BGA Extra: Cowboys 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).

It’s time to take a final look back at Sunday’s win over the Cowboys. After the jump, I respond to your questions from the comments in the original BGA post, which you can access here if you missed it.

There were two main themes to the questions, Eric Smith and Wayne Hunter. Let’s begin with Hunter:

You say that Hunter was up against Ware, as if this should somehow excuse his bad play. I heard the same kind of thing during the preseason. But you have to figure thst every team we play now is going to line its best DL up against Hunter for a good chunk of every game. And, as you suggest in your analysis, Hunter just isn’t up to the task.

And perhaps more importantly, in the playoffs, we can expect to face teams with elite pass rushers (a number of playoff teams usually have them), and you can bet that those teams will put those elite pass rushers on Hunter for a sizable portion of the game. Which could mean, as it has already meant in the preseason and in the game against the Cowboys, Hunter giving up multiple pressures, hits and sacks. It also has the potential of getting Sanchez killed.

The problem with [leaving blockers in to help him], if, say, we use a TE to help out Hunter, is that the Jets essentially wind up using two players to do one player’s job, at least on a number of plays throughout the game. Which, on these plays, essentially gives the opposing defense an unaccounted-for player, as if we were playing 10 against their 11.

– Ben Nevis

Firstly, I wasn’t trying to excuse his poor performance. It was still a poor performance and – as I noted – it wasn’t Ware that did all the damage.

I’d always felt that Hunter was too shaky in pass protection to start at tackle in the NFL. Until, that is, he saw extended action there last year and performed very well against some elite players. So, he does have it in him and he already made it through one postseason campaign without any serious letdowns.

Your last point about leaving blockers in underlines how effective the Jets pass rush is. Other teams typically leave more guys to block than the Jets, so this shows how the Jets can impact the game with their blitzes, even if the pressure doesn’t get there. As for leaving extra blockers in to help him, that wasn’t the approach they took last year, he just got better as he became more comfortable. Remember him shutting down Lamarr Woodley with no help whatsoever?

The question remains: How bad was his performance? Giving up seven QB disruptions is obviously very poor (last year Damien Woody gave up just 21 in 12 full games), but it’s not like he was the worst tackle in the NFL this week. According to PFF, who haven’t even analyzed four of the games yet, three guys graded out worse than Hunter in pass protection and four other guys also gave up seven QB disruptions, including the starters for San Diego and Indianapolis and BOTH starters for Miami. Clearly there are other AFC playoff hopefuls that have it just as bad, which just serves to illustrate that there may not be many better options out there. Hunter was also in the middle of the pack for run blocking.

More Hunter…

If Hunter has the physical tools to do the job, he now needs the exposure to top talent to get better. That happened last year when he stepped in, we have to expect it to happen again. Offensive lines need time to gel, this line needs more time together before an accurate judgment can happen. Bent must have done a breakdown of the improvement that Hunter showed last season?

– orjetsfan

Indeed I did. If only to remind yourselves of some of the positive from Hunter last year, you can read that here.

There is legitimate reason to be hopeful that the line will get better, as it has done for the last two or three years. Alan Faneca was always a slow starter, Ferguson started slowly last year and Mangold had a few uncharacteristic lapses on Sunday night, which isn’t likely to happen often. A lot of the pressure came from the confusion caused by the Cowboys’ blitz packages too – a challenge they won’t be forced to face on a weekly basis.

Could there be any correlation between the fact that the offensive line had no penalties and that they were horrible? Maybe they were being a little over cautious trying to avoid penalties? … I don’t think enough is being made out of the Jets not having any penalties, especially when it was such a big issue last year.

– sean

This is a good point. Perhaps that was a big part of their focus. In last year’s home opener, they had 15 penalties as a team, so to end up with zero is incredible. I’m not sure what the solution to this is though. Hold more, I guess?

Still don’t understand why we didn’t bring in extra blockers when Sanchez was getting banged around.

– Marvel

Didn’t we? The Jets left in a total of 25 extra blockers, a ratio of just over one every other dropback. Only two of these were in the first quarter and ten in the first half.

The Jets do not seem to be looking to add a tackle despite the calls from the fans throughout the offseason. Is it possible the line will gel, like last year and become dominant again with the players they have? How does the Patriots line always give Tom Brady a perfect pocket to throw out of year after year?

