BGA: Bills at Jets

Disclaimer: All analysis was taken from the TV coverage, so at times it may have been hard to identify players or what was happening, because I was limited by their footage. However, I have tried to be as accurate as possible and apologize for any inaccuracies or omissions (which I am happy to correct).

Here comes this week’s in-depth analysis of the win over the Bills. If you have anything else you’d like me to comment upon, please leave your requests in the comments and I’ll do a follow-up post tomorrow.

After the jump, catch my analysis of Sunday’s game, including – but not limited to – comments on Vladimir Ducasse, Joe McKnight and Calvin Pace.

Strategy

It’s an odd week to recap the game, because the game was essentially meaningless and the personnel used was vastly different to what we can expect from Saturday night’s game. While it will be interesting to look at some of the personnel used, in order to determine whether they can (a) contribute on Saturday night and (b) contribute on a regular basis next season and beyond, the assessments we can make about the team following a game like this are limited.

Can we read anything at all into the strategy they employed to beat the Bills? Let’s consider what happened.

They blitzed a lot more, but was this because they wanted to try out some new blitzes? Was it because they wanted to force the Colts to have to spend plenty of time preparing for some red herring blitz packages they have no intention of using? Did they want to challenge the defensive backs as much as possible, in hopes that someone would step up and earn a role on Saturday? Could it merely have been because sending a load of blitzes is what Rex enjoys most of all and always seems to do when the game doesn’t matter? The answer is that we don’t know, but probably a little bit of all of these.

They put Mark Sanchez in the game for the first series, but didn’t let him throw. Was this because Sanchez’ arm is actually going to benefit from not being used? Is it an attempt to make the Colts believe he can’t throw and get them to prepare accordingly? Did they just want the offensive line to get their run blocking in synch for Saturday’s game? Again, we don’t know, but I don’t see much benefit in tricking the Colts into thinking he’s hurt if he isn’t, because they’ll know otherwise as soon as he throws one decent pass. The offensive line definitely needs to be in synch, but Damien Woody wasn’t even playing (and is likely to on Saturday), so that doesn’t make the preparation ideal. I actually think it’s possible that they wanted Sanchez to be out there, but didn’t want to let him throw because a mistake or two would have crushed any momentum he had heading into the postseason. Obviously, the risk of injury was a big factor too.

Other than that, it was mostly backups getting all the reps and the Jets ran the ball a lot more than usual, because they could. You’d think that they wouldn’t have run anything that they intend to use in the Colts game and that the Colts wouldn’t be reading too much into anything they were trying to run with backup personnel. Any offensive tendencies are already developed and if they intend to run any plays they haven’t used yet, they will hope to catch the Colts out with these. It would make little sense to try these out with a completely different personnel group than would be playing in the postseason.

If I told you I had a good idea what the gameplan will be on Saturday, I’d be guessing. Even if I did, I doubt anything from Sunday’s game would have contributed to that assessment.

One last thing: The Jets had exactly eleven men on the field for every single play. Rejoice!

Quarterback

It’s difficult to make any kind of assessment about Mark Sanchez from Sunday, but he looked like he enjoyed himself on the sideline. Let’s hope he can emulate last year and play his best football of the season in the playoffs.

Mark Brunell showed that he might be able to produce if called upon next week. Just like in the last week of preseason, he looked fully in control. Interestingly, with Brunell in there, they were using the “Kill” system to change plays at the line, which has been something that Sanchez has struggled with. It’s almost as if Brian Schottenheimer was able to un-simplify the offense for him and let him show Sanchez how it should work. I don’t know if he can make all the throws any more, unlike Sanchez, but he did make two great throws on his touchdown passes to Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards.

Kellen Clemens even found his way into the game, completing a first down to Joe McKnight and showing off his athleticism by running for a touchdown. That felt like it was some kind of reward for being a good soldier while he warmed the bench for the majority of the last two years.

