BGA: Jets at Titans – (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’ loss to the Titans 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.

Through three tight, competitive games, I was hoping that they days of having to look for positives in a debacle like yesterday’s game were behind me. Unfortunately, the way the Jets dug themselves into a bigger and bigger hole as the afternoon unfolded was eerily reminiscent of last year.

The 2012 Jets usually didn’t have the firepower to come from behind and while this year’s outfit does have big play capabilities, their best chance of winning is probably to play conservatively and not ask their quarterback to do too much. That still allows for an occasional shot downfield, but when you fall behind and the opposition is able to force you to rely on big plays to get back into the game, that’s a recipe for disaster.

As for the rest of the performance, the Jets may have underestimated the Titans, who have a great pass rush, solid secondary and above average offensive line. There was poor discipline again, both in terms of penalties and missed assignments, and visible frustration from many players all afternoon.

Make no mistake though, it was the turnovers that were the difference between the teams. The Jets had four, not including their fourth down failure, which led directly to 28 points. Remarkably, the Jets actually outgained the Titans on the day, and although that includes plenty of yardage compiled while the Titans were playing a soft zone, the Titans’ yardage includes a late 77-yard touchdown that was kind of a freak play. In essence, while the Titans dominated on the scoreboard all day, it was a series of isolated plays that were the difference between the teams.

The Jets had managed to stay competitive despite losing the turnover battle in their first three games, but you can’t expect that to happen too often. At the moment, it looks like opposing teams can afford to play conservatively and allow the Jets to hand them the game with turnovers and penalties. That has to be fixed.

Quarterbacks

Here’s what I said this week in BGA Extra, when asked about my expectations for Geno Smith following his first three games:

I’ll be looking for consistent development. What I don’t want to see is him making the same mistakes over and over again or regressing in areas where he showed short term improvements.

Unfortunately, what we saw yesterday was the complete opposite. Smith was hesitant, made poor decisions and hurt the team with some mistakes that should have been avoidable.

His stat line actually doesn’t look bad at all: 23-for-34, 289 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. However, he was mostly able to pad his stats in the second half, where he was 15-for-21 for 169 yards and a touchdown – good for a quarterback rating of 111.0.

Smith did make some good throws and also made a play or two with his legs, but it’s the gravity of his mistakes that killed the Jets.

It didn’t help that his top three wide receivers all left the game with injuries and it’s obvious the first interception he threw should have been negated by a penalty for the hit on Stephen Hill, which otherwise might have prevented Smith’s downwards spiral. That doesn’t make it a good throw though and Smith threw too many risky passes over the course of the game, as well as failing to protect the ball on his first fumble. Perhaps the bigger issue, though, was his indecisiveness in the pocket and on screen passes in particular, so I want to focus on that.

In preseason, I praised Smith for his timing and accuracy on screen passes, but that deserted him yesterday and it was extremely costly. Had the following three plays been executed correctly, it would have probably reduced the amount of pressure he was under and opened up more opportunities for downfield throws.

Here’s the first one:

Bilal Powell is already looking back for the ball, so it should already be in the air. Although he’s being flushed from the pocket by Zach Brown, Smith had plenty of time to loft the ball over to Powell, who has a lot of open field ahead of him on the right side. In the end, Smith delays and gets hit near the goal line, only just being able to get rid of the ball which lands at Powell’s feet.

Onto the next one:

On this play, he has pass rushers ascending on him, but Powell is waiting for the ball and Smith should have had time to move laterally and ensure he has an angle to make the throw. This time he hesitates, either because he doesn’t think he can squeeze the throw in there or – to his credit – he might have seen that Willie Colon wasn’t able to sustain his block and therefore Powell is going to get blown up. However, he takes far too long to make up his mind and ends up taking a sack that easily could have been ruled a safety. The correct read would have been either to throw it at Powell’s feet when you see he isn’t open or immediately go to the secondary option of the fullback in the flat – which isn’t really open either, but you could at least throw it out of bounds to at least avoid the loss of yardage. Alternatively, an earlier throw to Powell that he could catch as he looked back for the ball might have enabled him to get past Colon’s man before he got off the block on the topside.

