BGA: Jets at Titans – Part Two (Defense/ST)
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.
We’re recapping last night’s debacle against the Titans. If you missed part one, go here.
After the jump, we look at he positional analysis for the defense and special teams…
How do we define how well somebody played? Simple. We look at the things they did well and the things they did badly and then we weigh up whether their overall contribution was positive and try to compare that with how well anyone else would have done if put in the same situation. Unfortunately, this can lead to situations where someone does mostly good, but the few mistakes they do make are so costly, it undermines any good they might have done. I guess it could work the other way too. If you play badly but then make the key play that wins your team the game, for example.
It’s the same for the team. Sometimes they play well and lose due to some costly one-off plays. Other times they’ll play badly and get rescued by a big play at the end. This makes my job tricky, because while I want to be as comprehensive as possible, nobody should be focusing on a quietly effective performance that was wrecked by one or two stupid mistakes.
Last night’s game was a great example of this, perhaps the most egregious since the Broncos game last year. The Jets defense gave up two touchdowns, one on a single breakdown and another on a bad series of plays. Other than those two instances, they played well. They made plays, controlled the line of scrimmage and will mostly grade out positively. Those plays, however, were enough to lose them the game, so we should give them special attention.
I’m therefore going to ringfence those and discuss them here. What that means is that most of the positional analysis will be positive, but I’m making the point that those positive contributions don’t matter as much when you allow these things to happen.
I’ve watched the Chris Johnson 94-yard touchdown run about a hundred times to try and figure out how it happened. The Titans had a second down, deep in their territory, trailing 3-0 and probably weren’t going to risk a pass, so if the Jets could stop the run, which they did effectively all day (73 yards on 29 other carries), they’d likely get the ball back in great field position. So how did they manage to let Johnson go untouched up the middle for 94 yards?
It starts up front. Sione Po’uha was two-gapping against former Jets cast-off Kyle DeVan and Mike DeVito was double-teamed by the right guard and right tackle. DeVan managed to get inside leverage so that there was a seam between Po’uha and DeVito.
At the next level, the linebackers have to play the gaps. This is where the major breakdown occurred. David Harris was responsible for the gap to Po’uha’s left. He couldn’t vacate that gap, otherwise Johnson would have taken that seam instead. Then when he tried to get across, he’d been drawn in too close to the line of scrimmage and couldn’t get over Po’uha before Johnson burst though that hole. Not entirely his fault though.
Someone needed to play the gap to Po’uha’s right and that presumably should be Bart Scott. However, Scott hesitates and doesn’t get there in time. His initial step is to the left, as his primary responsibility would be the fullback, Quinn Johnson. Johnson heads right while the rest of the action is to the left. So what does Scott see that causes him not to shift back to his right and stay at home in that central lane?
The image shows the initial problem. LaRon Landry, lined up directly opposite Craig Stevens on the right side of the offensive line has been driven inside and back off the line. At the start of the play, he’d have been in position to bottle up a run in the lane inside Calvin Pace. However, by getting blown off the line, he’s now no longer in position to do that. This forces Scott into a decision at the moment where I’ve frozen the image. If he shifts back to the right, there is a HUGE lane over right tackle and he’s going to get caught inside. The gap up the middle appears to be about to be bottled up. Scott also might not be able to see the handoff and the direction of the run from his position.
This is not to excuse Scott, just to try and understand his thought process. Ordinarily the most disciplined defender they have in the running game, it does seem clear he was forced into a situation where he had to guess one way or the other and guessed wrong. There’s no way he could have backed off and keep his options open though, because that would have just left him trying to tackle Johnson in the open field, which wouldn’t likely have ended well either.
It’s another bad run fit and a sign of the thin line between success and failure. Po’uha lost leverage and DeVito couldn’t get downhill fast enough, so there was a small seam between them, but big enough for Johnson to burst through. With Johnson’s speed, that means he’s accelerating away before anyone else can react and it gets compounded by Landry allowing Stevens to turn him back to the outside and Harris being unable to get over Po’uha.
