BGA: Jets at Falcons (Part One – Offense)

Bent, TheJetsBlog.com

Welcome to Bent’s Game Analysis, which 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, part one of your breakdown of the Jets’ win over the Falcons with detailed analysis of the offensive players. Join me after the jump as I attempt to cover every angle.

This week’s BGA is going to be two parts, so I’ll be back with the defensive analysis later. For now we’re focusing on the offense.

In last week’s BGA Extra, I cautioned against overreacting to every little thing during the course of the season:

[…] there will be ups and downs all year. One loss doesn’t signify the end of the world, just like every win doesn’t automatically make the Jets a Super Bowl contender.

Yesterday, I saw people talking about the Jets “shocking the world”, when in reality they were facing a struggling Falcons team with a bunch of injuries, especially at linebacker which was supposed to be a major strength.

However, the Falcons obviously have some elite players, of the type that are always going to make big plays and keep the team in games. They have also always been tough at home. In addition, with the four key guys listed as questionable (Roddy White, Asante Samuel, Julio Jones and Paul Worrilow) all suiting up and playing a significant role, the Falcons were not as depleted by injury as seemed likely. Therefore, there was a lot to be impressed with around this win and I don’t want to downplay that.

It’s just that – in some people’s eyes – we seem to have gone from “unstoppable defensive force with big play potential” to “shouldn’t have won those first two game because they’ll get a lower pick” and back to “a lock to contend for the division” in the space of just two weeks. Let’s just take it one game at time, keep an eye on the big picture and enjoy the ride. There are going to continue be ups and downs on both a team and individual level. Isn’t that obvious by now?

It’s time to look at some of the individual performances and how they’re trending…

Quarterbacks

It’s difficult to call this performance by Geno Smith anything less than very good. Even that’s maybe underplaying it. Completing 80% of his passes and throwing three touchdowns was fantastic but, more importantly, he was able to remain turnover free. He also put the concern that he can’t play well on the road to bed.

Smith had just four incomplete passes. Let’s look at each of those because some of them were makeable too, so his numbers could have been even better!

- On the first one, his only incompletion of the first half, he badly overthrew an open Mike Goodson in the flat as the pressure came up the middle. That throw just got away from him as he had to rush it.
– The next one saw Kellen Winslow line up as a fullback on the right side and then leak out to the opposite flat against the grain. The Falcons had this well scouted and a defensive lineman re-routed him upfield and then a linebacker came up to cover him. Due to the misdirection nature of the play, Smith didn’t really have any other options to throw to because he was moving left and they were all on the right side. With pressure descending on him, he tried to squeeze the ball to his late-developing checkdown option underneath and the pass was batted down. Smith almost panicked here, but threw the ball with enough zip that an interception would have been pretty unlikely. A safer throw away would have been the ideal read.
– On the next incompletion, Smith threw deep down the sideline to Jeremy Kerley. He got a lot of air under the ball and the deep safety was able to get across, arriving at the same time as the ball which bounced away incomplete. The key here was that this was the kind of pass Smith might have underthrown in a previous game, but he stood in and got a strong, safe throw off despite being hit just as he released it.
– Finally, he threw behind Jeff Cumberland going over the middle. That was the only play where he threw incomplete despite no pressure. It wasn’t clear whether this was an inaccurate throw or he expected Cumberland to sit down in the middle of the field.

In terms of negatives, there was a couple of sacks that were his fault – one saw him hold the ball for too long and then just run out of bounds and another saw an unblocked rusher come off the blindside. However, if there can be any positives from being sacked, that was on evidence here, as he was hit hard three times and protected the ball well each time.

While Smith played a huge part in getting the Jets into a 27-14 lead in the third quarter, with two of his three touchdown passes coming on great throws and a couple of other big completions, it was his composure at the end of the game that was most impressive. On the final drive, he completed four passes and had a critical first down run with the Jets getting positive yardage on all seven plays to drive from their 20 into field goal range.

Smith has had a couple of games with late game winning drives and another where he threw the game winning touchdown in the fourth quarter, but let’s not forget he also had one game where he failed despite several chances to drive the team down to tie or take the lead in the closing stages and another where the team got blown out because he struggled all day to protect the football.

The next thing he needs to prove is that he can play well for two games in a row. Hopefully that comes next week against the Steelers. He’ll need to avoid getting overconfident and maintain a focus on all the things that were corrected this week.

Offensive Line

With all the focus above on ups and downs, Jets fans can expect more of those from their new starting left guard Brian Winters. With the win, I would imagine he will keep the job for next week, but when the Jets review the film this week, there will be lots of things to work on, both in terms of Winters’ individual assignments but also assimilating him more smoothly into the offense.

