Preseason BGA: Jets at Eagles
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…
BGA is back…and this time it’s preseasonal (again)!
Coming up, your breakdown of last night’s 10-28 loss to the Eagles backups, together with analysis of the offensive performance, including details of the performances by the new starting right tackle and his even newer backup.
Join me after the jump as I attempt to cover every angle.
The Jets have until 4pm ET to make their cuts and shape their 53-man roster. However, news of the cuts usually leaks out much earlier than that (and as I write this I can see these starting to filter through). Of course, that won’t be the final roster, since the Jets always make a handful of waiver claims and therefore it would be premature for anyone who is not cut today to celebrate having made the team.
With Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow rested, we were told to expect Greg McElroy and Matt Simms to play for one half each. It’s difficult to judge quarterbacks when they’re playing against backups. That’s epecially true when the guys they are throwing to aren’t expected to play in the NFL this season and neither are most of the guys trying to protect them. However, by way of a barometer, Drew Willy managed to complete nine of 17 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown in this game last year and he is now playing (as a backup) in the CFL.
As it happens, McElroy did well enough to see more than one half of action. Though he didn’t throw downfield much, he completed 12-of-17 passes for 90 yards and the first Jets touchdown of the preseason. He also rushed for 33 yards including three of the five Jets rushing first downs.
Simms, on the other hand, did not stand much of a chance. Operating behind a line that comprised two guys who had barely played so far in preseason, one guy who has only been playing on offense for just over a year and two guys who might make the roster, but don’t figure to play very much (if at all), Simms never stood much of a chance. With him at quarterback, the Jets went three and out on all five drives, gaining minus-8 yards. While Tim Tebow had five consecutive three and outs in the Giants game – with even more negative yarage, Simms isn’t able to hang his hat on a sustained drive for a field goal earlier in the game like Tebow can.
It seems clear that Simms isn’t ready for the NFL yet, even taking into account the personnel he was working with. To have lasted this long, he must have shown some promise, though, so it will be interesting to see whether they carry him on the practice squad. He was 2-for-5 for zero yards and had just been sacked on four consecutive dropbacks, when he finally completed an underneath pass on 3rd and long to at least push his passing numbers into positive digits. Although he didn’t have much of a chance on any of those sacks, at least one of them was a screwed up protection that he might have been partially responsible for.
Returning to McElroy, he did pretty well in the circumstances. The team only went three and out once with him at quarterback and he kept the chains moving with his legs, but also with some decent throws. He also finally got the Jets in the end zone, fooling the defense with a play fake and then dumping off to a wide open Terrance Ganaway for a six-yard touchdown. If McElroy wanted to show that he could limit mistakes, manage the game and move the chains – all qualities you’d look for in a third quarterback – then it was mission accomplished.
The only question left is whether the Jets are satisfied or will seek to upgrade that spot. You will recall that the Jets traded for Kevin O’Connell at this point in the offseason a couple of years ago, but they didn’t get rid of either of their backups (Kellen Clemens and Erik Ainge) to accommodate him, they just carried four.
There was one story on offense with major implications for the Jets’ season and that was the performance of their two tackles. We were told to expect Jason Smith (who started at left tackle) and Austin Howard (the starting right tackle) to play 10-15 snaps each, but they ended up playing into the second half, which I would suggest is perhaps a good sign.
They kept things relatively straightforward for Smith. Almost every running play they ran required him and Vladimir Ducasse (who started at left guard) to double team a guy and drive them straight ahead. In pass protection, they usually left him on his own. It looked like Ducasse was instructing Smith on who to block at times, which would have been unthinkable a year ago and seems like a good sign of how far he’s come.
Smith did a reliable job early on, only giving up a minor pressure when his man got inside leverage and drove him back in the pocket and getting beaten inside on one running play. He ended up with one sack, one hit and two pressures allowed overall, but the rest of that pressure came towards the end of his performance as the Eagles were starting to get more creative. More on that in a bit.
Howard also gave up a sack, two pressures and a QB hit, although the sack was for zero yards as McElroy fell forward and got back to the line of scrimmage. On one other occasion, he was beaten cleanly by a spin move but got some help from Matt Kroul, who started at right guard. In the running game, Howard was beaten inside on a play that was stuffed for a loss and was also beaten inside on another pass play, causing Kroul to get called for a hold (although it actually looked like Howard committed the infraction.) He did show some nastiness on one running play, throwing his guy to the ground, but overall Howard didn’t shine against backups quite as well as you’d have hoped in preparation for his baptism of fire against Mario Williams.
While the Eagles kept their pass rush schemes pretty vanilla for most of the first half, they did start running some double stunts later on (the defensive ends rush to the inside and the tackles loop around them and rush off the edge). It was interesting to compare how this was handled, as Smith is obviously more experienced than Howard, but Howard is more comfortable with this system. On the other hand, Smith had the more experienced Ducasse on his inside shoulder and Howard had Kroul on his inside.
On the first of these two, the left side of the line handled it perfectly. Ducasse picked up the end as he moved to the inside and Smith moved his feet and got back in front of the tackle to drive him out of the play. However, on the left, Howard stayed engaged with the end and Kroul had to chase underneath to try and prevent the tackle from getting to the quarterback. He didn’t get there in time to prevent a pressure. The second time they ran one of these stunts, the left side of the line gave up a sack as Smith was knocked slightly off balance by the inside rush and couldn’t get back the outside in time to prevent the tackle turning the corner for the sack. However, it looked like the end grabbed Smith’s arm as he was trying to get back in front and that might have made all the difference. I don’t know if non-replacement officials would have picked up the possible hold there.