What the image doesn’t show is Kyle Wilson, who had backed off on the left side, but then saw the same thing Scott did and came up fast on the left to try and close that gaping lane over right tackle. Just as he did that, Johnson burst up the middle and Wilson had overpursued badly, leaving Yeremiah Bell looking like a deer in the headlights downfield. Maybe the Jets thought they recognized something they saw on film and the Titans exploited this by breaking a tendency. Either way, it only takes a couple of blunders like this combined with the explosiveness of a player like Johnson (or Victor Cruz) and suddenly you have almost as many yards on one play as the Jets managed in the entire first half.
The second touchdown, which came immediately after the Jets themselves had finally scored a touchdown, came on a seven play drive. Three of those plays were an incomplete long ball where Locker got nailed as he threw it and two runs that went for a couple of yards each, so even on this drive, the Jets almost batted .500. Of the other four plays, three saw Kyle Wilson targeted three times for first downs as he was too far off his man. That’s an example of the defense as a unit doing its job and one guy letting them down. Finally, Locker ran in the winning score as once again several guys were unable to prevent the play being successful. Muhammad Wilkerson was prevented from getting into the backfield in time to stop the rollout, Quinton Coples was blocked at the point of attack, David Harris was taken out of the play by a slot receiver (on a blatant hold, but whatever), Scott got cut to the ground on the weakside, Bell got driven into the end zone by the left tackle and Ellis Lankster couldn’t get off his block in time downfield.
They looked bad on those few plays, but many of these players actually had good games. The Jets’ formula has been to play disciplined and keep games tight and it barely worked against two bad teams over the last couple of games. Unfortunately, when a team like the 4-9 Titans is making the big plays that win games, it sums up why the Jets formula doesn’t always work. There’s no margin of error and it’s unrealistic to expect no errors. Unfortunately, you’re always going to end up with one error too many.
Let’s look at who at least held up their part of the bargain…
While the Jets lost, some people had already written off their playoff chances. For those people, positive signs that could extend beyond this season and into the near future are much more valuable than a labored 17-14 win which merely prolongs the agony would be. So for those people, the biggest silver lining continues to be the ascent to superstardom of Wilkerson. Wilkerson had two pressures, batted a pass, made two tackles for losses and was in on two other tackles close to the line of scrimmage. He also had a hustle play on third down to force a punt and was only really blocked out of a couple of plays. While PFF grades are not the be-all-and-end-all, it is pretty remarkable to note that his cumulative grade for the whole season is 8th in the entire NFL.
We’re all hoping that Coples is on a similar development curve. Right now, he’s a better pass rusher than Wilkerson was last year, but not as good against the run. That held true last night too, as he had a sack, a hit and a pressure but was blocked out of some running plays. Interestingly, his hit came as he rushed the passer from a standing position (ie rush linebacker on the weakside). I think that could be the solution to the one of the spots that will become open due to the depature of Pace and/or Thomas at the end of the year.
Po’uha continues to be pretty consistent, and is no longer getting driven off the line while still not being quite as dominant as in the past. Last year, that Johnson run probably wouldn’t have happened because he’d have leveraged DeVan into the runner’s path. He did almost get a sack and stuffed a couple of runs in the fourth quarter.
Mike DeVito’s contributions went almost unnoticed. He had a great game, setting the tone with a pressure on Locker’s first throw and then blowing up several plays near the line with penetration while getting in on four himself. There’s an argument to be had that he’s their best pending free agent. If the Jets aren’t sold on Po’uha being able to improve physically, I wonder if they would let him go and give most of his money to DeVito instead.
Finally, Kenrick Ellis is slowly making his way back. He stuffed one run and was tough to move on a few other plays. It’s been obvious he isn’t the same player he was prior to that knee injury, but hopefully this is another guy who will contribute more next season. At the absolute least, he’s a reliable rotational guy.
