It’s no secret that Jets’ left guard Brian Winters has been struggling since moving into the starting lineup, but the Jets have been doing what they can to make life easier for him. In yesterday’s game, it seemed like they made a concerted effort to reduce the number of plays where his contribution was integral to the success or failure of the play.
They might get him to pull to the right and run the ball over the side he just vacated, roll the quarterback away from his side or get him to block up the middle at the second level, then bounce the run outside. In pass protection, they almost always had Nick Mangold double teaming on his man.
What this does is reduce the number of potentially negative plays and take some of the pressure off him. Then, when they do leave him to his own devices or run a play where he has to make a key block, maybe it has a greater chance of working because it’s unexpected and also perhaps helps Winters to maintain his focus on those particular plays. On the field goal drive that tied the game at 6-6, Winters had perhaps the best two-play sequence of his career so far, driving his man to the inside to help spring Chris Ivory’s 35-yard run off the left side (although D’Brickashaw Ferguson’s punishing edge setting block was the biggest key to this play) and then on the next snap, pulling right to block the defensive end coming off the opposite edge and opening a lane for Bilal Powell to break into the secondary for 15 (as Nick Mangold turned his man to the other side to widen that lane).
While such signs have been few and far between from Winters over the course of the season, it is encouraging. However, you can’t help but feel that the effectiveness of the offense has been compromised as a result.
Needless to say, despite these positive plays, Winters still showed plenty of rawness and did make some mistakes when left to his own devices. Maybe he made fewer mistakes than in most of his other games, but he still got beaten badly for a sack, had a momentum-killing holding penalty and had a handful of other negative plays in the running game and in pass protection. The fact the Jets would go to these lengths to try and do everything they can to develop a young player perhaps speaks volumes about what they think about his potential. I’d need to see more consistent results to make me feel like the offense wouldn’t have been markedly better off with him learning these lessons in the film room and on the practice field instead, though.
Mangold’s performance all year seems to have been affected by having to babysit Winters at times. He just hasn’t been the dominant force you could rely on him to be in previous seasons. In this game, he did a flawless job of helping Winters out in pass protection and did have some excellent blocks to create running lanes or drive his man back in short yardage situations. He let his man get off his block a couple of times, but didn’t allow any penetration.
At right tackle, Austin Howard had a good game as a run blocker, especially in the first half. He drove his man to the ground on one play and had a key outside seal block. In pass protection, Howard did a good job for most of the game, but got beaten on the inside for a pressure and on the outside for a hit late in the game as he appeared to either tire or become demoralized. I was impressed to see him effectively repel a Charles Johnson spin move on one play, giving Smith added time to make a completion.
Ferguson did a good job in pass protection, but had two lapses, one of which came on a key third down and caused Smith to throw incomplete. Earlier in the game, he was beaten outside for a near-sack. Other than those two plays, he was essentially faultless though. In the running game, he had the key block on Ivory’s big run, as noted, and also had one good kickout block.
Willie Colon had pluses and minuses, but I was impressed by how effortlessly he and Howard worked together to pickup a stunt. The Panthers will often put their two best pass rushers (Johnson and Greg Hardy) on the same side in pass rush situations and the right side of the line did a perfect job of passing their man off to one another and then picking up the other player. Colon had one play in pass protection when his man got off his block to generate a pressure and another where he fell over and his man was able to tackle Smith on a third and long scramble.
Finally, Vladimir Ducasse saw some action at right tackle when Howard missed a few snaps after appearing to get poked in the eye. Ducasse also saw action as a jumbo package lineman on a handful of plays and managed to avoid making any mistakes.
Next up…how did the receivers fare against the “weakest link” on defense?