Preseason BGA: Jets at Bengals Part One
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: Since there’s a new scheme and several players that we’re seeing for the first time or in new/extended roles, this is an EPIC, so I’ve divided it into two parts. Defense and Special Teams will be covered in part two to follow later tonight…
BGA is back…and this time it’s preseasonal (again)!
Coming up, your breakdown of last night’s 17-6 loss to the Bengals together with detailed analysis of rotations, strategy and player performance. I’ll be looking for reasons why the Jets looked so bad but (SPOILER ALERT) none of them have anything to do with Tim Tebow taking off his shirt, Chaz Schilens taking offense at an off-hand comment by a defensive back or any of the multitude of 20-minute brawls in practice.
Join me after the jump as I attempt to cover every angle. As always, there are some silver linings, trust me.
We start, as is tradition, with your customary reminder that this was the first preseason game, so we shouldn’t be overreacting too much to what happened. If the offense looked like they were still in the process of installing a brand new offensive system and blocking scheme, it’s because they were – and, indeed, are.
Officially, preseason means nothing. The Rams were 4-0 last year. In 1992, the Jets were 5-0 and then went 4-12 in the regular season. Just because last year saw several issues in preseason which went on to manifest themselves during the regular season too, that doesn’t mean there’s necessarily a correlation between preseason performance and what happens in the regular season. After all, in 2010, Vernon Gholston was in the mix for defensive MVP in the preseason.
However, there were some areas that gave cause for concern and these will be things the Jets will be particularly keen to address, whether that be with personnel changes, coaching up techniques or adjusting their schemes. Let’s just hope they address some of these issues better than last year.
With two of his more familiar targets unavailable and a gameplan which the coaching staff told us in advance would be vanilla, it’s perhaps too early to be concerned that Mark Sanchez didn’t open preseason with a more productive performance. The importance of having a target with whom he has some chemistry was emphasized by the fact that all 21 of his passing yards came on three short completions to his old USC teammate, Patrick Turner. He did also complete a pass in the flat to John Conner for no gain, but ended up 4-for-6 after two incompletions to rookie Jordan White. One of these came on a well placed third down pass to the outside which White dropped, albeit on a diving attempt, and the other fell well short of its target because he was hit as he threw.
It’s a bit difficult to evaluate him when he didn’t throw a single pass 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage – something which, one would hope, is a product of the vanilla gameplan rather than his reluctance to throw deep because of a lack of confidence in his arm, his receivers or his protection. No turnovers – or even near misses – is a plus, and he made a good decision to tuck and run to keep the chains moving on third down.
I’ve talked many times about the requirement for Sanchez to be decisive in the past and he did take two sacks. However, I wouldn’t say either of these were situations where he could or should have got rid of the ball quicker. We need a bigger sample size to assess his progress in this – and other – areas.
It’s possible we won’t learn anything about the contribution the Jets can expect from Tim Tebow during this preseason. In fact, Jets fans were in the unusual position of almost hoping Tebow didn’t play too well because all that would do is strengthen the media’s misguided belief that he’s in contention to start. If all goes to plan, Tebow’s role this year will be as a utility package player behind, or even alongside a healthy Sanchez.
However, we may as well analyse what he showed us in his extended outing with the second unit. Although it hopefully won’t come to that, in the event of a Sanchez injury landing Tebow in the cockpit, Tebow did show that he can keep the chains moving with his legs. It’s always useful to have a backup that can do that – Kellen Clemens, Quincy Carter and Brooks Bollinger spring to mind as potential stop-gaps from the past. None of these were viable options as full-time starter, but maybe Tebow can be a more-established member of this group. Of course, if he was required for a longer-term starting role, the Jets would probably simplify their offense to incorporate a lot of read-option stuff like the Broncos did last year.
The main reason for that is his throwing ability, which despite all the work he’s been doing with positional coaches and former baseball players over the summer, still looks to be a work in progress. He did complete a couple of passes to rookie Stephen Hill, but these sailed on him, leaving Hill exposed to a couple of big hits. His other two completions were dump-offs, but to be fair, Tebow’s numbers (4-for-8) were reasonable when you consider one was a throw-away and another was dropped (on probably his best throw of the day, again to Hill). The interception was an extremely poor throw though, although I appreciated the hustle of the four guys who combined to make the tackle.
