Preseason BGA: Jets at Lions – Part One (Offense: Skill Positions)

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.

BGA is back…and this time it’s preseasonal (again)!

Coming up, part one your breakdown of last night’s 26-17 loss to the Lions with detailed analysis of the quarterbacks, running backs, tight ends and receivers.

Join me after the jump as I attempt to cover every angle. It’s good to be back!

As noted, we’re splitting this week’s BGA into four. That’s because the first BGA of preseason is typically the longest of the year because it’s the first look we get at certain players and any new schemes. And, yes, I know “Skill Positions” is often frowned upon as a description for QBs, RBs, TEs and WRs, but I don’t like “Ball Handlers” because it makes it sound like I’m analyzing a bunch of point guards. Let’s get to the good stuff…

Quarterbacks

Mark Sanchez ending up with pretty decent stats but sullying an otherwise competent performance with a singular mind-boggling mistake is something that has been happening with increasing regularity since early in the 2011 season. That is, of course, until the latter stages of last season when the frequency of the mind-boggling mistakes intensified and the accompanying display of competence deserted him altogether. This is disconcerting, because the last thing we wanted to see is evidence of any trends continuing from the last year or so.

Rex Ryan can say that the fans should be supportive and not boo Sanchez all he wants, but even if 99% of the fans don’t boo Sanchez, that still leaves about 800 vociferous Jets fans booing their heads off and that means that if the rest of the fans are silent, we’re going to hear the boos. After the way Sanchez started this game, the number electing not to boo is likely to be a lot lower than 99% and the chances are it’s going to sound like a Vickie Guerrero promo is happening at the Jumbo Slinky next week. That’s not going to be easy to turn in his favor.

I’m sure the plan was for Geno Smith to start that second game, but now that he’s injured, that’s up in the air. Even if he’s 100% healthy by next week’s game, he might be limited in practice, which would not be ideal preparation for a first NFL start. Then there’s the other option of throwing Greg McElroy into the fray earlier on. It will certainly be interesting to see how the Jets approach this week.

Back to Sanchez though, and that horrendous mistake. I’ve watched it several times from multiple angles and I can only see one possibility for what he was looking at. It seems apparent he was trying to throw a screen pass to rookie fullback Tommy Bohanon. Unfortunately, Bohanon got tangled up with a pass rusher and then fell to the ground and was on his hands and knees when Sanchez threw the pass. Whether Sanchez saw a load of white shirts out in front of him and didn’t realize Ziggy Ansah was lying in the weeds, I don’t know, but it seemed like he just lofted in over there in hopes that his man would be there to take it. They did run another screen pass to Bohanon on the fourth play of the next drive, but that was set up differently.

Sanchez had one other mistake and again it came down to his lack of accuracy throwing short passes. His dump off to Kellen Winslow was too far in front and the veteran tipped it up into the air where it would have been intercepted had Winslow not thrown himself at the defender to jar it loose. These are the routine throws he has to be able to make.

Sanchez has, in the past, proven to be adept at certain passes that are staples of a West Coast attack and he showcased some of these as he settled down to complete nine of his last ten passes. It was good to see him actually hit a couple of receivers in stride, although they were wide open. Perhaps Sanchez’s best throw was an out route to Winslow, which the tight end turned upfield with for a sizable gain. However, he really threaded the needle on that one. On a windy winter’s day with a pass rusher in his face, while banged up from the exertions of the season, he’d only need to lose a couple of miles-per-hour off that fastball and it’s a pick six the other way.

You can try to look at Sanchez’s performance in the context of “it was pretty good if that interception didn’t happen” but it did happen and that’s the sort of thing that happens too often with Sanchez these days. I guess we have to give him a pass and see if he can prove that play was an aberration over the next couple of weeks, but if he can’t then the Jets are going to have to either replace him, or put the training wheels back on and play ultra-conservative.

