BGA: Patriots at Jets (Part One – Offense)

Bent, TheJetsBlog.com

Welcome to Bent’s Game Analysis, which 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, part one of your breakdown of the Jets’ overtime win over the Patriots with detailed analysis of the offensive players. Join me after the jump as I attempt to cover every angle.

This week’s BGA is going to be two parts, so I’ll be back with the defensive analysis later. For now we’re focusing on the offense.

It’s an odd-numbered week on the NFL calendar, so – of course – that means it’s time for an upswing on the 2013 Jets roller-coaster. However, this wasn’t the usual steady climb upwards with the mechanism click-click-clicking as everyone ascends to another peak setting up another precipitous drop to leave us all screaming and fearing for our lives. This 60 minutes had all the ups and downs anyone on board could ask for. I guess you could call this “the scary part”.

The Jets survived and came away with a win that they had to have if they weren’t going to fall out of the discussion for playoff contention. They started well, fell into a hole, battled back to take that lead, lost that lead late but then regained their composure to get the win.

Please keep your hands and feet inside the bandwagon at all times…

Quarterbacks

This might sound weird, but in a way I’m more encouraged by Geno Smith’s performance than I would be if he’d played lights-out and torn the defense apart. Smith wasn’t perfect, but had more good throws than bad ones and showed that he is capable of responding to a catastrophic mistake. We’ve already seen that when Smith is in rhythm and things are going well he can be effective, but the true greats can still win games when they don’t have their best stuff.

Smith got off to a great start, leading an 80-yard drive on the opening possession, finished off with a touchdown pass to Jeremey Kerley, who he’d already leaned on for two third down conversions. When he completed a pass on the first play of the second quarter, he was 8-for-12 for 141 yards. However, the rest of the way, he was just 9-for-21 for 92 yards. The key, though, is that he still did enough to get the win.

Let’s hope that the pick-six he threw in the second quarter was a learning moment for Smith. He hesitated as David Nelson was jammed at the line by Logan Ryan, who jumped the route for a long touchdown return. Yes, he was under pressure and hit as he threw and perhaps Nelson could have done a better job against the press coverage, but that was a throw which put the Jets into a hole not many people would have backed them to clamber out of.

While it wasn’t Smith’s best game from a statistical standpoint, he took plenty of shots downfield, which – while mainly unsuccessful – did serve to keep the defense honest. Smith was 2-for-9 on passes thrown more than 20 yards downfield. Getting an early downfield completion has been crucial for Smith in the four Jets’ wins. He is 4-for-4 for 105 yards and four first downs on his first throw in each of the three wins, but 0-for-3 with an interception in the three losses, so you can perhaps get an early clue as to what kind of day he’s going to have.

Where he was good was in terms of hitting guys in stride, which he did a couple of times on key third down plays. He also ran the ball well, showing good instincts by stretching out for a key first down and making a sharp cut two plays later to find the end zone for the go-ahead score. He also threw the ball away smartly a few times, but did put the ball on the ground three times too.

With the game on the line, the Jets initially trusted Smith, who had two throws that could have effectively iced the game. One was a throw to the end zone that would have given the Jets a two-score lead with 10 minutes to go but was nullified by an offensive pass interference penalty. The other was a deep out to Jeff Cumberland who couldn’t make the catch that would have given the Jets a good chance of running out the clock with just over two minutes left. When they got into overtime, though, they leaned on the running game with Smith only throwing one pass. He made the completion to Nelson, though, and that was a big play to help set up the game winning field goal.

On the whole, Smith made more good plays than bad and overcame some adversity to make plenty of plays that contributed to this big win. The hope now is that this kind of consistent (but not perfect) performance will represent something closer to his floor than his ceiling going forward but don’t be at all surprised if he continues to have his ups and downs.

Offensive Line

On the opening drive, it looked apparent that the Patriots had identified Brian Winters as the weak link in the Jets’ line and deliberately went after him. Winters had a really tough time on that drive – let’s break down the first seven plays of the game:

1. Struggles to get his hands on Chandler Jones, who makes a jab step move and beats him around the outside. Smith is able to get the pass off (for a 25-yard gain) just before Jones, who kind of stumbled, is able to get to him from behind.

2. Initially blocks Jones well at the point of attack, but allows him to shed the block and make the stop for no gain.

3. Gets beaten upfield by Jones again, using his momentum to push him upfield. Smith had to step up but had nowhere to go and got rid of the ball just before Jones was able to come of his block to pressure him from behind.