– Jack

Yes, it’s possible they’ll gel, as noted above.

As for the Pats, they avoid pressure because Brady gets rid of the ball quickly and decisively a lot of the time, so the linemen don’t have to sustain their blocks as long. If you confuse him or cover his initial read, he can get in trouble, as he did when the Jets sacked him five times last postseason. Hopefully, other teams will follow this blueprint with some success, although Miami (one sack, two hits, 12 pressures) did little to slow him down.

How long did it take for Mark to throw towards Keller? Probably my biggest beef with Schotty is how he allows Keller to disappear.

– lead the league in f***** wins

Keller wasn’t thrown to until the first play after the two minute warning in the first half, the Jets’ 22nd offensive play and 13th pass attempt. However, he was targeted three times on that drive and five times in the second half. Once they got going on Sunday, the Jets did a good job of taking what the defense gave them, so it’s possible they wanted to spread out their zone coverage underneath before they started targeting him.

Keller played well and often has himself to blame when he disappears from the stat sheet – they did throw to him at least three times in every game last year. As Jason from nyjetscap.com points out, we can perhaps expect a bigger effort from Keller this year, as he has just changed agents and will want to improve his market value with his contract soon up for renewal.

It was shocking that no holding penalties were called on either team. I saw Jets getting held numerous times but I did not focus on the Jets offensive line to see if they were also getting away with holds. It’s hard to complain if both teams were getting away with it. What did you see on the tape?

– Led

I didn’t see many examples of obvious holds, although Collingsworth did spot one on Hunter during the broadcast. There was one play on an outside run, where it looked like DeVito was tackled from behind and another where Pace looked to have the edge but the right tackle grabbed him. It’s difficult to spot holds where there are no running plays that develop slowly (or at all) causing linemen to try and sustain their blocks.

In terms of other penalties, the big one was Jason Witten’s pick play. That was an obvious call, but it wasn’t the first time he did that. There were a few appeals for pass interference, but they would have been ticky-tack fouls. I prefer not to see those called, because it means Revis will be permitted to play his physical style.

Didn’t we used to have to wait until Wednesday or Thursday for a BGA? I hope you didn’t lose your real-life job?

– Snakeman

I haven’t had a real-life job since early 2009. These days I have four jobs, but they’re all Imaginationland jobs. I’ve reorganized these to free up Mondays and Tuesdays. This week was really hard because it was a late game, but I’ll be aiming to get you BGA on the night after each game, mainly because I got sick of seeing reporters “break” something that I’d already noticed and written about, but hadn’t published yet!

You wrote: “…the only catch Cromartie gave up to Bryant all day.” How many times did Cro defend Bryant?

– Boozer up the middle

He was on him for the first five plays until the touchdown and for one play in the second half. Otherwise, Revis lined up opposite him every time (although he did blitz once).

I was real confused with the use of Revis today and I think his interception at the end has stopped people from looking at the rest of his game. I was confused by how many times he lined up on a side with no WR’s or guarding #85 (Ogletree). Last year, I assumed he stopped following the #1 WR because of his injury, while he did mostly stay on Dez once it was apparent Cromartie couldn’t, why did he stray away at all?

– Gary

As noted above, he didn’t stray away from Bryant, other than for one play. When Bryant was out of the game, they varied up their coverages, often playing zone. I assume they mostly left Cromartie on Austin because he doesn’t respond as well as Revis to switching from assignment to assignment, perhaps because it affects his rhythm.

What was Rob Ryan pissed about after the game?

– JETS#1

According to @incarceratedbob, he was pissed at Romo and was shouting at him in the tunnel. So we know it’s not that…

From searching message boards and forums, nobody seems to know for sure, but it’s possible he wasn’t happy about the way some Jets’ defensive players celebrated their win.

From the Zapruder-esque footage, I triangulated Rob’s position on the sideline with the position of each Jets player and the direction in which he directed his obscenities. The man on the grassy knoll was Cromartie. I think.

However, he also seemed to be stalking Plaxico Burress after the game and may have taken exception to Burress injuring Mike Jenkins in the second half, especially if Burress taunted their bench after the game ended. I’d say Burress was the guy in the Texas Book Depository. Bart Scott and Derrick Mason seemed intent on smoothing things over and calming Rob down.

