BGA: Texans at Jets

Bent , TheJetsBlog.com

This analysis 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.

Note: Your feedback suggested you guys preferred BGA to be split into two parts, so we’ll deal with the offense first. Defense and special teams will be covered in part two to follow later today…

Coming up, your breakdown of yesterday’s loss to the Texans, together with detailed analysis of personnel groupings and individual performance.

After last week’s debacle, this was a step in the right direction for the Jets, but you don’t get anything for moral victories and heroic failures. Some players stepped up and the coaches made some changes to try and improve areas where they’d been struggling (with mixed results). It was certainly an interesting look at what the Jets will bring to the party over the remainder of the year. Hopefully the fact they hung tough with a solid Texans team is a sign they can be competitive more often than not.

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

On Monday Night Football game number 666, the number of the beast was 99. No, that’s not Mark Gastineau – the fearsome pass rusher from another era that the Jets honored along with Wesley Walker at halftime – it’s JJ Watt. The Jets had no answer for Watt, who showed that an elite 3-4 end can be a true difference maker. The scary part is that he’s been even more productive in some of the other games, so the Jets perhaps deserve some credit for limiting the damage done by him and his teammates.

Alas, it would not be enough, with the Texans holding on for a 23-17 win in their toughest test of the season so far. Throughout the game, it felt like the Texans were more talented, organized and dangerous, but the Jets made enough plays to give themselves a shot to pull it out at the end.

Bad teams beat good teams all the time in the NFL, as Jets fans know having been on the wrong end of some of those results over the past few years. Maybe this Jets team isn’t a bad team, but that’s certainly what they looked like in recent weeks. The formula for a bad team to beat a good one is to limit the damage done by their stars, don’t let the role players beat you, make a couple of big plays and win the turnover battle. The Jets managed to do most of that, but once again fell down at the last hurdle.

Of course, this leads us to once again scrutinize the work of one man…

Quarterbacks

With yet another game where he failed to complete half of his passes, as well as throwing two interceptions, Mark Sanchez continues to hold this team back. As always, some of those negative plays can be excused because a teammate let him down, but guys drop passes or let their man pressure the quarterback all the time in this league and there aren’t any other quarterbacks who’ve gone a month without having a 50% completion day. It’s not good enough.

Here’s an interesting statistic though: In the first quarter of games this year, Sanchez is completing 64.5% of his passes and has a 98.0 quarterback rating. Maybe that’s a sign that they’re throwing some simple passes early on in games to get him going and open up some of the downfield stuff later on – which often used to happen in the old offense too. Unfortunately, they can’t stick with that for too long because it brings more defensive players closer to the line and makes it harder for them to run the ball with any success. In the first half last night, the longest run was on the last carry of the half and went for five yards. 12 carries prior to that had gone for four or less.

You can pick apart Sanchez’s accuracy, as usual, although there were some examples of him stepping confidently into a throw and putting it right on the money downfield. Clearly, he missed a chance for a big gain to Antonio Cromartie downfield and threw the ball too high to Jeff Cumberland on the game clinching interception (although Cumberland, of course, still should have caught this). I don’t want to dwell too much on his hits and misses this week because you all saw them for yourselves. The bigger concern for me this week was in terms of blitz recognition.

The Texans blitzed a lot more often than the Jets did and the Jets did a pretty good job of picking them up. However, Sanchez made a huge mistake on the play before that interception, failing to see Bryce McCain coming on a blitz from the slot. A dump-off to the slot receiver (Jeremy Kerley) would have given the Jets at worst a manageable third down near midfield and maybe more.

Although he was able to step into a clean pocket and get some good throws off, Sanchez also had five passes batted down, three by Watt. Rex Ryan attributed them to luck, but I believe all of these were avoidable if Sanchez would have done a better job of reading his passing lanes. (The only bad luck involved is that one of them bounced right to a defensive back). Drew Brees is fantastic at this – moving almost imperceptibly in the pocket to create these lanes before he throws. Earlier in the week, on NFL Network, they were showing how Kevin Kolb has made strides in this area, but with Sanchez’s ability to read the field already slow to develop, how will he respond to being given one more thing to think about? On each play, he saw his receiver with a half-step on their man, read that and made the throw, but didn’t read the passing lanes. He should, in theory, to be able to develop an awareness of that so that he could slide over in the pocket as he’s making his read and before he delivers the pass.

