BGA: Jets at Redskins

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 come-from-behind win over the Redskins, including a look at how the run defense coped without Mike DeVito, an insight into the success of the Jets’ pass rush and details of how the pass protection managed to hold up against one of the better pass rushing defenses in the league. 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.

This week’s game really tested the Jets’ mettle and stretched the concept of their playoff readiness to its full extreme. With five minutes to go, the Jets trailed 16-13, but with the season basically on the line, they showed their resolve and closed the game with a 21-3 run, which left everyone wondering why they didn’t play like that from the start.

In all honesty, this is a Redskins team that has already fallen out of contention and once they fell behind, they seemed to crumble without much resistance, so I don’t know if this represents the moment the switch was flipped and the season is suddenly going to turn around or just a win over a team that was ready to fold at the first sign of adversity.

Nevertheless, perhaps the coaching staff can harness the belief that they’ve finally found a magic formula which can be bottled and spur them onto further successes. If they can use this to keep everyone playing with the same focus and relentlessness they did at the end of the game, then it could represent a turning point of sorts.

What’s certain is that the Jets did need to turn things around, after yet another error-strewn performance, where they kept letting the Redskins keep the game close and then even gifted them a late lead. As you’d expect with such an inconsistent team, there were plenty of bright spots as well as there being a lot to be concerned about too.

Quarterback

One major bright spot was the fact that Mark Sanchez didn’t throw a back-breaking interception this week, although there were two occasions where he came pretty close. I got the sense he was being pretty careful with the ball when throwing downfield, perhaps because he was told to. Until his beautifully placed game-winning touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes, he was just one for eight on passes beyond 10 yards.

Again, I did see signs that Sanchez is starting to trust his protection and show more pocket presence, but he still wasn’t very accurate. Although he started 11 of 14, he only completed five of his first 15 passes in the second half and even on some of the ones he completed, the placement of the pass often prevented his receiver from getting any yards after the catch.

However, he once again came up big in the clutch, completing all three passes on the game winning drive, including a well-placed third down pass over the middle to Shonn Greene as he stepped up to avoid pressure. On the game winner, it was interesting to see him use the pump fake. He made excellent use of that earlier in the year, but then started to rely on it too much, as he pump-faked ineffectively on four of his first six interceptions, perhaps assuming it would freeze defenders when it didn’t.

Sanchez again benefited from good pass protection, although he worryingly had a couple of balls batted down at the line of scrimmage again. He also only had one pass dropped this week, although Dustin Keller could perhaps also have been credited with one for being unable to hang on with his diving attempt on third down.

It’s difficult to know what to make of Sanchez at the moment. He’s played better than this in the past, but his numbers are usually not bad and he’s come up with the big plays when it counted most for two straight weeks. It reminds me of a basketball player that shoots badly from the field, but gets to the line enough times to keep his team in the game and then hits a clutch shot near the end.

While I’d rather see the more decisive, confident and in-control Mark Sanchez that we saw earlier in the season and at times last year than this volume scorer with good intangibles, I’ll settle for the latter if it means the Jets win. They need more though, so we must hope that these wins breed confidence…but not over-confidence.

Offensive Line

Having heard all week how the Redskins’ fearsome defensive ends were going to run roughshod over the Jets and their struggling tackles, that threat never really emerged, as the offensive line turned in one of its best performances of the season so far. Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo were held to four pressures between them – they average four each (including multiple sacks).

For once Nick Mangold was not the lynchpin on the line. He had a typically solid display where didn’t allow any pressure and didn’t really make any mistakes, but the other four starters all graded out better than him.

D’Brickashaw Ferguson had a tough matchup in pass protection, as Orakpo lined up on his side on all but six of his snaps. He did get beaten a few times, giving up three pressures and allowing his man to bat down a pass, but generally the protection held up well enough for Sanchez to get rid of the ball. Ferguson’s run blocking was much better, which is positive because he seems to have suffered more than anyone with the line’s slow path to cohesiveness.

