BGA: Jets at Titans – Part One (Offense)

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 shambolic display in Tennessee, together with detailed analysis of personnel groupings and individual performance.

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

Roll the end credits, this thing’s over.

Someone needs to cut a video of this song spliced with highlights of last night’s game…

Guess it’s over…and to be honest, it’s a relief. We all knew the flaws this team had, some through no fault of their own, others notsomuch. Still, we waited and waited and waited for them to flip the switch and play the way we knew they were capable of and that moment simply never came.

We’ll have all summer to dwell on where the organization’s plans fell apart, but let’s focus on what went wrong last night and put that mess behind us.

Quarterbacks

Mark Sanchez showed a couple of flashes of the player he used to be, but once again failed repeatedly to avoid the kind of back-breaking mistakes that have been holding the Jets back all year. Having tried everything else, they brought back Braylon Edwards in the hopes that having another target he trusts might allow he to make some confidence building throws, get into a rhythm and start making good decisions. While they hooked up a couple of times, the move backfired down the stretch in the moment which could have kept their season alive.

Sanchez apparently said his final interception – on an off-balance throw off his back foot on first down with less than two minutes to go – was a good read, but a bad throw. He was half-right. Here’s what happened:

Jeff Cumberland is wide open, waving his arms calling for the ball at the 20 yard line. A quick toss gets 10, maybe 15 yards. However, Sanchez is too busy staring down Edwards who runs a downfield route on the left side. When he eventually sees Cumberland, he’s still open down by the 15, but Sanchez can’t get the throw off, so he hesitates and then throws it anyway, by which time the safety has had plenty of time to get over and easily pick-off Sanchez’s throw, which was floated because he threw it off his back foot.

It gets worse though…

Having seen Cumberland too late and been unable to get the throw off, Sanchez could easily have flipped a pass over the top to Bilal Powell. Powell was all alone at the 20 yard line, looking back for the ball and the nearest defender was Michael Griffin on the goal line. So that’s another easy 10-15 yards. Remember, there are two minutes to go and it’s FIRST down. The Jets have two timeouts as well, so even settling for a field goal there isn’t the end of the world.

For the second straight week, an announcer claimed that nobody was open as Mark Sanchez took a sack. For the second straight week, the footage displayed on screen as this claim was made belied that claim:

Edwards had beaten his receiver deep on the left side and had a step on him while Sanchez stood in the pocket. Had he thrown it, Edwards soon had a couple of steps on the receiver. At the top of the screen, Mardy Gilyard has separation for an easy first down if the ball had been thrown to his back shoulder. Jeff Cumberland is open on a crossing route if Sanchez can hit him in stride. The only receiver who doesn’t get separation (with one staying in to block) is Jeremy Kerley in the left slot. As has been the case all year, Sanchez was too hesitant, too slow to progress through his reads and lacked the faith in himself to make what should be a routine throw for an NFL quarterback.

Other than that, he had some good passes and some bad passes. He had some instances of good pocket presence and others where he brought pressure on himself. He had some receivers let him down and some bail him out with great catches. None of it matters as much as how defeated he seems to be. You have to imagine that the coaches continue to talk him up in a desperate attempt to try and keep his confidence from disappearing completely, but even Sanchez himself is going to see through comments about him being “excellent at times” following a game like that.

Much will be made of the idea of putting Tim Tebow in for a full series, something that was apparently decided upon before the game. Obviously they’d worked on a package of plays and it needed to be the third series (or the sixth) because I assume the unit that worked on that during the week would have been with Vladimir Ducasse in, not Matt Slauson. With Sanchez making a reasonable start (although let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, he was 5-for-8 for 27 yards), maybe they could have changed the rotation or saved it for later in the game, but the concept of taking the Titans by surprise and maybe getting a scoring drive before they can adjust is not that outrageous in what figured to be a low-scoring affair. It did actually yield a couple of first downs before Tebow’s own limitations prevented it from going any further.

