BGA: Patriots at Jets

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.

How do you even begin to write about this game? Fortunately, I have some experience in such matters. Here’s how I handled the BGA after the last time this happened and many of these thoughts apply equally today:

A few of you this week suggested I should take a week off from BGA, because nobody wants to relive Monday night’s debacle. I appreciate the sentiment, but never before has a game warranted a closer look. BGA is here to try and figure out what happened. And that’s the overriding theme of this week. What happened?

Of course, I shall extend you all the same courtesy and give you all the option to skip this. If you just can’t take any more, you are hereby excused. However, I’d recommend you stick around. You might learn a few things about your team. Consider this your black box recording, as we sift through the wreckage of Flight 3-45.

So, here comes this week’s in-depth analysis of the butt-whupping at the hands of the Patriots.

So…here comes THIS week’s in-depth analysis of ANOTHER butt-whupping at the hands of the Patriots. I know you don’t want to re-live it any more than I did, but if you want to know what went wrong and if it can be fixed, I wrote this for you…

A miserably deflating performance ended in a 21-point loss, although the Jets had actually led late in the first half and had a couple of chances to get back into the game after it started slipping away from them in the second half. A frustrating series of mental mistakes at the worst possible times were exploited by the Patriots with the ruthless efficiency we had all hoped was no longer going to be their trademark.

That series of mistakes will be catalogued in full here, along with details of anything they did right – yes, even in a game like this, you can look for some silver linings.

Quarterback

I’d completely agree with anyone that suggests that last night’s gameplan involved too much passing, although it is worth remembering that after the Jets lost 30-21 in Foxboro last month, almost everybody was criticizing them for not attacking the Patriots’ 32nd ranked secondary. Brian Schottenheimer often gets criticized for never attacking a defensive weakness, but yesterday’s gameplan did attempt to spread the Patriots out and, in the process, took the Jets away from what they had been doing well on offense over the past few games.

The major flaw in this plan was that Mark Sanchez still isn’t consistent enough to beat teams like New England if you put the game in his hands. Although he has done so in the past, if you rely on him to beat a well-coached veteran team like that, he’s sometimes going to fall on his face. Ultimately, that’s what the Jets want Sanchez to be – because it would make life easier for everybody – but he once again proved that he isn’t quite ready yet.

There’s no denying Sanchez’s work ethic. In the offseason, we all identified major areas where he needed to improve if he wanted to become consistent enough to develop into the franchise quarterback he sometimes teases flashes of becoming. Despite the lockout, he came back and had improved in all of these areas. Short passing, completion percentage, red zone production and intermediate accuracy were all areas where he made big strides in the early part of the season. I could represent each of these statistically, but if you watched the games, you shouldn’t need me to.

However, for whatever reason, he seems to have regressed in each of these areas over the past month or so. Maybe there simply isn’t enough time to do repetitive drills or additional film study or pull his receivers aside to work with them or whatever it was that he did to make those strides early in the season. Perhaps he was spooked by the amount of pressure he was under and this gave him flashbacks to the Baltimore game and caused him to make bad decisions. Whatever it was, last night, Sanchez had the air of a player with too much on his plate and made too many mistakes.

Looking for short passing? He seemed to rush these passes all day long, firing one too hard at LaDainian Tomlinson that was practically uncatchable, putting another one behind Shonn Green so he had no momentum going forward when he caught the ball and firing another one far too hard at Greene that deflected up off his helmet for an interception.

They converted twice in four trips down to the red zone, so that wasn’t too bad – albeit behind their recent pace. However, he still missed some chances down there. His completion percentage again was barely over 50% whereas most of his games lately had been in the 60% or 70% range – apart from the horror show in Baltimore that was closer to 30%. Even on his intermediate passes, he doesn’t seem to be hitting guys in stride as well as he was.

By far his biggest problem, though, is another area where he had been progressing nicely but now seems to have regressed. Working through his progressions, looking off defenders, not staring down his man and reading defenses were all areas where he was very green as a rookie, but has dramatically improved over the course of his first 40+ starts. However, if you were to look at a [low]light reel of all of his interceptions this year, you’d see the same thing over and over again – he throws to a guy who has a few yards separation from his man and another guy comes off his man to jump the route.

Sanchez MUST do a better job of seeing the whole field, because nearly all of the interceptions he’s thrown have been made by someone other than the person covering his man. His first interception on Sunday was perhaps an unlucky carom, but the second one was practically the same as the one he threw to Sean Lee on opening day. This took the Jets from being in a position where if they could drive for a touchdown like they had the previous time, they’d be within a score with plenty of time left – to being 21 points down.