In preseason (and bearing in mind, Mike Devlin said this week that Winters was still limited by his ankle injury during preseason), the issue with Winters was that he allowed his man to get off his block too cleanly and too often, which led to a lot of plays being blown up in the backfield. He didn’t do a bad job of limiting those kinds of things, but it did happen a few times, notably when he whiffed completely at the line to give up a sack and he also gave up a couple of pressures on bullrushes. In the running game, he got away with a bad mistake on the last drive, but other than that there weren’t too many negatives – one play saw his man beat him outside to stuff Bilal Powell on 2nd and three at the six yard line on the first drive and another saw his man get off his block to get in on a short yardage stuff.

Perhaps the bigger issue was that he didn’t have much of a positive impact. There were quite a few plays where he did an okay job, but hardly any where he executed his assignment perfectly to take his man out of a play. What did I really like about his performance was how he played to the whistle and finished plays. There were several occasions where his man ended up on the floor, even if that might have come after Winters lost leverage allowing his man to get in the way of the run.

It’s perhaps most interesting to look at some of the marginal plays where he didn’t make a mistake or have a positive impact…or maybe had a little of both:

- On one play, he made a double team block with D’Brickashaw Ferguson, then peeled off that block to another man, who he drove out of the play and down to the ground. However, although he did an excellent job on the second part of that play, the double team block itself wasn’t as effective as you’d like and the defensive player was able to leverage his way into the path of the ball carrier, limiting the gain to 4-5 yards. A better initial block there could have created a big hole.
– There was also a play where Winters executed a cut block but, in doing so, got in Ferguson’s way, leading the run to be blown up because Ferguson didn’t make it to the second level. Timing of blocks can be crucial when zone blocking, because you need to work in unison.
– On another, he failed to sustain his block at the second level and his man got off it to make the stop. However, this was a short yardage play and the runner was able to get the first down thanks to Winters slowing him up just enough.
– There was one play in pass protection where the Jets lined up with Powell and Tommy Bohanon in the backfield and they both chipped the edge rushers on their way out, funneling the pressure to the middle. On a four man rush, Nick Mangold was the free man and when Winters was beaten, he was able to pick him up. Both Mangold and Ferguson worked in tandem with him in pass protection at times.
– On the very last play before the field goal, Winters completely blew his assignment, letting a defensive lineman into the backfield. However, after Powell was able to avoid getting tackled for a loss, Winters was able to pick up a linebacker in the hole, turning him to the outside to give Powell a lane to pick up a couple of crucial yards.

Essentially, there’s a lot of plays where he did an okay job, which could have been much better if he did a perfect job. Right now, he’s not there yet, but given time working with the first unit, perhaps that will come sooner rather than later. When you consider Vladimir Ducasse, who has had multiple plays every game where he makes a positive impact, but in recent weeks has been making more mistakes than Winters did yesterday, it makes for an interesting comparison.

The Jets ran less than 50 plays last night, which contributes to limiting the total amount of mistakes Winters made. While, on balance, it was a negative performance and he was the weak link on the line, there were some signs – mostly on plays that almost worked – that he could grow into the role. To put it into perspective, Ducasse was definitely better over the first two games than Winters was last night. However, in the next two games, two veteran tackles had spotted some weaknesses in his game and used that to exploit him at times. The challenge for Winters now is to continue to work on his own weaknesses and improve in those areas before anyone he faces is able to identify how he can be exploited too. To be fair to Ducasse, he did face a murderer’s row of elite tackles, against whom everyone has been grading out negatively. Winters will need to continue to improve to have a chance of holding his own against a similar caliber of opponent.

Remaining penalty free was perhaps the biggest thing for Winters, though, and that wasn’t just him, but extended to the rest of the offensive line too. In fact, the Jets’ only offensive penalties were a (semi-deliberate) delay of game and two illegal substitutions.

Speaking of the rest of the offensive line, let’s run down how they did briefly.

Ferguson was badly beaten by Osi Umenyiora for a sack, ruining an otherwise flawless day in pass protection. His block down on a linebacker to seal the edge sprung Chris Ivory for the run that set up Smith’s third touchdown pass and he had a couple of good double team blocks with Jeff Cumberland. Ferguson played four snaps on the right side with the Jets going unbalanced line in their wildcat packages. Other than the sack and those plays where he had some chemistry issues with Winters, Ferguson was beaten inside on one run, which got in the way of Willie Colon’s attempted pulling block and was stood up while blocking on a stretch play to the outside, leading the runner to get tackled for a loss.

Austin Howard had perhaps the highlight block of the day when he lit up William Moore following a missed tackle on a screen pass. He was also solid in pass protection, giving up just two pressures – one of which was the play where Smith was flushed from the pocket and ran for key yardage on the last drive.

