Preseason BGA: Jets at Bengals 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: 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. Part One covered the offense and can be accessed here…
BGA is back…and this time it’s preseasonal (again)!
We’re recapping last night’s loss to the Bengals. After the jump, Part Two looks at the performance by the defense and special teams and also draws final conclusions.
Before I get into the positional analysis, a quick recap of the defensive strategy. The first unit employed the usual hybrid front with three linemen and what I’m going to refer to as an “option-backer” because the “Rush Linebacker” in the Jets’ scheme effectively has the option to play with his hand down and make a four man front. As we’ve come to expect, the Jets used this on first and second down with Bryan Thomas usually on the weakside and Calvin Pace on the strong side. They mostly played standing up, but both played with their hand down a couple of times.
The base defense for the second unit was the same, with Maybin as the option backer. He nearly always played from the kind of side-on, bent forward position which he adopted last year and which seems to work for him.
The third unit played a 4-3 base defense with Damon Harrison and Matt Hardison inside and Jay Richardson playing as a conventional 4-3 DE. The Jets did line up in a conventional 4-3 with Quinton Coples on the outside, but just for two plays in the first quarter. Pace, David Harris and Bart Scott were the linebackers. Effectively, that’s only one personnel change (Coples for Thomas) away from the starting lineup and Coples could theoretically play Thomas’ option backer role (presumably taking the option to play with his hand in the dirt most of the time). Obviously the Jets were also in a 4-3 whenever the option backer played with his hand in the dirt, but this wasn’t very often.
On passing downs, the Jets mostly employed a dime (3-2-6) formation. This saw them use Eric Smith and Kyle Wilson as extra defensive backs. It’s still not known whether the Jets will use three safeties or three cornerbacks when they go to a nickel formation. Now that Eric Smith is out for the rest of preseason, we may have to wait until the regular season to see that. Demario Davis was mostly the second linebacker alongside Harris.
There were one or two interesting looks on the defensive front, with Coples and Wilkerson together on the inside at one point, for example. However, for the most part, the Jets kept things relatively straightforward on defense.
The only place to start on defense is with Quinton Coples. Yes, he got a lot of reps. Yes, he looked worn out and got handled one-on-one on some plays. Yes, he did most of his damage against backups. However, Coples was a legitimate force and I was actually more impressed when I watched the game in more detail. He had several standout plays, including three tackles in the backfield, one sack/forced fumble and one batted pass. However, that wasn’t all he did. He added two pressures, a QB hit, drew some double teams and shed a block to assist on a tackle for no gain. On the Cincinnati feed, Hall of Fame tackle Anthony Munoz called him “a load”.
He did get driven back or blocked to the ground on a couple of plays late in the game, but these could be attributed to tiredness. Even then, he followed them up with some strong plays.
I want to look at two of the plays where he was playing with the first unit. On the first, he got some good penetration driving Andrew Whitworth – an elite tackle – back off his spot, forcing Benjarvus Green-Ellis to the outside. Unfortunately, he got to the edge for a 12 yard gain down the sideline. However, review of the play shows that it was Pace who had outside contain…and an even closer look shows that Pace was blatantly held to prevent him from getting to the outside despite the fact he had outside leverage the whole way. On the basis of that play, hopefully Coples can be disruptive and blow up plays even against top level competition. On one other play with the first unit, he beat the right tackle with an inside move, but the back stayed in and was able to slow him down enough to prevent pressure.
As impressive as Coples was, I was equally impressed with Muhammad Wilkerson and Kenrick Ellis. I didn’t grade either of the two second year men down on a single play, but they both made solid positive contributions in limited playing time. Wilkerson stuffed three runs and had a pressure that led to an incompletion on third and goal. Ellis got solid and consistent penetration, shed his blocks to assist on a couple of run stuffs and batted a pass. He also got into the backfield and pursued the runner across the field to chase him down for a short gain. I’d say Ellis looks noticeably stronger and Wilkerson seems to be more polished and confident.
The other starter, Mike DeVito, had a quiet game, but didn’t make any mistakes. He didn’t get as much playing time as Coples, Wilkerson and Ellis.
Off the bench, Jay Richardson had an unexpectedly solid impact. Richardson had a strip sack, a pressure, a tackle for a loss and blew up another run. His best play might have been on third down when he pursued a receiver into the flat and stopped him short of a first down after a missed tackle by cornerback D’Anton Lynn. Unfortunately, the officials gave the receiver an extremely favorable spot to give him a first down.
Other than the strip sack – which came as he lined up at defensive tackle in a four man front with Maybin playing with his hand in the dirt – Richardson did all his damage in the second half, against backups. However, he took advantage of the chance to get some extra playing time with Ricky Sapp and Brett Roy out and that puts pressure on both of those guys when they return to the lineup.