Of course, as Sanchez said, the linemen could have done a better job of stopping him from getting his hands up. If he backs up, get into him and knock him off balance with a palm thrust so that he can’t jump. Also, if you know your quarterback struggles in this area and that the other team has the best in the league at batting down passes, how about you don’t call a quick slant in the red zone? Roll him out or throw a fade or something instead.

In seeking positives, Sanchez did manage to complete four of seven downfield throws for 126 yards and a touchdown. This contributed towards an acceptable 7.4 yards per attempt. However, it was extremely frustrating to see him throw three straight incompletions after each of the Jets two fourth down conversions that seemed to have given them some momentum.

Tim Tebow made some minor contributions this week, but it was shocking to see how shambolic their substitution patterns were when bringing him into and out of the game. While I understand that Clyde Gates’ injury may have impacted some of their packages, they rushed some plays and wasted a couple of timeouts, which proved to be costly in the end.

Tebow also let them down with what looked like a couple of bad reads. Had he handed off to Bilal Powell instead of keeping the ball, Powell looked to have a lane for an easy five yards at least, perhaps more. Then, in the second half, he got Connor Barwin leaning to the inside, but kept the ball instead of making an option pitch to Joe McKnight, who looked to have ten yards of green grass ahead of him. Tebow did make one big run up the middle and threw a decent pass on his first play, which was dropped, but he still hasn’t scratched the surface of what he showed last year. Maybe what he needs is more consecutive plays to get into a rhythm.

Offensive Line

Although Watt ran rampant, the Texans front seven was nowhere near as productive as I expected. Despite the fact that they blitzed 21 times, the Jets held their own and gave Sanchez some clean pockets to step into. I was actually extremely encouraged by this. The Texans had three sacks, two hits and eight pressures, but only one of the sacks was attributable to a starting lineman. (Sanchez was responsible for one and Jason Smith was beaten for another).

Brandon Moore was the biggest culprit in pass protection, giving up a hit, a sack and a pressure. Of course he spent a lot of the time matched up with Watt, so those numbers are perhaps not too bad. On the plus side, he looked a lot better in the running game this week. Last year, Moore got off to a slow start as a run blocker, but this was the time where he picked things up, so hopefully that will happen again. He had the highlight block of the day on Tebow’s big run, pulling left and pancaking his man up the middle, but he also had the key block on a couple of other good runs and did well to get out in front of a screen. Worryingly, two of his best blocks of the day were immediately followed by two of his worst. On the play after the Tebow run, he pulled left again but missed his block at the second level and Tebow was stuffed for no gain. Let’s hope he can start to improve his consistency. The Jets will need it.

Nick Mangold showed some heart by returning to the game after what looked like a bad ankle sprain. It’s a major concern for Sunday, though, because you can tape up an ankle and play through it before it swells up. It’s not good that the injury comes during a short week, because if it does swell up, that’s going to limit his practice time, if not keep him out. He did give up a pressure in this one, but didn’t make too many mistakes. He also had a great block on the Tebow run, driving his man out of the play. It wasn’t his usual dominating performance, but you could probably attribute that to the injury and also to the fact that he had half an eye on Watt most of the time.

Matt Slauson only gave up one pressure and filled in ably for Mangold when he went to the locker room. He had some good run blocks in this one, although there was a play early on where he was driven back into the runner. Vladimir Ducasse again split reps with Slauson and also filled in at left guard when Slauson replaced Mangold at center. He had one false start, but otherwise played pretty well. He had one excellent block pulling to the right in the running game and didn’t allow any pressures, although he did nearly get beaten a couple of times and had to scramble to recover. It’s worth noting for anyone who was criticizing the Jets for platooning their guards in this way that the Texans do exactly the same thing with their right guard AND right tackle. It’s still close between Slauson and Ducasse and, if Mangold is limited, they might find themselves working together rather than competing next week.

I’m not going to dwell for too long on the accusations of Slauson deliberately causing Brian Cushing’s knee injury, but obviously that’s something nobody wants to see. He wasn’t engaged with a blocker, so that was a legal play. Maybe it’s something that shouldn’t be legal, but – for now –it is. Obviously we wish Cushing a speedy recovery. (For what it’s worth, on the Kenrick Ellis injury, he WAS engaged with another blocker, although the contact from the second lineman was above the knee, probably at about hip-level).

D’Brickashaw Ferguson continues to put up good numbers in pass protection, giving up just two pressures. In the running game, he continued to have his struggles, failing to pick up a stunt on one play and getting driven back into the runner on another, but he did have one excellent block to set the edge and take a defensive lineman completely out of the play, so there seem to be signs across the line that the Jets might be on the brink of getting it together. He let himself down with a false start, although Austin Howard jumped at the same time and it was probably going to be a delay of game anyway.

