BGA: Jets at Patriots

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 Patriots, together with detailed analysis of personnel groupings and individual performance.

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

Here’s a game the Jets will no doubt look back on with regret. Although they played pretty well, throughout the game there were numerous missed opportunities that ultimately led to their downfall. It’s difficult to take solace from the fact that they for the most part performed well when they blew the game and dropped a game behind the Patriots.

These missed opportunities will be discussed ad nauseum all week. Dropped passes, missed open receivers, coaching decisions and defensive breakdowns will all be scrutinized all over the place and obviously we’ll get into some of these below. It’s perhaps even more interesting to look at the game from the Patriots perspective. They escaped with the win despite gifting the Jets several opportunities with poor play. The bad news is that although they look particularly vulnerable, the Jets failure to take advantage has merely exposed some of their biggest weaknesses and given the coaching staff a chance to make improvements – something they’ve been able to do whenever the Patriots have looked vulnerable in the past.

Unfortunately, that might produce as much of a barrier in terms of being able to catch the Patriots as dropping this game will. With the Jets’ favorable-looking second half schedule and the fact that they’ve played well against some of the supposedly better teams in the AFC, finishing the season with a winning record looks attainable. Making up this game – one they should have had – could prove a step too far though.

Let’s look into how everyone performed:

Quarterbacks

While it was far from perfect, I’d suggest that this was Mark Sanchez’s most complete performance of the year. However, it also featured arguably one of the worst throws of his career. That may have been a turning point for him though.

With the Jets in New England territory, Sanchez looked to hit Stephen Hill on a deep corner pattern to the end zone, but underthrew him by a good ten yards and the ball was easily intercepted. Hill was open, as Dustin Keller ran a route down the seam that drew enough defensive attention to get Hill some separation, but Sanchez threw the pass far too late and obviously rushed it as a result, leading to the underthrow. Compounding the error was the fact that Shonn Greene was all alone in the flat and would have had an easy 20 yards, if not more.

On that play, Sanchez either needed to throw the pass earlier, or pump fake to Greene to bring the defensive back up and enable Hill to come back and grab the underthrown pass. Had he done that, then the fact he underthrew it would have made sense, so it may be that the ball placement wasn’t as far off as it looked and instead his issue was more with failing to read that the defensive back had dropped so far off his responsibility for the man in the flat.

Sanchez’s response, however, was interesting. He immediately began checking down to his running backs, more than he has at any point thus far this season. In fact, it was almost to the point where he was checking the ball down too much – a problem he has had at times in the past. However, they gradually started to throw downfield again more and more and he got into a nice rhythm and ultimately put up some good numbers.

I remember writing many times last year that Sanchez had played poorly in a given game, but ended up with pretty good numbers by being efficient in the red zone and avoiding any huge mistakes. That’s how he played after the interception.

On the whole, he didn’t have too many bad throws. An overthrow off the fingertips of Stephen Hill and a risky screen pass as the pressure was on him a bit too quickly was about as bad as it got. He did have two other overthrows that ended up being caught anyway, by Keller and Jeremy Kerley, but he might have left 10-15 easy yards after the catch on the field on the Keller throw by not hitting him in stride.

His good throws significantly outweighed the bad, with Kerley emerging as a surprise downfield threat and someone with whom Sanchez is developing some chemistry. As hoped, having Keller back looks like it’s going to help his numbers and he hit Keller over the middle several times in key situations, including for his only touchdown of the day.

The one other criticism for Sanchez would have to be that he took two sacks, one after the protection had held up and the other after he rolled out. On the first, Konrad Reuland was all alone for what should have been a walk-in 21-yard touchdown, but Sanchez felt the pressure and then never saw him over the middle. (They did score anyway on that drive). On the other, one play before Nick Folk’s go-ahead field goal, Kerley slipped coming out of his break and Sanchez elected not to risk the throw.

Sanchez needs to build on this performance, but still has plenty of room for improvement.

Once again, Tim Tebow didn’t have much of a role on offense, but did contribute a big third and short conversion this week to set up Shonn Greene’s opening touchdown. There was no Wildcat at all this week, it was all spread option stuff, with Tebow rushing for 12 yards. I’m not sure I agree with the decision to throw it on 3rd and a short two from the three yard line in the third quarter.

Offensive Line

The Jets pass protection continues to hold up pretty well. It’s clear that Austin Howard is the weak link, but they’re scheming around that a lot better than they did with Wayne Hunter last year. To their credit, although Howard gave up a costly half-sack right at the end of the game and did get beaten several times, the Jets have been able to limit the number of times Sanchez has been hit hard. That’s been through a combination of him getting rid of the ball better (except on the two plays referenced above), help coming from other sources and Howard himself doing what he can to recover and prevent the rusher from getting to him cleanly. It also helps that the rest of the line is coping so well. While they still gave up four sacks, there were also a lot of plays where the protection held up superbly and there was a clean pocket for Sanchez.

