BGA: Steelers 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 loss to the Steelers. 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.

Before we get into the individual player analyses of yesterday’s game – another stellar effort against the run with some breakdowns in the defensive backfield – I wanted to go over some lineup changes, which may not have been discussed much since the game.

The first thing to note was that neither Quinton Coples or Sheldon Richardson were in the starting lineup, instead replaced by Kenrick Ellis and Garrett McIntyre. Richardson still played over 80% of the snaps, so it was probably just that a personnel grouping he isn’t on was out there to open the game. For Coples, however, it may be a sign that the short week wasn’t ideal for his ongoing recovery from the ankle surgery last month. Coples played less than 60% of the snaps for the first time all season and didn’t play any reps on the inside at all.

The Jets have slowly been increasing the number of packages in which they use Ellis and Damon Harrison together. In the first three games, Ellis played 26 snaps but only one of them (a goal line play against New England) saw him line up alongside Harrison. However, in the last three, Ellis has played 41 snaps with 21 of those alongside Harrison. Ellis’ 19 total snaps were a season high, too.

One other change was, I believe, an enforced change. Kyle Wilson was shaken up on a play in the first half and ran off the field under his own power. He did not play any snaps after that though and Isaiah Trufant, who had not received any snaps prior to Wilson’s apparent injury, played the nickel role for the rest of the game. Wilson ended up with just nine snaps to Trufant’s 20 – a season high and the third most in his career.

Finally, a change we knew was coming saw Antonio Allen moved back into the starting lineup at safety. Rex Ryan had already said last week that Allen was moved out of the starting lineup in the Falcons game for “matchup reasons” and that he’d return this week. He ended up playing a career high 65 snaps, missing just two. Jaiquawn Jarrett played just four snaps and Josh Bush none, after the two had combined for 73 snaps last week.

Interior Line

Once again, the defensive line set the table for a solid defensive performance. The Steelers averaged just 2.8 yards per carry and the Jets recorded four sacks despite blitzing only nine times.

Muhammad Wilkerson led the line again, with a sack (his 9th in 13 games), a hit (off a spin move) and two other pressures. He also helped collapse the pocket a couple of times and drew two holding penalties by beating his man. He could have had more sacks, but let Ben Roethlisberger escape his clutches in the end zone and also missed a tackle on Antonio Brown when he rolled out to pass on a gadget play. In the running game, although only officially credited with one tackle, he was in on two others and blew up a couple of other plays with his only negative play being a third missed tackle as he chased someone down in the open field.

Richardson had six tackles, including one for a loss, a QB hit and a forced fumble. He added a couple more pressures and blew up several runs. Unlike Wilkerson, he was blocked out of some plays, but he’s such a whirlwind of activity, he’s pretty much always going to do more positive things than negative. Maybe the play that impressed me the most was when he had a clean lane to pressurize Roethlisberger, but seemed to sense that maybe that was too easy and a screen pass was probably coming, so he dropped off immediately and, sure enough, he was able to assist on the tackle for a short gain.

Harrison and Ellis have each been a force against the run this year, so putting them out there together for 10 snaps hardly seems fair. As usual, they were both tough to move, bottling up countless runs and combining for seven tackles, all close to the line of scrimmage. Harrison had five of those, including one in the backfield.

One thing that bothered me was when Harrison made a stop early in the fourth quarter (his fourth), Bill Cowher kind of grumpily said “Yeah, that’s the first time we’ve heard his name all game, though.” Was I misreading the sentiment or would Cowher have some reason to want to downplay Harrison’s impact?

Leger Douzable only played nine snaps, but this did not appear to be for injury or performance-related reasons. He had a half-sack in the first half. In the running game, he was blown off the line by one double team, but handled another well.

