BGA: Steelers 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’ loss to the Steelers 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 roller-coaster ride continues.

In a defensive struggle, the Steelers came out on top by a 19-6 scoreline, which flattered them in some respects, but was nothing more than they deserved for a disciplined performance. We knew this Steelers team had some solid veteran players and they capitalized on the bye week to throw in some creative wrinkles and got the contributions from their young players that had been missing over their first four games.

While this may be over-simplifying things, you can boil the game down to two key plays to account for the difference between a comfortable Steelers victory and the Jets being in a position to win the game down the stretch. Each team had a receiver get behind the defense for a potential big play with Geno Smith overthrowing Stephen Hill by a couple of yards and Ben Roethlisberger hitting Emmanuel Sanders in stride for a long touchdown. Had those two plays gone the other way, maybe it’s a 13-12 win for the Jets. At the very least they would have been more likely to get a chance to take the lead late.

The Jets were also left to rue points that they left on the board in the early going. After getting stopped on 3rd and one near the goal line, they settled for a field goal to take the lead. At the time, I thought that showed confidence in the offense, because if you were anticipating a tight, low scoring game with not many opportunities to score a touchdown, you’d probably roll the dice on fourth and one. In retrospect, they perhaps should have risked it there and perhaps would have done so if they’d received a more favorable spot on the previous play (it looked like it should be fourth and a half-yard, but ended up being fourth and a long yard).

There was also a first quarter play where Muhammad Wilkerson should have sacked Roethlisberger for a safety, but Roethlisberger – as he has done so many times against the Jets in recent years – was able to wriggle free. While leaving those six points on the board didn’t cost them the game, it likely would have influenced how they approached their comeback attempt in the second half. Maybe they’d have played more conservatively as they drove down into field goal range, instead of throwing two interceptions on first down – one in the red zone and one just outside it.

Quarterbacks

It’s telling that the Jets have won Geno Smith’s three best performances and lost his three worst performances of the season. Right now, he has a 102.0 QB rating in their three wins and a 51.6 QB rating in their three losses and has been more effective as a rusher when they’ve won (6.3 yards per carry in wins, 3.6 yards per carry in losses). To some extent, this Jets team was always going to live and die by the production it gets from the quarterback position and that’s proving to be the case. Smith has been up and down and is yet to string together two good performances in a row (or, to be fair, two bad ones). Hopefully that pattern continues next week (and then stops thereafter).

The Jets came out with a conservative gameplan, throwing lots of short passes to their receivers and backs. This was pretty effective and Smith had an efficient first half. The Steelers soon adjusted to this, though, and when the Jets looked for short passes in the second half, they didn’t have a lot of success. With that option gone, Smith started forcing the ball downfield a little too often and got burned.

Let’s look at his first interception. It seemed pretty crazy to throw a deep corner route to Konrad Reuland at the pylon, especially when Smith had first down from the 23 yard line and time in the pocket. However, I’ll be interested to see the coaches film for this play because I suspect he was actually looking for Jeff Cumberland. Cumberland cut to the inside and looked to be open on a post route, but he made his break just as Smith was releasing the pass and I wonder if he was expecting Cumberland to break to the pylon instead, where he might have had a chance to box out the safety.

Unfortunately, the TV footage doesn’t provide a good enough look at this play, but you can at least see from this image how Cumberland has broken to the inside as the pass has been thrown, but the safety is able to drop off for the easy interception:

There’s no way of knowing whether either Cumberland or Smith had the play wrong, or read the coverage differently and one reacted to it while the other didn’t. It’s also feasible that I’m mistaken and it was indeed a poor decision to throw the ball to Reuland and an overthrown pass.

The second interception was another that I’ll need to see the coaches film to be certain about, but from the looks we got, it appears that Smith was forced to make a quick decision and tried to squeeze the ball to Cumberland, who had half a step on his man heading to the back of the end zone. It looks like he didn’t have time to read the safety with a man bearing down on him and that safety appeared to be in position to disrupt the passing lane anyway, but it’s impossible to say because the flight of the ball was affected by his hit he took as he throw. I will say that had the pass gone where he was aiming it, Lawrence Timmons didn’t seem to be in a position to pick it off or deflect it – the pass went to Timmons because the direction of the pass was altered by the hit.

As it was first down, he probably should have just taken the sack there.

Smith also had two near interceptions, both also in the second half. One of these was a communication breakdown as Jeremy Kerley ran downfield, but Smith threw behind him. The receiver on the other side – Stephen Hill – did stop his route, so I wonder if perhaps Smith went the wrong way with the throw. The announcers speculated that perhaps it was Kerley’s error. Either way, the Jets got lucky there because that was a pick six waiting to happen. Smith’s other near interception was a downfield throw where he was again hit as he threw.

