Preseason BGA: Panthers at Jets 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: 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 tonight…
BGA is back…and this time it’s preseasonal (again)!
Coming up, your breakdown of last night’s 17-12 loss to the Panthers, together with detailed analysis of the offensive performance, including details of protection schemes and the performances of both quarterbacks.
Join me after the jump as I attempt to cover every angle.
Looking at Mark Sanchez’s numbers, his performance wasn’t very good, but if you factor in the three dropped passes (Epps, Holmes, Hill) and the fact that the interception wasn’t his fault, an 11-for-18 performance looks a little better. Even more encouraging that that was how confidently he threw the ball early on and how much better he moved in the pocket. I was asked if Sanchez was more confident because Wayne Hunter wasn’t starting, but I don’t believe this was a factor, since Hunter didn’t start the first game and Sanchez didn’t look very confident then. Naturally, we’ll get onto how the pass protection held up in due course.
We finally got a chance to evaluate Sanchez in the red zone and, so far, the signs of him replicating last year’s performance are not looking good. However, with Dustin Keller (and his two backups) out, this did remove one of Mark’s favorite red zone targets. Instead, he did take one shot at the end zone, but his pass was “over the Hill and far away”. (Okay, maybe it went through his hands).
Opening the game with a crisp downfield throw to Keller and then another sharp pass on a post pattern to Patrick Turner was a positive way to open the game. I then liked the fact that they tried to get the running game going because Sanchez has always been more effective when the defense is biting on play-action.
It wasn’t a flawless performance by Sanchez, but the mistakes he did make were not on the same level as his disastrous interception last week, which turned a close game into a heavy defeat. He aired out one deep throw to Santonio Holmes that could have been intercepted and he also threw a timing pattern that was almost intercepted because Holmes stopped his route after being interfered with. While that wouldn’t have been his fault, during the season replacement officials might miss calls like that and Sanchez could see his numbers suffer as a result. After the throw that Holmes dropped, Sanchez seemed to indicate that it was his fault, suggesting he accepts that the throw was slightly behind Holmes and too close to the defender. Finally, you could fault Sanchez for a delay of game after he ran for a first down (for the second time), although it did appear they snapped the ball on time. However, Shonn Greene was in mid-shift at the time, so it’s clear they had to rush to get that off.
Other than the first two throws, Sanchez’s best moments were a quick slant to Holmes to convert on third down and a well-judged back shoulder throw to Hill for a big gain.
In terms of Tim Tebow’s performance, Cris Collingsworth made my point for me when he suggested that the offense Tebow was running tells us very little about how he will contribute this season. Lining up under center and dropping back to throw isn’t likely to be in the Tebow package playbook and even if an injury was to force Tebow into full-time action, all last night proves is that the Jets would be better served running a simplified spread read-option scheme like the one Tebow ran in Denver and at Florida.
Tebow’s issues as a quarterback were all on display yesterday: His release is too slow, his technique when on the move is sloppy, he stares down reads and he holds onto the ball for far too long, leading to pressure (although that’s partly because he trusts his ability to escape that pressure).
Tebow had two horrendous throws last night – one where he stared down his primary option and a linebacker jumped the route for what could have been a pick six and another where he just didn’t get enough on an ill-advised downfield throw and tossed in right into the lap of a safety. Other than one other play in the redzone where the ball sailed on him but it wasn’t clear if he was throwing the ball away, he didn’t have any really bad throws, but he definitely held onto the ball too long on several occasions. Tebow was sacked three times and pressured 11 times, although I would say at least half of that pressure and two of the sacks came after the pocket held up well initially.
Let’s close on some positives though. Tebow did make three nice passes down the field and had one incredible improvized first down run. Ultimately though, I still think his role will be similar to that of Brad Smith – except fewer people will be complaining that he needs to throw the ball more. I know we’re not supposed to show any enthusiasm for Tebow lest we get branded ESPN-style sellouts, but I am looking forward to seeing what the Tebow package entails. Without going into too much detail, the spread option, wildcat and seminole packages are all completely different, so it will be interesting to see which elements Sparano has taken from each of these when they unveil it for real.
