BGA: Patriots at Jets

Bent , TheJetsBlog.com

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.

Coming up, your breakdown of yesterday’s loss over the Patriots, together with detailed analysis of personnel groupings and individual performance.

Join me after the jump as I attempt to cover every angle.

Last week, I opened by saying how refreshing it was to be able to write a story with a different outcome. However, I expressed concern in my conclusion that would prove prophetic:

While this was an encouraging win for the Jets, I’m not yet convinced that this is a sign that they’re about to turn their season around. In truth, this performance wasn’t all that different from how the Jets played over the last two weeks in two games they ended up getting blown out in. What was different was that they finished drives, got a few lucky breaks and made some key plays at the right time. That meant they had the lead in the second half and were able to close the game out instead of chasing the game.

I’m sorry to say that this could indicate that this Jets team has a very fragile psyche and that they perhaps suffer from a tendency to let things get to them when not everything is going their way. That can have a negative affect on things like body language, motivation, effort and confidence.

…and there it was for all to see last night. A couple of bad bounces turned the game into a blowout, which – despite the final scoreline – was arguably even more humiliating than the 45-3 defeat to the same team two years ago. If those bounces had also gone against them in the Rams game – Wilson’s muff, the flag on the kick return, the blocked field goal staying inbounds – then the Jets would be staring at their fourth blowout win in a row since the bye week. Chew on that.

A few weeks ago, I said this Jets team was easy to beat and suggested there were a number of things teams could do when facing the Jets that would almost certainly lead to enough costly breakdowns to win them the game. While I stopped short of listing those things out, I did say that most teams were probably prepared enough to identify and exploit these things. Suffice it to say, the Patriots did most of these things last night.

This was one of those games that spiralled out of control, more dramatically than ever before, although the Jets were able to somewhat steady the ship in the second half. When they went 14-0 down, I said to my friend that they could easily lose by 60 and when they were 35-0 a quarter of an hour later, that looked inevitable. They actually won the second half 16-14, but it’s difficult to give anyone credit for that. Although the Patriots didn’t really take their foot off the gas from a strategic standpoint, you wouldn’t expect everyone to continue playing hard when the game is out of hand like that – as the Jets themselves showed in the first game of the year (although it feels like decades ago).

As a result, any scientific review of each player’s performance is going to lead to some players not grading out too badly because many Jets had as many good plays as bad. However, all the bad plays came at the worst times – either in the red zone or in a situation where a mistake would lead to a huge play.

The perfect example is LaRon Landry. Let’s take a look at his performance. He had two tackles in the backfield, two pass breakups and a big hit to force a fumble. However, he also got burned over the top for a 56-yard touchdown, had an awful missed tackle in the flat on third down in the red zone and would have been beaten for a second touchdown were it not for an offensive pass interference call that you wouldn’t normally expect to get against the Patriots. On balance, he’ll probably grade out positively. However, ultimately, a pass breakup or a tackle for a loss is worthless if someone else gives up a 56-yard touchdown or fails to stop his man on third down immediately after. Landry has ability, but makes too many costly mistakes. In a way, that sums up this team as a whole.

Let’s look at the rest of those individual performances:

Quarterbacks

Mark Sanchez is another great example of the LaRon Landry Problem. He had good numbers last night and most of the throws he made were good. Yes, he racked up a lot of those numbers after the game was decided, but he did throw the ball well early in the game too. However, two BIG mistakes undermined everything else he was able to achieve.

After driving the Jets into the red zone, he fell badly into a trap coverage. Yes, he was under pressure on this play – Matt Slauson got beaten by Kyle Love – but he still thought he had Jeremy Kerley open, when there was a defensive back sitting on that route the whole time. I would suggest that the predictable nature of the playcalling played a role there too, but then again, they are going to call plays which Sanchez is most comfortable with, so his limitations are a factor in this too. This was a poor read by Sanchez and something I identified that he needed to fix after the second game of the 2011 season. 25 games later, this is still happening and on this occasion prevented the Jets from taking a lead which might have given them something to build upon and led to a totally different outcome.

