BGA: Saints 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’ win over the Saints 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.

The Jets head to the bye week on a winning note, as they surprised the Saints in a game where several much-maligned players stepped up their game.

This win was more about the defense than the offense, which we perhaps should have seen coming – as I noted in my game preview the Jets were easily the best defense the Saints had faced so far and although they gave up over 400 yards for the second game in a row, their run-stopping, pass rush and playmaking in the secondary all played a major role in the win. However, the offense played its part too, at one point scoring on six out of eight drives. The Jets were actually the only team out of all of the early games to score 20 points in the first half.

Quarterbacks

There’s a lot of people disappointed with Geno Smith’s performance in spite of the win, but the Jets played a conservative gameplan with the running game working and Smith avoided turning the ball over and made a few important plays.

Whether you attribute it to the gameplan, the inability of the depleted receiving corps to get downfield separation or the fact that Smith himself was unprepared to take risks, the air attack was extremely safe, with Smith throwing beyond 10 yards just three times (all incomplete). In fact, there’s some overlap between those three elements, as Mornhinweg and Smith might each have been reluctant to throw downfield because of the paucity of available weapons.

Rewind back to earlier in the season and you’ll recall that we were talking about an ultra-conservative gameplan as Smith developed being their best chance of winning games. The Jets have relied on the running game in each of the last two wins (after criticism following the Titans and Steelers losses that they put Smith in a position where his mistakes cost the team) and it just about paid off. While Smith had a couple of 300-yard games and comeback wins over the first half of the season, perhaps our expectations need to be tempered, because we can’t expect him to achieve that every week and if they’re going to run for 200 yards, he won’t need to.

All of which sounds like I’m making excuses for Smith when all he really achieved was to not lose them the game. Still, the Saints are a good defense, even though their safeties were dropping like flies and the Jets did what many teams have done to them over the last few years and avoided the big mistakes while capitalizing on those of their opponents.

In searching for positives, one thing Smith did do a good job of this week was blitz recognition. Officially, he was sacked twice, but got back to the line of scrimmage on each of these plays. On two plays where an unblocked rusher came off the edge, he quickly got the ball to an open receiver for first downs to Tommy Bohanon and David Nelson. He also smartly threw the ball away a couple of times, including on a third down play late in the game where Bilal Powell was calling for the ball on a designed screen pass, but Smith recognized that Cameron Jordan had sniffed it out and dropped into the flat. A missed read there could have led to an easy pick-six and a 27-26 loss.

He also made some plays with his legs, including a third down conversion on a quarterback sneak and a touchdown run on a read-option play where he made a good cutback on a play that apparently Nick Mangold called for, according to NYDN’s Seth Walder.

Smith’s inability to move the offense through the air over the last couple of games does create legitimate cause for concern, but the fact he didn’t turn the ball over after having thrown three pick-sixes in the previous two games is big for him. I said all along that mild competence from the quarterback position would be enough to make this team competitive and that’s about where Smith averages out. Of course, he’s been more feast-or-famine but hopefully that will smooth itself out over the second half of the season and continue on an upward trend.

Two stats to finish up this section: First of all, Smith was only involved in one of the Jets top five longest plays. Secondly, he only completed two passes for 12 yards to players who were on the opening day roster.

Offensive Line

A great job by the offensive line yesterday, in terms of both keeping Smith protected and opening holes for the running game. A few players hurt their grades in the fourth quarter as the last seven carries went for minus-two yards, but everyone on the line made positive contributions that led to big gains.

One key adjustment they made was that instead of Mangold operating as the free man to clean up anyone else’s mistakes in pass protection, they tried, where possible, to get Mangold to pick up a block, leaving Winters free to react and double-team accordingly where required. This worked a lot better than last week and makes a lot of sense, because when Winters has been getting beaten it’s been because he’s been overpowered or “out-techniqued”, not because he’s failed to carry out the correct assignment. In fact, dealing with stunts correctly has been one of the things he’s done well. He did give up one pressure on a rare play where he ended up blocking one-on-one but that was all – a major improvement, even though the Jets only dropped back to pass 25 times and were getting the ball out quickly.

Each tackle gave up one pressure with D’Brickashaw Ferguson getting beaten on the inside late in the game and Austin Howard losing his man after allowing him to split a double-team with Konrad Reuland. Other than that, the offensive line did a good job of keeping Smith clean, with both sacks coming as he held the ball for a while and then tried to scramble.

In the running game, Howard set the edge well several times and had a good kick out block on Chris Ivory’s touchdown run, but let himself down with two bad missed blocks, one that led to a tackle in the backfield. Ferguson had three excellent kick-out blocks and another good one on a screen pass, but he also let himself down late in the game by letting his man get off his block twice to blow up a couple of runs.

Mangold’s biggest on-field contribution was once again steady but unspectacular, as he would anchor himself and hold his ground over and over again while everyone else made the key blocks. Mangold’s best block came on a screen pass. He did get stood up a couple of times and allowed his man to get off his block and stuff a run once.

Willie Colon made more positive run blocks than anyone, pulling to the left effectively or holding his man up at the point of attack several times and driving his man to the outside to create a huge lane for a big Ivory run. He had some mistakes too – a false start, a missed block leading to a tackle in the backfield and a play where he tripped Ivory over after getting stood up – but the positive contributions he made far outweighed these in my opinion.

