The image below sums up the Jets’ approach to pass protection over the past few weeks:
Five men rush, six stay in to block, everyone blocks their man effectively and Brian Winters is the spare man ready to double team if required. On this particular play, the protection was superb. Smith had time to survey his options before hitting the obviously open Kellen Winslow on a crossing route underneath for a first down. What the image doesn’t show is that protection held for 3.5 seconds before Smith – sitting in the cleanest pocket you’re ever likely to see – released the pass to Winslow before any of the pass rushers got off their block or drove their man back into him.
The end result? No sacks and no quarterback hits, as the Jets surrendered just eight pressures all day and Smith threw the ball away safely four times and otherwise completed three of four attempts under pressure. That’s perhaps the best pass protection we’ve seen all season.
However, the image doesn’t tell the full story, because for much of the game, the Jets actually allowed Winters to block one-on-one and he actually acquitted himself pretty well.
For the game as a whole, Winters will still grade out poorly – several runs were (or should have been, but for a missed tackle) blown up because he missed or failed to sustain his block and he was called for a holding penalty on a play where he got beaten on the inside, negating a 10-yard Chris Ivory run. However, he managed to stay in front of his man in pass protection for most of the game, despite getting more one-on-one work that he’s seen in recent games. He was beaten twice on consecutive plays in the second quarter, but otherwise didn’t give up any pressure and did have an encouraging series of run blocks late in the first half, including a couple of extremely effective second level blocks where he not only found a man in space but also blocked him out of the play (by driving him backwards on the first one and turning him away from the runner on the second). That’s the best he’s looked all season.
Winters is still woefully inconsistent, but there are signs here and there that he is developing. Whether he has the potential to be an effective player in his second season remains to be seen, but it’s worth remembering that Matt Slauson was good in his second season and he barely played as a rookie (and presumably would have struggled if he did).
One sign that Winters is developing is the fact that Nick Mangold’s impact over the last month has been much more significant. Mangold has now gone three straight games without giving up a pressure in pass protection and was excellent in the running game, opening up lanes and never getting beaten. He did have one bad snap, but other than that, he looks like he’s back to his old self and the fact he’s not having to watch Winters’ back as often is likely a primary factor.
Willie Colon allowed just one pressure, but had a good impact in the running game where he and Austin Howard had some punishing double team blocks, including one where they drove their man several yards diagonally out of the play, sweeping up a couple of other players in the process to create a huge lane behind them. The two of them are developing really good chemistry and I would hope that bringing back the two would-be free agents is high atop the list of John Idzik’s priorities during the offseason.
Howard had a couple of breakdowns in pass protection, getting beaten inside twice and once on a stunt. However, he’s done enough this year to establish himself as an above average starter, without being so good that he’s going to command a top-level salary. Hopefully, they can get something done before he hits the open market.
D’Brickashaw Ferguson is finishing the season strong too. He gave up just one pressure, when he was beaten by a spin move, but has gone three straight games without surrendering a sack or quarterback hit. In the running game, he had some positive contributions too, including one play where he opened up a huge lane. On one play, his block on the outside was not particularly effective and the run was bottled up, but he peeled off to knock Craig Robertson on his backside with a monstrous pancake block, so at least he’s playing hard to the whistle.
Finally, Vladimir Ducasse was on the field for five snaps, two in relief of Colon who got dinged up and three as an extra tight end.
Next up…the receivers produce and help keep the chains moving all day.