Next week should be fun because, barring an unexpected change of heart, the Jets will be letting Greg McElroy and Matt Simms play half of the game each and resting Sanchez and Tebow. Let’s hope for McElroy’s sake he doesn’t get hurt on the first series as he did in the final preseason game last year.
The big story, and rightly so, was Austin Howard. Stepping in at right tackle for the entire game, Howard more than held his own and showed that the Jets might not need a big money acquisition or high draft pick at right tackle to be able to move the ball after all. Howard didn’t give up a hit or a sack and had some positive moments in the running game, even though most of those came after the starters departed. The important thing is that he avoided any disastrous mistakes.
I will preach caution though, because it wasn’t a completely flawless performance and will give some teams a chance to review the tape and try to attack his weaknesses. I’m not a fan of what NBC did, when they put together a package comprised solely of all his best moments and then followed it up with a Wayne Hunter package comprised solely of all his worst moments from the previous game. While I don’t want to understate Howard’s performance, this perhaps should be viewed as a potentially misleading case of editorializing. You could just as easily have compared a reel of Hunter’s best moments with Howard’s worst moments and made it look like Hunter was the better option.
Let’s focus on what Howard did well. The one thing that indisputably makes his performance much better than that of Hunter from last week is that when he did get beaten, it wasn’t cleanly enough to lead to an easy sack with no hope for the quarterback of getting rid of the ball. I’d also say that what impressed me most about his performance was how well he used his strength to counter an initial move, so that he salvaged a few plays on which he initially looked like he was going to be beaten. He did have a handful good run blocks, although only one of these came while working with the starters.
On the negative side, Howard did surrender some pressure, although – as previously noted – some of this came after the quarterback had held onto the ball for a while. I had him down for five pressures (three with the starters and two with the backups). He was also bullrushed into the defensive backfield on one play, which indirectly led to a sack. Finally, while everyone was watching Wayne Hunter giving up a sack in the second half, what you probably missed was Howard getting beaten at the same time for what would have been a sack if Hunter’s man didn’t get there first.
So, there were seven plays in total where he got himself in trouble in pass protection. The Jets were giving him plenty of help too, with the chip blocks, tight ends staying in, interior linemen playing free safety and double teams from the inside we’ve been anticipating, all helping him out at times. That wasn’t all the time though, as there were occasions where he went one-up on his man and did the job. The first play of the game was a good example of how the Jets schemed around some of Howard’s limitations. The edge rusher (Charles Johnson) got a chip block from John Conner, who then leaked out into the flat. This clearly slowed him up and gave Sanchez the time to get the throw off. However, Howard still ended up getting beaten for a pressure as he backed too far off and didn’t get his hands on Johnson soon enough – something which I identified as being a concern last week.
In terms of the running game, there were three plays where Howard was badly beaten or failed to sustain a block. Overall though, I’d say he graded out positively in terms of run blocking (about the same as Hunter last week), although it’s fair to say he was at times getting the same kind of help in the running game as he was in the passing game.
The end product was that the Jets offense did look a lot better, against an underrated Panthers defense. Therefore, the signs are good that they have plenty of ways to neutralize the threat from the strongside and can still be successful.
So, could they not have given the same help to Hunter and achieved the same results? Certainly that’s true to an extent, but if you’re going to have someone in there that you’re having to tweak your schemes for, then it makes more sense to go with a younger and cheaper option. In any event, on the basis of last night’s game, they did give Hunter plenty of help and he struggled more than Howard did, even though he was mostly facing backups, so that’s a sign that Howard is better than Hunter right now, whether that’s through ability, health or confidence – or a combination of all three.
Hunter did have some good moments as a blocking tight end, although he was leveraged into the way of an attempted third and short conversion on his only negative play. When he entered the game with the second unit at left tackle, he didn’t look anywhere near as bad as last week, although you could partially credit the help he was getting for that. You could say he gave up two sacks and three pressures, although one of those sacks came after the pocket had held up well and Tebow held onto the ball for far too long then ran into Hunter’s man. Two of those pressures could be attributed to coverage too.