Marcus Dixon did a great job as a backup last season and opened preseason with half a sack last night, although he didn’t do much else. He did get good penetration on one play, but there were a couple of plays where he was forced to the inside and driven back. I wouldn’t say this was anything to be overly concerned about though.
Martin Tevaseu got plenty of reps with the second unit. He got some good penetration at times, but also had a missed tackle. His spot could come under fire from Harrison who was getting outstanding penetration on a consistent basis with the third unit. He also stuffed one run and almost collapsed the pocket with a strong bullrush. Harrison was made to look all the more impressive by playing alongside Hardison who was driven back on almost every play. Hardison looks more athletic than Harrison in space, but needs to get stronger if he’s going to have an NFL future.
It feels weird to write a BGA where I’m not saying how well Sione Po’uha played, but the defensive line should get even better once he’s back.
The Jets did a good job against the run – although I’m sure the Bengals were running a vanilla scheme and have yet to gel too – surrendering just 86 yards on 31 carries. The first unit gave up 24 yards on eight carries, but half of those came on the play mentioned above where Pace was held. While I’m making excuses for Pace, I note that a lot of people were concerned that he got beaten for two first down catches but I have to mention that one of these was on a hilariously blatant pick play where a receiver ran straight into LaRon Landry and took him out. On the other, there was no excuse this time. The receiver found a gap in the zone coverage between Harris and Pace, who lost his balance on the break to the outside and missed his tackle allowing extra yardage.
Linebacker coverage is a big concern after Green-Ellis ran a sharp route to get a step on Scott to convert a third down play. While everyone is panicking that Bart looks slow, I would have expected Green-Ellis – who runs a 4.55 forty – to have been able to run away from him last year. The Bengals did a good job of isolating Green-Ellis on Scott, who usually wouldn’t even have been in the game in that situation last year. If Scott isn’t going to be given one-on-one assignments on passing downs then this isn’t a major cause for concern. While coverage is clearly no longer his strength like it once was, no team was able to exploit that fact last season. As long as he can still be productive attacking the line of scrimmage and that’s how they use him, it won’t be a factor. Bart did have one QB hit and there were at least two other coverage plays where the quarterback looked his way and he was in perfect position. He did seem to be taking on blockers, which is encouraging because that’s when he’s been at his most effective over the last few years.
As for Pace, he did get in on a couple of run stuffs in the early stages, but didn’t have much of an impact as a pass rusher. Both these issues are much more important than his ability to cover, which isn’t likely to be required of him very often.
The other two starters were pretty quiet. Harris had one play where he was driven back ten yards by Whitworth and another where he gave up a first down catch in zone coverage, but he did get in on four tackles. Bryan Thomas didn’t record a single tackle or any pressure, but did have two excellent plays where he maintained contain by driving him man upfield and forced the runner back inside.
Maybin also had a quiet game, despite getting a lot of playing time with Roy and Sapp out. His best moment was on Richardson’s sack where he lined up with his hand in the dirt and rushed hard to the inside, so that Richardson could run a stunt behind him to get to the quarterback. Possibly the best impact from a linebacker came from Garrett McIntyre who had a pressure, half a sack and a forced fumble. He also had a play where, like Thomas, he got contain to the outside and forced the runner back inside where he was tackled for a loss. McIntyre did lose contain once though and the Bengals ran right at him for their short yardage touchdown in the third quarter.
As noted, Davis got some work with the sub-packages on passing downs and played with the third unit as an every down player. Josh Mauga and Nick Bellore played together on the inside with the second unit.
Mauga got caught in traffic a couple of times, but did manage to trip a runner in the hole. Bellore had a missed tackle and was cut down once but did almost make a big play on Peerman’s touchdown, shooting a gap into the backfield, but just failing to stop him in the backfield. Davis looked exceptional with the third unit, showing an ability to navigate traffic, redirect runners, blow up running plays and make open field tackles. Although he did also miss two tackles, neither was particularly costly. It will be interesting to see him get more work against the first and second teams.
With the third unit, Damario Ambrose was in the right place at the right time to grab a tackle for a loss on a play expertly strung out by Davis and Richardson. Marcus Dowtin also saw some time at linebacker – not safety, after he was previously rumored to have been working towards a position change.
It’s very difficult to assess defensive backs when neither team is throwing downfield very much, especially safeties, but I’ll try my best. Andy Dalton was 4-of-9 for 54 yards against the Jets starters, for what it’s worth.
At cornerback, Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson were not tested other than the one throw to AJ Green at the goal line. Dalton threw it high where only Green could get it, but Revis was right there to hit him as it arrived. It went off Green’s fingertips, but even if he caught it, Revis was in good position to swipe at the ball as he would have tried to bring it in, so it would have been an extremely tough catch.
