconnect between his skillset and the gameplan? Whatever the reason, Sanchez seemed to be trending in the right direction a month or so ago, then ended the season with three bad performances in a row.

He did lead one good drive in the first half (and another against a prevent defense late in the game) and he even had a QB rating of over 100 when blitzed, but it was his interceptions that proved most costly. One saw him try to flip the ball over the top of Randy Starks to LaDainian Tomlinson just before half time. Even though it was an athletic play by Starks, that was an awful throw with no chance of getting over him. The second one was a bit of a freak play, as he lofted the ball to apparent safety and it landed on Nick Mangold’s back enabling Starks to grab it easily. However, the announcers suggested he should have just took the sack there and were probably right. Finally, it was inaccuracy that led to his red zone pass late in the game being not just intercepted, but also returned into range for the game-clinching field goal. He might also have been better served waiting a split second longer to allow his man to get more separation so he could lead him with the pass.

Had he only made two of these three mistakes, then the Jets probably would have won the game, but Sanchez has been making one too many mistakes all season long and that’s why, this year, he’ll get a longer period of time to rest whatever physical damage was inflicted on him over the course of the season.

Sanchez was much better in the red zone this year and much better throwing short passes. This season, I’d like to see him work at improving everything else. However, he needs to reinforce the short passing and red zone work, because those things he seemed to have overcome in the past – like protecting the ball, staring down his first read and reluctance to throw downfield – seem to have suffered a relapse.

That’s where I think the lockout hurt Sanchez. He needed a lot of work and fine-tuning and this offseason just wasn’t long enough to achieve that. The coaching staff should have realized this, tempered their expectations and planned accordingly.

Offensive Line

You almost didn’t need to watch this game to know how the offensive line performed, because for each of them this game was a microcosm for the season as a whole:

Nick Mangold – Dominant in the running game, albeit not as dominant as he has been in the past. Almost perfect in pass protection, with his one pressure surrendered coming on a screen pass where his assignment was to let his man go and get out in front of the receiver, but the pressure came because Tomlinson was held up in the backfield.

Matt Slauson – Inconsistent, as ever. Very good in pass protection, where he did not surrender a single pressure following last week’s struggles, but disappointing as a run blocker. It was a career-day for him as a receiver, though!

Brandon Moore – Solid, but unremarkable, giving up just one pressure and not having much impact in the running game.

D’Brickashaw Ferguson – Hugely disappointing, getting beaten three times in pass protection, including one that saw Jason Taylor of all people beat him to force an interception, no real impact in the running game and a couple of penalties.

Wayne Hunter – Initially held up pretty well in pass protection but was ultimately credited with four pressures allowed, albeit no hits/sacks. Was pressure free until the penultimate play of the first half, but got beaten outside a couple of times in the second half, although Sanchez was able to get the throw off each time. Was also poor in the running game, just not sustaining his blocks long enough and had one false start in an all-round rough performance to round out his rough year.

Even Vladimir Ducasse and Caleb Schlauderaff’s performances were symptomatic of their season as a whole. They were in for five snaps combined and a non-factor.

Much has been made of the offensive line performance this year, but they do rank in the top half on both FO and PFF for pass protection, so they aren’t THAT bad. However, it’s a huge drop-off from best in the league to barely above average and that’s a drop-off which cannot be solely explained by the drop-off from Damien Woody to Wayne Hunter. Hopefully this was just a down year for Ferguson in particular, because the Jets didn’t make him one of the highest paid tackles in the NFL to play like an average one. Next year, the Jets desperately need an average tackle, to play on the right side…but they need Ferguson to not be average. He has to be better than that.

The penalties were killer, including four on one drive in the second quarter (all false starts). The Jets started with the ball on the 18 and drove 88 yards. That should translate to a touchdown, but the 20 penalty yards meant that they only got as close as the 14 and had to settle for a field goal. Later on, Mulligan’s 15-yard penalty was the difference between field goal range and a punt. Remember, they did only lose by two.

Running Backs

The Jets actually ran for 129 yards this week, with Shonn Greene going over 1,000 on the season and Tomlinson going into fifth place all-time.

It was a nice performance by Tomlinson, with 79 yards on 15 touches. They did a good job of keeping him fresh this year, but unfortunately, they won’t be in the postseason to reap the benefits. Although he did well with the ball in his hands, I did count three occasions where he could have done a better job in pass protection, although he was not credited with a pressure surrendered. I think he has at least another year left in the tank, but I don’t expect him to return. We’ll see.