For Hunter, I’d look upon this as a positive performance and it will hopefully be a confidence builder for him. If he can rebuild his apparently shattered confidence then perhaps he can make good contributions after all, whatever his role. Obviously you can never be certain that he won’t find himself forced back into the starting lineup at some point.
While all the stories will surround Howard and Hunter, the rest of the line did play too, so let’s consider how they fared. I was particularly interested in how they blocked as a unit and what it tells us about how they can scheme around their possible weaknesses on the line. Let’s consider what happened on the only play where Sanchez was sacked:
The Jets went to a max-protect scheme on third and long. On the right side, Dedrick Epps stayed in to block the left sided defensive end. Instead of double teaming him with Howard, the scheme called for Howard to stay in position behind Epps, so that he could pick up the DE once he got past Epps – so almost a gauntlet style double team. Howard was on his toes and looking around him so that he could theoretically leave Epps and pick up a blitzer if one came. Both the other two defensive linemen were double teamed initially, with Brandon Moore and Nick Mangold picking up the nose tackle and Matt Slauson and D’Brickashaw Ferguson picking up the right sided defensive end. The running back, lined up to the left side of Sanchez, was Bilal Powell and his assignment was to pick up the right sided linebacker if he rushed off the edge, which he did.
At the snap, Slauson kept his eyes on the middle linebacker, who didn’t immediately blitz, so Slauson left the double team with Ferguson and went to block the nose tackle, who was now basically being triple-teamed. As soon as Slauson did this, the middle linebacker did come on a delayed blitz, which meant that Ferguson had to try and slow him up while blocking the other guy. He didn’t stand a chance. Slauson reacted too late and Howard, who theoretically could have seen it and saved Sanchez, didn’t react at all. On plays like this, it’s difficult to attribute blame, but on this particular play, it did seem clear that Slauson was at fault.
Other than that, the starters only gave up seven pressures and no hits or sacks – with three from Howard and two from Ferguson. Moore and Slauson also gave up a pressure each. This is encouraging, especially when they were giving help to Howard at times.
In the running game, Mangold was typically dominant, Moore was good and Slauson was up and down. Slauson did of course also have a costly penalty. What was encouraging was Ferguson’s performance in the running game. He made more of an impact than he has been doing in recent weeks and seems to be responding well to the interior linemen pulling which gives him the opportunity to seal the edge or go to the second level.
Vladimir Ducasse replaced Moore at half time, so he played almost a full quarter with the starters. He continues to play really well. He did give up a pressure and on one play he didn’t sustain his block and his man assisted on a tackle in the backfield, but these were his only negative plays and he had at least five good run blocks. He looks mobile and strong, but – most importantly of all – confident in his role.
After Sanchez left the game, the Jets moved Ducasse to left guard. Caleb Schlauderaff played at center, Wayne Hunter went to left tackle and Matt Kroul moved to right guard. Robert Griffin, who struggled last week, didn’t get any playing time this week. Interestingly, the Jets ran a play from their old playbook – the “Blast Play” – several times, although Carolina eventually figured it out. On this play, Ducasse looked good pulling right, Kroul and Howard were driving forward on the right side and fullback John Conner was required to make a kickout block to the outside.
Kroul had a couple of good blocks on those plays and showed decent mobility, strength and awareness. However, signs of rawness creep in every now and again. He was called for a hold and beaten up the middle for two pressures, one of which led to a sack when Tebow tried to escape the pressure.
Schlauderaff had another drama-free performance as the backup center. He continues to look like a guy who might be able to provide the Jets with reliable depth. The difference between this year’s second string line and last year’s is obvious, with Vlad being much improved and Caleb clearly being an upgrade over Robbie Felix. Kroul has clearly made progress but does not look ready yet and his time is running out. This would be his final year of practice squad eligibility so he would have to be added to the roster or released from the practice squad as soon as someone on the active roster is cut or placed on injured reserve. With none of the UDFAs looking ready, the only other unknown is the injured Dennis Landolt, who struggled last year, but was ahead of Austin Howard on the first depth chart released this offseason, so may have progressed.