Edge Rushers

As noted, Coples’ playing time was down this week and he played solely on the outside. I assume that’s injury-related, but maybe Harrison, Ellis and Richardson have outperformed expectations so much that they plan to use Coples primarily off the edge now that Barnes is unavailable for the rest of the year. We’ll be keeping an eye on that. Coples was credited with one quarterback hit, but there were three other plays where he got close to Roethlisberger, one off an inside move, one as he flushed him from the pocket and one as he was unblocked. The Steelers threw a lot of quick passes, so there was never going to be a great deal of pressure generated – Roethlisberger was under pressure nine times and got rid of the ball in under 2.5 seconds 60% of the time, more than his average (54%) and a higher percentage than all but four quarterbacks had last week. In the running game, Coples was not officially credited with a tackle but did blow up one run in the backfield and was in on another run stuff. His only negative play saw him try to chase back and tackle Antonio Brown in the open field on a 3rd and long screen pass where he overpursued and Brown was able to elude a few more guys to get the first down.

With all the difficulties the Jets have had in terms of getting Ben Roethlisberger down on the ground over the past few years, leave it to Garrett McIntyre to show the way. McIntyre sacked Roethlisberger in the first half and three of his 5.5 career sacks have been on Big Ben. McIntyre didn’t generate any further pressure, but did come off the edge to force Roethlisberger to step up a few times. He also gave up a first down in coverage, but did make some tackles near the line.

Calvin Pace won’t have graded out particularly well in this game, but he did a disciplined job of setting the edge and keeping contain all day, a role which is integral to the Jets’ run stopping. On one occasion he set the edge and came off the block to make the stop. As a pass rusher, he had a half-sack and two pressures, one of which led to another sack and he also deflected a pass. In coverage, he made a good play in the flat and was unfortunate to get tagged with a penalty for a horse collar tackle.

Linebackers

David Harris got credit for 10 tackles from the NFL, but only four from the guys at PFF who tend to be far more accurate. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good performance though. As last week’s struggles showed, you shouldn’t always assume that high tackle numbers mean a middle linebacker performed well. Harris got credit for a sack when he chased Brown out of bounds on the WR option pass and only gave up one catch in coverage, making the tackle short of the marker to force a punt. That’s after having given up 13 catches (on 13 targets) for over 100 yards in the previous two games. His job is definitely made easier when the defensive line is playing so well, but Harris is putting together a much more consistent season this year.

On the other hand, Demario Davis didn’t generate any pressure on seven blitzes, missed two tackles and gave up 44 yards in coverage on five targets. Half of those yards came on a coverage breakdown that Antonio Cromartie made sure everyone knew was Davis’ fault with a very demonstrative reaction to the play. There were two tight ends lined up tight on the right side and one ran straight down the seam, while the other (Heath Miller) ran across the field. Davis ran with the tight end down the seam, who Cromartie was already covering, and left Miller wide open for a huge gain. Davis was also fooled by a nice misdirection play where Roethlisberger got him cheating to the inside with a fake pitch and then threw out to the flat for a first down. It wasn’t all bad for Davis, who made five tackles, including one for no gain and a couple more near the line. Sometimes we need to remember he’s just a first year starter, especially Cromartie.

Cornerbacks

On the subject of Cromartie, it’s not like he could criticize too much. He had one pass interference penalty and gave up five catches for 92 yards and a touchdown. He was also bailed out by a drop in the end zone otherwise it would have been even worse. It’s surprising he was able to play at all after being carted off with a knee injury during the week, but he did seem a step slow off the mark. On the touchdown, he was apparently upset with Dawan Landry, who he felt should have been offering coverage support down the middle, but the Jets had 11 in the box on third and two and Landry had gone over to double team Miller, who was being covered by Davis. Cromartie also had two missed tackles and there wasn’t much to report in the way of positives but he was in coverage on four incompletions and in on two tackles near the line of scrimmage.