For all this negativity, he still ended up with a decent-ish statline. Sure, plenty of it came late in the game, but if he played that poorly in seasons past, he’d usually end up with a horrific statline. That’s only happened the once this year and his overall numbers are still trending upwards, even though he is still making what I consider to be correctible mistakes.

It’s good to see his statistical progression and that he has taken on the responsibility of being able to read the defense and audible to another play, which he did successfully on a couple of occasions. However, it still feels like perhaps they need to lighten his load and reign him in a bit, just to ensure these fundamental flaws don’t continue to creep into his game.

Offensive Line

Not helping Sanchez was the fact that he was under a lot of pressure, although a good proportion of it came because he held onto the ball too long and ended up getting pressure from a guy who was initially blocked. While it was distressing to see him under so much pressure, it is worth noting that the Patriots defense had 22 disruptions (including seven QB hits) against the Giants, so they do generate plenty of pressure.

By my count, the Jets gave up slightly less pressure than the Giants, although the Patriots were able to convert much more of their pressure against the Jets into sacks. I can’t comment on how much of the pressure surrendered by the Giants was caused by Manning holding the ball for too long and how much was caused by the Patriots winning matchups, but I would reiterate that Sanchez did bring a lot of this pressure on himself – or you could equally give credit to the coverage, or blame the receivers for not getting separation.

Let’s start in the middle and work our way outwards. Nick Mangold wasn’t responsible for any pressure, although he did get beaten once in pass protection. He got stronger as the game went on in the running game, which was another reason why I wish they’d stuck with the run a bit more in the second half. He had one great second level block ten yards downfield and another where he peeled off his double team to cut off a run blitzer and turn him to create a hole. Mangold continues to play at a consistently high level. If he hadn’t had the injury this could even have been his best season.

At guard, I was extremely encouraged by Brandon Moore’s performance. He took on Vince Wilfork one-on-one several times and got the better of him more often than not. Moore gave up a couple of pressures and didn’t always find a man to block at the second level, but this was definitely one of his better games of the year. Matt Slauson fared less well. He also gave up a couple of pressures and was inconsistent in the running game. He had a couple of good pulling blocks, but otherwise let his man get off his block too easily on too many occasions.

As we move out to the tackle spot, here’s where it starts to get a bit dicey. D’Brickashaw Ferguson had one of his worst games in some time, giving up two sacks, two hits and two pressures. This was easily his worst game of the year in pass protection and he hasn’t allowed three hits on a quarterback in any game since the beginning of the 2008 season, let alone four. Much of this came late in the game, as Andre Carter pretty much just wore him out – the Jets did drop back to pass 50 times. He didn’t have much of an impact in the running game, either.

Finally, Wayne Hunter didn’t have a great game either, although he wasn’t quite as bad as Ferguson. Hunter gave up a hit, a sack and two pressures and also had a penalty, although there were a couple of other times where he was half-beaten and either he recovered, or Sanchez was able to either escape or get a throw off before the pressure arrived. Of course, the same could be said for Ferguson too. He also had more of an impact than Ferguson in the running game, turning his man to the outside on one notable positive block.

The play of both tackles was extremely disconcerting, although, as noted above, some of these pressures came after the man had been initially blocked, so the overall pressure would have been a lot lower if Sanchez had been getting rid of the ball more decisively. Let’s hope this was an aberration, because there’s another big test on the horizon this week.

Neither Vladimir Ducasse or Caleb Schluaderaff got into the game on offense this week.

Running Backs

When the Jets ran the ball, they did so pretty effectively. Greene and Tomlinson combined for 99 rushing yards on 20 carries. It would have been interesting to see what they could have done with another ten carries or so. Tomlinson broke the longest run of the day on a 16-yard draw play.

They racked up those 99 yards without either of them breaking any tackles, but the yards after contact was still a respectable 2.3 between them. In a further sign of Mangold’s solid performance, the Jets were 13-for-72 up the middle and 12-for-38 other than that.

Where the backs did let the Jets down was in the passing game, with their three combined drops. However, as noted above, these weren’t helped by Sanchez’s lack of touch. Tomlinson also gave up a pressure in pass protection. It’s difficult to complain too hard about what either of these guys did, although I would have preferred for them to get a chance to do more.

John Conner had one of his better games as a run blocker. On one of the first plays of the game, he pancaked Andre Carter – making Ferguson’s inability to block him all the more baffling.