Let’s include Brad Smith here, because he was a Quarterback for 13 plays. Obviously, he did a great job running the option and handed it off on eight of the nine plays where he didn’t run it himself. The one pass he did throw was a checkdown to Jeff Cumberland. I believe the first option may have been a deep throw down the field to Braylon Edwards. The 13 Seminole plays was a season high, but I again can’t say whether this is part of the plan against Indianapolis, or if they were just giving them something extra to think about. Smith carried twice (for 13 and three yards) in the regular season game against the Colts, but did not have any carries in the AFC title game – which with Jones hobbled and Greene out, was probably a mistake.

Offensive Line

Let’s start with Nick Mangold and Brandon Moore, because they got the rest of the game off after starting and being on the field for the first 12 offensive plays (all runs). Both were pretty dominant, just as they were in the first meeting with Buffalo.

D’Brickashaw Ferguson played the whole game and was flawless in pass protection. Matt Slauson – contrary to some media reports that said he left the game injured – did play the whole game, as did Wayne Hunter, although both struggled. Slauson, who I had expected them to rest, gave up a sack and was not particularly effective in the running game and Hunter gave up a hit and a pressure and was penalized twice. He’s actually held up pretty well in pass protection over these last few games, but Damien Woody should give the run blocking over the right side a boost. Hunter did post the best run blocking grade from any of the five games where he filled in at Right Tackle, but it was still lower than Woody posted in eight of the 11 games he completed this year and the Jets still only averaged 2.3 yards over Right Tackle (but 6.0 yards on all other runs).

Filling in for Mangold and Moore were Rob Turner, who was excellent, and Vladimir Ducasse, who was also, somewhat surprisingly, extremely effective. By now, you know what to expect from Turner, who gave up two pressures, but had easily the best run blocking grade on the team. He did a particularly good job of clearing a lane for Clemens’ touchdown run and on a couple of occasions reacted well in the pocket to pick up somebody else’s man.

Ducasse was a revelation. On his very first play, he pancaked Akin Ayodele at the second level and he got a consistent surge in short yardage situations, did a good job of finding a guy in space and was much better in terms of sustaining blocks, particularly against Marcus Stroud, who couldn’t get off him on a number of occasions. Ducasse is clearly a physical specimen and is starting to find ways to use that size and strength to drive people off their spot. He still shows plenty of signs of rawness, however. After an excitingly dominant first couple of series that had me all but ready to make some kind of declarative proclaimation about his future, he regressed in the second quarter. On a couple of occasions, he blocked the wrong guy or nobody at all and Turner had to save him. On another, he let his guy get through him to blow up a play. He also couldn’t find a guy to block at the second level once or twice. Despite this rocky second quarter, he regrouped for a mostly mistake-free second half. I’d caution that he was mostly given straightforward blocking assignments, including plenty of the one play he seemed to master in preseason, which involves him ignoring the defensive line and proceeding to the second level to try and make a block there. I’d also caution that the officiating crew seemed pretty reluctant to throw many flags and that there were at least a couple of instances where he might have been close to a hold. Positive signs though, especially the zero pressures.

Running Backs

Congratulations must go to Joe McKnight for working himself back into the position to get this opportunity, which he grasped with both hands. His 158 yards, including a healthy 2.8 yards per carry after contact was hard-earned. The fact that he carried the ball 32 times and still looked strong was just as encouraging as all the yards he racked up and the fact he has been contributing on special teams at least means he will be active, so they’ll have an option if the other running backs are banged up, unlike in the last meeting with the Colts.

One play in particular excited me. On a third and short, the line got a decent surge and he could have easily plowed ahead for three and the first down. However, he saw some daylight and started to bounce the run to the outside, but as two Bills reacted to this, he immediately cut back inside them and broke to the second level for 18 yards. That jab-step cutback move almost faked those two guys out of their socks. This was particularly interesting, because I remember criticizing Shonn Greene for just taking the safe yards in an almost identical situation, but with no deep safety, in (I think) the Minnesota game.

Tony Richardson gamely filled in for nine snaps, but the real story at fullback was John Conner. Conner’s blocking was pretty good, but he still has a tendency to try and blow up guys that will just bounce off him and still make the play, so he usually ends up with a negative grade. Having said that, his worst block of the day was probably in pass protection. As a runner, I think he looks like a solid option to give a couple of carries a game to once he is established as the full time fullback. He is starting to get a reputation as a bit of a fumbler, but hopefully this is unfounded – He didn’t fumble at all in college (85 touches) and the one he had in preseason came on a freak play, where he would have been down, but his teammate had tripped him. On Sunday, his touchdown was almost a fumble, but hopefully that’s a straightforward enough lesson for him to take on board in future.