In the second quarter, he forgot what he was doing, ran full steam into the back of Brandon Moore and lost a fumble which was returned for another back-breaking score. The game was basically over there and then, whereas a confident scoring drive at that point would have kept the Jets in it. You don’t forget what you’re doing like that unless you’re pretty rattled. I agree with Sanchez that the outcome of the play was extremely unlucky and that taking the snap and sliding back to the line of scrimmage in that situation was probably the smart thing to do, but Bassett’s correct that it sums the season up that he couldn’t even do that right.

These two plays are bigger in terms of their impact on the final score than the rest of his pluses and minuses put together, so we don’t even need to analyze those, although for the second straight week, he showed that he can actually be productive with this supporting cast so I don’t think it’s fair to use them as an excuse for him. Now, if only he could cut out the mistakes, too.

As for Tim Tebow being active with two broken ribs and Greg McElroy being inactive, I can understand why they did that – to try not to tip their hand, in hopes that the Patriots would have spent a lot of time worrying about whether the Jets were going to bring out any special wrinkles (which, as I said last week, might have been something they were planning on doing in this game). However, if Sanchez had not got up after getting hit in the fourth quarter, you have to wonder what they would have done.

As for Tebow, they bulked him up in the offseason so that he could handle a decent workload without breaking down like he did at the end of last year. As a result, he seems to have lost some quickness and it hasn’t helped him to remain healthy despite the fact that his workload has been a lot lighter than expected.

I was also going to rant about the Jets being terrible in short yardage situations when they have a guy who I believe is one of the best short yardage runners in the NFL on the sidelines, but in light of the news about his injury, I’ll let that one go.

Offensive Line

Once again, the pass protection was pretty good by the Jets. Sanchez was sacked twice, both by unblocked blitzing linebackers. On one of these plays Dont’a Hightower was deliberately left unblocked but wasn’t fooled on a play action bootleg. On the other, it looked like Nick Mangold was at fault because it was a five on five rush and he double-teamed the player to his right, letting Jerod Mayo go unblocked up the middle. Other than that, Sanchez wasn’t under pressure very often and, as much as I’ve criticized him, does seem to be getting rid of the ball more efficiently in recent weeks.

Austin Howard got beaten or half-beaten a handful of times, but only a couple of these resulted in pressure. D’Brickashaw Ferguson was once again almost flawless in pass protection – his man did hit Sanchez in the fourth quarter, but that was because Sanchez had to step up to avoid pressure coming up the middle. Brandon Moore and Slauson gave up a pressure each and Vladimir Ducasse gave up two.

They had a slightly different rotation for Ducasse this week. He didn’t play at all in the first half, but entered the game on the second possession of the second half at left guard (as the Jets drove down to the one and then failed to punch it in). The starters returned for the next series, but then Ducasse replaced Moore at right guard for the rest of the game, including one of the touchdown drives. He still ended up with a similar amount of reps as he would usually get, but he did not respond too well to the changes. He did have a couple of good run blocks, but also let his man get past him to stuff a run and, while it wasn’t directly his fault, it was disappointing to see the Jets failed to convert with first and goal at the three with him in there.

In the running game, the Jets had some pretty good success, racking up 119 yards at over four yards per carry, including four plays gaining 10 or more yards. Moore was the focal point of several of those runs and also did some good work in short yardage situations. He had his hands full with Vince Wilfork, but I thought Cris Collingsworth (who I rate highly as an analyst) went overboard on the play where Sanchez fumbled. Yes, Wilfork stood Moore up and deserves credit for that, but Moore had actually driven him a couple of yards off the line before he anchored himself and Wilfork didn’t “throw Moore into Sanchez” as Collingsworth described it, Sanchez just ran into his back and then Moore tripped over him and fell backwards. Howard was also beaten a few times by Wilfork, but did have some good run blocks early on. Slauson and Ferguson had less of an impact, but also made fewer mistakes in the running game.

Mangold found himself hardly ever matched up with Wilfork, as the Patriots wisely kept Wilfork out of a matchup he usually loses. Instead the Jets gave Mangold some tough assignments, often getting him to double down on one of the guard’s men and then peeling off to make a second level block. He did well on a couple of these, but also let his man get off the block a couple of times. He also fell to the floor after making his initial block on the fourth and one play where Brandon Spikes was able to come up the middle and blow it up.