Last but not least:

This might have been the best screen play they had set up all day (including the one that Powell took for a big gain). Yes, Smith has Karl Klug right in his face. However, if he can just loft the ball over the top, Powell is wide open with room to run. As you can see, Colon and Vladimir Ducasse are out in front. Nick Mangold was also able to cleanly seal the linebacker nearest him on the inside. Again, Smith hesitated far too long and we all know the results. As for him trying to go around-the-world on his own goal line, I knew they were bringing in the Pistol this year, but I wasn’t expecting Pete Maravich.

We expected to see Smith have his ups and downs and obviously there were more downs in this one. However, it’s distressing to see him regress in the one area where he looked like the finished article from the start. Clearly, his head was spinning in this game and our fears that he isn’t ready yet could be well founded.

On the other hand, when your other options are a guy about whom your coach says “I think there’s a lot of guys that like Simms … I don’t think there’s any doubt. But to say as our starting quarterback? I don’t see that” and Brady Quinn, it looks like Smith will get more chances. Maybe he’s going to play better at home than on the road. Unfortunately, the Jets are on the road next week.

Offensive Line

Ducasse came in for a lot of criticism following the game and he did give up a handful of pressures in pass protection and got flagged for two more penalties. However, his run blocking was actually pretty good. He made a couple of mistakes at the second level, but definitely contributed positively in terms of driving guys off the line and turning them back to the inside. He also had one excellent pulling lead block to spring Powell for a nice gain. In pass protection, he did let his man get into the backfield a few times, including one play that led to a sack, but a couple of the pressures he did give up were on screen passes where, as we’ve seen, Smith wasn’t getting rid of the ball quickly enough. I also felt that the hold – called on the play where Smith tried to scramble for a first down and lost a fumble – was a weak call, especially when compared to some of the calls the Jets did not get.

There was one play in particular that interested me on the left side of the line. Ducasse manned up with the defensive tackle and turned him to the outside, which should have created a good lane for Powell. However, the defensive end Ropati Pitoitua came underneath to get in on the tackle. After the play, Ferguson was trying to communicate something to Ducasse, which I’d imagine was that he should have passed his man off to Ferguson so that he could pick up Pitoitua himself. If that’s correct, it’s a good example of Ducasse executing his block well, but not recognizing what was going on around him. That would be one of the complications around switching between man and zone blocking schemes. As it happens, a defender in the backfield tripped Powell as he headed for the hole, so it probably wasn’t going to be a successful run anyway. Why it matters, though, is that Ferguson false started on the next play, perhaps distracted by what had just happened and his additional responsibilities in terms of providing guidance to the man on his right shoulder.

Other than that sequence, Ferguson played a pretty solid game for the most part. His man recorded a sack on the play where Ducasse was beaten, but other than that he did a good job of preventing pressure. In the running game, he did have a couple of good second level blocks and set the edge well on one run, but he also got beaten on the inside on a play that was blown up and missed a second level block to allow his man to get in on the stop.

Austin Howard had his hands full with Derrick Morgan, especially in the second half, but overall did a good job of limiting the damage. Morgan – one of the most productive pass rushers in the league last year – beat him on the outside on one play, span to beat him on the inside on another play and hurdled over his attempted cut block on another to record three pressures in the second half. As a run blocker, Howard missed one block in the second half, but had a positive impact overall. His best block saw him drive his man to the inside to set the edge.

Colon had plenty of positive contributions in the running game, especially early on. Late in the first half he was rocked in pass protection, leading to a pressure and had two consecutive plays where he missed with an attempted cut block, but until that point he had been the outstanding player on the line. Colon was also unable to avoid getting flagged once again, although he described the illegal hands to the face call that negated a first down inside the 10 as “a B.S. call” with which I’m not inclined to disagree.

On the whole, while Smith may have seemed like he was under constant pressure, a lot of that came from the backs and tight ends, and from Smith holding the ball for too long, so the offensive line was not wholly to blame.

Running Backs

Powell continues to do a stellar job as the lead back. He had over 50 yards at half time, but only carried the ball five times in the second half. Through four games, he has almost 300 yards on the ground and is well on his way to demolishing his career numbers as a receiver too. He once again broke some tackles, finished runs and made good reads. The only negative he had as a runner was that he almost lost a fumble, but he was ruled down anyway. His best run came after the catch on a screen pass for a 36-yard gain. He had two other short catches, but as noted above, might have missed opportunities for more.