Tight Ends and Receivers

The Jets didn’t pass much this week, but it’s still good to see zero dropped passes. They must carry that into this week if they are to play well enough to outscore the Colts. Brad Smith and Jerricho Cotchery got the majority of the reps and Cotchery caught three passes to lead the team, including a tough juggling effort on third down. Smith wasn’t thrown to.

Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards were thrown to once each and both scored a touchdown. You can’t ask for better production than that. Edwards also had a great block on Smith’s 40 yard run on the first drive, shoving Drayton Florence off the field.

At tight end, Jeff Cumberland and Matt Mulligan got most of the reps. Cumberland did catch his first NFL pass, but struggled as a run blocker. Mulligan graded out positively as a run blocker, but false started once too. Dustin Keller and Ben Hartsock played sparingly. As you’d expect Hartsock’s blocking was better than Keller’s and neither got a chance to run any routes.

Defensive Line

The defense was never really threatened by Buffalo, who had the same number of turnovers as first downs (six). They were held to 37 yards rushing on 18 carries, with 34 of those yards after contact, so the line did an outstanding job of getting penetration and closing running lanes. Mike DeVito was the only defensive line starter to play, and stood out with an excellent performance against the run. He did almost all of this as a nose tackle. I previously spoke to one of PFF’s analysts, who is a Ravens fan, and he was predicting that nose tackle would be a role they’d eventually look to move DeVito into, because that’s what they did with Kelly Gregg, and the pair have a similar build and skillset.

Rotating in with DeVito were three young guys who the Jets might be hoping will be the next Mike DeVito: Jarron Gilbert, Marcus Dixon and Vernon Gholston. Unfortunately, none of these three stood out. In a combined 47 pass rush attempts, none of them registered a pressure and they all graded negatively against the run. If I had to choose one, I’d say Gholston was the most impressive (or least unimpressive), on one play driving a double team into the quarterback and on another negotiating traffic to help stuff a run at the line. That’s a shame, because – barring an unprecedented fourth contract renegotiation – he’s the least likely of the three to be back. Dixon had a missed tackle, but did have three solo tackles to pace the trio. Gilbert’s best play was a tackle in the backfield, but he was really just cleaning up the runner after Bart Scott blew the run up in the backfield leaving him nowhere to go. Although I felt Gholston was the best of the three, his PFF grade was the lowest, so it will be interesting to see which of the three are active on Saturday.

Sione Pouha was active, as was Trevor Pryce, but neither played on defense. Pouha was just used as a blocker on the placekicking unit.

Linebackers

The Jets did blitz more than in recent games, but the pass rushing output – three sacks, nine hits and two pressures – was still good to see. Calvin Pace had his best game of the year and his first game with multiple pressures since early October. He actually had zero tackles, but did record a sack, two hits (both leading directly to interceptions), two batted down passes and an interception of his own. Jason Taylor also had a strong game, with a sack, two hits and a pressure, although he did have one bad missed tackle. It was interesting that they decided to give these two so much playing time, while resting Bryan Thomas for most of the game. Thomas only played 13 snaps, all in the first half, and didn’t have much of an impact. Pace had 18 pressures in the regular season last year and 17 in the postseason. Is it possible he could raise his game to those heights again?

On the inside, it was David Harris who was rested, from the middle of the second quarter onwards. Prior to that, he hadn’t been too involved. Bart Scott played a bit more than Harris and did do well against the run, as well as adding a QB hit. In mop-up duty, Mauga looked pretty good, with a QB hit of his own and a tackle for a loss. Lance Laury’s five defensive snaps were pretty unique – he had only one defensive snap in the previous three seasons. He immediately responded with a big QB hit on a delayed blitz and added a tackle on the next play. Finally, Jamaal Westerman saw some action for the first time since week three and had a pressure, two tackles and a fumble recovery.