You keep saying screens like there were a lot of them. The only screen pass was the one to LT, that produced a big gain. Leave it to schotty to not use it again or have Sanchez to go back to it when they were obviously coming. I still can not understand why the Jets fail to run plays to take advantage of the blitz, draw plays, screen passes, or a quick slant.

– kane

I’m defining a screen pass as any pass caught behind the line of scrimmage. Sanchez was four of five for 52 yards, so it did affect his completion percentage positively. He misfired on a bubble screen to Holmes, but completed one for a first down to Greene, a two-yarder to Burress and 11 and 32 yarders to Tomlinson. The Jets typically do run lots of the types of plays you suggested.

How many times did we line up in shotgun after gaining 3-4 yards rushing on first down? I don’t get it.

– bilal

They did it on three out of six occasions. On two of the three, they passed for a first down.

Santonio did do his first down drop the ball thing. You may have missed it but I def saw it. I wish the Jets would have put a clause in his contract that fines him if he does that. I love him but that move is so classless it’s almost embarrassing. But hell, I’ll take that all game long if it means moving the chains.

– Josh in Orlando

I know he did it early on, but on the big catch and run (the one where Burress threw that big block) with 14 minutes remaining, he definitely did not.

What did we do to cover Witten and their slot receivers?

– Mikebe1

It’s interesting to note that if you take out the 64 yard play, Witten only had five catches for 46 yards, so for most of the game, they did a decent job on him. He had at least five catches or 46 yards in 13 of 16 games last year. I don’t know if it was an improvized route once he got behind Smith or just a well designed play, but he initially started running a deep corner route towards the side of the field where Jim Leonhard was in deep support, but then broke that off and headed for the other corner instead, where there was no deep safety.

What the Jets did to slow down these tight ends was to try and jam them at the line and disrupt their routes. I saw Bart Scott being particularly physical with Witten on one play in particular.

In terms of slot receivers, that was mainly Austin (on 36 of his 69 snaps), so they dealt with him mostly by putting Cromartie on him in man coverage.

From that offensive game plan should the Jets fire Schotty?

– JayM

Let’s see: According to many Schotty bashers, the Jets should replace him because they (a) never attack a team’s weakness, (b) commit too many penalties due to the offensive complexity and (c) don’t execute well in the red zone. On all three counts, the Jets did well.

In all seriousness, it’s becoming harder and harder to assess Schottenheimer because Sanchez was sometimes changing plays at the line again, which should mean he deserves credit/blame for a good/bad read more often. Also, none of us really know how much influence Tom Moore has. Let’s hope he was influential in the improvements noted above and that this pattern continues.

It was interesting to see Cromartie on the field with the offense. What about trying him in some packages as a free safety? I know he can’t tackle, but Smith can’t either when he cant catch the receivers flying by him.

– Jack

The Jets do use Cromartie as a free safety sometimes. It’s rare he’s ever in a deep center field role (although it does sometimes happen), but when there’s only one receiver on the field, he’ll often drop 8-12 yards deep on the opposite side, unless it’s the man he’s been covering, in which case Revis will drop off, but he’d usually be within 6-8 yards, which means he gets classified as a strong safety on that play.

On Sunday, Cromartie was a free safety on two plays and last season he was a free safety 18 times. So, they do do this in some packages. This is often on obvious running downs and a safety comes into the box instead. Since Revis can tackle better, he doesn’t tend to drop off as far.

I like Cumberland as he seems to have a knack for the open spot downfield. Give me a take on his blocking.

– Bob Vopat

On Sunday, he stayed in to block on two pass plays and the Jets ran the ball eight times with him in. The sample size is probably too small to make much of a judgment, although he did get a marginal positive grade from PFF. He did get beaten once though. On the basis of preseason, I’d say he’s much further along that Keller was in his second season, although Keller has been improving and was pretty good on Sunday.

There appears to be some correlation between the tempo of the Jet offense and their performance. It appears that the slower the tempo the worse they do. Does Sanchez think too much when he takes his time? Does the quicker pace put more pressure on the defense? I don’t have a stat, but I believe that except when they are saving time, the plays after a time out usually fail. A no huddle approach may be a benefit.

– howard tish

No idea on the “play after a timeout stat”, but I’ll look out for that. Often when someone says “We always do badly when…” I run the numbers and they actually fared well in those situations.

