BGA: Texans at Jets (Part Two)

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 indicated you prefer me to divide BGA into two parts. Part One covered the offense and can be accessed here

We’re recapping yesterday’s loss to the Texans. After the jump, Part Two looks at the performance by the defense and special teams and also draws final conclusions. Remember, if you want me to go back and look at anything, or have any other questions, let me know in the comments and I’ll respond in BGA Extra later in the week.

A glass half full viewpoint of this defensive performance would point to the second half numbers and suggest that hopefully the defense is turning things around. The Texans gained just 57 yards on 22 carries in the second half, with 10 of the last 13 carries netting one yard or less. They also limited Matt Schaub to just four second half completions, including none in the last 19 minutes. The Texans ended up with 23 points, their lowest output of the season, as the Jets even managed to limit their tackling issues, missing only two on the day.

However, there were some major breakdowns in the first half and I’m going to go over these before we get into the individual analysis.

First of all, there was the first drive, where the Texans moved downfield effortlessly and scored on a 34-yard pass to Owen Daniels. This was good gameplanning by the Texans, as they moved into position by exploiting the over-aggressiveness of the Jets front seven and the lack of speed from their outside linebackers. Matt Schaub twice targeted Pace in zone coverage and also caught out Bryan Thomas with a screen pass for another first down. They also picked up a first down on an end-around. The touchdown itself again exploited this aggressiveness, as Landry and Bell both bit on a play-action fake and Landry vacated the deep middle. Antonio Cromartie got beaten to the inside, but almost certainly would have been expecting help and his reaction seemed to indicate that was the case.

The next breakdown didn’t lead to a score, but hurt the Jets in terms of field position, as they had just tied the score and the Texans were backed up at their own four yard line. Arian Foster ran for a 46-yard gain that meant the Jets ended up getting the ball back at their 15 instead of in great field position. On this play, the Jets essentially had four defensive linemen and four linebackers, with Yeremiah Bell coming into the box alongside Harris. At the point of attack, Muhammad Wilkerson was double teamed and driven to the ground while Bryan Thomas and Bart Scott each took on a blocker on the outside. David Harris took on the lead-blocking fullback but that left a huge gap over left guard. Ordinarily Scott would be taking on that block and Harris would be cleaning up behind him, but Bell had stayed over on the left side. What turned it into a big gain was that Kyle Wilson came up too fast and overpursued, then Laron Landry compounded matters by getting turned around in the open field. It looked like the Jets were outschemed on that play – putting eight in the box and then getting burned when the Texans found an easy route to the second level.

The final major breakdown was on the second touchdown drive as the Texans went 42 yards on three running plays. The first saw Scott and Harris run blitzing up the middle on a cross-rushing stunt but Wilkerson got triple teamed on the edge and forced to the ground on the inside, allowing Foster to cut inside Bryan Thomas for eight. The second saw Foster bounce outside as Pace missed a tackle on the edge and Scott and Landry couldn’t get off blocks on the outside. Finally, he ran untouched for a score with Harris getting blown up in the hole, McIntyre driven out of the play with a kickout block and Wilson unable to get off a downfield block.

These were some well-designed plays from the league’s best running team, but the Jets did manage to make an adjustment in the second half.

Defensive Line

There’s no question that the Jets missed Sione Po’uha, but – as the previous two games showed – if he’s not healthy then that’s not going to help much. Unfortunately, Kenrick Ellis is also injured now, so that will put pressure on him to return even if he’s not ready to do so. Like last week, Ellis was in for 40 snaps and I continue to believe that this might be too many for him. He played well in the first three games, where he averaged 24 snaps, but in the last two, he’s started off pretty well but then started to look worn down. He was in on a couple of run stuffs and pressured Schaub once, but also ended up on the ground a couple of times and lost a couple of battles at the point of attack, especially as the game wore on.

When Ellis got hurt, Damon Harrison came off the bench for the last five snaps and got some face time when he stood up his blocker on third and one and bottled up the run so the Jets got the ball back with a chance to win the game. While it was great to see him come in and make an impact, this is not a big enough sample to know whether he could handle more reps. He did come into the game fresh, so it’s impossible to know how his conditioning would be once he gets to 10-20 snaps and he did end up on the ground on his last two snaps. However, it’s exciting to see signs of promise from a young player at this juncture of the season.