The third stringer, Greg McElroy, also went 4-for-6 but was sacked three times. One of those may have been partially his fault, because a linebacker came completely unblocked off the edge with the right tackle (Robert Griffin) blocking down and the tight end on that side (Tarren Lloyd) running a route. Running back Terrance Ganaway ran into the left flat. Someone definitely needed to switch up the protection there.
McElroy’s four completions were all short passes and one of his two incompletions was another dump-off that was tipped. He did lose a fumble on one of the sacks, but – much like Sanchez – he didn’t really have a chance of getting the ball away on any of those.
We didn’t get a look at fourth-stringer Matt Simms. It remains to be seen whether he has a realistic shot at ousting McElroy.
There’s been a lot of talk about the recent attempts to upgrade, with many people concerned that no improvement whatsoever has been made and that, in fact, things look a lot worse than they already did which looks set to put a dampener on the whole season. However, that’s enough about the new site redesign – how did the offensive line fare?
While there were breakdowns in pass protection, it’s worth noting that there was only one sack, two hits and eight pressures that were directly attributable to offensive linemen. However, Jets quarterbacks were sacked five times overall, hit twice and pressured ten times. Two pressures and two sacks were attributable to backs or tight ends and two sacks were attributable to blown protections. I’ll talk about the backs and tight ends when I get to those sections, but we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of the Jets finding personnel to do a good job of that because Tony Sparano is expected to rely on them to reduce the pressure on Mark Sanchez once the season is underway.
The first unit – with Austin Howard filling in at right tackle for the injured Wayne Hunter – allowed Sanchez to be pressured three times in nine dropbacks. One of these came as D’Brickashaw Ferguson was beaten by an outside speed rush, although Sanchez stepped up to avoid this. He was then hit by Matt Slauson’s man as he threw, although Slauson had done a good job of staying in front of his man for about 4.5 seconds.
The other two were sacks – one of which came as tight end Jeff Cumberland was badly beaten. The other was attributable to one of the blown protections.
On this play, Rey Maualuga stunted underneath and came around left guard as Slauson was helping out Nick Mangold. Slauson many have been able to react, but Brandon Moore whiffed on his block, which meant Mangold had to help him out while still blocking his own man and prevented Slauson from being able to get release the double team and have a chance of preventing the sack. It’s always difficult to know whether the blame lies with the quarterback or the center when they fail to adjust a protection to prevent something like this. However, had Moore done a better job on his man, it’s possible the crisis could have been averted.
In limited action, it was interesting to see some of the different plays Sparano is going to introduce this year. They moved the pocket at times and also got their interior linemen on the move to the outside a lot more than the Jets had done over the past few years under Schottenheimer and Callahan’s schemes.
As you’d expect, Mangold had a problem-free performance, notwithstanding his possible involvement in the breakdown in protection. He did have one good run block where he turned his man to the outside to create a cutback lane. Ferguson didn’t have any real problems other than that one speed rush, but there was one run block where he could have sustained his block a little better. Other than his missed block that probably led to Maualuga’s sack, Moore also missed a cut block on Domata Peko, allowing him to break free and pursue Shonn Greene to the outside to stop him for a short gain. However, he and Howard did get a good surge together on one play as they double teamed a defensive linemen and drove him back off the line.
That was probably Howard’s best moment too, although he didn’t make too many costly mistakes. While, as noted, the Jets did attempt to give their linemen some help in pass protection, Howard held his own for the mostpart. He did let his man get away from him on the first play, although that was a designed rollout and short throw where Sanchez was fading safely away from the pressure, so that may have been partially by design. Conner lined up as an H-back and chip blocked the defensive end, then leaked out into the flat but the play didn’t work as the safety diagnosed it and came up to make the stop.
After the first unit left the game, Howard remained in but moved over to left tackle, which may be his more natural position. It’s worth noting that Tebow was in at quarterback, so Howard still wasn’t protecting the blindside. Howard surrendered one QB hit on a play where Tebow was flushed from the pocket and rolled out and threw the ball away, but on the whole didn’t have any issues staying in front of the edge rushers.
Although only giving up one hit (and maybe a pressure) in almost three quarters of work is pretty good, let’s not get ahead of ourselves on Howard, though. In last year’s preseason, Wayne Hunter only gave up a sack and four pressures. I’d caution that something I noticed when I scouted Howard for BGA last year is still a potential issue. He needs to ensure he keeps his hands on his opponent because elite players will be able to disengage from him and get after the quarterback. Hopefully he’s been working at that, because although I noticed his man getting separation from him on a couple of occasions, he was much more consistent with this.