Tomlinson hurt himself late in the game, so he might not even be able to go on Thursday. That could mean a first appearance for Bilal Powell, but would also likely been an expanded role for Joe McKnight. McKnight did not feature on offense on Sunday, but that would partly be due to the fact he had an inexcusable muffed punt that ultimately only ended up setting up a field goal after a somewhat fortuitous defensive stand.

Receivers

Without the benefit of the coaches film (which I should see on Wednesday), I can’t really comment in too much depth about how much of the Jets’ passing game inefficiencies were down to the receivers’ inability to get separation. When they did get thrown the ball, they did a good job for the mostpart.

Santonio Holmes had his best statistical performance of the year, catching six passes for 93 yards on just eight targets. One of the incompletions could have been pass interference in the endzone, too.

Jeremy Kerley had a career-best 79 yards on four catches and showed for the first time an ability to get deep and to run after the catch. However, even though it was a high throw, he should have caught a pass that bounced off his fingertips in the endzone late in the game. Also, the fact he hurt his ankle on a punt return caused the Jets to hand duties over to Jim Leonhard and then McKnight, which indirectly led to his costly fumble.

Plaxico Burress only caught three passes on his eight targets, but one was a beautiful diving snag and another was his fourth red zone touchdown in three games. On another throw to the endzone though, his effort was poor, as he merely waited for the ball to come to him and this allowed Kyle Arrington to break it up and almost intercept it. I don’t see why Burress couldn’t attack that ball and high-point it over the top of Arrington, who he’d beaten by a step.

The other wide receiver, Patrick Turner, filled in while Kerley was getting his ankle seen to, and came up with a nice 22-yard catch down the middle, but then left the game with a kidney injury and this forced Kerley back into action.

Dustin Keller’s disappearance from the gameplan was once again a major factor. He caught two passes, for eight and 29 yards, the latter on one of Sanchez’s better throws of the day down the seam. I was watching Keller to see why he wasn’t getting the ball and I came away pretty disappointed by his lack of physicality. On the pick-six, he was knocked off his feet by Tracy White, freeing up Ninkovich to jump the route. On other plays, he just didn’t seem to be cutting or coming back to the ball with any conviction, although perhaps that was later in the game as he was starting to get tired and/or frustrated. Keller was credited with a drop and also appeared to run the wrong route on a play in the first quarter where Sanchez threw deep and he stopped. On another deep ball he had a step on the defender, but the ball was thrown too far beyond him. He also had a fourth down pass broken up by James Ihedigbo.

The other tight end, Matthew Mulligan, again hurt the Jets with a series of costly errors. He was beaten for two sacks, although one of them ended up being a two-yard gain, so won’t go down as a sack officially. He also missed a block on the perimeter, leading to a run being stuffed in the backfield. Presumably as a result, he saw his playing time drop to 19 snaps this week – could that be one of the reasons they shied away from running the ball and went into a lot of spread formations? Josh Baker did not get into the game in his place, but he and Shawn Nelson must feel they deserve a chance to show they can do better.

Defensive Line

After the game, it felt like the defense played terribly. After all, they gave up nearly 400 yards, 30 points (including 24 in the last 31 minutes) and had a bunch of breakdowns. On closer inspection, almost all of the letdowns were in the secondary and most of the front seven (or front four, five or six, as it generally was) played well. Apart from their inability to tackle Tom Brady despite getting to him multiple times, that is.

While the Patriots definitely used their running game to good effect in the fourth quarter, most of that came as they smartly went into the hurry-up while the Jets had passing personnel on the field, so it came against six and seven DB alignments. However, even including this yardage, New England had just 60 yards on 28 carries. Also, 51 of these yards came after contact, so they were getting first contact after 0.3 yards on average. That sums up what a solid job the defensive line did.

This effort was once again anchored by Sione Pouha. Pouha stuffed three runs himself and stood up well at the point of attack to ensure that three others had nowhere to go. Once again, even when double teamed, he didn’t get driven off the line. He was even having a positive impact with his bullrush against the pass. Pouha has been outstanding in recent weeks – can he keep playing at this level, or will he break down like last year?

The return of Mike DeVito certainly made a difference and he strung out a couple of runs to the sideline and stuffed another one. However, it was Muhammed Wilkerson who was probably the second-best defensive lineman on Sunday. He got off to a bit of a slow start and did jump offsides (one play after he had got away with jumping offsides). However, he played particularly well against the run down the stretch, with one tackle for a loss and a couple of other run stuffs. Wilkerson also had a couple of pressures, although he missed a golden opportunity to recover a fumble at the five yard line.