This week, both starting guards graded out poorly, but in different ways. Brandon Moore actually blocked reasonably well for most of the game, but had two costly penalties and was beaten on the last play, leading to the game ending fumble. Matt Slauson had some terrific blocks in the running game, but struggled badly down the stretch. He also had one major breakdown when he allowed Vince Wilfork to blow up a play that ended up in a safety.

The backup at guard, Vladimir Ducasse, continues to get every third series at left guard and was on the field for the 92-yard drive in the fourth quarter to tie the game. His 31 total snap count was a season high. He had some good blocks in the running game and didn’t surrender any pressures, although he did get driven back on a few bullrushes in pass protection, notably by Vince Wilfork. On the other hand, the fact he is even trusted to block Wilfork one-on-one is a sign of how far he’s come.

As usual, Wilfork mostly had his hands full with Nick Mangold, but the Patriots wisely moved him around to try and avoid that matchup where they could. Mangold stood out once again, only letting his man get off his block to make a tackle once all day in the running game. His man did pick up a sack on one play, but that was after Sanchez had to step up to avoid pressure off both edges.

Other than that play, D’Brickashaw Ferguson once again did an excellent job of keeping his man in front of him. I was convinced that a return to form from Ferguson would have more of a positive effect than a minor improvement at the right tackle position and that seems to be what is happening so far. For the second straight game, he looked good as a run blocker too, blocking down superbly on Greene’s touchdown run and setting up a big gain with a good kickout block on Chandler Jones.

Despite his struggles in pass protection, Howard performed well in the running game too. He had a good trap block going up the middle, an excellent short yardage block where he drove his guy to the ground and some good drive blocking. However, his most impressive block all day saw he pull to the left to get to Vince Wilfork’s right shoulder and make a reach block to turn him back in the opposite direction. That kind of athleticism opens up all sorts of possibilities for breaking some big runs.

Jason Smith made his biggest impact so far, lining up at fullback to clear a path for Greene’s opening score and on one other occasion. He also had to fill in at right tackle for one play when Howard was hurt. In total, he was in for 18 snaps, 14 of them runs. They ran the ball less than one-third of the time when he wasn’t in the game.

Running Backs

After his breakout game last week, Greene’s numbers were a little disappointing, averaging just over three yards per carry and, of course, losing two fumbles (although the Jets got one of them back). However, if you factor in receiving yardage, Greene gained 88 yards on 22 touches, which isn’t too bad against a pretty solid Patriots front seven. He did have a bad dropped pass, but also made one tough catch. As a runner, he did get in the end zone and there were a couple of runs where he made a good read, so it looks as though the game is starting to slow down for him in that respect.

As a group – with seven different players carrying the ball at least once – the Jets managed to rack up just over 100 yards on 33 carries, so although it’s a low average, they were keeping the clock moving and wearing the defense down. When you couple that with one of Sanchez’s better performances, that’s an acceptable statistical outlay.

I don’t believe Joe McKnight was expected to do anything other than return kicks, but he was needed when Greene was dinged up in the second half. He did show nice burst on a 13 yard cutback run, but his other six carries netted just 10 yards.

Jonathan Grimes didn’t have to wait very long for his “Welcome to the NFL” moment. On his very first NFL snap late in the second quarter, he was called upon to pass protect and got absolutely trucked by Donta’ Hightower. To his credit, he stayed in and caught a short pass on the next play, but only saw two more snaps (with one carry for one yard) in the second half.

Lex Hilliard had an eventful day and contributed on offense with a first down run and a third down conversion as a receiver. As a run blocker, he was inconsistent, letting his man get off his block to stuff a play four times, but his versatility came in handy with Greene hurt as he was able to fill in as a pass blocker.

Receivers

It was a breakout game for Kerley, who caught seven passes for 120 yards. Six of these went for first downs and five of them were caught more than 10 yards downfield. He did drop one and there was another that was deflected off his hands, but his ability to get downfield and make plays is extremely exciting.

With just two catches entering the game, it was a breakout performance for Keller too. He was targeted seven times, catching all of them, so you can already begin to see what he might be able to do for Sanchez’s numbers. He ended up with 93 yards and did a particularly impressive job on a third down play where he chipped the pass rusher on the blindside, then ran across the field to make a catch in the flat and broke a tackle to get to the marker. He did have a couple of missed blocks, notably on Kerley’s failed end-around, but wasn’t too bad in the running game overall.