On the other side, Wayne Hunter gave up just one pressure and had several good run blocks, although he was up and down overall in the running game. The one dicey moment he had in pass protection saw him almost beaten by an inside move as Sanchez dropped back to pass in the endzone. You may recall the announcers suggesting that this was a possible holding penalty and that would have resulted in a safety. While it did look like a possible hold, my interpretation is that it wouldn’t have been a safety because that penalty would be assessed from the spot of the foul and Hunter released his man before he was in the end zone.

It was the guards who shone this week though. Neither gave up any pressure, both helped out the tackles on the inside at times and both did a good job in the running game. Slauson had the block of the day on a screen pass where he drove one guy back at the second level and then peeled off to make a kickout block on a second player, springing LaDainian Tomlinson for a big gain. However, it was Moore who was the outstanding lineman on the day, especially down the stretch. He showed a variety of skills in terms of drive blocking, pulling to the right for a couple of key blocks, hustling to the second level to take a guy out of the play and getting out in front of a screen to cut his man to the ground. Based on this performance, it looks like his physical condition at the moment is ahead of where it was earlier in the season.

Once again, Vladimir Ducasse snuck onto the field for three plays and you didn’t notice. This is a good thing.

Running Backs

Shonn Greene’s performance wasn’t very eye-catching from a statistical standpoint, although he did score three touchdowns, so congratulations if you’re a Shonn Greene fantasy owner. Despite the non-gaudy numbers, this was exactly what I’ve been wanting to see from Greene, who carried the ball 22 times and started off slowly, but then managed to break a couple of runs against a sufficiently worn-down defense down the stretch. Greene’s first 16 carries netted just 54 yards and a touchdown with only just over one yard per carry after contact, but then he broke nine and 25 yard touchdowns on his last two carries. Greene also caught three passes for 26 yards, including two on the key drive.

Tomlinson had the screen pass I mentioned earlier, then left the game injured. However, he returned later on and ran for five yards on his only carry, off a direct snap. On his other five snaps, he was used for pass protection, although he did get beaten for one pressure. Overall, the Jets left an extra guy in to block about twice as often as last week.

Joe McKnight disappointingly also just touched the ball twice on offense, for just four yards. He also made a bad decision on one of his kickoff returns, leaving the Jets pinned inside the 10.

John Conner continues to be a much more complete player than last year. On one play, he did a great job of picking up the blitz on a rare play where Moore was nearly beaten. He also had two short yardage conversions. However, it’s on his run blocking where he’ll be judged and he continues to improve upon his discouraging good block/bad block ratio from last year. He had one bad missed block and one that he didn’t sustain right at the start of the game, but other than that, carried out his assignments well and created some good holes. PFF currently has him ranked as their 8th best fullback.

Receivers

At half time, the Jets could be pleased with their main receivers, as both Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress had three first down catches each. However, in the second half, they were both shut out until Holmes’ game winner. Also, Dustin Keller was kept in check all day, with just three catches for 12 yards. However, all three of them caught over 50% of the passes thrown their way, so it’s not like they were trying to find them and failing to do so, rather that the Jets just checked down a lot. Sanchez ended up completing passes to ten different players.

For Holmes, it was his fourth game winning touchdown catch inside the last five minutes as a Jet. One of his three other catches was a sweet one-handed effort too. You knew a double-move had a chance of working against the Redskins after DeAngelo Hall basically let slip that they all felt he stared down his intended target quite often. While we’d all like to see him put up bigger numbers, this was another step in the right direction. Unfortunately, his run blocking was less impressive.

Burress made those three catches downfield and then more or less disappeared from the gameplan. Sanchez did try to hit him in the end zone on the opening drive and he did make a catch down close to the goal line, but other than that, he didn’t threaten to add to his team-leading seven touchdowns.

Although the Redskins made a point of keeping a close eye on Keller, throwing a variety of defenders and zone coverages at him, there was one play where the Jets perhaps exploited this. On the big 3rd and four play where Sanchez hit Greene to extend the game-winning drive, the Redskins blitzed a defensive back, dropped a linebacker underneath to cover the middle and DeAngelo Hall, playing right cornerback, passed off his man to the safety behind him and dropped into the flat to cover Keller. However, the Jets crossed the Redskins up by leaving Keller in to block. Sanchez was able to avoid the defensive back and Greene was able to get open pretty easily with just one linebacker covering the whole middle of the field as Hall was left pretty much in no-man’s-land.