Jason Smith was only in for eight snaps, a season low.

Running Backs

After last week having 15 of his 18 carries gain four yards or less, Shonn Greene had a much more consistent impact this time, with six of his 14 carries gaining five or more. He ended up averaging over five per carry and finished up with 71 yards. He had 62 at halftime though and once again wasn’t able to benefit from the defense being worn down in the second half because he only got to carry it four more times. Greene made some nice runs, but did fail to convert twice on fourth and one, fumbling on one of those occasions.

Bilal Powell got plenty of looks, but only averaged 3.3 yards on 12 carries. He did have a good gain on a pass reception though and it was good to see that he is developing a nose for the end zone. Interestingly, he only stayed in to pass protect once.

Joe McKnight was in for just three plays, carrying once for six yards. Kahlil Bell still hasn’t played yet on offense.

At fullback, Lex Hilliard wasn’t used much against the team with which he began the season and didn’t have a positive impact when he was in. He had one play where the runner ran into his back on fourth and one and another where he was blown up in the backfield and the play ended up going for a loss. It didn’t look like he was at fault on the play where Sanchez fumbled, but maybe he was and Sanchez didn’t want to throw his teammate under the bus.

Receivers

While Jeremy Kerley had an impressive game statistically, he fumbled once, failed to make the marker on a third and two dumpoff where he appeared to have plenty of room and slipped over in the open field when it looked like he might score, so it could have been a lot better. Dustin Keller also had a productive day, and for the second straight game didn’t really do anything wrong as a blocker, but should have had a touchdown on a pass where he waited for the ball allowing it to be broken up, rather than attacking it aggressively and snatching it out of the air, or at least boxing out the defender on his back a little better.

Chaz Schilens had a couple of nice catches and did save a possession with a fumble recovery, but it was a frustrating day for him overall, as he lost a fumble on the first play of a drive and had an apparent touchdown waved off by the officials. Clyde Gates added a couple of nice first down catches and also showed some good run blocking ability on one play, but then got knocked out.

It was good to see Stephen Hill make a couple of catches on his only two targets of the day, including one on a fourth and one play. However, on that play, Hill fought for extra yards instead of getting to the ground and the Patriots held him up which, when coupled with the bumbling officials dropping the ball twice and taking a reprehensible 12 seconds to re-spot the ball, forced the Jets to have to settle for a field goal just before halftime.

At tight end, Konrad Reuland had another first down catch, but his run blocking was inconsistent. However, Jeff Cumberland was a rare bright spot. His 58 yards on four targets gave a glimpse of the pass catching ability Jets fans were hoping to see from him this season. He’s one guy who can make a case for a bigger role next year over the remainder of the season.

Finally, Jordan White’s NFL debut saw him on the field briefly but he wasn’t targeted.

Defensive Line

The run defense in this game was a huge disappointment, but I was surprised to see that the Jets held New England to under four yards per carry. Digging deeper, that was mostly due to the second half performance. During the first half, New England averaged 5.2 yards per carry, despite only having one run go for 10 yards. That shows how they were picking up consistent yardage all the time.

I want to single out New England’s Marcus Cannon. Cannon is only a rookie and was making his first career start with both Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer out. The reason I mention him is because during preseason he was probably the worst lineman I saw. In one game, he got beaten at least 12 times in one half in pass protection. I was surprised to see him make the team, let alone getting some regular season reps over the first half. While his run blocking was not as bad as his pass protection, he was still pretty raw. Last night, he did a solid job in both the running game and in pass protection and the Patriots didn’t seem to miss a beat with him in there. I think it sums up the difference between the two organizations when they have a guy that looks so bad and half a season later he is contributing whereas Jets fans never seem to have any hope that someone playing poorly can get better – and maybe justifiably so.