Greene – who again had less playing time than Tomlinson – finished up the year with 1,054 yards at 4.2 yards per carry, which isn’t bad given his slow start (3.1 ypc over the first four games, 4.5 ypc thereafter). He also added over 200 receiving yards on 30 catches, much better than in his first two years – although he did drop a pass for the third week in a row after only having two in the first 13 games.

John Conner really made strides towards the end of the year and I’d have to say that this was one of his better games of the year, although admittedly most of his best blocks came in the early stages.

Joe McKnight was a non-factor on offense again, although he did nearly break a kickoff return. His impact since the Denver game: 22 yards rushing on eight carries, five catches for 48 yards and 12 kickoff returns with only one longer than 30 yards and a 23.2 yard average.

Josh Baker was in on three plays with no real impact.

Receivers

Before we get to Santonio Holmes, let’s address all the other receivers. We must at least give Dustin Keller some credit. Last week he had eight catches for 77 yards, but on 16 targets. This week, he only had seven catches for 45 yards, but considering he was only thrown to seven times, that’s pretty good. He also showed some good moves after the catch and got in the end zone. His blocking still leaves a lot to be desired though.

Also getting in the end zone was Patrick Turner. He was only in for 13 snaps, but that was another sign that he may be someone that they look to hang onto next year as a low cost 4th or 5th option.

On the face of it, Plaxico Burress didn’t have a bad afternoon by his standards, catching four of five passes thrown his way, for three first downs. However two of those came against the prevent defense on the last drive. Although he was great for the red zone offense this year, Burress actually had just one touchdown in the last five weeks. He only had four drops all season though and his catch rate of 50% is actually better than his career mark.

Jeremy Kerley was a revelation, catching four passes for 71 yards, running for 16 yards on an end-around, throwing for 41 yards on a Seminole play and breaking tackles on each of his punt returns to pick up 26 more yards. In total, Kerley contributed 154 yards on eight touches and provided an offense devoid of any athletic spark with a dynamic edge. Kerley definitely looks like a keeper and one of the few bright spots on the offensive side of the ball this year.

Matthew Mulligan was the recipient of Kerley’s 41-yard pass, the longest of his career and tied for the second longest by a Jet this year (Keller had a 41-yarder a few weeks ago and Tomlinson had a 74-yarder in Oakland). Other than that, he set the edge well once, but otherwise had a miserable afternoon with three penalties – one on a facemask as he was beaten to the inside – and a couple of pressures given up in pass protection. He actually graded out positively as a run blocker, although he has fallen off from where he was the 2nd-rated run blocking TE in the NFL on PFF a few weeks ago. He is now 8th after three poor performances in a row entering this week. More importantly, he’s 10th worst overall, 5th worst for pass blocking and has the 3rd most penalties. He even blew a block on special teams and probably got away with a hold. Here’s someone where any positives he brings to the table are wiped out three-fold by his mistakes. The Jets must upgrade here.

Which brings us to Santonio Holmes. I don’t want to pass judgment on his actions, nor do I wish to defend him. There will be plenty of time for that as the facts emerge. Statistically, this has been a terrible year for him, especially considering his salary. There is plenty of truth to the comments over the course of the season that Holmes is double-covered a lot and as a result the Jets don’t look for him as often as they do certain other players. However, Holmes talked about wanting to make the Hall of Fame when he signed here and you don’t get enshrined into Canton for being a decoy. Would more weapons mean he was open more, or would that just mean he saw even less of the ball? After all they did target him six or more times in nine of the 16 games, but he only caught five or more passes twice. All of these questions will have to be considered by the Jets going forward.

While watching the game, I noticed a couple of lazy blocks by Holmes, who didn’t finish the block and keep going until the whistle. I wondered if this was a sign of frustration at the time and when he lost his, uh, cool, I figured I’d go back and see whether he was lazily jogging through routes, routinely whiffing on blocks and not looking back for the ball. I expected to see signs that the meltdown was coming.

Surprisingly, however, this was not the case. From what I could see he was fully engaged early on, celebrated (albeit mooted) with Sanchez after the first score and did seem to be sprinting off the line. What’s more interesting is that although I noted a couple of missed blocks in real time, instead of – as I suspected – finding more when I went to the tape, I actually found that he was working hard as a blocker and made two of the better blocks I’ve seen from him all season. One was a reach block as even though he started off being played to the inside, he got across and managed to get a kickout block on his man. The other saw him come from wide to block down on a defensive end and set the edge well.