Once again, Matthew Mulligan ruined his performance with some big mistakes. He was called for a false start, driven into the quarterback for a pressure and beaten inside on a run that was stuffed. However, he actually had a big impact in the running game, setting the edge well on one run, doing a good job in short yardage situations and having positive blocks on two of Greene’s three touchdown runs. His pass blocking is poor and he keeps getting penalized, but Mulligan’s role in the Jets’ running game has been a positive one. In fact, PFF currently ranks him as the 2nd best run blocking tight end in the whole NFL, so for all his faults it wouldn’t be fair to suggest he never makes a positive contribution. These errors must stop though. In fact, if they do, dare I say he has a chance to be a pretty good find?

Josh Baker was in for a couple of plays, but on one he made a good block on the move. He also had a huge play on special teams, fielding a short kickoff and returning it to near midfield to set up the game-winning drive.

Patrick Turner and Jeremy Kerley, like Mulligan, each caught a short pass. Turner also had a penalty and a missed block on the same play and Kerley had a bad pitch on one Seminole option play, although he did make a good move to pick up a nice gain on another. Of course, he also had the costliest error of the day with his muffed punt, although arguably not putting Jim Leonhard out there from the start was a bigger error.

Defensive Line

There’s no doubt in my mind that the Jets missed Mike DeVito in this one. However, the Jets’ promising crop of youngsters all had their moments filling in for him. The downgrade was reflected on the stat sheet, with Roy Helu Jr. racking up 100 yards on 23 carries. However, the Jets did improve as the game went on, with Helu only gaining 40 yards on his last 14 carries, following an impressive start.

The impact of DeVito’s absence was that Sione Pouha was basically doubled all the time, so he wasn’t able to dominate quite like he has over the last couple of games. However, he did still turn in a great performance and was in on three run stuffs, including one where he stuffed a run for no gain.

Muhammed Wilkerson got off to a difficult start, as he was blocked to the ground on the first series to set up a big run and then missed a tackle on a screen pass, before being blocked out by the tight end on Helu’s touchdown run. However, he bounced back and eventually graded out positively against the run.

Rookie Kenrick Ellis got the start, but he was forced inside on a couple of off-tackle runs and blocked to the ground twice. However, he did show some signs of potential, twice shedding his block to assist on a tackle for a short gain. In fact, on one of these occasions, he was again forced to the inside, but then somehow managed to get off the block and then back around it to prevent the run getting to the edge.

Ropati Pitoitua did another solid but unspectacular job off the bench. He continues to get good penetration, even though he only stuffed one run with good lateral pursuit.

Other than Pouha, the star of the show was Marcus Dixon, who for most of the season has struggled against the run and been given the thankless task of pass rushing nose tackle, usually in a numbers disadvantage. However, I noted that he did do a good job of getting penetration when he filled in for DeVito at the end of last week’s game and this week he continued in that vein. He also stuffed two runs and showed good lateral pursuit skills to assist on another. His biggest play saw him poke the ball loose to set up what should have been the go-ahead field goal.

I also wanted to touch on the pass rushing from these five. Although they were only credited with two pressures between them by PFF, I specifically noticed that they were making a concerted effort to attack their man relentlessly and make them work. Knowing that the Redskins had the solid Trent Williams protecting the blind side, the Jets were obviously determined to try and shake up the offensive line as much as possible to try and create gaps for their edge rushers. I noticed Pouha and Wilkerson in particular battling hard to get off blocks and get to the quarterback and the linemen all had the pocket backpedalling all day. Dixon also half-beat his man to bear down on Grossman at least once. While this won’t show up in the stats, it definitely had an impact in terms of enabling pressure to get to Grossman and speeding up his internal clock when it didn’t.