I’m a bit worried about Mike DeVito, who seemed to tire towards the end of last week’s game and may be starting to wear down as a result of having to play more reps at the more demanding nose tackle position in recent weeks. He was handled at the point of attack all too often last night, and although he did get some good penetration, that didn’t always prevent the runner from turning the corner or getting to the second level. Kenrick Ellis and Sione Po’uha didn’t play much, with all but six of their combined 27 reps coming in the second half. Ellis still seems to be limited – he got good penetration on one play, but then seemed to be limping. Po’uha did make a couple of good plays against the run, but is still nowhere near as disruptive as last year.

Even Muhammad Wilkerson had a disappointing game by his recent high standards. He did okay as a pass rusher, constantly driving his man into the backfield and getting free for a hit and a pressure, but was double teamed a lot in the running game and had a costly penalty on 3rd and four early in the game. He did blow up two runs, but in previous games, he was blowing up 5-10 per game.

Quinton Coples also may have hit the rookie wall. This was the first game where he didn’t at least do one thing that stood out on tape. He did hit Brady once but that was after initially being blocked as Brady held onto the ball and then stepped up to make a throw. He was handled well on several running plays.

Linebackers

I’ve been a supporter of Bart Scott over the years, but I can’t tell you why he was in the game in the early stages last night. As I said during the week, I expected Demario Davis to continue to be in the game when the Jets were in their nickel package and for them to be in that package almost exclusively, so Bart’s total number of snaps likely wouldn’t exceed 10 or so. However, they started Scott rather than Davis in that package, probably because Brady went after Davis twice in overtime to set up the winning score last month.

The results were disastrous, as New England cleverly exploited Scott’s lack of speed – which has clearly been exacerbated by his recent toe injury – with two well-designed plays. On the first, Scott was in a zone coverage and the Patriots got the receivers on his side of the field to run clear-out routes and Aaron Hernandez to run a crossing route in behind him. That went for 28 yards. On the next one, they lined up two receivers on the left, but they both ran clear-out routes across the field and Brady dumped it to Shane Vereen in the flat. That went for an 83-yard touchdown with Scott unable to get across in time to stop him running down the sideline.

There were two major reasons why that went wrong for the Jets. Firstly, a blatant illegal pick was set by Wes Welker and ignored by the officials. Secondly, Scott was communicating with his teammates at the line which may have made him a step slow to react at the snap. Also, it looked like he maybe thought it was supposed to be a zone coverage, because he delayed momentarily before heading out wide.

It seems that either Scott was blamed for the failure of the play, or hurt himself, because he did not get on the field for a single snap after that play. While Scott has a reputation for getting burned like this all the time, that’s not really the case – the Pats are the first ones to effectively exploit him like this since he’s been a Jet. Those two plays went for 111 yards. Prior to that, he’d given up just 199 yards in 25 games. Other than those plays, Scott actually played well against the run, including one huge hit on Vereen. However, this is yet another example of some minor positive plays being far outweighed by some huge negatives and I would question the strategy defensively as well.

David Harris also had a rough game, constantly getting caught on the inside on running plays and driven back at the second level. He did register 12 tackles and did well as a pass rusher too (one hit and two pressures), but his performances continue to underwhelm when he doesn’t have a healthy Po’uha and Scott taking on blockers for him.

Bryan Thomas made a couple of plays against the run and had pressure on two consecutive plays in the second half. However, he was embarrassingly pancaked on Stevan Ridley’s touchdown run.

Davis was also knocked to the ground on that play and did struggle to have an impact in the running game as well. He was also seemingly the guilty party when the Jets were called for having 12 men on the field in the second half. He did make a bit of an impact as a blitzer, getting some pressure and causing the penalty that led to a safety. He hasn’t quite been able to compliment Harris as well as Scott used to though.

Garrett McIntyre didn’t have much impact. He did record one pressure, but it was only after Brady had held the ball for some time. Ricky Sapp didn’t play much and did beat his man on the outside once, only for Brady to calmly step up and get rid of the ball. He was also driven off the line on one running play and dropped into coverage on third down once where, although he was in position, a better pass to Welker would almost certainly have netted a first down.