Considering that was Smith’s only sack given up and he wouldn’t have had much time to work with his linemates on how to deal with things like that, he gave a good account of himself. Howard gave up the same amount of pressure, although some of that pressure did come after the quarterback had held onto the ball for a while. While the Jets have said they intend for Howard to start, my mind races back to 2007 where the Jets started rookie Jacob Bender at guard for most of the preseason, only to make him a surprise inactive on opening day and putting the more experienced option in as the starter in his place. That more experienced option was Adrien Clarke, so if Smith does end up getting to start over Howard at some point, we’ll all be hoping the outcome is a lot different.
Overall, I’d say I was encouraged by the performance of the tackles. Neither of them was flawless or dominant, but this was a long way from the Wayne Hunter debacle two weeks ago. Clearly this is still going to be an offensive weak spot, so the Jets will have to plan ahead with the expectation that the Bills will attack it.
Ducasse did complete a solid preseason with another pretty good performance. I don’t think this was his best game of the preseason, but he again didn’t make any major mistakes. In pass protection, he didn’t give up any pressures, although he was bull rushed into the backfield a couple of times, ending up on his back on one occasion. In the running game, he was called for a hold and let his guy get off his block to make a couple of plays but he also had more positive run blocks than anyone else, including one where he came off a double team to drive a guy out of the play at the second level.
On the right side, Kroul was a little overmatched as he played the entire game. He gave up five pressures and was called for two holding penalties. Although one of those should probably have been on Howard, he got away with a blatant hold a bit later on. He did have some positive moments in the running game but was also beaten on the inside twice on runs that were stuffed. Kroul has come a long way in just over a year as an offensive lineman, but has limited practice squad availability remaining and is still too raw to play to go on the active roster, so he might soon be out of options.
Caleb Schlauderaff also played the entire game at center. He had a few good run blocks including one at the second level where he drove a safety out of the play to create a huge hole. However, he also had some negative plays, giving up one pressure and getting beaten inside leading to one of Kroul’s holding penalties. On one play he tripped in the hole and this allowed his target to throw him aside and stuff a run and on another he missed his block at the second level. Schlauderaff does seem more comfortable at the center position than he was at the start of preseason and definitely represents an upgrade at center over Robbie Felix (who almost made the team last year) and Colin Baxter (who they brought in as an upgrade over Felix). His ability to play guard makes him useful too, so I would expect him to be on the final roster.
Three backups got playing time in the second half – Paul Cornick at left tackle, Robert Griffin at right tackle and Fred Koloto at left guard. Clearly this unit struggled, with Griffin giving up a sack and three pressures, Cornick giving up one and a half sacks and getting beaten on the inside in the running game and Koloto not managing to sustain his block on two running plays. Griffin may have a shot at the active roster if the Jets think he has potential, but he is overmatched at tackle right now. The other two would appear to be at least a year or two away.
Joe McKnight got the start this time and did have a couple of nice runs, including an 18 yard burst right up the middle. He only averaged 2.5 yards per carry other than that, though. He seems to have lost the battle to be third down back to Bilal Powell. Powell flashed with three consecutive nice runs in the second quarter, making a great cut on the first of those plays. The third one was ultimately negated by a hold, but he did continue to look much sharper and more powerful than at any point last year. He also caught three passes.
There was one misstep for Powell in pass protection, as Matt Simms got nailed from the blindside and Powell initially looked to block someone on the right side and then realized too late that the free rusher was coming from the left. That may have been Simms’ responsibility, or whoever was making the line calls (probably Schlauderaff) though.
Terrance Ganaway got plenty of reps at fullback, but his lead blocking wasn’t particularly good. He also got stuffed on his only two carries. He did catch four passes , however, including one for a first down and one for the Jets’ only touchdown of the preseason.
When John Conner sat out the first half, most people probably assumed that he was given the night off as most of the starters were, but he was out there in the second half, taking over at fullback with Ganaway moving to the tailback position. I’d like to say he was dominant against the Eagles third stringers, but that wasn’t the case. He also got stuffed (again) on a short yardage play. After a disappointing preseason, I’d say Conner was lucky that Josh Baker got injured. However, maybe he will thrive once Tony Sparano opens up his playbook a little more. For now, Manish Mehta is already reporting that the plan is to keep him on the team.
The most impressive wideout performance came from Eron Riley, who showed great hands on two of his four catches. Riley seemed to have been a bit of an afterthought this preseason, but looked better than Royce Pollard and Jordan White, who caught three balls on eight targets between them. Pollard also had a fumble that rolled out of bounds. White has probably shown enough this preseason to merit the sixth wide receiver spot and maybe even lay claim to the fifth spot, but his roster hopes depend on how many receivers the Jets will carry and whether they intend to bring anyone else in.
At tight end, Dedrick Epps got plenty of playing time, catching one pass. He really struggled as a blocker both in the running game and in terms of pass protection where he surrendered two pressures and half a sack.
Tarren Lloyd and Hayden Smith got the rest of the reps, but neither was targeted. Lloyd has little impact as a blocker, whereas Smith was consistently too upright at the point of impact and kept losing the leverage battle as a result. That’s surprising for someone with a rugby background and maybe it is fixable. In fact, he did seem to fare a little better in the second half, although he didn’t seem to get as many reps.
It seems like a no-brainer to add Smith to the practice squad and apply for the NFL to treat him as an international player. I believe he was guaranteed a sum equivalent to the cost of having him on the practice squad, so if that is the case, then they don’t have anything to lose by doing so, as long as they think there’s even the slimmest chance he has an NFL future. I wonder if the development he’s shown them so far is enough.
Remember, when players are waived, you have to wait for them to clear waivers before you can add them to your practice squad.
Part two (defense and special teams) will follow in due course.