The only other realistic option at nose tackle is Mike DeVito, who has filled in at the position in the past. DeVito’s performance last night was excellent, even in the face of some double teams. He was getting constant penetration, shedding blocks to make plays in the running game and standing his ground at the point of attack. He also had one pressure as a pass rusher, as he played over 75% of the snaps for the first time since Week 3 of last season. Other than on one short yardage play, he never really got blown off the line. Even if Po’uha is back next week, I’d expect DeVito to play plenty of snaps at the nose tackle spot.

Let’s make something clear about Muhammad Wilkerson’s impact in this game. He was constantly double-teamed, even on passing downs. Despite this he had a disruptive game, with one hit and three pressures as well as several plays where he got penetration to redirect a runner. He was only in on one run stuff and did get blocked to the ground on two of the bigger running plays, but held his ground the rest of the time. Considering he was facing mostly single-team blocks last year, there’s no doubting how far he’s come. I would love to see what he could do alongside a healthy Po’uha this year, but I’m not sure if that’s ever going to happen.

Finally, Quinton Coples stuffed one run and flushed the quarterback out of the pocket once, but that was the only impact he had. He almost made an impact play in the backfield, but missed the tackle. The good news is that there were only a couple of plays where his blocker got the better of him to take him out of the play. He’s someone else who isn’t being helped by the injuries in the front seven.

Linebackers

While Bart Scott didn’t miss any tackles for the first time this season, he was completely ineffective. Other than a big tackle for a loss in the last minute, Scott only had one tackle and he didn’t register any pressure as a pass rusher. Scott is always at his most effective when he’s attacking the line of scrimmage and he wasn’t doing that last night. This may be because of his toe/foot injury, which is obviously bothering him because Josh Mauga and Demario Davis each saw plenty of time spelling him. The Texans got most of their running yardage by running to Harris’ side and getting blockers to the second level to prevent Scott from getting across. Scott was, however, the only starting linebacker not to be exploited in coverage. As with Po’uha, the Jets need Scott to be healthy and taking on blockers, otherwise it not only affects his own impact on the game, but also put Harris under extra pressure.

Harris had a productive day, with seven stops in the running game. However, he was taken out at the key moment on a couple of big plays, notably Foster’s touchdown and on a screen pass to James Casey. He also got beaten on a key third down conversion.

Thomas performed reasonably well, before leaving with yet another injury. While he was involved in a couple of the big plays in the first half, he did stuff a couple of runs and drew a holding penalty as he stretched a run to the outside. If Thomas is unable to go this weekend, could this be where the Jets finally activate Ricky Sapp from the practice squad? They’ll probably have to release a healthy player to do so and it’s not easy to see who isn’t likely to be needed right now. Maybe Thomas himself could be released and re-signed, like before.

Pace had a couple of pressures and stuffed a couple of runs including a big one on third down. However, he got caught inside on one run and struggled in the passing game, giving up four catches, including one where a receiver got behind him in zone coverage for a costly first down and another where he was handled on a screen pass. He also had a key missed tackle in the first half. He played better this week than he did against the 49ers though.

Demario Davis was in on 11 snaps this week – three as an inside linebacker and eight on the outside. He only rushed the quarterback once and didn’t record a tackle. His best moment saw him force a run back inside on third down to force the Texans to settle for a field goal, but on the negative side of the ledger, he and LaRon Landry got mixed up in zone coverage, leaving Owen Daniels all alone for an easy third and long conversion.

Garrett McIntyre and Aaron Maybin each pressured Schaub once off the bench. While he was blocked out of a couple of key plays, McIntyre did assist on a stop for no gain. Maybin also assisted on a run stuff. Mauga had one key open field tackle as Foster cut back at the second level, but otherwise did not make much noise and now he’s injured as well. This will certainly mean more playing time for Davis, but could it mean Nick Bellore gets a role on defense too?

Defensive Backs

Let’s give Antonio Cromartie a ton of credit. He completely shut out Andre Johnson, even managing to pick a pass off. The Jets did mix in quite a lot of zone which meant that Johnson did manage to catch one pass when Cromartie wasn’t covering and also Cromartie was the nearest guy on three completions, one of which was the Daniels touchdown mentioned above. He continues to do a much better job of using his hands to get a jam in press coverage, almost to the point where you wonder why they ever bother to use him in a zone capacity.

Somehow, Wilson and Ellis Lankster managed to go the whole game without being targeted. A lot of that was a product of the zone defenses the Jets were employing, but after last week where Wilson was tested early and often, it was encouraging to see. Wilson did make a couple of bad plays against the run, whereas Lankster – limited to 15 snaps – made a good hit after a play where Pace gave up a first down. I think Wilson may have been at fault on the 12 men on the field penalty because the Jets went with a 4-4-3 run defense with Wilson out on the next two plays.