As usual, Scott and Calvin Pace came in for a lot of criticism after the game and it did seem like Scott erred on that Johnson touchdown. However, both actually played well. This is another example of them clearly doing a good job most of the time, but making costly enough mistakes to undermine their performance and lead to a loss. Pace has had a rough year, but this was definitely one of his better games. He played every snap and had a pressure, two tackles for losses and drew a hold. He also got credit for a sack, although it was a Calvin Pace special, chasing the quarterback out of bounds for a short loss. The only play where he was really at fault was on a rollout play where he chased the quarterback along with Scott instead of staying with his man – Stevens – who caught a dumpoff pass for the first down. Maybe he is better in Bryan Thomas’ role. As for Scott, he also drew a hold and blew up several runs and one screen pass, getting in on the tackle himself on plays close to the line of scrimmage four times. Clearly he’s not the player he once was, but you do have to wonder how much of an effect that has had if Jon Gruden’s claims that he has had to wear shoes 1½ sizes too big are accurate.
Harris also made three stops for short gains, but gave up a couple of big plays on a blown coverage down the middle and a Locker scramble and didn’t generate any pressure when blitzing.
Garrett McIntyre was in on 40 snaps and while he did have a sack and also a tackle in the pocket that ended up being for a short gain, he missed a tackle and was ineffective against the run. The Jets activated Ricky Sapp but elected not to give him any playing time.
The only other linebacker to get any reps was Demario Davis, who was in on eight snaps.
As noted above, Wilson struggled particularly badly this week. Both he and Ellis Lankster were guilty of playing too far off their man on a few catches, but Wilson in particular had a hard time, giving up five for 66. On two other targets, his man dropped the ball and his man made the catch but came down out of bounds with Wilson shoving him out. Wilson did make one good play where he made a solid open field tackle on third down. However, while his tackling has been very good this year, it left a lot to be desired on two of the plays he gave up on the touchdown drive. Lankster just gave up three catches for 24 yards and did make a good play against the run, although the Jets took a penalty instead.
On the other side, Antonio Cromartie gave up a short first down catch on a back shoulder throw to the outside, but that was his only blip all day. He was in good position on four other throws, including one which he broke up and another which he almost intercepted. He also made a good play on a run to the edge. For all the criticisms about the players the Jets are currently overpaying, he’s making his current deal look like a bargain.
At safety, Yeremiah Bell had a sack and did well in coverage, but had a nightmare on the two touchdown runs. Alongside him, LaRon Landry made his presence felt again with some good hitting and again avoided any costly mistakes. He’s looking so much better in the second half of the season, but I still think the Jets would be better served by spending the money it would cost to give him a big money deal some other way.
Antonio Allen got some more reps as a package safety. It’s interesting to note that Josh Bush has only been on the field for one snap since the bye week, but Allen is getting consistent reps over the last few weeks. He and Eric Smith, who was the third safety, didn’t make much of a positive or negative impact.
For once, the special teams unit was a plus. As we veer towards the end of the Mike Westhoff era, it seems his unit turned it on again just in time to be too late to help. Wilkerson blocked a field goal and almost blocked a punt – drawing a holding penalty in the process. Then later, Allen did block a punt – at least I think he got a fingertip to it – and that could have led to the winning score.
In coverage, Lankster was excellent, making two solid downfield tackles and drawing a holding penalty. Robert Malone had a nice punt downed inside the five by Nick Bellore, but also had a couple of poor kicks into the wind. Nick Folk made his only field goal attempt too. Although the Titans punted 10 times, Kerley amassed just seven yards of return yardage. Returning kickoffs, McKnight almost broke two, but was held to 52 yards on two returns.
Looks like we’re into “assessing players for next year” mode for these last two games, starting with McElroy’s first career start on Sunday. It’ll be interesting – and less stressful than the usual late season games with postseason positioning on the line.
Although, strictly speaking, they haven’t been mathematically eliminated yet, have they…?
We’re back to normal service now, so hit me with your BGA questions in the comments section and I will answer them for you in BGA Extra in a few days.