Stephen Hill actually had an extremely encouraging performance until he made a terrible third down drop in the red zone late in the game. He continues to get open and – until that drop, which was poor concentration – was catching passes. He caught four for 55 yards and other than his red zone drop, his only other targets were the high throw down the seam off his fingertips and the badly underthrown interception.

With Clyde Gates inactive, the other two receivers – Chaz Schilens and Jason Hill – failed to catch a pass between them. Hill did have one good block where he put Tavon Wilson on his back and did draw a holding penalty for a key first down. The normally sure-handed Schilens had a drop and was targeted on two key third and short plays where he couldn’t make the catch with a defensive back draped all over him.

Jeff Cumberland had a short catch early on but then got hurt and did not return. Reuland, who barely played last week, had one short catch on third and long and false started once. You could perhaps say that he should have broken across the middle sooner on the play where Sanchez failed to see him wide open. How he managed to recover Greene’s fumble from 40 yards away is a mystery, but he definitely deserves credit for that.

Defensive Line

New England managed to rack up 131 yards on the ground at just over 4 yards per carry. However, the Jets had pass defense personnel in the game most of the time, whereas New England would have been in their base defense. The Jets’ tackling at the second level and downfield was better than it has been in certain other games, as the longest run they gave up was 16 yards. The Jets also generated more pressure than usual from their defensive line, with Quinton Coples, Mike DeVito and Muhammad Wilkerson combining for eight pressures.

DeVito got double-teamed a lot at nose tackle, but managed to hold his ground most of the time and got in on several tackles at or near the line of scrimmage. Wilkerson jumped offsides and was blocked to the inside on one run, but otherwise was pretty flawless, racking up three pressures and getting in on four plays close to the line. He also showed great hustle to chase down a screen pass and tackle the receiver 16 yards downfield on 3rd and 20. Coples was eaten up on a couple of runs, but made some plays in the running game and had four pressures, including one that led to a David Harris sack.

Daniel Muir was the primary backup again, but did get handled on a couple of running plays. His best moment saw him draw a holding penalty. He didn’t do too badly, but the Jets depth will get a boost when Po’uha and/or Ellis return. Damon Harrison was in on just five plays – three with the goal line package as the Patriots had a run stuffed, threw an incompletion on a fade pass and then hit Rob Gronkowski for a touchdown. On the other two plays he was in, the Jets gave up their longest run of the day (16 yards) and then eight yards, as he an Muir were both turned aside leaving a big lane up the middle.

Linebackers

The big story in the front seven (six, actually) was that rookie Demario Davis started alongside Harris with Bart Scott playing just nine snaps in relief. The announcers attributed it to the fact that Scott has been dealing with a toe issue (which may well be the case), but I’d imagine it was more of a matchup issue, with the Jets almost exclusively operating out of their nickel package and wanting to counter the Patriots dual-threat tight ends. I’d imagine Scott’s reps would go back up again once they are playing against a team where they are primarily in base.

Davis flashed a couple of times, blowing up one run and getting some pressure on Brady, but he was still a step slow to react on a couple of runs and short passes – which was an issue in preseason – and they picked on him a little in zone coverage (4-41 on four targets), including two big ones in overtime. He also missed two tackles. However, it was encouraging to see him attacking the lead blocker the same way Scott does when he’s at his best. On one play in particular, he cleared a path and Harris made the tackle for a short gain right behind him. That’s the way it’s supposed to work – and it bodes well for next season, where Davis will be expected to take over the starting role.

Other than his sack, Harris had a statistically productive day, although he was also targeted in coverage a few times and blocked out of a few running plays. He also had an early missed tackle.

On the outside, Calvin Pace had four pressures and played pretty well against the run but had a nightmare in coverage, as he was targeted five times and all five resulted in catches (for 33 yards and a touchdown). He is very slow to change direction and the Patriots obviously know this, as they capitalized on this by running whip routes in behind him and criss-crossing routes when he was in zone coverage to get him moving towards the middle before he had to pursue to the outside.

Of the backups, Bryan Thomas played 20 snaps and had no impact whatsoever. Aaron Maybin had almost as many and did register two more pressures, but also got forced inside on one running play. Garrett McIntyre was just in for two snaps and then there’s Scott who was in coverage on seven of his nine snaps (not targeted) and had a tackle for a loss down by the goal line.

Defensive Backs

Although the Davis move was a big deal, the most unexpected thing we heard all week was that Isaiah Trufant would start at slot corner and be mostly charged with covering Wes Welker. Trufant has been overwhelmed physically whenever he’s tried to cover anyone man-to-man in the NFL, but maybe Welker – being smaller in stature – was a guy he could live with. As it happens, the Jets were primarily in zone coverage, so Trufant’s role extended to sticking close to him to try and take away the short-intermediate routes. He didn’t fare too badly in this role, although his lack of size did hurt him on a couple of quick screens to his side and in the running game. Still, he did come up in run support to make some plays and made a tackle for a loss on consecutive screen passes in the fourth quarter. It looks like Trufant has shown there is a role for him within this system against certain opponents, but the fact he can be picked on remains a concern.