Despite his efficient first half performance, Smith completed just 11-of-22 passes in the second half, took a couple of sacks he shouldn’t have and almost lost a fumble while scrambling. While they had some successes with the read-option, it did seem like Smith made the wrong read on a couple of them. Having said that, the way they blocked a few of these plays leads me to wonder if there was no read-element and the decision to hand the ball off (or not) had been pre-determined.

Smith did have some positive moments, notably the drive just before half time that led to a field goal. His timing and ball placement on the short passes early on was solid too.

I’d also count as progress his decision to bail on two screen passes that weren’t going to work by throwing the ball into the ground. On the first of these, Willie Colon had been called for a (very dubious) hold and the announcers suggested that Smith may have seen the flag and realized it was pointless to even try to get anything from the play. (Although the officials picked up a flag on a holding call against the Steelers earlier in the game, even though they’d already announced it, so maybe it is still worth playing to the whistle). I think it’s more likely he read the fact that Cameron Heyward was ready for the screen and had dropped off into the flat. Even though Smith could theoretically have lofted the ball over Heyward to Tommy Bohanon who could have then turned upfield, he would have had nowhere to go because Brian Winters was unable to get out to the second level to execute his cut block on the defensive back, so that defensive back was able to get upfield to blow up the potential screen and might even have been able to contest a lofted pass.

On the very next play (2nd and 20 due to the hold), the Jets looked to run a tunnel screen with Jeremy Kerley in a bunch formation on the right side initially starting off to the outside and then breaking back towards the ball so he could catch it and run down the middle. This was so close to being perfectly set up, but Jeff Cumberland looked like he screwed up his assignment and got in Kerley’s way. Even then the play still had a chance to work, but Smith had pressure bearing down on him because Winters gave his man too much of a clean release, even shoving him into the backfield to accelerate the pressure.

As you can see, the ball skips well in front of the receiver – either due to Smith throwing it away deliberately or being unable to get a clean throw off due to the pressure – but you can see that if Kerley did catch the ball, he’d have been able to run down the middle for significant positive yardage and given them a manageable 3rd down – and maybe even get them thinking about going for it on fourth down.

Smith will be getting back on the roller-coaster with the Patriots coming to town next weekend. Scream if you wanna go faster…

Offensive Line

Colon has already expressed his disappointment at the fact the Jets didn’t run the ball much in the second half. Following a game where they beat a good team on the road while only throwing 20 passes, it was a strange strategy to throw the ball 22 times in the second half and just run it eight times, especially after they had only thrown it seven times in the first 29 minutes.

Truth be told, though, the running game still isn’t quite in sync. Statistically, they did reasonably well (4.2 yards per carry), but quite a few of those plays would have been stopped for a loss or no gain if not for a good initial cut by the runner. On the other hand, the fact that the running game isn’t in sync should perhaps mean that they should be making an extra effort to establish it.

The line didn’t fare too badly in pass protection, as they were responsible for no sacks and 10 pressures. However, the Steelers had three sacks and another nine pressures that were attributable to running backs or Smith’s indecisiveness.

D’Brickashaw Ferguson had a couple of good blocks in the running game in the first half, although there were also a couple of plays where Brett Keisel did a good job of getting downhill on him to bottle up a run. His impact in the running game in the second half was pretty negligible though. Austin Howard also failed to have much of an impact, other than on one play where he drove his man well out of the play laterally. He also made one costly mistake, allowing his man to get off his block on the third and one run that was stuffed near the goal line.

In pass protection, both tackles gave up a couple of pressures. Ferguson was never cleanly beaten, but did get bullrushed into Smith on one play. Howard was beaten on the inside a couple of times and Lamarr Woodley blew by him with a spin move after Howard stepped out to make the block and wasn’t balanced. Woodley had a sack, a hit and four pressures against Howard last year though, so surrendering one hit and just two pressures to him shows signs of how he’s improved in the last 12 months.

While I mentioned a couple of screen passes above where he might have fared better, Winters didn’t fare too badly in his second start, particularly in the running game where he did a good job of avoiding any mistakes. Of course, that didn’t prevent the Jets from more or less abandoning the running game in the second half, which was disappointing. He was once again penalty free too, although it did look like he was lucky to get away with a hold on one play.

In pass protection, it was a slightly different story. He was beaten for a couple of pressures and a hit, was bullrushed into the quarterback once and also had some issues picking up blitzers. There was one play where he reacted to a very obvious step to the left by the defensive lineman that Nick Mangold picked up and this opened the gate for Troy Polamalu’s delayed blitz up the middle for a clean shot at Smith. On another occasion, he did pick up the delayed blitz, but he wasn’t able to anchor himself and got rocked backwards, collapsing the pocket. On the whole though, he hasn’t been anywhere close to the liability he was in preseason and will retain the job while that continues.

Mangold had one of his better games of the season so far. He gave up one pressure and missed a block on a screen pass, but was good in the running game, with his best block of the day seeing him pick up Timmons at the second level and driving him down to the ground to create an easy seam for a short yardage conversion.

