BGA: Saints at Jets (Part Two – Defense/ST)

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.

We’re breaking down yesterday’s win over the Saints. Part one is here. In part two, we’re focusing on the defense and special teams.

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

The Jets gave up over 400 yards for the second week in a row and just the 10th time in the Rex Ryan era, according to Brian Costello of the New York Post, who also points out that the 366 passing yards given up are the most ever in the Rex era, but the 41 rushing yards surrendered are the 3rd least. Yardage totals are not what was important about the defensive performance yesterday, though. The pressure generated and defensive playmaking were direct factors in the Jets ability to get off the field and keep points off the board. They intercepted two passes, had one other interception negated by a penalty, almost intercepted four other passes (Milliner, Cromartie, Wilkerson and either Davis or Milliner on the pass that was tipped several times) and forced a fumble in the pocket. That kind of ballhawking gives you a chance even when facing a high powered offense like the Saints with a depleted offense.

The run defense remains the one constant on this roster, but perhaps the most inconsistent unit – the secondary – stepped up their game this week and that both benefited from and contributed to the pass rush.

Strategy-wise, the announcers noted that they simplified things in coverage with two deep safeties and a basic zone over the middle, but they still deviated from that at times, constantly switching matchups around and mixing in the occasional trap coverage.

Interior Line

The buzz surrounding Muhammad Wilkerson’s pro bowl candidacy continues to grow, which in many respects is insufficient. They should be talking about him in terms of the defensive player of the year award. On Wilkerson’s eighth sack of the season, I actually exclaimed “That’s a sack” as soon as Wilkerson tossed his man aside. Essentially, once he’s got you where he wants you, it’s over. Surprisingly, Wilkerson had zero tackles in the running game and also jumped offside and got called for hitting Brees in the head. PFF gave Wilkerson credit for one sack, one hit and two pressures, but he actually made contact with Brees five times (one being negated by the penalty and another negated because Wilkerson was held by the center). As I noted in my game preview, disrupting how much he can move around in the pocket is probably the best chance you have of slowing Drew Brees down. Wilkerson can’t do it alone, though. On Brees’ first touchdown pass, he was able to slide across to avoid Wilkerson and then throw downfield. Fortunately, Wilkerson had some help yesterday.

Sheldon Richardson had another tremendous performance with a hit and two pressures and a couple of run stuffs. He used a spin move three times – once to assist on a run stop and twice to get to Brees – and only allowed himself to get blocked out of one running play. His range and motor are phenomenal. Two of his four tackles came more than 10 yards downfield.

At nose tackle, even Damon Harrison and Kenrick Ellis contributed to the pass rush with a pressure each. Harrison had three tackles, all of them in the space of four plays in the fourth quarter, including one in the backfield. He did get forced to the inside on one first down run up the middle, but that play only stood out because it’s a rare occurance this season. He’s starting to draw double teams more now, too. Ellis continues to be extremely solid in relief and he stuffed a run too, although the Saints passed it on 9 of his 14 snaps.

Leger Douzable had a bigger role this week and actually found himself blocked out of a few running plays. He did get to Brees once though.

Edge Rushers

Quinton Coples has been getting better and better every week and some are suggesting yesterday was his best game as a Jet. By my count, he beat his man nine times, many of them on the outside, quieting those doubters who felt he wouldn’t have the speed to get pressure off the edge. Many of his hits stood out and he probably would have had half a sack if Brees didn’t fumble when Calvin Pace hit him, but one less obvious play saw him generate enough pressure that Brees couldn’t step into his throw to Nick Toon properly and the inaccurate pass was batted into the air for an interception.

Coples was credited with three hits, batted a pass into the air and also made a few plays against the run, assisting on a tackle in the backfield and blowing up an attempted end around on fourth down. By now, we know that Wilkerson is going to be great every week, but the defense might still have its struggles. With Coples, if he can play like this on a regular basis, the defense is going to be pretty difficult to rack up points on without risking turnovers. So, does he now “get it” or is he just fully recovered from his injured ankle – or maybe some combination of the two? I don’t think it matters, because either way that would suggest any struggles are behind him and he could be productive the rest of the way (and if he isn’t, it’ll be because the other team has to allocate resources towards stopping him, which will either neuter their offense or free up someone else on the Jets to create havoc).