Howard also had one bad mental error, committing a false start penalty on third and short.
The other starter, Slauson, played one series at center – the one where Tebow drove the Jets downfield for a field goal. He had no problems there and looked comfortable in that role. The Jets are hopefully stronger at backup guard than they are at backup center, so that might be the best option in the event of another Mangold absence.
With Slauson at center, Caleb Schlauderaff played at right guard and looked very good there. He had one play in pass protection where he saw a stunting lineman coming free and was able to drive off his own man to reach across and keep the stunting lineman at bay to prevent a pressure. He also had a good run block and displayed good mobility to get to the outside.
When Slauson left the game, Schlauderaff moved to center and Griffin stepped in at right guard. I anticipated issues, especially after Schlauderaff was said to have struggled in the Green/White scrimmage last week. However, Schlauderaff managed to hold his own with some more good run blocking. There was only one play where he got bullrushed into the backfield at the snap, which caused the run to redirect to the outside where it was stuffed, but other than that he didn’t have any issues. He did give up one pressure, but on that play he stayed in front of his man and Tebow stepped up into the pressure to get rid of the ball. In fact, the second unit did a solid job in pass protection, allowing no sacks or hits and just five pressures with Tebow in.
The fourth starter on the second unit was Vladimir Ducasse. He had one misstep where a stunting lineman came underneath to get a pressure on his outside shoulder (but, as mentioned before, it’s always difficult to apportion blame on such plays). Other than that, he had a handful of good run blocks, including one great play where he made a reach block and displayed superior strength to gain leverage to force his man back to the inside, creating a huge hole for the runner. There was only a couple of occasions where he failed to sustain his block and one of these came after he had driven his man back five yards.
I get the impression Ducasse has been focusing hard on finishing plays. On one play, I’m not sure why he did it, but he leapt onto the pile with a huge belly flop. That was certainly entertaining and hopefully indicative that he is making a huge effort to fight for his job.
At right tackle, Stephon Heyer finds himself on the second unit following injuries to Wayne Hunter and Dennis Landolt. Heyer is the most experienced right tackle the Jets have, so it’s surprising he hasn’t managed to make it off the third unit until now. However, he was a huge disappointment here with a series of negative plays and no outstanding positive plays.
On his first series, he had three really bad plays in a row. First he got cleanly beaten for a pressure, then he ended up blocking nobody as pressure ended up coming up the middle and finally he got badly beaten on the inside, blowing up an attempted counter play and compounded the error by committing a holding penalty. Shortly after that, he had another play where his man made a spin move and got past him into the backfield and a play where he was beaten for another pressure. On each occasion, Heyer’s man missed the tackle, but he still gets graded down on those.
In the third quarter, when McElroy entered the game, the Jets brought Matt Kroul in for Heyer, but left the rest of the second unit in the game for one series. I don’t know if that constitutes a benching, or if that was a planned rotation. Kroul moved to right guard, while Griffin moved to right tackle.
Griffin actually stayed in the game to play right tackle with the third unit, which also featured Kroul at center, Paul Cornick at left tackle, Fred Koloto at left guard and Terrence Campbell at right guard.
Griffin looked a lot more comfortable at guard and doesn’t look like he has the lateral agility to deal with speed rushers. He gave up a pressure and half a sack, and was also called for a hold. He also had one play where he didn’t sustain his block and his man stuffed the run.
That half a sack came on yet another stunt where Griffin and Kroul got confused and ended up both getting beaten. On this occasion, you can probably safely say that the blame can be shared. Kroul’s worst play was his first one, where he got beaten on the inside and called for a hold. He looked more comfortable once he went to center, although that may just be because he was facing third stringers. As you may recall, he was initially a guard after converting from the defensive tackle position and only played center for the first time in the last preseason game in 2011.
Cornick and Koloto didn’t do anything that stood out (positively or negatively), but Campbell got beaten for a pressure and called for a hold.