Alex Green served as the backup and only got three touches, including the 4th and one play where he was stuffed for a loss. On that particular play, Green saw Michael Griffin coming up fast from the safety spot and tried to cut back to the inside, but Morgan was right there and was always going to be right there, because he was essentially unblocked by design on the play with the intention being for Green to turn the corner with the defensive end pinching in due to the threat of a full back dive up the middle. Green should still have tried to get to the outside, because that was the only chance the play had of working. He’d have had to break a tackle, but there’s more chance of him breaking Griffin’s tackle on the outside than cutting back between two players, one of whom is a defensive end.

Tommy Bohanon got reps both as a fullback and as a tailback with the Jets a man down due to Chris Ivory’s absence. He picked up 34 yards on seven touches and had one good lead block in the running game. However, he also missed one block at the second level and gave up a sack and a hit in pass protection. He might be the most consistent player the Jets have had at the position since it became evident Tony Richardson was past his prime though.

It’s impossible to predict what kind of a boost Mike Goodson’s return will provide for the running game, the short passing game and on returns. He should hopefully be in shape and very familiar with the playbook after these last four weeks left to his own devices, but it’s not unreasonable to expect that it’s going to take him a while to get back up to speed. I’ve been looking back through the record books to try and identify a running back that has been suspended for four games at the start of the season and then played and the best example I can find is Sammy Morris back in 2006. He carried seven times for seven yards in his first two games back off the suspension list and didn’t make a meaningful contribution until the fourth game (a 44-yard catch). That perhaps doesn’t bode too well for Goodson, especially on a new team that he missed a lot of camp time with, so we should probably temper our expectations.

Receivers

As noted above, the Jets lost Hill, Santonio Holmes and Jeremy Kerley to injuries, leaving them with Clyde Gates, Ben Obomanu and Ryan Spadola. While I don’t mind any of those three guys as the fourth or fifth receiver, moving them up the depth chart would signify a return to the struggles of last year, where the Jets had so many injuries at receiver that guys like Mardy Gilyard and Jason Hill became starters. Hopefully none of those injuries are too serious.

Hill was lost for the game on the second play, when he was lit up by Griffin on a pass intercepted by Alterran Verner. I do wonder if Hill was partially to blame for that interception, by allowing the receiver to maintain inside leverage and jump the route. After Hill’s possible breakout game last week, the last thing he needs is an extended stay on the sidelines.

Holmes was starting to look like his old self last week, so it will be another letdown if he is forced to miss time, especially with Smith needing to continue to build chemistry so he can trust his receivers. The good news is that his injury was a hamstring injury and therefore unconnected to the foot injury which sidelined him for almost a year. Holmes only had one catch on five targets, but it was a spectacular 25-yard diving grab over the middle. There was one other play where he was blatantly held and the officials ignored it.

Kerley is a good player and his four catches for 65 yards led all wideouts. Three of his four catches were tough grabs but he was unable to corral a high pass down at the 15 late in the fourth quarter. That play was another example of how maddening Smith can be because he did well to evade the rush, buying himself plenty of time to make a throw, then made a good downfield read only to throw it too high, off Kerley’s hands.

Of the other three players, Gates had four catches with one negated by a flag. One, on third and long, set up a field goal. Obomanu had one short catch, but also got called for three penalties (one on special teams). Spadola was not targeted. The fact six receivers were active, coupled with the fact that they now have some injury concerns at the position, would suggest that the corresponding move for Goodson’s activation would not be to release one of these players as previously suspected. Could Oday Aboushi be headed to injured reserve, perhaps?

At tight end, Kellen Winslow had actually gone more than two full games without a catch when he finally made his first reception with less than five minutes left in the third quarter. He then proceeded to catch six balls for 73 yards in total over the last 20 minutes. While this was a product of the Titans backing off defensively and Smith finding Winslow underneath, it is good to see them developing some chemistry that could carry over to the next game. In the first half, Winslow had one catch negated by a penalty, was blatantly held on another pass and then got called for a phantom illegal shift penalty when he was clearly set as the ball was snapped. A frustrating day for him, overall.

Jeff Cumberland has also had an extended drought, as he didn’t catch a single pass in the first two and half games of the season, but then made three second half catches last week. In this game, he had just one catch – the nice catch and run for a touchdown on a perfect throw by Smith – plus one other negated by a penalty. Cumberland was also beaten for a pressure that led to a sack. The Jets need to figure out a way to get both of these guys more consistently involved in the offense.

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