Howard is a guy I’ve been dubious about over the first month of the season, but he gets my seal of approval for this performance. He also only gave up two pressures, one on a spin move, so he obviously worked on the fact that he was getting beaten to the outside a lot. On the play where Sanchez fumbled after Brooks Reed beat Smith for a sack, Howard handled Watt one-on-one and put him on his backside. That’s the kind of nastiness that gives me hope that Howard is really starting to find his feet at this level. He also drove his man out of the play superbly on a late game run. He still needs work at times, not always sustaining his blocks in the running game and missing on a key cut block on one play, but as the line starts to gel around him, perhaps Howard’s comfort level will start to improve and there will be results rather than just signs of promise.

Other than giving up a sack, Jason Smith didn’t do much. Over the last two games, he’s only played 22 snaps and his snap count has fallen to 28.7%. Remember, it needs to be 31% if he wants to void his deal, not that this is much of an issue if he isn’t showing much promise.

I was going to say that it doesn’t get any easier for the Jets with Mathis and Freeney coming to town, but actually, even though those two are formidable, it does get easier. Much easier.

Running Backs

With the running game floundering, the Jets opted to use a bit more of a committee-based approach this week. Shonn Greene, Powell, Joe McKnight and Tebow all had runs of over 10 yards. However, Jets runners would combine for just 17 yards on their other 18 carries. While it was good to see them pop some runs to the second level, they aren’t doing a great job of grinding out the tough yardage. The Jets had just seven plays that went for four yards or more, compared with 14 for the Texans.

Greene again struggled to get anything going, but then had a strong run bounced to the outside followed by a screen pass for a good gain in the fourth quarter. He did an excellent job of finishing these runs, but that just shows how he needs some running room to build up the momentum to do that. He dropped another pass later on.

Powell had a couple of nice runs and did a good job in pass protection, but the best thing he did was to hustle back and prevent a touchdown on Sanchez’s interception late in the first half. That comes a week after I praised him for chasing a lost cause after the Holmes fumble in the 49ers game. He did slip over on one route and has now been targeted seven times in two games without making a catch. Otherwise, he continues to show that he could be a solid complimentary back. If only the Jets had an elite back for him to compliment.

Joe McKnight picked up a nice gain on a draw play, but lost almost as many yards on a direct snap play that the Jets blew the blocking scheme on. It’s definitely good to get some fresh legs into the game, but they were unable to get him the ball in the passing game, despite lining him up out wide a couple of times.

In his Jets debut, Lex Hilliard made a terrific play to recover a fumble in the backfield and rumble 15 yards with it. It could have been more too, as the defender made a desperation ankle-tackle. He did get rocked once in pass protection, leading to a pressure, and didn’t really have any positive impact in the running game, but I still consider this a move that adds some versatility, so it remains to be seen if they keep him once John Conner is ready to return.

Jonathan Grimes did not get any snaps on offense, but did get on the field with the punt cover unit.

Receivers

For a bunch of no-names the Jets receiving corps didn’t do too badly in this one. Kerley almost had a 100-yard day, Chaz Schilens made some tough catches (all four of them in the first half) and Cumberland caught a couple of downfield throws, including a touchdown. However, their lack of experience hurt them at times too – there were a few examples of receivers coming up short of the first down marker, Jason Hill had a bad drop and Cumberland let Sanchez down on the interception.

While Hill also had a false start, he did bounce back to catch a first down late in the game. Clyde Gates also made a good play downfield, but then injured his shoulder and looks set to miss time.

While he made a positive impact as a receiver – apart from on the late interception and another back shoulder throw that he perhaps should have caught – Cumberland really struggled as a blocker. Unfortunately, that’s not something that figures to improve once Keller returns. The other tight end, Konrad Reuland, is a better blocker, but still missed one block badly. He was targeted once with the ball deflected and off his fingertips.

Kerley’s playmaking was extremely encouraging and Schilens’ ability to operate like a possession receiver is exactly what the Jets need right now. Give Kerley extra credit for chasing back to make the tackle on that second quarter interception, too. Once Dustin Keller and Stephen Hill return, this could still be a wide receiving corps capable of enabling the passing game to be effective – even without Santonio Holmes.

Oh, and Antonio Cromartie looks really dangerous, as predicted. I hope they persevere with that experiment.

We’re only halfway through – I’ll be back later with a look at the defense and special teams, together with final conclusions…