In terms of blocking, he is actually dead last in the NFL for blocking by wide receivers. You may recall Braylon Edwards was near the bottom last year and that was at least partially attributable to the fact they often tried to get him to make a key block in the slot with a higher-than-usual degree of difficulty (or even motioning onto the edge of the line) and he blew a high proportion of those. They do sometimes do these things with Holmes too, but I can certainly recall him blowing some blocks on the outside and downfield that must have contributed to his grade.

As the game progressed, I expected to see Holmes’ shoulders slouching as he ran route after route without getting the ball. However, this was not noticeably the case. I don’t think it’s accurate to say they didn’t call any plays for him – there were at least two where Sanchez was looking his way but then pressure was upon him and he couldn’t get the throw off and at least another two or three where Sanchez looked for him initially and then checked down rather than (presumably) throwing into double coverage. They did throw to him once, but Holmes slipped and appealed for a pass interference flag to no avail. Having said that, a very high percentage of the passes were of the short, immediate variety, so the ball was thrown without even a glance in Holmes’ direction and before Holmes had even looked back for the ball.

Earlier in the year (I wish I could find it), I suggest that a good blueprint to beat the Jets would be to continue to double cover Holmes with the hope that eventually he would complain he isn’t getting the ball enough and then Sanchez would be compelled to throw a high-risk pass. So, I guess this is all my fault. Oops.

I feel like repeating – I am no body language expert and have no idea what was being said in the huddle or who was freezing out whom and so on. These are merely my observations from the game film – do with them what you will. I will say that I didn’t like what I saw and expected to find evidence of the rumors he had “quit on the team” or whatever. The fact I didn’t does not mean I am defending his actions.

Defensive Line

In yet another article to file under “We’ve heard that before this year”, the Jets defense performed well most of the day, apart from one major breakdown. This was the 21-play, 95 yard drive on which Miami took the lead in the fourth quarter. On that drive, they had multiple opportunities to shut the door and it just never happened. Brandon Marshall converted a third down with a blatant push-off on Darrelle Revis, then David Harris got hurt, then there were a couple more third down conversions before the Dolphins finally got into the end zone on a third down play that the Jets should have stopped. This means that, despite the loss, there were several players that actually played well. However, there is plenty of blame to go around for some of the breakdowns.

Despite that, not much of the blame can be levied at the defensive line, who closed out a fine season with another leading-from-the-front performance. Sione Pouha, who was a major snub in terms of who the media decided was a Pro Bowl snub, led the line as usual. Pouha didn’t generate any pressure this week, but stuffed four runs and was only moved off his spot once. The Jets MUST re-sign him in my opinion.

If they don’t re-sign him, it will be because they think Kenrick Ellis is the heir apparent at nose tackle. However, at the moment he spends more time at defensive end (often with Mike DeVito at nose) because his speed is more of a weapon than his strength at this stage of his career. Ellis was owned a couple of times early on, but bounced back well to stuff a couple of runs and ended up with a positive grade in 17 snaps. He has a long way to go to reach Pouha’s level though, so hopefully (if Ellis doesn’t get deported), Sione will be around to mentor him for the next few years.

His fellow rookie Muhammed Wilkerson finished off a very solid second half of the year with a strong display, stuffing two runs, including one at the goal line, blowing up one other run and getting one pressure. On the opposite side from him, DeVito stuffed three runs and had a couple of pressures, although he was beaten at the point of attack a couple of times too.

Off the bench, Marcus Dixon and Ropati Pitoitua combined for four pressures and a hit in 37 snaps, but didn’t do much against the run. Overall, all six players had a positive grade and they combined for eight of the 14 pressures generated by the Jets in a disappointing pass-rushing display against a weak line.

Linebackers

In what, if the rumors are true, may prove to be his last game as a Jet, Bart Scott turned in one of his better performances of the year. He was in on several run stops and made some good plays in coverage. As I’ve been noting all season, they simply haven’t had him attacking the line of scrimmage as he has in year’s past and if they’re planning to get rid of him, this suggests they don’t believe he is physically up to that any more. (For what it’s worth, he did attack a lead blocker once right near the end on Sunday, lit him up and redirected the runner who was stuffed for a short gain, so he is still capable).

His role this year has instead involved a lot of disciplined gap-control stuff. To his credit, he’s played it perfectly and there isn’t anyone on the team who carries out his assignment to the letter as consistently as Scott, which is why he still grades out well on the year (10th overall ILB and 6th against the run per PFF). However, there’s no denying it means he has less of a direct impact on the game, especially now he’s being taken out of the game in coverage situations (which, in itself, is curious given that this used to be one of his biggest strengths and that he does have a positive grade in coverage for the year).