Off the bench, Ropati Pitoitua returned to form with a pretty good game against the run. He got some good penetration, showed great speed to shoot the gap to stuff a run and showed excellent lateral pursuit to stuff another. Marcus Dixon was used mostly in pass rushing situations and did not make much of an impact. He also overpursued one running play. Both Dixon and Pitoitua still need to do a better job of staying on their feet, as both seem to get blocked to the ground more often than the starters do.

Linebackers

Once again the Patriots made a concerted effort to keep Bart Scott on the sideline and it’s a shame they did, because when he was in the game, Scott made a solid impact. This time, he was kept on the sideline for 42 of 70 snaps as the Patriots went to spread packages or moved to the no-huddle while he was out to prevent the Jets from substituting him back in. The versatility of their tight ends enables them to do this. Scott used to be good in coverage and hasn’t really been exposed this year when called upon to cover, so I’m not sure what the deal is. I did note that, on one play, David Harris was much faster to the ball as they both chased a runner over to the sideline, so maybe he has lost a step or is still dealing with an injury. Other than that, Scott looked good. As usual, he didn’t make any mistakes and carried out his assignment to a fault. A couple of times he got penetration into the backfield to redirect a runner, but he also stuffed three runs for short gains, one as he met the runner in the hole, one as he shed a block as the runner approached and one great play where he knocked the lead blocker – Rob Gronkowski – flying and then kind of bounced off him and into the ball carrier. I’d be surprised if Scott doesn’t play a lot on Thursday.

Harris was often the only linebacker in the game, with Calvin Pace, Jamaal Westerman or Aaron Maybin playing DE in some packages, so it’s no surprise he was apparently exhausted towards the end of the game. He played all but one snap. You could see the effects of this, as he overpursued a couple of runs and then got blocked at the point of attack late in the game. Earlier, he’d made a couple of great plays getting out to the sideline to make a stop.

Pace had another decent game setting the edge, again not giving up contain. He also came off the edge unblocked to stop a couple of runs to the opposite side. However, he only had two pressures and overall did not really make much of an impact. It is clear that he has taken over Bryan Thomas’ role on this defense. It’s more of an unsung edge-setting role and he’s no longer the primary pass rusher.

That pass rushing was left to Westerman and Maybin and they both probably should have sacked Brady, but let him slip away. After just playing six snaps last week, Westerman had a hit and two pressures in 27 snaps for his second straight solid game against the Pats. Of course, he also was responsible for the safety, although he won’t officially get credit. Maybin was only in for eight snaps and rushed the QB every time.

Josh Mauga was only in for one snap, but actually recorded a pressure on that play. Overall, the Jets had two hits and nine pressures.

Finally, it was interesting to see Garrett McIntyre get into the game for ten snaps – and not in garbage time, either. McIntyre did look good setting the edge, so could be a good compliment for the pass rushing skills of Maybin and Westerman going forward.

Defensive Backs

Darrelle Revis had mixed fortunes in this one. He only gave up two catches on four targets and was a big reason why Wes Welker was held to 46 yards on six catches. However, he gave up a penalty and the two passes he did give up went for 67 yards, 53 of which came when there was confusion in the secondary and Donald Strickland was late getting over. With three of them covering three Patriots receivers in a bunch formation and Revis initially on Welker, the receivers kind of criss-crossed, so Kyle Wilson passed Chad Johnson off to Revis and Revis reacted a beat late, leading to a long pass from Brady. Revis also had a fumble recovery overturned by the replay booth, but did come up in run support for a superb tackle for a loss on the outside.

With Welker neutralized, the Pats went to their next biggest weapon, Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski has been killing everybody this year – he and Aaron Hernandez average ten catches per game between them – so there’s hardly anyone around that matches up with him. The Jets tried several different people and nobody had much success, but it was Eric Smith who ended up on him the most, to the tune of five catches for three first downs and a touchdown. On one of those plays Pace tried to disrupt Gronkowski at the line, but he did a poor job and this allowed Gronkowski to get a clean release to the outside. On another, Smith covered him well initially, but all three Jets’ pass rushers fell down and so Brady had an eternity to eventually find him as he eventually got a step coming across the field. Other than that, Smith had no real excuses because it was clear he was just physically overmatched. Smith also gave up another two catches for 17 yards, and was targeted on a couple of running plays, but did get a rare hit on Brady. Overall, it was probably Smith’s worst game as a Jets starter, although Gronkowski has been doing that to safeties all year. Would a healthy Brodney Pool have helped? I wonder…

