On the offensive line, Brian Winters continues to be the story. This week, the rest of the offensive line played really well, which made Winters’ mistakes all the more glaring than they had been in recent weeks.
Winters ended up on the ground on each of the first three snaps, which can’t have been a good sign. He struggled through an error-strewn first half where he was badly beaten three times in pass protection and blown up three times on running plays that went for a loss. Each of these plays stood out because the rest of the line did their job and his mistake led to the play being unsuccessful (although Smith did complete a pass on one of the three plays where Winters’ man created pressure).
I’d probably go as far as to say that Winters played as poorly in that half as he has all year. However, they stuck with him and in the second half, to his credit, he did make some positive contributions and limited the severity of his mistakes.
While this was going on, though, the rest of the line looked good. Can that have had something to do with the approach the Jets took?
In the Jets’ running game, you can generally break down the majority of the left guard’s assignments between (a) double teaming with one of the guys next to him, (b) zone blocking, often on the move and (c) pulling to the right. However, in this game, they went to a fourth option with regularity. Winters was employed as a second-level blocker, meaning that the other four linemen blocked at the line of scrimmage and Winters ignored the defensive line and went to pick up a linebacker or safety. While they didn’t have much success with this in terms of Winters springing anything with an effective second level block, it did seem to help the cohesiveness of the rest of the line and if Winters ever failed to make his block, that would mean there’s a tackler coming up into the hole rather than breaking into the backfield.
It’s something the Jets did to simplify matters for Vladimir Ducasse when he saw playing time as a rookie. You may recall that Ducasse saw extended playing time at right guard in the final game of his rookie season (a blowout win over the Bills) and graded out really well. That was how Ducasse was employed on that occasion and, although Winters didn’t perform anywhere close to as well as Ducasse did on that occasion, it did seem to have an overall positive effect on the rest of the line and he did make improvements during the second half.
While this isn’t likely to be a permanent fix, because to do it all the time would render the running game too predictable, it does seem like an option they can employ from time to time, which will allow the other linemen to make more of the key blocks and prevent too many of Winters’ mistakes from being too costly.
Nick Mangold was the primary beneficiary of this gameplan, as he had probably his most dominant game of the year, constantly leveraging his man the way he wanted him to go and then turning him away from the primary running lane. He was completely flawless in the first half, although he did miss a couple of blocks early in the second half.
At left tackle, D’Brickashaw Ferguson did miss a few blocks in the running game, but made up for it with four good edge setting blocks. His opposite number, Austin Howard, did let his man get off his block a few times in the running game, but had one good kickout block and another where he drove his man out of the play and to the ground. He also helped shove Chris Ivory into the end zone on his touchdown run.
The right guard, Willie Colon, remained penalty free which is always a cause for celebration. He only made a couple of mistakes all day. Colon turned his man to the outside a couple of times and blocked down to force his man inside on another play as he had a positive impact in the running game. The highlight though (and I might have to make a gif of this) was when he blocked Jack Crawford to the ground and then dived on top of him to keep him down.
Ducasse was in on three plays as an extra tight end next to Ferguson, but let his man get off the block to get in on a stop on one of those plays.
In pass protection, other than Winters, the Jets were solid, with Ferguson, Mangold and Colon all managing to avoid allowing any pressure. Howard was beaten on the outside twice, although one of these plays was when Winters got beaten anyway and his man got there first.
Next up…Chris Ivory keeps churning those legs.