Considering his lower snap count (from 84% to 64%) the drop in his tackle numbers from 70 to 58 doesn’t seem that bad and he’s actually had 4.5 sacks this year, after only having one last year. However, the Jets seem ready to move on from him and apparently won’t be on the hook for his whole 2012 salary as previously thought, so perhaps they can afford to do it. I can’t say I like the move though.

I don’t know what Bart’s attitude behind the scenes has been like this year, but I always got the impression he was a good mentor, so I am surprised that they wouldn’t want to keep him on the roster, especially if they’re likely to end up paying him anyway.

Alongside Scott, David Harris turned in a performance befitting of someone that deserves a Pro Bowl position after all. If only he’d played like that all season. Harris did have a good season, but I agreed with the voters that kept him off the Pro Bowl roster, despite his slew of impact plays. On Sunday, he actually didn’t have much impact at all against the run, but did have a great pass breakup and did a good job of limiting some receptions to short gains, including one on a third down to make an impact in the passing game.

Calvin Pace also had a quite day, although he did generate a couple of pressures and had two stops. Jamaal Westerman also had a quiet day, with one pressure and one stop. Aaron Maybin added one pressure, as the Jets pass rush was disappointingly quiet all day. They actually blitzed 15 times and Matt Moore completed ten passes for 77 yards and a score.

Josh Mauga was actually in for 30 snaps as Harris missed 23. He gave up just four yards on three targets in the passing game, but this actually included a first down and a touchdown. Had he not gambled and dived, anticipating a quick pass, he should have been able to stay with Charles Clay pretty easily with Moore running out of room, so that was a very costly error. Mauga did actually lead the team in tackles and had three stops so he did redeem himself somewhat.

Nick Bellore was in for one snap. He ends up fourth in the NFL in terms of special teams tackles. Could he, Mauga or even Mathias Berning be the next Bart Scott? I’m not going to hold my breath.

Defensive Backs

In the secondary, the cornerbacks did a decent job with Revis giving up two first downs (one on the afore-mentioned push-off), but breaking up two passes as well and Cromartie giving up two, but also breaking up one and intercepting another. He was also beaten deep on another pass that was dropped, but this was also a push-off and he looked to be in pretty decent coverage until then. Note: If Jerome Boger and his crew had decided to officiate the Oakland game earlier in the year like this one, the Jets would probably have won their ninth game four weeks ago instead of never.

At safety, Brodney Pool had two awful missed tackles early on, but bounced back with an interception and made a play against the run. Alongside him, Eric Smith only gave up one first down catch but did miss two tackles. He did make a good tackle on third down to force a punt. It’s interesting to hear that Smith played hurt all year. There’s no doubt that affected his performance, but it doesn’t really do much to convince me they shouldn’t look to upgrade that position with almost as much urgency as the right tackle position.

Kyle Wilson had a day to forget, giving up four catches for 38 yards. All four came on the 95-yard drive and three went for first downs, as he seemed to be playing too far off his man. I don’t know if it’s a good or a bad thing that all of those plays happened on the one drive. I guess it’s positive that he posted a shutout the rest of the way and he did get two pressures, but overall his season did go downhill after a promising start.

Donald Strickland was the only Jet with a sack, which is a bit depressing. He only played for 22 snaps and Isaiah Trufant and Marquice Cole played one and six respectively.

Special Teams

TJ Conley had another solid day where he downed a few punts inside the ten, but then had one really short one that only went about 20 yards, so I continue to be underwhelmed by him. Nick Folk made his last field goal of the year, but will it be his last as a Jet? Folk was 9-for-9 before the bye and 10-for-16 after the bye. I wouldn’t mind, but other than Sebastian Janikowski’s 56-yarder in week three, EVERY FIELD GOAL by a Jets’ opponent this year was good, including several team records and career/season bests. I’ll remind you again, they lost by two on Sunday.

Conclusions

Another year ends in disappointment, as they all do, but we’ll keep blindingly clinging to the hope that one day there will be a year that won’t end that way.

We have all off-season to reflect on how the Jets ended up being an 8-8 team and what they’re going to do going forward, but I’d like to end this last BGA of the season by thanking you for your comments and feedback. I always learn more from researching your BGA Extra questions and comments than I do from the film study itself, so thanks for helping to make this column what it is today – a colossal waste of time!

I can’t believe I made it through the whole season without anyone saying “tl;dr”!

Remember, if there’s anything else you’d like me to comment upon or go into more detail about, let me have your suggestions in the comments and I’ll respond in BGA Extra later in the week.