As the Jets struggled to get their running game going, the suggestion is that they came out flat and the offensive line was dominated in the trenches from the outset. In fact, the offensive line started off pretty well and, on balance, were winning the battle upfront for most of the first quarter. The very first play of the game was extremely well blocked as Nick Mangold walled off his man from getting into the backfield, Brian Winters sealed his man to the inside, David Nelson chipped Mario Williams to the inside and D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Jeff Cumberland pulled out in front of Bilal Powell who ran outside for a first down.
As the game went on, the Bills gradually started to wear the Jets down and the balance shifted. Unfortunately, it was the beleaguered rookie left guard Winters that was taken advantage of more often than not.
Winters has made some improvements since being given the starting job following Vladimir Ducasse’s struggles in week three and four. Initially, he wasn’t having any positive impact blocks at all and it was a challenge for him just to carry out his assignment correctly. He’s gradually started to have more positive moments, including in this game, where he made a few good pulling blocks moving to his right. However, the more he plays, the more teams are becoming aware of how best to take advantage of him. Teams know he’s the weak link and that’s bringing the rest of the line down at times.
Experienced players like the constantly-underrated Kyle Williams simply have far superior technique compared to the rookie and are able to gain leverage advantages, overpowering him and throwing him off balance. At times yesterday, Winters was struggling to make it to the end of a play without being knocked over. In the first quarter alone, he ended up on the ground seven times, including on five snaps in a row to end the period.
While sometimes a lineman will end up on the ground by design, perhaps because he was making a cut block, that wasn’t the case on any of these plays, as Winters was routinely removed from the equation when the Jets tried to create running room for their backs. On two plays in the first half, he let his man get off his block to make a stop and on another he allowed penetration deep into the backfield to blow up another run. His costliest mistake saw him beaten for a strip-sack that was a game-changing play because it deepened the Jets’ hole from “10 points and the ball” to 17 in the blink of an eye.
In the second half, Winters seemed to make fewer mistakes, perhaps after receiving some coaching or advice at halftime that helped him. However, the mistakes he did make were almost as costly. First of all, his missed block at the goal line robbed Bilal Powell of what should have been an easy touchdown on a neat shovel pass play. Then on fourth down, his man beat him to the inside and tackled Chris Ivory, who only just managed to break the plane.
While it’s clear he is making incremental improvements in terms of how often he executes his assignment correctly, the fact teams seem to be gameplanning to take advantage of him seems to be outweighing that. It may be too late to go back to Ducasse now, though, because that would just create another setback in terms of the line having to re-develop their chemistry. (For what it’s worth, Ducasse was in for one snap – the Ivory touchdown – and blocked his man off the line well to create that score).
In the lead up to the game, there was some discussion about Howard and Mario Williams renewing their rivalry, but as I noted in the BGA preview, Williams has actually been playing more snaps on the right than in the past. Sure enough, he was on the left side less than 25% of the time and neither Howard or Williams made a direct impact against one another. I wonder if this threw off Howard’s preparation because he was badly beaten twice in pass protection by other players, leading to Geno Smith getting hit twice. He also had a missed block in the running game that led to a tackle in the backfield and twice let his man get off his block to stop a run.
Ferguson, on the other hand, completely neutralized Williams in probably his best performance all season. While the Jets didn’t see much success in the running game, it was his block that sprung Chris Ivory for a 69-yard gain in garbage time too.
Colon actually had a dominant start to the game as a run blocker. However, he gave up a sack on a play where Smith had to step up to avoid an unblocked rusher and was a lot less consistent for the remainder of the game. That was his first sack given up all season. Colon also got called for two penalties, giving him 10 in 10 games for the season.
Finally, Mangold once again didn’t have the impact we’ve been accustomed to seeing over the years. He got stood up a couple of times, lost leverage on his man and allowed him to bottle up a run up the middle and was beaten for a couple of pressures in pass protection. One of those pressures came as Winters blocked nobody and let the guy run right past him, so that seems to have been a communication breakdown and obviously you have to wonder whether such confusion is the main thing limiting Mangold’s impact. He did have some good blocks in the running game, but it’s frustrating to watch because he’s been capable of so much more in the past.
Up next…Fantasy owners might be happy with Chris Ivory, but what about the fans and coaches?