Defensive Backs

Antonio Cromartie had a Revis-esque impact in this game. Unfortunately, I don’t mean that in a good way. His impact was pretty insignificant because they never really needed to go after him. He gave up two catches for 21 yards and had a missed tackle, but was in good position on another throw to the end zone. However, he was burned once and fortunate that the pass was overthrown.

Kyle Wilson hasn’t been targeted much since those two throws early in the Seahawks game. Could his play be improving? He did give up two short catches, but overall wasn’t exploited at all.

With Isaiah Trufant out, Ellis Lankster had to play more in the slot and didn’t fare quite as well. Although he only gave up 13 yards on four targets, one of these was a key third down conversion and another went for a touchdown as he plainly thought the Jets were in zone and left Welker alone on the outside thinking Wilson would pick him up. I can’t be 100% sure who was at fault, but based on their reactions, I’d say it was probably Lankster. Other than these two plays, Lankster had a costly (if harsh) face mask penalty, but did make one play in coverage and a good tackle in the flat, so it wasn’t all bad.

I already broke down Landry’s performance above, but I want to pick apart this quote from Collingsworth:

Not many people break tackles from LaRon Landry…

Unfortunately, that’s not exactly accurate, as Landry’s 12 missed tackles have him placed fourth in the NFL among safeties. It’s enough to make you long for the days of Kerry Rhodes not making any mistakes and everyone complaining because he doesn’t make enough impact plays.

Yeremiah Bell gave up one long pass completion, but otherwise wasn’t at fault for any key plays. Eric Smith, however, was beaten for a big first down and showed an embarrassing lack of range on the Vereen touchdown. He did recover a fumble though. Josh Bush still isn’t getting any playing time on defense, with Darrin Walls and Donnie Fletcher also just featuring on special teams.

Special Teams

Another week, another catastrophic special teams blunder. This time, it was Joe McKnight with the fumbled kickoff returned for a score, the third in less than a minute. McKnight did have a couple of good returns and Robert Malone’s punting was pretty good, but the bright spots on special teams were few and far between. Even the coverage unit was a let down with three players missing tackles on a Julian Edelman punt return. Kyle Wilson looked uneasy fielding punts too. At least Nick Folk was perfect on the day.

Conclusions

For Jets fans, this performance is unacceptable. You have to wonder if Woody Johnson – shown on TV at the game, smiling, while his team humiliated themselves, their fans and his organization – has ANY idea what it means to Jets fans for their team to compete against their biggest rivals. Falling short of a playoff berth is one thing, but falling 35 points behind in the first half to the Patriots in front of a National TV audience? Unacceptable.

It’s not my job to decide who stays and who goes. Unfortunately, the buck stops with Johnson and you have to worry whether he and the people he trusts to give him advice have any idea how to fix this.

He has stringently denied that his primary goal is to make headlines and I believe him. Firing the head coach or the general manager would make headlines and that’s not something he’s resorted to despite the fact it would definitely keep them on the back pages until replacements were found and that a high percentage of professional sports franchises would have made that move already if faced with the same set of circumstances. In some cases it would prove to be the correct decision to stay the course – the Giants showed patience with both Tom Coughin and Eli Manning and that paid off, for example. The Giants never bottomed out like this though. Did they?

Johnson has also denied that he had made moves to sell tickets and/or merchandise. I believe him there too. Who would spend money on this? I think he’s genuinely trying to build a winning franchise and the plan of action isn’t flawed, they’ve just been relying on the wrong guys. It’s time to find someone else to build around. You just have to wonder who in the organization has the ability to identify the right people.

The way things are going, they’ll enter next year with a healthy roster, a last placed schedule and a high draft pick, all of which should mean there’s no reason they won’t have a better season. Can this really be seen as progress when they were close to a Super Bowl appearance a couple of years ago though? The Jets have a lot of high priced talent that they won’t want to waste a year by bottoming out, but if they don’t re-tool completely they risk fluctuating between being below average and above average, as they did during the Edwards and Mangini eras. For a team that looked set to be a perennial contender a few years ago, that’s a sobering thought.

We’re back to normal service now, so hit me with your BGA questions in the comments section and I will answer them for you in BGA Extra in a few days.