Back to Winters, who had some really positive contributions of his own in the running game, the best of which saw him drive his man laterally out of the play to the right, opening up a massive hole up the middle for Powell to pick up nine in the red zone. He also had a big cut block on a screen and another important block at the point of attack (although it looked like he got away with a hold). Unfortunately, he also had a bunch of negative plays, otherwise the running game might have fared even better. He committed a holding penalty for the second week in a row, negating a 20-yard Powell run and had (by my count) seven negative plays in the second half that led to runs being blown up. His was the key block on Ivory’s 52-yard run in the second quarter, but Curtis Lofton actually got off the block and should have made the tackle in the hole. Still, although he graded out poorly, the fact he’s starting to contribute positively is a good sign and hopefully he can start to phase some of those errors out of his game as he develops.

Vladimir Ducasse was used as an extra pass blocker on two plays and Cameron Jordan bullrushed him into the quarterback on one, so he didn’t exactly make a case for himself this week.

Running Backs

It was great to see Ivory fully unleashed at long last. Even though he rushed for over 100 yards two weeks ago, that was still rather a pedestrian effort compared with this one, which saw him rush for gains of 27, 30 and 52 yards. In fact, his four longest runs went for 120 yards and his other 14 carries just 19 yards, which explains why the run blocking grades would not be that good on balance. Ivory scored his first touchdown as a Jet and added a couple of runs where he should have been stopped for no gain, but battled for 4-5 yards. In all, 100 of his 139 yards came after contact. In pass protection, he had one excellent blitz pick-up, but on another his cut block was ineffective and his man pressured Smith.

Bilal Powell had a disappointing game according to the stat sheet – just 29 yards at 3.2 per carry and no catches on three targets – but actually ran the ball well, showing good burst and power. As noted, he had a 20-yard run negated by a hold and had a handful of nice runs. He also did better in pass protection this week, following some recent struggles. He did drop a screen pass that looked set to gain an easy 8-10 yards though.

At fullback, Bohanon had a much more consistent game this week and made two key kick-out blocks that led to big gains. Late in the game he got blown up in the backfield leading to a loss and then stood up in the hole so the runner had nowhere to go, but this was a better blocking display than in recent weeks, where he has struggled. Across the board, the Jets made some key run blocks, but were inconsistent, which suggests their running game has the potential to be even more dominant.

Receivers

With the Jets’ conservative gameplan, their receivers didn’t get much of an opportunity to make a statistical impact this week. However, everyone pitched in to make an effort in terms of run blocking. This came at a cost though, as Jeremy Kerley’s arm was bent backwards when a defensive player fell on him. The Jets reportedly fear that he dislocated his elbow. It’s perhaps no coincidence that the Jets’ passing game couldn’t get going with him out. Remember how much they struggled without him in New England? With Kellen Winslow, Santonio Holmes and Jeff Cumberland all also out, the receiving corps was every bit as depleted as it was at any stage last season.

Greg Salas actually led the Jets in receiving yards in his first game with the team. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone who read my scouting report on him that they would look to run wide receiver screens with him, because that’s essentially all the Rams ever did with him in 2011 (when he led the NFL in yards after the catch per reception). Sure enough, Smith hit him in the flat twice and he burst downfield for gains of 17 and 44 yards. In fact, without these two plays, Smith would have been just 6-for-17 for 54 yards.

Nelson had just one catch, picking up 19 as Smith hit him in stride with the blitz coming. He did have a couple of good blocks though, one on a screen and one as he came down from the slot to block down on Jonathan Vilma. There was one other play where he motioned to fullback and missed his cut block though.

Stephen Hill also contributed as a blocker, doing a good job downfield on one of Ivory’s long runs. Disappointingly, he was completely shut out as a receiver with his only target being some kind of mix-up, as he initially showed for the ball in the flat and then ran a go-route as Smith threw behind him on third and long late in the game. There was one play where Smith threw into double coverage to Nelson, while Hill appeared to be wide open on a corner route behind him.

Josh Cribbs had an all-action game, carrying three times, catching two passes and even throwing a pass. His 25-yard completion to Zach Sudfeld on the roll was a nice throw and shows that, unlike his fellow college-quarterback-turned-wildcat-specialist Brad Smith, he does actually have a pretty good arm. Those six plays contributed 43 yards altogether and included one other first down on an end around.

At tight end, Sudfeld had two big catches – one on the Cribbs pass and another as he caught the ball and rumbled down to the five yard line. He’s starting to show some serious promise. He also did a good job as a blocker, effectively setting the edge a number of times and making one block where he lined up on the right but ran all the way across to the left and then turned his target back to the inside to set up a run off the edge. He did get away with a blatant hold on one play though. As with everyone else, he also had some negatives, three times letting his man get off his block to make a stop, but it’s good to see him using his size effectively and hopefully the consistency will follow in time.

You have to wonder if Reuland has played his last game as a Jet. Winslow is eligible to be activated now, so someone will need to be released and Cumberland figures to be back, which would leave them with four tight ends. Reuland missed one block in the running game.

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




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