One positive effect that will show up on the stat sheet is that – despite entering the game with just four pass deflections on the season – the Jets batted two balls down at the line, again one each for Wilkerson and Pouha.

Linebackers

The linebackers deserve a ton of credit for this game, as they had a vital role to play in terms of stopping the run in DeVito’s absence and in coverage.

We’ll start with Bart Scott, whose role seems to change from week to week. This week, the Jets were mostly in 3-4 except on passing downs and he was only on the outside on six of his 41 snaps. So, while he’s been one of the main guys setting the edge and ensuring the Jets don’t lose contain over the past few weeks, this time he was mostly on the inside.

This meant Calvin Pace and Garrett McIntyre were the starters on the outside, although after some early struggles, the Jets went with Jamaal Westerman in place of McIntyre and seemed to improve. McIntyre was not directly at fault for any of the early runs, other than on one play where he almost made a tremendous tackle in the backfield, but the runner slipped free for a short gain. He did somewhat redeem himself on special teams with a couple of good tackles and a forced fumble that rolled out of bounds.

Although he was back to working on the inside, the Jets once again were not using Scott in his patented attack-the-lead-blocker run blitzing role. David Harris was often the guy attacking the line and Scott was in space. As I’ve observed before, the defense seems less effective when they do this and I can’t say whether it’s to keep him fresh – whether that be due to an injury or just wear and tear – or a strategic decision. Again, when he did attack the line, good things tended to happen and he was in on a few run stuffs, although he did get caught inside once. Ironically, it was in coverage – where a perceived deficiency in his abilities seems to have limited his snap count this season – where he shone most brightly, leaping to bat a pass away from Jabar Gaffney on third down and blowing up a screen pass with a big hit in the backfield.

Harris was blocked out of a couple of running plays and caught in traffic on another, but when the Jets were able to keep blockers off him, he stuffed one run for a loss and another for a short gain. He also did a good job in coverage, breaking up a pass over the middle and limiting two completions to short gains.

Pace was the pick of the linebackers with an excellent all-round performance, stuffing three runs, limiting a completion to a short gain and doing a great job as a pass rusher, with three pressures and one QB hit, although there were at least two other occasions where he beat his man to flush Grossman out of the pocket. He rounded out the performance with a key fumble recovery. He did a good job of keeping contain, although there were two occasions where the run was just inside him and he perhaps could have done a better job of getting off his block to make the tackle or standing his ground to force the runner back inside.

In relief of McIntyre, Westerman flashed with a couple of big plays, picking up an unblocked tackle for a loss, then a sack. He later came off the edge unblocked to stuff another run.

Aaron Maybin’s strip sack two plays after Holmes’ touchdown effectively iced the win and capped off a performance where he had five pressures in 35 pass rush attempts. One of these led to Brodney Pool’s interception that was negated by a penalty. Once again, almost all of these pressures came after he was initially blocked, but Grossman held onto the ball and he eventually got off the block to put him under pressure. However, the sack itself was a legitimate inside move.

How important was it to get pressure without blitzing? Well, Rex Grossman was one for 11 for four yards when pressured. When blitzed, however, he was seven for 14 for 64 yards, so you can see that when they blitzed but didn’t get there, they were vulnerable. That’s why the relentless effort of the front three shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Josh Mauga filled in for 12 snaps and made one open field tackle after a pass completion and assisted on a tackle for a short gain. Nick Bellore did not play on defense but, like Mauga, he had a good special teams tackle.

Defensive Backs

Darrelle Revis was back to posting much more Revis-like numbers this week. Targeted five times, he was in good position almost every time, just giving up a 14 yard catch late in the game, as he was playing ten yards off his receiver in a prevent style defense.