The first unit didn’t see much success in terms of the running game, gaining just 15 yards on six carries, but overall, the Jets managed to rack up 116 yards on the ground at 4.3 yards per carry. In fact, they averaged 4.3 yards per carry and only 2.3 yards per pass attempt. That’s slightly misleading though, because Tebow ran for 34 yards on four plays that were not designed runs (and Sanchez ran for four on another). Adjust the numbers accordingly and the Jets actually only averaged 3.6 yards per running play. They still only averaged 3.3 yards per pass play though, if you factor in sacks.
So, should we be concerned with an average of only 3.6 yards per carry or the 2.5 yards per carry for the first unit? Hardly the ideal start for the “ground and pound” we’ve been expecting, is it?
It’s worth noting that the Jets often don’t have much success running the ball with their first unit in preseason, going all the way back through the Thomas Jones era and into the Curtis Martin era. You often hear talk of the offensive line striving to “gel” early on in the season, something which the Jets saw waylaid by Mangold’s injury early on in the season last year. Over the years, the Jets have had some run blockers that are notorious slow starters (such as Faneca and Mawae) and have always used a pretty vanilla running scheme in preseason.
Shonn Greene carried the ball five times, but only had one carry of over two yards. On third downs, he came out of the game for Bilal Powell, who is establishing himself as a real contender, if not the leader, for that number two running back role. While Powell just gained 16 yards on five carries and caught one short pass, he only averaged two yards per carry last season (including preseason), so that’s a step upwards. Where he did impress was in pass protection. On one occasion, it looked like he was going to give up a pressure, but he managed to keep a strong base and force his man upfield to allow Sanchez to step up. He did surrender one pressure on a cut block. He actually made the block, but his man got up and pressured the quarterback who didn’t get rid of the ball fast enough. It did allow him to get the throw off though. This was a common theme – clearly the Jets have been working at cut blocks – and may need to continue to do so.
Joe McKnight made more of an impact with the ball, racking up 66 yards on ten touches. He looked a little more decisive as a runner, with one play in particular where he made a quick cut on a play where any hesitation would have led to him being cut down for a loss. McKnight also gave up a pressure on a play where he made a cut block but his man got up to pressure the quarterback.
Terrance Ganaway had a few nice plays – 24 yards on five touches – but did get rocked in pass protection and looks like he needs to work on having a more solid base in those situations. He wasn’t used in a fullback role.
I’ve been hoping John Conner will thrive under Tony Sparano, who got a terrific performance out of Lousaka Polite a few years ago. However, he still seems to be too inconsistent. On one play he left a guy unblocked as he ran to the second level. Maybe it wasn’t his primary assignment, but he still shouldn’t be letting guys run right by him to make a play. Conner did have one good run block, but still doesn’t sustain his blocks consistently enough for my liking.
This begs the question: If Josh Baker is going to block more consistently than him from the fullback position, could Conner’s job come under threat? Baker played fullback with the second and third unit (as well as some tight end with the first and second units) and was more consistent in the running game, albeit going up against backups. In pass protection, he was rocked on one play and he was responsible for giving up a sack – on yet another play where he made a cut block but his man still made it to the quarterback – so it wasn’t a flawless performance from Baker.
With not many downfield throws, there isn’t much to report on the receivers. Hill had two tough catches, then dropped an third down pass where he was open for an easy first down. Schilens was targeted once, on a downfield throw that didn’t really have a chance. As noted above, Turner caught three short Sanchez passes. Those three should be on the roster.
In terms of the guys in with a chance of a spot, White and Royce Pollard both got some kick return duties and a couple of targets. White couldn’t hang on to a tough diving catch attempt on third and two. Pollard did make a 13-yard catch and had another catch negated by a penalty.
I was surprised not to see more of Dexter Jackson after all the positives we’ve heard about him in camp. NFL.com’s gamebook says he did play, but I didn’t see him. Raymond Webber got some late reps, but Wes Kemp did not play.
At tight end, Cumberland made a negative impact when he was badly beaten for a sack, but to be fair to him, I didn’t see any issues with his run blocking. That’s more than I can say for Dustin Keller, who was badly beaten on the inside on a play where Greene was tackled in the backfield. It was good to see Hayden Smith get on the field and he looked good running routes, but he was also badly beaten on the inside on one play.
Dedrick Epps looked pretty good setting the edge on one play and Lloyd also saw action. The only pass thrown to a tight end was Tebow’s interception.
Still to come…Defense and Special Teams – in part two later tonight.
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