4. Gets beaten inside and does his best to ride Jones away from where Smith is sitting in the pocket, as Smith throws to Kerley for a first down with the walls closing in on him.

5. Initially makes a double team block, but reacts too late to Brandon Spikes who is able to burst into the backfield. Spikes misses the tackle and Chris Ivory bursts through the hole for a nice gain as Winters reacts to the defensive tackle coming downhill and makes that block.

6. Winters makes an ineffective pulling block on second and two and Chris Ivory runs into the back of him. However, Ivory keeps driving and is able to pick up the first down.

7. Makes the initial block on Chris Jones, but allows him to come off that block to assist on the tackle.

On each of the first seven plays, Winters could have done better than he did. None of them were serious or costly mistakes, apart from perhaps the second play, but it was a disappointing start to say the least. With the timing of Winters’ insertion into the starting lineup – right after they had faced some elite defensive tackles but before they were due to face some less established linemen – I was wondering if this was a three game audition, after which Vladimir Ducasse would start to get some or all of the playing time at left guard once again. That was reinforced when Mike Devlin said last week that Ducasse was “still a big part of their plans”.

However, what Winters does do well is that he can recover in pass protection and typically gets a good initial surge in the running game. As a result, if he is initially beaten by a good pass rush move, he’s capable of still leveraging his man away from getting a clean hit on the quarterback and giving him a chance to get a throw off. Also, if he lets his man get off his block in the running game, it’s often after he’s driven him back a few yards so the runner isn’t stopped in their tracks and can usually gain some yardage instead of getting stoned at or behind the line. Evidence of this was right there to see in these first seven plays and throughout the rest of the game. Essentially, while still clearly pretty raw, Winters is able to limit the damage and, as this drive showed, that can be enough for the team to still have some success.

On the eighth play of the drive, Winters did a much better job in pass protection, repelling a spin move to enable Smith to convert on third down. He then made a good double team block with D’Brickashaw Ferguson on the play before Kerley’s touchdown. This only went for three yards, but it’s a sign that he was carrying out his assignment flawlessly, unlike earlier in the game during his rocky start. That ability to bounce back and keep plugging away is also important for any player, but especially for a lineman who has the potential to be the weakest link on the line.

Over the rest of the game, he did have some good run blocks and is obviously starting to get more comfortable out there, even if the line still doesn’t quite have it together in terms of their run blocking. He still made mistakes in the running game, but not as many in the second half. Where he did have some second half issues was in pass protection, overall giving up two sacks, a hit and a pressure but with Smith dropping back over 40 times, that’s not too devastating.

Once again, he was penalty free too. That alone has to give him the edge on Ducasse right now, even though the running game is perhaps suffering slightly.

As noted, the run blocking wasn’t quite in sync this week, despite the fact the Jets racked up 177 yards. The Jets only averaged 1.5 yards per carry before contact and only six of their 46 carries (not including QB runs) went for more than five yards. All of the offensive linemen graded out negatively in terms of run blocking, with so many runs being bottled up for short gains. Nick Mangold had the worst run blocking grade, missing a block that led to a run getting stuffed in the backfield and letting a few guys get off his block to make stops. Ferguson had the best grade, working well in tandem with Winters on a couple of occasions and adding a good second level block and another where he drove his man off the line. He also had a couple of missed blocks though and allowed his man to blow up the play before Folk’s first field goal attempt to turn it from a 53-yarder into a 56-yarder. Howard and Colon also had some uncharacteristic misses, especially in the second half.

In pass protection, Ferguson was beaten for two sacks, one of which led to a fumble that he recovered. In 2011, Ferguson gave up three sacks and eight total pressures in the two games against New England, but last year gave up no sacks and two pressures against them. This year, he has struggled against them again, with three sacks and seven total pressures. In the other five games combined, he’s given up just one sack and 12 total pressures.

The other linemen were more solid in pass protection with Mangold, Colon and Howard surrendering just four pressures between them and no hits or sacks. However, Howard was beaten for the pressure which led to Smith’s pick-six which was costly and Colon had another false start.

As with Smith, you’ve got to give the offensive line credit for plugging away even though it was a tough game for them. Ultimately, they ground out enough yardage to get Nick Folk close enough to win it and that’s what counts.