Antonio Cromartie had a few missteps in the early stages, including a mix-up with Eric Smith that led to Fred Davis’ 42 yard catch. Smith was playing free safety on the right side and Cromartie was playing right cornerback, as Davis motioned from out wide to the edge of the line, so Cromartie shifted across to pick up Anthony Armstrong who had started off in the slot, but was now the outside receiver on the left now that Davis had moved to his inside. Armstrong ran a go-route and Davis ran a deep out as both Calvin Pace and Davis Harris sat in a shallow zone to pick up a back who dropped into the flat. Although he was the outside guy, Cromartie ran with Armstrong and that meant there was nobody on the outside to pick up Davis, unless Pace or Harris had dropped 30 yards. Smith had Armstrong’s route well covered and was pointing at Cromartie to pick up Davis, but he didn’t get the message until it was too late. Shortly after that, Cromartie gave up another big first down, but then he settled down, breaking up a short pass underneath and getting in good coverage position on a throw to the end zone. He almost returned the onside kick for a touchdown late in the game, too.

The other corners had their ups and downs. Donald Strickland had a penalty to negate an interception, missed a tackle and gave up a first down catch, but also broke up a pass and pressured the quarterback into an intentional grounding penalty. Kyle Wilson was beaten deep on a pass that was fortunately overthrown, missed a tackle and gave up a couple of first downs, but did make a tackle in the backfield and was in good position on a couple of incompletions. In the end, they combined to ice the game when Strickland batted a pass down the middle into the air and Wilson picked it off.

At safety, other than one screen pass where he got blocked out of the play, it was a refreshingly error-free performance from the much maligned Eric Smith, who had six tackles and a fumble recovery. Alongside him, Jim Leonhard did give up one first down, but broke up a pass near the goal line to force the Redskins to settle for a field goal. They both played every snap, as the Jets seem to have abandoned last week’s plan to keep Smith fresh by rotation him in and out for Pool.

On the other hand, Pool played okay this week, so they might want to work him in a bit more after all. He did give up a couple of first downs, but was in tight coverage on a couple of incompletions and did have an interception, although it was negated.

Although none of them played on defense, Marquice Cole, Isaiah Trufant and Tracy Wilson were in the thick of things on specials.

Special Teams

As with Sanchez, it’s difficult to know what to make of Nick Folk right now. He made two long kicks and then missed a shorter one that could have given the team a late lead. He was lights-out earlier in the year, but has been anything but recently. We know he’s streaky, so hopefully this is just a case of him getting some misses out of his system before the playoffs begin. He’d better buck his ideas up from now on, though, otherwise he could be the reason they don’t make it.

TJ Conley had a couple of good punts. He also had one very bad one, that was short and returnable and led to Washington’s go-ahead field goal. However, I’m going to give him a pass on that one, because the snap was high and he did well just to catch it and get the kick away cleanly. That’s a rare blip for the usually reliable Tanner Purdum.

Finally, I’ll say it again, this time in all caps: PLEASE LET LEONHARD RETURN EVERY PUNT FROM NOW ON, GUYS…

Fans

I don’t usually do this, but for a road game, you guys were fantastic. Give yourselves a pat on the back if you were there, because I don’t think the Jets would have won that without you.

Conclusions

Kansas City comes to the Jumbo Slinky next week with the Jets likely to be slightly favored in their efforts to go to 8-5. The Chiefs got a freak touchdown on a Hail Mary pass last week, but they haven’t had much luck other than that. They recently signed Kyle Orton, who came in for one play and promptly got hurt. Orton really struggled against the Jets last year, after entering the game in the form of his life and has never been the same since. The Jets might end up facing Tyler Palko anyway, along with our old friend Thomas Jones, who is averaging 3.1 yards per carry (ahead of just Jason Snelling) and 1.5 yards per carry after contact (dead last in the NFL).

It sounds like an easy win, but the Chiefs haven’t been going down without a fight and we know the Jets have been playing down to the level of their competition – or maybe that’s just the level they’re at too. I remember the game in 2008 where the Jets almost lost to the struggling Chiefs (and Tyler Thigpen), but won on a late Favre-to-Coles touchdown pass. The way things have been going for the Jets, we should perhaps expect a similar game on Sunday. You know what? I’d take it. However, realistically the Jets need to start looking more impressive if they can enter the remainder of the season with any confidence whatsoever.

You know how last week I said “One game at a time”? Yeah. As the kids say: This.

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.