With Pool out, the likes of Marquice Cole, Strickland and Wilson saw a ton of playing time. Emanuel Cook, although he was mentioned as a possible replacement, did not play on defense. This brings us to New England’s third biggest weapon: The coverage breakdown. Other than the earlier mix-up involving Strickland, Wilson and Revis, there were three separate occasions where Wilson was late getting into position and Brady immediately went to a hot read for a first down. He then slipped on the outside, allowing Deion Branch to score. It could all have been so different – he jumped a route early in the game and should have intercepted it…possibly for a touchdown. He did have one good tackle for a loss in the flat, but this was a big step backwards for the emerging Wilson.

Strickland was also picked on, as he was beaten for a touchdown and a couple of first downs. He did break up a pass, but that was seemingly more by luck than judgement. Cole – to his credit – didn’t do a bad job.

Jim Leonhard had a quiet game as (mostly) the deep safety. Again, it was his forced fumble that was (correctly) overturned by the replay booth.

Finally, Antonio Cromartie didn’t have a bad game, all told. He completely lost Johnson for another big catch, which was awful, but other than that, he didn’t get beaten. He had a couple of good tackles and was in good position in coverage on the few targets he did see, although he perhaps should have intercepted one to Branch in the endzone.

Special Teams

I guess I didn’t knock furiously enough on wood last week – my apologies. If Nick Folk misses too many more chip shot field goals, the fans will want to knock furiously on his face. Why is it that our kickers and punters always make inexplicable blunders against the Patriots?

With the Jets turning the ball over three times (and once on downs), TJ Conley wasn’t that busy. He had one kick shanked out of bounds and another horrible one that got a lucky bounce inside the ten. He’s still pretty underwhelming. It’s interesting that he doesn’t hold on field goals.

The kickoff return unit was okay, with McKnight tackled at the 15 on one play, but otherwise doing pretty well. However, the punt return unit was a disaster. First you had Wilson blocking his man in the back to not only draw a flag, but also shove him into Jeremy Kerley, causing an injury. Then you had McKnight’s awful fumble and Strickland’s even more awful attempt to fall on the loose ball.

In kick coverage, Mauga had a decent tackle and Westerman had a missed tackle. Overall, that unit did a good job of holding the Pats in check.

Conclusions

This was a terrible performance. That doesn’t mean they’re a terrible team. A lot of these mistakes were uncharacteristic based on what we’ve seen over the course of the season. Maybe it was the pressure of the big game, maybe they under-estimated the Pats or maybe they started to press once things started to unravel and this led to individual errors. On the other hand, some of the mistakes weren’t uncharacteristic of this team, as the Patriots were able to do a masterful job of isolating mismatches to enable them to attack some things that have been weak points all season long. That comes down to coaching – on both sides of the ball, the Patriots did some things that were unexpected and once Tom Brady gets into a rhythm like that, any team is going to struggle to shut him down.

Naturally, it’s a huge blow to their postseason aspirations, but these Jets (and other teams) have had games just as bad as this in the middle of the season and re-grouped to not only make it, but make some noise once they got there. This was supposed to be the year they found an easier path, but I guess this just means they must revert to Plan B.

The season is not over and I still believe they can beat anyone at any time. They can play much better than they did yesterday, but even with the poor display they still easily could have been in with a chance to snatch the game at the end if a few bounces went their way. Last year’s shellacking by the Patriots may have been a blessing in disguise because it forced them to address some major issues, which eventually made them a much better team. The challenge now is to replicate that process.

On Thursday, the Jets face the Broncos in Denver. The Broncos won on Sunday even though Tim Tebow completed just two passes. However, they ran for 200 yards, which meant he only needed to throw eight times and one of his completions was a long touchdown. Their offensive line is playing superbly and Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller provide a bonafide pass rushing threat. Their option-style packages would present a major challenge to any team, let alone one that has just three days to prepare, so this is a much harder game than it would be in a “normal” week and a tough task for a team that’s only just dragged itself off the proverbial canvas.

Don’t expect an easy win on Thursday, but if the Jets can overcome this hurdle, it will set them up for the rest of the year. Even if they can’t the season won’t be over, but the vultures are circling, so this is as close as you can get to a must-win at this stage of the season.

Remember, if there’s anything else you’d like me to comment upon or go into more detail about, let me have your suggestions in the comments and I’ll respond in BGA Extra later in the week.