In his first NFL action, Geno Smith completed six of seven passes but they were mostly short throws and netted just 47 yards. You couldn’t really fault his decision making, timing or accuracy though. The first dynamic thing he did was to escape a possible sack, but then he twisted his ankle before he could scramble for any decent yardage and was done for the night. His longest throw of the night was a 15-yarder to Clyde Gates where he hit him in stride cutting to the inside.

The one possible criticism I have for Geno (and this might not be his fault or even something he has the autonomy to do anything about) was that the Jets ran the ball on 3rd and two on his second series and the runner was swallowed up by two blitzing defensive backs. I wondered if he perhaps should have seen them creeping up on the edge and audibled out of that play or changed up the blocking scheme somehow. The play was a counter to the left with the initial flow going to the right, so Bilal Powell cut back right into the two blitzing players.

I’m afraid we didn’t get a long enough look for me to go into much more detail about Smith, which I knew you were all eager for.

We did, however, get an extended look at Greg McElroy. McElroy continues to put together a strong case to remain on the roster by coming off the bench and keeping the chains moving the best he could, which is pretty much what a backup quarterback’s role is. Yes, we have to take into account that he was facing backups and at the same time bear in mind that he is throwing to and protected by backups, but we can still assess how he threw the ball.

The answer is that he threw the ball quite well, but was somewhat inconsistent. He missed three throws downfield, the worst of which was a deep ball to Zach Rogers where the receiver had to slow down to wait for the ball and then dropped it. He made some good throws though and made a nice play on his touchdown pass to Rogers by avoiding pressure and then finding the open man underneath. Most of his good throws were down the middle – to Chris Pantale, Braylon Edwards and Ben Obomanu twice – but it was good to see him stretching the field. It might have been his easiest throw of the night, but I should praise the timing and placement of his screen pass to Chad Spann, because he did that better than Sanchez ever does.

McElroy was responsible for one turnover, as he lost the ball after being stripped from behind on a pass attempt and wasn’t perfect in terms of setting protections or reading the blitz, but 11 for 19 for 145 yards and a touchdown in less than one half is a solid output.

Matt Simms didn’t get any reps, which is a shame because I was interested to see what improvements he’s made since last year.

Running Backs

Bilal Powell showed some of the play which has coaches speaking highly of him when he made some good cuts to break a couple of tackles and gain 11 yards, but his other eight carries netted just three yards.

There was some kind of mix-up on one of his carries in the first quarter where he was tackled for a loss. D’Brickashaw Ferguson had turned his man to the outside and Stephen Peterman had turned his man to the inside, leaving a huge lane for Powell to run through. However, at the snap, Powell ran laterally, away from Sanchez and Sanchez had to stretch to even get the ball to him. This meant the run was slow in developing and Ferguson, having made his block, peeled off to the second level only for his original man to blow up the run because Powell wasn’t through the hole yet as expected. More on this in part two.

Powell also dropped a pass, although it was off-line by Sanchez. He did catch three passes, although two were negated by penalties.

Behind Powell, the most impressive back was John Griffin, which is a shame because he was injured after his only carry. Griffin burst outside for nine yards and was injured as his right leg got twisted unnaturally under him following a horse collar tackle leading to a brutal looking injury. This is a real shame for Griffin, who was realistically in with a chance of making the roster and contributing this year.

Spann’s three carries netted just two yards but he did show some nice open field burst on the screen pass from McElroy, gaining 23. One of his carries went for a four yard loss as he tried to bounce it outside, but didn’t have the speed.

New guy Mossis Madu got to see some playing time that he perhaps wouldn’t have without Griffin’s injury. He did pick up 24 yards on his five touches, but also dropped a pass and collided with Greg McElroy in the pocket, causing a sack. He seems to lack the speed and elusiveness of Spann and Griffin.

Finally, Bohanon played the entire game at fullback, picking up some valuable experience. I was quite impressed with how he played, although a lack of physicality hurt him on the pick-six. He did have a couple of good lead blocks and a nice blitz pick up, as well as catching one short pass. He also showed good awareness on the Rogers touchdown, by transitioning from being a potential receiver to a blocker as the pass was dumped off underneath.