Defensive Backs

The two starters at cornerback, Kyle Wilson and Marquice Cole, each had a big day. Wilson was almost flawless, giving up a Revisesque one catch for seven yards on four targets. Again, though, I’d caution that a different officiating crew might have flagged him because he was pretty physical on at least two of those incompletions. Cole had a monster day, with two picks, a pass defensed and a touchdown. He was targeted nine times and wasn’t perfect, giving up four catches for 42 yards including one where Steve Johnson lost him on a comeback route for 16 and one where Naaman Roosevelt beat him for 14 on an out pattern. Could he stay with the likes of Blair White? I think he’s probably earned a shot.

At safety, Dwight Lowery was the recipient of perhaps the easiest interception in NFL history. That capped a solid performance, though, where he also had two tackles, a fumble recovery and a pass defensed. He only gave up one catch for four yards. Brodney Pool was not thrown at, but did make some solid open field tackles and had a QB hit on one of his two pass rush attempts. The other pass rush attempt came as he was in a three point stance as a down lineman again. Not surprisingly, he was turned back on that one.

In terms of backups, Drew Coleman gave up four catches for a team high 64 yards, on just five targets. He somewhat atoned for this with a strip sack. One of the passes went for 33 yards after he also missed a tackle, but this ended up being a turnover after Emanuel Cook forced a fumble. Cook also added another hit on Brian Brohm. Finally, 28-year old rookie Isaiah Trufant saw action on ten snaps, mostly as a blitzer on passing downs. He did have two special teams tackles.

Once again, Darrelle Revis wasn’t thrown at. Sure, he didn’t play, but still…

Special Teams

There’s not too much to say about special teams this week. Cole downed another Weatherford punt inside the five and Cook looks to be a solid option as a possible gunner in future. Folk’s kickoffs were pretty short, but the Bills started at the 27 yard line on average, which is perfectly acceptable. Cotchery and McKnight each had a nice return, although Cotchery also misjudged one punt and slipped over on another return. Although I am somewhat glossing over special teams, the Jets must not as it could prove to be the difference on Saturday. Interestingly, the Colts do not have a 20-yard punt return or a 40-yard kickoff return so far this season. Let’s hope that continues.

PFF Analysis

This week, I again contributed to the game recap article for ProFootballFocus.com (which also gives you a sneak preview of some of their player ratings). It hasn’t been posted yet, but look out for it tomorrow. Here’s a sample quote:

In what ultimately amounted to a pretty meaningless game, the Jets rested most of their starters and were still able to blow out the Bills for the second time this season … The Jets dominated the battle in the trenches and took advantage of six turnovers from a Bills team that looked like it couldn’t wait for the season to end. They now head to Indianapolis for a postseason rematch on Saturday night … Although this game probably means more in terms of next season than next week, it will be interesting to see if any of the Jets’ little-used reserves that flashed during this game will get a chance to contribute in the postseason.

TJB readers can obtain full access to PFF’s premium stats for $63 this season. The discount available has been increased to 30%. E-mail me ( bentdouble@gmail.com ) to obtain a code to enable you to get the discount.

Conclusions

Last season, the Jets ended the year with a blowout victory over an AFC rival, scoring almost forty points and not allowing any points defensively. Critics were unimpressed, saying that their opponent had nothing to play for, but the Jets rode the momentum from that game for the next two games (and almost half of the next one). Are the Jets equipped for a similar run or did the Pats blowout a month ago serve notice that they are still not capable of going all the way? This weekend, we find out. It isn’t going to be easy, but hopefully, this is where the fun begins.

I’d like to close this week with a mention for the guys at theganggreen.com’s Jets forum, who I understand have been linking to my BGA articles throughout the season. Thanks for sharing this and I don’t even mind that everyone keeps inadvertently giving WhiteShoeWillie all the credit for these! Thanks also for your comments and feedback, because I learn as much from the responses of other Jets fans as I do from re-watching the games and it always helps me improve what I get out of the review process. Naturally that applies for any TJB readers commenting here too.

As mentioned above, if you have anything you’d like me to comment upon in more detail, please let me know in the comments.