Opposite Coples, both Garrett McIntyre and Calvin Pace went down with injuries. McIntyre’s knee injury sounds like it could be pretty bad – he only played two snaps. Pace confirmed after the game that he was just “banged up” having played 54 snaps. Other than his strip sack, Pace created pressure on a Brees roll out and flushed him from the pocket once. He also came off the edge to stop a run for a short gain. One negative was that he made exactly the same mistake he made last week in zone coverage (on the play where Allen had to leave his man at the back of the end zone to pick up a wide open receiver at the goal line). Again, Pace seemed to inexplicably vacate his zone by going upfield and to the outside where there were no receivers, leaving someone wide open underneath.

Down the stretch, two backups found themselves in the game during crunch time, as first of all Ricky Sapp entered the game as a strongside defensive end and then a few plays later Troy Davis got his first snaps of the year coming off the blindside. I’ve been suggesting for a while that the Jets should give more reps to their backups (including McIntyre) in passing situations, in preference to a worn out Pace or Coples at the end of the game. Sure enough, this had a positive effect when Coples returned and did generate some key pressures down the stretch. The reserves brought energy with the Saints double-teaming on the strong side most of the time, but Sapp was able to get upfield on his man once to force a quick throw and beat him inside to get in Brees’ face and flush him from the pocket on another play. Davis was one-on-one with Charles Brown, who by that stage was really struggling to keep his man in front of him and got outside on him a couple of times – the first allowing him to break off and chase Brees out of the pocket after he stepped away from Sapp coming up the middle, although the second saw him ridden upfield and out of the play. Depending on McIntyre’s status, it will be interesting to watch what happens to the rotations here after the bye week.

Linebackers

After only having one solo tackle between them last week, David Harris and Demario Davis had more of an impact this week, although Davis actually wasn’t credited with a solo tackle again. He did have a key interception though and almost had another as Robert Meachem made an incredible juggling catch in a crowd. Harris made an immediate impact with a stop in the flat and then another one in the backfield early in the game. He ended up with 10 tackles and also deserves credit for taking out a couple of blockers to blow up runs and for two pressures as a pass rusher. In coverage, his solid open-field tackling helped limit the Saints to 17 yards on six targets, including one play where he stopped Jimmy Graham for a short gain. There was one play in zone coverage where Kenny Stills ran a crossing route behind him and he perhaps should have picked him up – that went for 12 yards – and Harris did get beaten for 11 yards and a first down on one other play.

Other than his interception, Davis had some issues in pass coverage, giving up 57 yards on four catches. One of these saw him start to blitz and then get caught in traffic on the inside as the blocking back leaked out into the flat. Another saw him react late to a dump off pass. Davis didn’t make much of an impact in the running game either, getting driven out of one play at the second level.

Cornerbacks

I am more than happy to admit I was completely wrong about Dee Milliner. Last week I suggested that the Jets had two guys sitting on the bench, one who had outperformed Milliner so far this year and one who was much better than he had been so far in extended playing time last season. My suggestion was that the Jets were damaging their chances of winning by insisting on playing Milliner and relying on him to develop on the job.

Milliner is obviously a fantastic prospect who, unless something goes dramatically wrong, is going to be a very good cornerback. I knew this, but thought it was senseless to have him out there making mistakes when the team had other options that could be more reliable and keep the team in games. Milliner shut me up yesterday with easily his best game. Maybe that’s a product of the Jets having simplified the scheme, but he looked like a totally different player, reacting faster, bursting to the ball and appearing confident and comfortable within his role.

Milliner wasn’t perfect by any means – he was beaten deep by Toon on a play where he initially seemed to be running stride for stride with the receiver but then slowed down as he tried to locate the ball. There may have been an imperceptible push-off on the play, which ended when the ball glanced off Toon’s helmet and off his outstretched fingertips, much to Milliner’s relief. Milliner also had a missed tackle downfield, dropped a diving attempt at an interception and was way too far off his man on a 20-yard pass play in the fourth quarter. He also was beaten for what should have been a first down for Meachem, but by the time the ball had been batted into the air several times by three different guys, Meachem came down with it short of the marker.

In terms of positives, Milliner made two good open field tackles to hold completions to short gains and broke up three passes. The first didn’t stand due to an offside penalty, the second saw him come off his man to close on a pass to the outside and bat it away and the last one saw him deflect the ball to Antonio Cromartie for an interception, only for that to be negated by a penalty as well. On the whole, a massive step in the right direction for Milliner and the secondary as a whole.