Receivers

Here’s a nice, positive, statistic to open with. The Jets’ top four receivers (Edwards, Jeremy Kerley, Stephen Hill and Clyde Gates) were thrown to nine times and all nine were completed (for 112 yards).

Considering catching the ball was the one thing we wanted to see Stephen Hill do, you can’t grumble about him catching the only two balls thrown his way. He also caught one each from Sanchez and Smith, which I see as encouraging. Both saw him break sharply in front of a man playing off coverage. One was a less than routine low grab.

Kerley ran a nice route to get open on the play where Sanchez found him wide open over the middle. As Sanchez hit him slanting across the middle, you’d be forgiven for assuming it was a quick slant or a skinny post but it was actually kind of an inverted whip-route as he ran what looked like it was going to be a quick out and then wheeled around to run a post pattern. His defender lost his balance, which was why Kerley – who also caught a ten yard pass – was so wide open.

Edwards got a ton of playing time, deep into the second half. I’m not sure if this is about proving himself capable of handling that kind of workload, a statement about how far down the depth chart he is or a desire to keep some established receivers on the field to allow the second and third string offenses to have a chance to build some momentum. He made a couple of good catches, notably on the throw down the middle by McElroy, but also had one negated because he was called for a push-off. He did also draw a flag on one play.

Gates had been generating some good buzz in camp and sure enough he followed through on that here with three catches. His first one saw him find a space in the zone and make a nice low diving grab.

The first wide receiver to catch a pass was none of these, it was actually rookie Ryan Spadola, who caught a pass coming across the field on third down and broke a tackle to pick up the first down. It says something about his status with the roster that he got into the game so early. He nearly made the highlight play of he night too, when he went deep down the seam and laid out to almost make a fingertip grab. He was very close to hauling that one in. On the negative side, he wasn’t able to come up with the ball on a low pass.

The leading receiver was actually Obomanu, who made four catches for 59 yards and seemed to have pretty good chemistry with McElroy. On one play he made a sharp break to get open down the seam.

Rogers obviously scored the touchdown and had one other catch going over the middle. However, he probably didn’t get much sleep last night after he was wide open down the sideline only to drop McElroy’s pass. It was badly underthrown and Rogers had to slow down to wait for the ball, but it was still a bad drop and you could tell he knew it from his reaction. That play didn’t actually count due to a penalty but there was one other play where Rogers almost came up with a tough catch but couldn’t quite hold on.

KJ Stroud, Michael Campbell and Joe Collins briefly saw action at the end of the game. Campbell caught a short pass and Stroud almost came up with a tough catch on his only target. Collins was not thrown to.

At tight end, Winslow had the nice grab and saved the interception, but also was unable to juke a defender in the open field after his second grab. As for his blocking, I’ll touch on that in part two, where I’m also going to treat you to the first gif of the preseason:

Speaking of blocking, Jeff Cumberland made a good one to block down on a linebacker at the second level on Powell’s nice run. Toss in an easy 26-yard touchdown catch and it was a pretty good day for Cumberland.

In the battle for the third tight end position, Konrad Reuland struggled badly as a blocker. On one play, everyone else blocked well, which would have left a big lane for Spann, but Reuland was unable to make his block at the second level and Spann had to bounce outside gaining just one. That wasn’t an easy block by any means, but it was the only thing that prevented the play from working. Then on the very next snap he got beaten for a pressure in pass protection. Later on, he was too slow to react to a rush off the edge and then failed to come up with a catchable ball under pressure.

Behind him, Hayden Smith didn’t play much, but on one play where he stayed in to block, he did well to keep his man in front of him and allow McElroy to make that deep throw to Rogers (which was dropped). Pantale got some late reps and was targeted a couple of times, making a catch down the middle.

Mike Shanahan was the only healthy player not to get into the game, other than Simms.

Part two will look at the offensive line, part three will cover the defensive front seven and part four will cover the secondary and special teams. We’ll be posting these throughout the day.