Colon’s penalty, dubious or not, was his sixth in six games, so he’s struggling to shake that reputation. There was no doubt he was up for this game though, as he blocked his man to the ground three times in the first half. He gave up one pressure and missed with a pulling block once, but otherwise was making solid contributions throughout.

Off the bench, Vladimir Ducasse was in for just two plays.

Running Backs

The running backs contributed well to the offense this week, combining for 105 yards on 21 touches, but what was disappointing was the blocking, so I want to start by focusing on that.

Bohanon’s consistency has been good over the first month or so, but he had a couple of bad plays here. On the one wildcat run of the day, he lined up on the right and then came over to the left side at the snap to pick up the man coming off the edge. However, without engaging him, he then changed course and went to block someone at the second level, allowing that player to tackle Powell for no gain. I assume he must have thought Powell had handed the ball off to the player going up the middle. Powell would have had a one-on-one with Timmons in the hole, with the potential for a big gain if he could break that tackle. Later on, Bohanon got beaten on the outside for a pressure in pass protection. Finally, he blocked the wrong guy on a screen pass, allowing the player he didn’t block to blow it up for no gain, while the player he did block was clearly going to be taken out of the play by Mangold anyway. Hopefully these should be things that can easily be cleared up in time for next week’s game and could gain some better yardage next time.

While Powell has a reputation as being the Jets’ most reliable pass blocker, I actually thought that Mike Goodson did a better job than him for the most part. Chris Ivory stayed in to block twice and did a solid job too. Goodson’s solid work on his first three blitz pickups was undone, however, by the fact he got blown up on the play where Smith was rocked by Jarvis Jones and threw his second interception. Powell had stayed in to block five times and given up a sack and a pressure that led to another sack. He also blew the opportunity to pick up a block on one play where a lineman was beaten. That must have factored into his fourth quarter playing time because he had just three snaps, while Goodson had 10. Goodson was, of course, hurt while tackling on the interception, so they’ll have to see how badly hurt he is before they consider increasing his reps on a more permanent basis.

As a runner, Powell averaged just 3.3 yards per carry, but did pick up one first down (and two more through the air) and it wasn’t like he left a lot of yards on the field. Ivory carried just four times, but ran hard and Goodson had the best run of the day when he made a great cut in the backfield and burst ahead for 18 yards. He added a nice first down catch too. As for Bohanon, he again didn’t get any touches. Aside from his struggles as a blocker, he did make one good lead block.

Receivers

The Jets coped without Santonio Holmes last week and won with Kellen Winslow catching just one pass, so they were hopeful they could overcome Winslow’s loss to suspension. However, it’s not just the fact that those two players were missing, because every time one of the Jets’ other receivers was dinged up, that moves everyone else up the pecking order. Hill was dinged up by a Polamalu hit just before half time, Clyde Gates apparently disclocated a finger and David Nelson limped off at one point too. These are all going to lead to guys like Kerley and Cumberland getting more defensive attention than usual, Gates getting more targets than usual and inexperienced guys like Michael Campbell getting reps on offense. That’s not to excuse Smith’s struggles, but there did seem to be fewer opportunities down the field in this game.

In his new role as the number one tight end, Cumberland fared well, catching four passes for a team-leading 59 yards, including three first downs in the second half. There was also more good blocking from Cumberland, as he continues his improvements there. He had one good driving kick-out block on the outside and continues to stay on his man well. There was one play where his man made the stop, but other than that – and the play where he collided with Kerley – it was a good performance. The Jets didn’t get much from his backups though. Zach Sudfeld played just one snap, early in the game, and Konrad Reuland was in for just nine and targeted twice with no success.

In terms of the receivers, Kerley had his least productive game of the year with one of his two catches coming on the meaningless last play. He did appear to be interfered with by Cortez Allen on one play, though, and did convert one first down. Nelson also had one first down catch but Campbell was not targeted.

Hill was targeted eight times and made three nice catches for 46 yards, but they missed on the deep ball in the first half that could have meant he had a huge day. He dropped one pass on a wide receiver screen, but that wasn’t going anywhere anyway because Kerley missed his block. Hill himself also missed a block badly on a read option play that was stuffed.

The leading receiver, perhaps surprisingly, was Gates who had five catches. The longest of these was 11 yards though, as they employed him as more of a possession receiver. He was targeted seven times, with the two incompletions being a play where Smith threw behind him and he perhaps should have run a better route and a quick slant that Smith audibled to but then rushed and it went off Gates’ fingertips (which is where he apparently dislocated his finger). If Gates is the closest thing to a possession receiver the Jets can muster with Kerley taken out of the game, then it underlines how badly they need at least one of Holmes or Winslow to be out there. Hopefully Holmes can make it back next week.

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