Cromartie might not have got credit for that interception, but did a good job of dragging his back foot to secure an interception on an earlier play. There was also a play where he almost intercepted a tipped pass in the fourth quarter but it just rolled off his fingertips. The Saints didn’t target Cromartie much and he was unfortunate to be involved in two big plays on those rare occasions where they did. Meachem – filling in for the injured Marques Colston – had a 60-yard gain on him, as Cromartie tripped and fell when Meahem changed direction. Oddly enough, Cromartie was looking as good as he has done all season on that play, running effortlessly stride-for-stride with Meachem. It was hard to tell if Meachem gave him a shove as he changed direction, or if their feet just got tangled up, but I’d suggest that was bad luck rather than a poor play on Cromartie’s part. Later on that drive, Cromartie was beaten for a touchdown by Jimmy Graham, but again he was somewhat unfortunate that Brees put the ball in a place where only Graham could get it with Cromartie draped all over him.

Kyle Wilson had one bad play in coverage where he was beaten for a 25-yard gain, but otherwise gave up just one more first down and 33 yards on six other targets. He had good coverage on a third down incompletion and made a couple of good tackles. There was one weird play right near the end though where Brees threw behind the receiver and it seemed like it was straight at Wilson, but Wilson went to hit the receiver instead of trying to catch the ball and it hit Wilson in the arm.

Surprisingly, Darrin Walls didn’t get any snaps on defense for the first time since the opening weekend, as the Jets opted for a three-safety dime package. To Walls’ credit, he was one of the first people encouraging Milliner after his first half pass breakup.

Safeties

Despite having to leave early with a suspected concussion, Antonio Allen outlined what an important player he has become for this team. He had one pass breakup on Jimmy Graham that was just sensational. If he continues to make highlight plays like that against players the caliber of Graham and Rob Gronkowski it honestly won’t be long before he establishes himself a reputation as one of the best cover safeties in the league. I’m not kidding. The guy can hit as well. He did get beaten for a couple of first downs and had two penalties (one of which negated an interception), but the Jets need him and it’s perhaps fortunate that his injury occurred right as the bye week arrived.

Dawan Landry had a fine game too. He had five tackles and three pass breakups, one of which caromed to Demario Davis for his first half interception. Perhaps his only negative was giving up a first down catch on fourth and short, although that was an amazing diving catch by Pierre Thomas. Landry perhaps is another player who would have benefited from the Jets playing two deep coverages more often.

Jaiquawn Jarrett had his ups and downs. He lost Jimmy Graham on a double-move and then couldn’t recover in time to stop Graham dragging him across the goal line for the first touchdown. He also had a couple of missed tackles, gave up two big catches in coverage – one for a first down, another to set up a field goal – and got blocked out of the play on a screen pass. On the positive side of the ledger, he was in good position on two incompletions and stopped Graham for a three yard gain after one catch.

Finally, Josh Bush’s only real contribution in his four snaps was to hit Brees in the pocket, drawing a flag on what has universally been derided as one of the worst calls of the weekend.

Special Teams

Once again, Nick Folk excelled with four field goals and four first-half touchbacks. He is 23-for-23 on the year, closing in on Jay Feely’s franchise record (24 consecutive makes). The NFL single-season record is 37-for-37 by Mike Vanderjagt in 2003. Vanderjagt made 42 in a row overall. Folk’s last field goal of 2012 was blocked, so his current streak is 23.

Ryan Quigley’s numbers were good (44.4 net average), although he did get lucky on a kick that he shanked which took a Jets roll. With Darren Sproles out, the Saints used Lance Moore, who didn’t look entirely comfortable and didn’t generate any return yardage. Sproles being out also hurt their kickoff return game, with Nick Bellore making another good tackle.

The Jets return game is a different story. Josh Cribbs didn’t do anything on punt returns, but had a 42-yarder on a kickoff to help set up a score and almost broke another one in the second half.

The one negative on special teams saw Demario Davis thrust aside by Keyunta Dawson on the line, almost leading to a blocked punt.

Conclusions

The bye week is upon us and it’s time to take stock. 5-4 exceeds everyone’s expectations, as far as I’m concerned and I don’t think anyone expected the Jets to have wins over the Patriots, Saints and Falcons (on the road, no less) at this stage of the season.

The team clearly has its flaws, but has been exciting to watch and there are several players on the team who are only going to get better. Goodness knows what the second half of the season has in store for the Jets, but it looks like they’re going to be in playoff contention and playing meaningful games in December, as long as they can remain relatively healthy. With a decent salary cap and draft picks situation heading into next year, the future is looking bright.

As for this year, maybe the Jets can continue surprising us.

If you have anything you’d like me to take a closer look at or any other questions for me, leave them in the comments section of either BGA post, tweet them to @Bent_Double or email bentdouble@gmail.com and I’ll respond in BGA Extra on Wednesday.




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