In any case, I don’t think this excuses Sanchez’s performance over the rest of the game one iota. If your psyche is so fragile that you can’t accept the Jets trying something like this for tactical reasons, then you perhaps don’t have what it takes to play quarterback in the NFL.

Tebow – who had already converted on third and short earlier in the game, a situation in which he’s been criminally underused – made one nice run, but was woeful in terms of his blitz recognitions, something we saw evidence of in preseason. He only entered for one play in the second half, botching a handoff on a play where the defense jumped offside.

I assume the Jets feel Greg McElroy isn’t good enough, or ready yet to be an NFL quarterback. While he beat the Cardinals with some good short passes, he really didn’t demonstrate an ability to throw downfield or handle a lot of pressure. However, even if they feel his ceiling is someone who can complete the occasional dump-off, it still doesn’t make sense that he would be inactive, because I’m sure the Jets don’t see Tebow as a viable option either. Again, I think they’re worrying too much about hurting Sanchez’s feelings and this having an adverse effect on his performance. So? If it does, at least you’ve got another option (and “someone who can complete the occasional dump-off” would have been an upgrade over “someone whose confidence has been sapped and is in a major slump”). If it doesn’t, that’s all well and good.

While it’s hard to imagine Sanchez on the team next year, it seems like teams around the league often hang onto quarterbacks for years after everyone else has decided they’ll never make it. Sometimes, the patience even pays off (Alex Smith), or the player goes on to be successful elsewhere (Vinny Testaverde), but more often than not, the player just fades into obscurity. While the coaching staff may have more patience than the fans or media, he’s moving in the wrong direction. However, can’t you see him returning next year, “winning” a camp battle over some rookie that clearly needs a bit of time, getting booed relentlessly, falling apart and then ultimately getting benched for that rookie who enters long before his ready and immediately starts the process of having his own confidence killed? Yup, me too.

Offensive Line

It may seem like Sanchez was under constant pressure. However, the Titans generated less than half as much pressure as they did against the Colts last week and, of the pressure they did generate, only one sack and five pressures were directly attributable to the offensive line getting beaten (mostly Austin Howard).

There was one major breakdown, where both D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Howard got beaten on the outside and Vladimir Ducasse double teamed Nick Mangold’s man and failed to get to a delayed blitzer up the middle. That was the play when Sanchez was hit illegally in the helmet. Howard got beaten for a sack on the last play of the first half (the play where Gruden said there was nobody open), as he initially blocked his man, but allowed him to eventually get inside leverage to collapse the pocket as Sanchez was hesitant. On two other occasions (one sack, one hit) Powell and Lex Hilliard double teamed instead of picking up a delayed blitz, leaving that player unblocked. Again, those could well be attributable to Sanchez not switching the protection. Finally, there was a sack on a play where Konrad Reuland was beaten and Howard had to come over and help him out, leaving him unable to pick up a delayed blitz up the middle.

The line was actually pretty dominant in the running game and you have to wonder if the Jets shot themselves in the foot because they were more concerned with getting Sanchez going than ensuring they won the game, which more running might have helped to achieve. Howard and Brandon Moore led the way as the Jets ran for 91 yards over the right side. They weren’t perfect – there was one play where Howard was supposed to trap up the middle, but Moore got stood up and Howard got stuck on his hip, so a linebacker came up the middle and met the runner in the backfield, but other than that they were pretty dominant. Howard did give up a sack and four pressures, getting called for a hold on one of them, but was still pretty solid over the course of the game.

Mangold hasn’t been his usual consistent self in recent weeks, despite the fact that the line is picking it up as a unit. Part of that might just be that they’re asking him to do more. On one play, he snapped the ball and then pulled around to try and stop a defensive end coming off the edge. An incredibly hard block to make and when he didn’t get there in time, the play was blown up. Then, on the next play, he didn’t get out in front of a screen pass in time and the linebacker side-stepped him to blow the play up again. Mangold did have some solid run blocks as always, but his low snap that ended the game wasn’t the first low snap he made out of the shotgun in the game, which is uncharacteristic and again perhaps a by-product of him being required to make a difficult block after the snap of the ball.