Running Backs

An interesting change this week – much to the dismay of fantasy owners all over the country – saw Chris Ivory installed as the lead back. The Jets explained this away as being “staying with the hot hand” but Ivory only managed to rack up 37 yards on his first 15 carries, so I’m not sure where that came from. (I suspect keeping Ivory fresh and unleashing him in this game was the plan all along). Bilal Powell was listed on the injury report during the week, so perhaps that was a factor. In 22 snaps, he ran the ball three times and stayed in to block five times. I wonder if part of the change was because they aren’t entirely happy with Powell’s pass blocking as I noted last week. He again gave up a pressure and was called for a hold this week.

Ivory had to work hard for his 104 yards, with 64 of them coming after contact per PFF. He did break a couple of runs to the outside and finished runs well, establishing a rhythm for the first time this season, and there were a couple of plays where he was close to breaking it for a bigger gain. He did a good job in short yardage situations and had one excellent blitz pickup. On the negative side, he was stuffed once on a short yardage play and he did drop a pass, which I’d perhaps attribute more to the fact that he didn’t angle his route into the flat correctly than his hands. That’s maybe a sign of the rawness which has seen him not used much as a pass catcher so far in his NFL career. It’s something to work on though. He did catch one pass, but it went for a loss.

Tommy Bohanon contributed to the running game by grinding out some crucial yardage, including one first down on a short yardage conversion, but for the second straight week his blocking was disappointing. He got beaten for a pressure, missed a block badly on a wildcat play and got blown up on a play that went for a loss. He had one good blitz pickup, but was lucky to get away with a hold on another as he seemed to trip Rob Ninkovich low.

Alex Green got on the field for seven snaps, primarily in wildcat or read option packages, but did not get any touches.

Receivers

Kerley stepped up big time in this game, with perhaps the finest performance of his career. Kerley caught a career high eight passes for 97 yards and a touchdown. Seven of those catches came on third down, with six of the seven being converted as he showed a clean set of hands and some great open field running. I wonder if the fact he was moved off punt returns will lead to an improvement in his receiving production due to him being able to focus on that. It also emphasizes what a big loss Kerley was for the week two clash between these two teams. In his five career games against the Patriots, Kerley has 29 catches for 417 yards and two touchdowns.

Nelson also came up huge in just his third game as a Jet. His four catches netted 80 yards and three of them were great catches, while he was wide open on the other. He also showed some good blocking on a couple of occasions, which is something I highlighted in his BGA scouting report here. Maybe he could have done a better job on the play that was intercepted, but overall this looks like a solid midseason pickup from a team that has seen guys like Jason Hill and Mardy Gilyard flatter to deceive in recent times.

Stephen Hill had one catch, a nice 17-yard gain where Smith hit him in stride but, as noted above, the deep balls Smith was throwing did still serve to stretch the defense, even when unsuccessful. Whether or not you feel like Devin McCourty flopped or Hill extended his arms on the play where he was called for a push-off to negate his touchdown, it definitely looked like a clear-cut offensive pass interference call in real-time, so I can’t really complain about it too much.

Michael Campbell got a handful of reps and wasn’t targeted. He did also have one missed block. Josh Cribbs played just one snap as a receiver, but did line up in the wildcat for three plays, each time running up the middle for 14 yards in total and one first down. That seems like a nice addition to the offense, although they still ran one play with Powell as the player who took the snap.

At tight end, Cumberland had three catches for 41 yards, but could have had a much bigger day if he had been able to haul in a throw to the end zone or the deep out just before the two minute warning. The Jets scored a touchdown anyway on the drive where he couldn’t make the catch in the end zone, but it was still a play he should have had. As the announcers pointed out, the throw was a little late and Cumberland’s problem was that he didn’t catch the ball cleanly, which enabled McCourty to knock the ball away from him. On the throw out to the sideline, it was the same issue. He had a chance to make the play inbounds, but it would have needed to have been a clean catch. Once he bobbled it, he was out of bounds so it wouldn’t have mattered even if he did bring it in. Hands are the one area where Kellen Winslow is still better than Cumberland.

As a blocker, Cumberland had some good moments again, but did give up a pressure and allowed one run to be blown up by his man on a play where he seemed to hurt his hand. He then saw a pass go off his chest on the very next play.

Konrad Reuland and Zach Sudfeld played just three snaps between them.

Part two will cover the defense. We’ll be posting this later today.