Other than the continued solid play of Antonio Cromartie, the big story on defense was Antonio Allen. Allen was only in on 13 snaps, mostly in the dime package, but was a central figure in the Patriots comeback, as their game tying field goal drive saw them target him on three consecutive plays for 47 yards, moving them into field goal range.

The play where Cromartie stripped the ball loose only to have it overturned by the replay booth was reminiscent of last year’s game where the Jets had scored late in the first half to make the game close only for the Patriots to get the ball in the red zone and then have a fumble overturned by the replay booth enabling them to make it a two score game. Each time, the Jets were able to fight back – this time even going in front late before ultimately falling short.

Cromartie gave up just one catch all day – on a zone coverage where either Trufant or Landry may have had partial responsibility – and broke up two passes, including one he probably should have picked off. In my opinion, right now, he’s fighting with Wilkerson for Team Defensive MVP honors.

Kyle Wilson, on the other hand, got beaten for a couple of costly first downs and was penalized twice. The first flag was a good call, but the other – on third down in overtime – was a terrible call, as Aaron Hernandez was literally holding him off. Exactly the same thing happened a few moments later and the officials called nothing. He did have good coverage on a couple of plays, but hasn’t been consistent enough to be considered to be playing at a starter-level so far.

Yeremiah Bell had a pretty good game in coverage, although a healthy Hernandez might have hauled in a touchdown pass over him on the fade route on the play before Gronkowski’s score. In the running game, he did miss one tackle, but came up and made a few plays. Alongside him, LaRon Landry started off poorly, getting targeted on some first downs and beaten for a touchdown. However, he got better as the game went on, with some excellent run support and open field tackling leading to a team-high 13 tackles and only one missed tackle.

Finally, Ellis Lankster was in for just two snaps and Josh Bush did not play on defense.

Special Teams

As was the case several times last year, the Jets had a costly special teams breakdown in a close game. Devin McCourty’s touchdown turned a to-that-point-disciplined Jets performance into a potential over-by-halftime blowout. Luckily, they were able to regroup and make a game of it (not that this makes the outcome any easier to stomach). On the play, Davis inexplicably vacated his perimeter lane, as Allen and Trufant each also went to the inside, almost as though they’d misread which player had the ball or something. McCourty easily cut back past a despairing dive by McIntyre and blew by Nick Folk in the open field.

That play was extremely uncharacteristic for the coverage unit, which played well the rest of the time with Davis, Hilliard and debutant Marcus Dowtin all making good stops. Hilliard also forced the fumble which Allen recovered and had seemingly put the Jets in a position to win. It was otherwise a rough day for Allen, whose face mask penalty on a New England punt in the first half gifted them a first down.

In the kicking game, Folk went 4-for-4 with all of them pressure-filled kicks and remains perfect on the year. Robert Malone boomed every one of his punts this week, but again put one in the end zone.

In the return game, McKnight had three great kickoff returns, although one was negated by a penalty. However, he made a bad decision to run it out in overtime, forcing the Jets to start from their 15. Kerley had one spectacular runback, where he broke four tackles and made another guy miss later on, but his decision making inside the 10 was poor as he fielded a couple of kicks he should have left alone.

Conclusions

Frustration and disappointment rules the day after yesterday’s anti-climatic conclusion. In an AFC where every team seems to have some serious flaws, the Jets didn’t do a good enough job of masking their own or capitalizing on those of their opponent yesterday.

However, three weeks ago this was a team which was being called the worst in the NFL, likely to lose every game the rest of the way and completely devoid of any talent. Jets fans should be able to admit they may have overreacted at that point and that the team should be able to focus on getting back to winning ways next week rather than overreacting again to a result which, while super-annoying, represents just their first divisional loss of the year. The season is salvageable, but they must take a step forward: Heroic failures, moral victories and loveable losers aren’t going to cut it, especially when there are very few teams stepping up to declare themselves as the class of the AFC.

Next up, Miami again. The Jets seem to be playing better than they were when the teams met in Week 3 and will benefit from the home-field advantage. However, losing to the Pats has turned this into a real must-win game heading to the bye, so the pressure will be high.

Unfortunately, I still won’t be around much this week, but things are looking up and I’d like to thank all of you for your kind words of support. There will be a BGA Extra later this week, so feel free to leave your questions and requests in the comments.