The left side of the line (Ferguson and Slauson) didn’t have as much of an impact in the running game, but Ferguson was only beaten once in pass protection and Slauson kept a clean slate. Backing him up, Ducasse did okay in the running game and just had the one mistake in pass protection as mentioned.

Jason Smith actually made a positive impact with three good edge setting blocks in the first half. However, he undermined this with a costly false start penalty.

Running Backs

The running backs combined for 128 yards on 23 carries – a tremendous output, which makes it all the more head-scratching that they didn’t stick with the run when twice having first down situations inside the 25 with a chance to win the game in the last two minutes. Shonn Greene averaged over five yards per carry and gained 33 yards on four fourth quarter carries, getting at least five yards on each one. Powell also averaged almost five per carry and Joe McKnight sparked the team with a couple of long runs, only to fumble the ball and not see any action after that point.

As good as Powell was, there was maybe one play where he could have had a touchdown. As you can see, Mangold and Ferguson have their blocks sustained on the left side and there’s a vacant lane because Slauson has pulled to the right. Had Powell cut to the left, he probably would have scored. If not, he would at least have got close. Instead, he cut right and gained just half a yard. He’s had a good nose for the end zone in recent weeks, but this was a disappointing miss.

Greene, Powell and Hilliard all had issues in pass protection and the Jets only gained 16 yards on five pass attempts to their backs, nine of which came on a diving first down catch by a tightly-covered Powell.

Hilliard’s run blocking wasn’t bad this week, but he did have a reduced role, with Reuland seeing more action as a lead blocker.

Receivers

It was certainly good to see Edwards back and he looked pretty good, with three first down catches, as well as drawing a first down on a penalty. On one throw, Sanchez threw it to him before he came out of his break and Edwards did well to snag it. Those are the throws Sanchez has been eschewing all season, so this does demonstrate how he has faith in Edwards, but lacks it in some of his other targets. Unfortunately, you cannot afford to lack faith in your other targets, for reasons we’ve already discussed. The way he snared that off-line throw also makes me wonder how much Sanchez’s receivers in 2010 were masking how inaccurate he was by bailing him out on bad throws.

Edwards’ much lauded run blocking was on display in the first series, as he failed to engage Jason McCourty and allowed McCourty to make a stop for no gain on an outside run. I get that the Jets know he has ability, but that’s the sort of thing that happened all the time when he was here before and he should be getting yelled at for it, not having his head coach gush about his ability at press conferences.

There was much better run blocking on show from Chaz Schilens and Clyde Gates. Schilens – who only played 11 snaps and wasn’t targeted – drove the cornerback off the field on Tebow’s outside run and also blocked Akeem Ayers out of a play over the right side in the fourth quarter. Gates blocked his man to the ground on a long run over the left side. He was targeted once.

Rather than opening up the middle for Kerley (although Dustin Keller’s absence can’t have helped), Edwards’ addition to the team led to Kerley getting fewer looks. He made one catch – a spectacular leaping effort on a throw into tight double-coverage for a first down.

Mardy Gilyard was thrown to twice, but one was thrown behind him and went through his hands and the other saw him slip over downfield.

At tight end, Cumberland was targeted nine times and led the team with four catches for 53 yards and a touchdown. It perhaps should have been two touchdowns as he was unable to keep the ball from touching the turf on his diving catch attempt in the end zone, forcing the Jets to settle for an early field goal. Can he be as productive as Keller if given the chance to start? Over the last four games, they’re 11-for-17 on throws to Cumberland, for 173 yards and two touchdowns. That’s 44-692-8TD if you extrapolate it over 16 games. Hmmmm…

Reuland had a very solid game as a lead blocker, only to let himself down with two penalties (a false start and a hold).

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Part 2 will follow later today…