There was one issue I noticed – again down near the endzone. Revis was lined up at left cornerback and Yeremiah Bell was inside him lined up at the back of the endzone. Clearly the Jets were in zone coverage because Revis just pretty much stopped when the receiver broke to the inside, but Bell was too far off him and he was momentarily open in the endzone. In fact, he could have broken off his route to come back towards the goal line and would have been even more wide open. Dalton had already gone into his throwing motion, looking the other way. The Jets will need to tighten up their zone packages much better than that.
Although Rex Ryan stated after the game that the Jets used Bell as the deep safety, they actually split duties, with LaRon Landry actually starting the game in that role. Again, it’s difficult to assess their impact, although Bell had two incompletions thrown his way and seemed to be in position. He also made a good play in run support. Before getting hurt, Eric Smith was targeted once but was in good position as the pass was underthrown.
One person we can evaluate – because he was targeted a lot –was Ellis Lankster. Lankster got beaten badly for a first down but rebounded to make tackles for short gains on two other completions. He also hit a receiver as he dropped a pass and was in good position on another bad throw. To wrap up a mostly solid performance, Lankster recorded a tackle for a loss on a running play.
Julian Posey was also targeted a few times. He gave up one first down that was negated by a penalty and had another play where Brandon Tate caught the ball on the sideline but he made sure he didn’t come down in bounds. He did give up one first down catch on a play where he was called for pass interference, although I’m not entirely sure that was a good call. Posey did make one good play in run support.
Backups Ryan Steed and D’Anton Lynn each gave up a first down catch. Lynn’s came as he let the receiver break free of his grasp when he should have had him stopped to force a punt. However, Isaiah Trufant struggled most of all. The diminutive Trufant has struggled to prove he is physical enough to cover NFL players and he was outmuscled on two first down catches for 59 yards. He was in position on one other pass and did make a play against the run, but I’m still yet to be convinced he can be anything more than a special teamer and situation overload blitzer.
Rookie backup safeties Antonio Allen and Josh Bush didn’t get a chance to do much on defense, but Allen did show a willingness to stick his nose in there in run support and Bush blitzed for a pressure.
In preseason, special teams play is more important than offense and defense for some guys trying to win a job. Unfortunately, many of the guys who need to make an impact to make the team actually made a negative impact.
Two notable exceptions were the kickers, each of whom confidently nailed a field goal and boomed a touchback. In fact, Folk boomed two. However, the announcers said something about the air being thin and the conditions being especially good for kickers. It was definitely interesting that Brown played the first half and Folk played the second half. It’s also worth noting that, despite Tim Tebow being on the team, TJ Conley did the holding. Last year, Mark Brunell did it.
Conley was typically underwhelming with his punting. He did have one long punt, but it was negated by a penalty. He outkicked his coverage on that one anyway. The good news for Conley is that Travis Baltz was also pretty bad.
On the blocked punt, both Bush and Ganaway blew their blocks and it didn’t help that Tanner Purdum had an uncharacteristic low snap. Bush had a particularly rough day on special teams. He also had a special teams penalty and was knocked to the ground, taking out his teammate (Lankster) as he tried to stop the gunner getting downfield on another punt.
In contrast, Trufant and Allen did a much better job in the vice role stopping the gunner. Trufant and Lankster were the primary gunners on special teams, which bodes well for their roster chances. Lankster did get juked out of his socks on one punt return though.
Davis had a couple of big special teams tackles in the first quarter, Nick Bellore threw a good block and Ambrose also had a penalty.
In terms of the return game, Wilson was the first person to get a chance to field a punt, but he ran laterally and got nowhere, so Pollard and White shared those duties thereafter. Pollard – who never returned punts in college – had a 19-yard runback into Bengals territory, but White’s longest return was a 12-yarder. White was also used as a kick returner and had one awful play where he dropped the ball in the endzone and then got stuffed at the five when he tried to run it out, but there was only about 20 seconds left in the first half, so I guess he had nothing to lose. He did have one 32-yard kick return.
While it seemed like a comfortable win for the Bengals, they really only led at the half because of a freak play in the last minute. Without that, the Jets were only outscored 10-6 and with the Bills and Patriots both involved in games that finished 7-6, perhaps that puts this performance into perspective.
Still, there’s clearly a lot of things that need to be fixed and we’re perhaps about to find out if certain new members of this coaching staff are any better at making those adjustments than those people they replaced.
Whether those adjustments are successful or not, I’ll be back here next week to recap game number two. It’s good to be back.
Shameless self-promotion: If you enjoyed this analysis, you’ll love our season preview, available on ebook or paperback – details here.