I’m sure we’ll get an extended look at some of the other backups next week. Paul Cornick and Fred Koloto are the only other offensive linemen still on the team that have played this preseason.
Both running backs (Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell) averaged 3.6 yards per carry. That’s not great, but it’s adequate for the time being. Hopefully those numbers can creep up as the offensive line gels and also you’d expect the average to go up in the fourth quarter of a regular season game because the starters will become fatigued. Greene did also catch three short passes.
Each of them had a couple of good runs and looked relatively comfortable in pass protection. Powell did give up a pressure and a sack, but each of these came after he made his initial block to give the quarterback some time. On the sack, Tim Tebow was flushed into his man.
It’s interesting that Joe McKnight didn’t get any playing time on offense. He seems primed for a special teams/backup role. Could they even revisit the McKnight-at-CB experiment? Terrance Ganaway didn’t really play either but did carry the ball once, for a loss. Next week will give these backs a chance to prove themselves, but as Danny Woodhead, Jesse Chatman and Chauncey Washington know, you can’t rely too much on how well you perform against the Eagles backups in the last game.
John Conner continues to underwhelm as the fullback, although he didn’t make any bad mistakes in this one. With the injury to Josh Baker, his roster spot would appear safe. Despite the fact he had been wearing #48 and working as a fullback, Nick Bellore was back to #54 and the third string linebacker role this week.
With Jeremy Kerley and Santonio Holmes back, it’s no coincidence that the offense looked better. Kerley wasn’t targeted, but Holmes did catch a first down pass and drew a penalty. This dropped Patrick Turner and Jordan White from a major role back to basically being the fourth and fifth receivers, although Turner did make a good catch on the first series. White did catch one pass for a first down in the second half.
As noted, Holmes had a drop on the play before Sanchez’s interception. Even though Sanchez seemed to admit it was thrown behind him, it’s still a ball Holmes should have caught.
Stephen Hill is now sixth among NFL rookies with nine catches for 106 yards in preseason. He had five catches in this one, for 68 yards, including a 32-yarder where he ran deep but then slowed up and caught a back shoulder throw from Sanchez. However, he had one terrible blunder where he was wide open but let the ball bounce off his hands for an interception. Rex Ryan also felt he could have caught Sanchez’s high pass to the end zone. Hopefully drops are not something that are going to plague Hill too much, but at least the production and ability to get open are positive signs.
Turner, Hill and White got a chance to contribute as run blockers. Both White and Hill made a good initial block but then let their man get off the block and make the play. That could be an area where playing time is up for grabs, especially while there is no blocking tight end on the roster, so you might run to the outside with a key block instead coming from the slot.
Joe Collins had a good first down catch for the second straight week (although NFL.com credited it to Epps). Royce Pollard was targeted twice but had no catches.
At tight end, it’s pretty easy to recap Dustin Keller’s performance because it only lasted one play. He caught a downfield pass from Sanchez and then went down with a hamstring tweak. With Jeff Cumberland out with a concussion, this left the Jets’ short on tight ends, a problem that got worse when Josh Baker tore his ACL.
Dedrick Epps got the majority of the reps at tight end with the top three guys out and did catch a long pass down the middle, but also had a drop and struggled with his run blocking. Hayden Smith and Tarren Lloyd got a handful of reps each with Lloyd missing one run block and Smith giving up a pressure in pass protection. Smith was also the nearest person to Tebow’s last gasp heave into the end zone.
It still seems likely the Jets’ blocking tight end is not yet on their roster – perhaps moreso now that Baker is done for the year – but Cumberland and Keller’s injuries are hopefully not long term.
Still to come…defense , special teams and conclusions – in part two tonight.