At right guard, Colon didn’t have a major impact, but had a couple of good run blocks in the first half and only allowed one pressure. He worked particularly well with Mangold on a couple of double team blocks.

Last week, I somehow forgot to include Mangold in my BGA analysis. This week, he was flawless in pass protection and solid in the running game, but did have one low snap (to Powell) and allowed his man to get off his block to get in on a run stop. He hasn’t been consistently dominant as we’ve come to expect from him in the past, but a lot of that is down to the fact that the unit as a whole has yet to settle down.

Finally, Ducasse was just in for one play, as an extra lineman on the Winslow touchdown. For the record, I wasn’t a big fan of that call on third down. With a yard to go, I’d rather see them try to punch it in than rely on what had to be a perfect pass. Also, using Sheldon Richardson in the backfield, while fun, was risky. The Bengals did the same thing with Domata Peko on fourth and one against New England and he jumped offside, forcing them to settle for a field goal.

Running Backs

None of the running backs had a major day statistically, but they all made contributions. As a group, they had 21 touches for 106 yards, which is the kind of results you’d like to get from a running back by committee approach. Of the three, Powell had the most underwhelming stats – averaging just 3.2 yards on 12 carries – but he came up big on the final drive, gaining some tough yards on one run and then avoiding the tackler in the backfield on the penultimate play. He also made a nice open field move to pick up a first down on a screen pass. He did give up a pressure in pass protection, but also made a positive contribution as a blocker, making a cut block that ultimately felled two Falcons on Mike Goodson’s long wildcat run.

For Goodson, it was great to see him making an instant impact to reward the team’s faith in him. He had a first down catch on the opening drive and gained 24-yards on the wildcat run, displaying good burst. Altogether, he averaged over 10 yards on four touches.

Ivory was in for just eight plays as he returned from a hamstring injury. He exploited a big hole on his biggest run of the day, a 19-yard burst up the middle. I’m not sure I want him trying to hurdle defensive backs inside the five yard line though.

At fullback, Bohanon played just 15 snaps and didn’t get any touches this week. Part of that is obviously because the Jets didn’t run that many plays, but it still perhaps signifies his role may decrease with Goodson and Ivory in the fold. He avoided any obvious mistakes as a blocker and led the way well a couple of times.

Receivers

With Santonio Holmes out, Ben Obomanu and Ryan Spadola gone and Clyde Gates, Stephen Hill and Jeremy Kerley all dealing with their own injury issues recently, this was a patchwork receivers unit. However, they came up big, as did they tight ends, with no dropped passes.

Kerley led the way with another good performance. He had five catches to lead the team, including one downfield in the early stages and one on the last drive where he showed great concentration to snag a pass just out in front of him on a slant route. Kerley’s slipperiness was a key factor here, as he twice broke tackles to turn a short pass into a bigger gain. One of these saw him execute a perfect whip route and then break a tackle before diving for the pylon for the second touchdown. The other came on a screen pass.

Hill, back from a concussion, played about two-thirds of the snaps, but wasn’t targeted until the final drive. However, he came up big there, breaking a tackle after making a short catch on the first play, turning it into a 12-yard gain, and then making another nice catch and falling just short of the marker a couple of plays later.

Gates was also not targeted until the final drive, but his three yard catch on a wide receiver screen was not wholly invaluable, moving the ball inside the 30, even though Jon Gruden criticized him for losing his balance.

Newest Jet David Nelson got the start and had two short catches on the opening drive, but was tackled in the open field on a short third down pass, forcing the Jets to settle for a field goal. Michael Campbell did not get any snaps, but did play on special teams.

Cumberland always seems to show up on Monday Night Football and this game was just as memorable. While I said the Jets had no dropped passes, he had a pass hit him right in the chest, which he then flipped up into the air – something he’s done in the past. The Football Gods smiled on the Jets for once though, as the ball pinballed back to him and he was able to make a spectacular diving grab. His other two catches were just as memorable. The first was a touchdown running down the seam, where he was open immediately and the pass was perfectly placed by Smith. The other saw him gain 46 on a slant route, as he showed impressive acceleration to run past the safety downfield.

While Cumberland had those three catches for 79 yards with more than half of the second quarter remaining, that was it for the game as he was targeted just one more time. As I’ve noted, the tight end production from both Cumberland and Kellen Winslow seems to be coming in bunches this year, for whatever reason. Winslow, limited to just 20 snaps (easily a season-low) was only targeted once – on the play where he caught Smith’s third touchdown pass and just about stayed inbounds. Konrad Reuland again did not see any offensive snaps and Zach Sudfeld was inactive.

One last point on Cumberland – he’s been doing better as a blocker over the last few games. He did a good job of sustaining his blocks today and worked well in tandem with Ferguson on some double teams.

Part two will cover the defense. We’ll be posting this later today.