By contrast, Darrin Walls had a relatively drama free day. He gave up just two catches for 25 yards and came up to make a couple of plays in run support. One of the catches went for nine yards on 3rd and 13, so he made the tackle short of a first down, but it did set up a field goal. The other was the screen to Brown on 3rd and 15, where he was blocked out of the play. One negative from Walls was that he made the same mistake as last week on a play where they ran to the outside and he got caught inside and lost contain.

With Wilson hardly playing, it was up to Trufant to man the nickel spot and he was targeted quite a bit as you might expect. Four targets were all complete for 39 yards. He did make the stop short of the first down on one of these though and also added a good tackle on a screen pass in the flat. Wilson had hurt himself assisting on a tackle on a run to the outside.

Safeties

Allen turned in perhaps the finest performance of his young career, as he may only have had four tackles officially, but was flying around making plays all day. Again, this highlights the inaccuracy of the NFL’s statistics, because PFF gave him credit for 10 tackles. Allen wasn’t perfect – Miller beat him down the seam for 31 and he was caught out slightly on the gadget play where Brown completed a pass – but otherwise was making plays in run support or cutting down receivers short of the marker or close to the line all day long. He also blew up a screen play.

One other minor concern, which I’d need to get a better look at on the coaches film, was that Allen and Cromartie almost let Emmanuel Sanders get behind them on the play where Roethlisberger narrowly avoided a safety. It seemed that both were in position but got caught watching the play and perhaps assuming that the tackle would be made.

Other than the spat with Cromartie which may or may not have been his error, Landry had a pretty drama-free afternoon, suggesting he was mostly in position. Late in the game he made a couple of plays in run support and was unblocked on a blitz up the middle to hurry Roethlisberger, but in the first half I literally didn’t make any notes on him at all.

As noted, Jarrett barely played and Bush did not.

Special Teams

The return game wasn’t too bad this week, with Jeremy Kerley making positive yardage on four returns (11.3 ypr average) and NO FAIR CATCHES!!! Clyde Gates brought the ball out past the 20 a couple of times too, although he needs to quit getting tackled by the kicker every week if he doesn’t want to be humiliated in special teams meetings.

Something that dawned on me this week is that so many people are returning the ball from deep in their end zone, it’s artificially inflating modern kick return averages. For example, Joe McKnight’s career average is among the all time leaders and he put up a two-year average that hadn’t been achieved since the days of Gale Sayers. However, if he’s just returning the ball from eight yards deep to the 20-yard line, the team hasn’t really benefited from it, but he’s still getting credit for a 28-yard return. Maybe Sayers was routinely getting the ball three yards deep and bringing it out to the 25. That’s a much better contribution, but his average is no better. Food for thought, certainly.

Ryan Quigley continues to make everyone wonder what the Jets didn’t like about Robert Malone. He only allowed 11 return yards, but his net average was barely above 40 after he put one kick into the end zone. His first punt wasn’t bad, taking a sideways bounce out of bounds near the 10, but he was otherwise underwhelming. It seems like I’m always describing the Jets punter as underwhelming. Nick Folk made a couple more field goals, but his kickoffs were less impressive. His one touchback almost went out of bounds.

Trufant, Nick Bellore and Ricky Sapp all made contributions this week in kick coverage, although Brown was able to elude Trufant and Ellis Lankster on one return. Lankster made up for it by drawing a block in the back penalty later on. Konrad Reuland had an offsides penalty on a punt.

Conclusions

All-in-all, a disappointing loss to a well-coached veteran team, but at least the Jets kept it competitive until late in the fourth quarter. This might have been the kind of game that would have got away from them last year. After all the long weeks and short weeks since the opening weekend, this will the first time the Jets will get more than two Sunday games in a row, so hopefully they can start to establish a routine over this next month and tackle these next three tough games heading into the bye week.

It’s another clash with the Patriots up next, a game which some of you seemed to be guilty of looking ahead to instead of focusing on the Steelers game. Tom Brady led a late come-from-behind win in their game against the Saints yesterday, so they head to New York with some momentum.

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.