Aaron Berry did not get any snaps on defense and Isaiah Trufant hasn’t played on defense since week one.

At safety, Landry seemed to have been at fault on the Daniels touchdown, had the coverage mix-up with Davis and was blocked out of the play that set up Foster’s touchdown. He’s still playing more disciplined than he was at the start of the year though. It was noted that Landry was benched during the middle of the second quarter (on the series after Foster’s touchdown). I can’t really shed any light on why that was, because you couldn’t pin that drive on him.

He and Yeremiah Bell combined for 15 tackles, which is probably not a good thing, because it underlines how often runners were able to get past the front seven. Bell also took a bad angle on the end-around on the first drive and was slow to react on Foster’s big run. He gave up two first downs in coverage, whereas Landry gave up one.

Eric Smith also got beaten for a costly first down, but did break up a pass and was in good position on another. Smith was a guy who, in the past, only seemed to play well when he was in a full-time role, but so far he has responded well to being a sub-package player. Will the Jets be tempted to increase his role at some point? I know most of you would hope not.

Finally, Josh Bush got on the field on defense for the first time and had a pressure on an overload blitz.

Special Teams

Clearly, the star on special teams this week was McKnight, whose spectacular kickoff return really fired up the Jets and got them into the game. He also had one other good return, but there was also one that he muffed and had to fall on inside the 15. Give Reuland and Bellore credit for some good blocks on the touchdown. Reuland had one other good block on special teams too, on Tebow’s fake punt run. Hilliard also blocked well on that play and had three special teams tackles.

In coverage, Trufant committed one penalty and drew another. In his debut, Aaron Berry found himself blocked into Kerley on a punt return, almost causing a muff. Kerley had to fair catch or leave every single punt, so had zero return yards on the day. Cumberland was pancaked on a kick coverage.

Coach Westhoff was under the microscope here, as the Tebow fake punt was a calculated risk, but the onside kick immediately after the McKnight touchdown might have been a step too far. Just one play later, the Texans were back in field goal range, certain to make it a two-possession game. On the play, Schilens perhaps should have come up with the ball, but that catch was harder than it looked, because you could tell he was aware that the ball needed to travel ten yards before he could grab it. He would have been able to go up and get it a lot sooner if that had not been an issue, but he kind of had to wait for it to drop, by which time he was being knocked off balance. Obviously, you’re a genius when that works and look foolish when it fails. At that point of the game, it backfired badly and you’re left to wonder what would have happened if the Jets kicked away and then got a defensive stop.

Those two weren’t the only questionable special teams coaching decisions though. I take issue with going all out for a punt block at the end and leaving Kerley to come up and pick up the gunner to prevent an easy first down. Had Kerley stayed in to fair catch the ball inside the 10, the Jets would have had it at the five yard line with 12 seconds left. By leaving the downfield area empty, the ball was allowed to run to a halt with four seconds to go. While your chances of winning the game from that position are pretty slim, you could run a deep out (or two shorter ones) to get yourself close enough to have a realistic chance of setting up some kind of miracle on the last play. In my opinion, that wasn’t a good job of playing the percentages, there.

Finally, in the kicking game, punter Tom Robert Malone was disappointing, although his numbers ended up being pretty good because of some penalties that helped restrict the Texans to three return yards on six kicks. Nick Folk remains perfect on the year, although he’s only attempted seven field goals all year.

Conclusions

During the week, people were talking about the Jets like they’re never going to win another game. Having gone toe-to-toe with the Texans, even though the better team won, the Jets have hopefully shown that they can still be competitive against anyone. Can they take care of business against weaker teams? We’ll have to wait and see, but there are plenty so-called weaker teams on their schedule over the second half, so maybe this team can remain in contention after all.

There were some positives this week and it will be interesting to see whether these will carry over to next week and beyond. It’s still concerning how many players are getting injured and that’s a problem that didn’t improve at all this week. However, if more young guys can take their opportunity for extra playing time and run with it like Harrison did this week, then perhaps that will give us some hope for the future.

The 49ers game was so bad, that it’s difficult to pinpoint any area where the Jets didn’t improve this week. Let’s hope they keep these things trending in the right direction.

Next up, Indianapolis. The Jets have already seen plenty of bad luck this season…let’s hope they see some bad Luck on Sunday.