In terms of the no-huddle, maybe Sanchez is just good when the defense drops off into a softer zone.

We debated about Jets pressure on QB vs the other teams pressure on Sanchez. Looked very obvious to me that the Cowboys put more pressure on Sanchez than we did on Romo. Do you agree?

– Pete57

Here are PFF’s numbers:

Jets (pressure generated) – Four sacks, two QB hits, 10 pressures
Cowboys – Four sacks, six QB hits, 13 pressures

Of course, these numbers don’t tell the full story. As we discussed in the past, some pressure arises due to coverage and sometimes a pressure and a sack can happen on the same play. If we instead look at pressures allowed by the offensive individuals, that goes some way towards eliminating such plays and gives us a better perspective:

Jets (pressure allowed) – Three sacks, two hits, 13 pressures
Cowboys – One sack, no hits, seven pressures

So, the Jets had three sacks, two hits and three pressures that were due to things like coverage sacks, the QB holding the ball too long or screen passes where a blitzer was deliberately let free. The Cowboys had one sack and three QB hits in that category.

On this occasion, I’d agree that the Cowboys generated more pressure and by a more convincing margin than the stats suggest. However, I’d expect the protection numbers to be much better as the season goes along, so I don’t expect this to always be the case.

On the Jets last possession that resulted in the FG, I found the playcalling very aggravating. As easy as it is in hindsight to criticize, they ran on 1st down when they’d had their best success all game throwing on 1st down, then threw 2 passes from the shotgun. I understand somewhat the element of surprise with running on 1st down (if Shotty was guessing that the D expected pass) and also that Sanchez has more time to survey the D from the gun. But from a clock management perspective, I would’ve liked to have seen them run a play-action bootleg (did they run a boot all game?) on 1st down and then run on 2nd & 3rd so that the cowgirls would have to use their timeout. I know they were trying to get a closer FG for Folk but in the gun the D knew we were throwing or that a draw play was coming, not too many options there. If we had milked the clock, Folk kicks the FG, game over. I was screaming for a bootleg there not only because I think it would’ve worked but because even if not, Sanchez can throw it away or slide to keep the clock moving if he can pick up a yard or two. Just felt very predictable (in terms of play possibilities they’d have to defend) and ill-advised RE: the time left in the game – why give them a shot to tie it? I like going for the jugular and making the FG more of a gimme, just didn’t like the approach. Would like your opinion, thanks.

– The NYC Parking Expert

I don’t like to critique playcalling with the benefit of hindsight either, but I still see this as the usual “playing the percentages”.

In any case, the decision surely has to have come from Rex, no? He’d be the one to decide whether or not they need to run clock, try for another first down, inch the ball closer or whatever, wouldn’t he? Schottenheimer would merely decide which plays to use to attain that goal. I’d imagine Rex told him to try and get one more first down, because if they did, they’d run out the clock and have a much more makeable kick. He probably also said to ensure they don’t lose any more yards and then the worst case scenario is that Folk can give them a shot at the lead with about 30 seconds left and probable overtime if he misses.

I didn’t like them using the timeout, but I agreed with the approach. Also, the fact they tried to get closer instead of just running to bleed the clock perhaps showed a lack of faith in Folk to make a kick that long.

Either way, it worked out a heck of a lot better than getting Sanchez to drop back two yards and take a knee would have…

Do Vontae Davis and Sean Smith still think they’re the #1 CB duo in football?

– Brendan

I flew to Miami to ask them this question*. First I asked Davis, but it went over his head. Then I asked Smith, but he just stood there expecting Benny Sapp to answer me instead, before feigning a leg injury. Realizing I didn’t need Smith or Davis to answer for me, I instead kept asking Sapp and Nolan Carroll over and over again and they got so confused and exasperated that they started crying. From that, I got “no”.

*May not actually have happened.

“Bryan Thomas also gave up a first down catch, as Dez Bryant burned him for 42 yards from the slot.” … That made me laugh. That falls under ‘schematic loss’… would the system give Bryan Thomas negative points for not being able to cover Dez Bryant … If a LB is covering a WR (especially one as talented as Dez Bryant) and gets beat, I don’t really see the LB as the problem.

– Biebs

I didn’t mean to portray Thomas as the reason for this breakdown – it would only have been a modest first down grab if Jim Leonhard doesn’t miss his tackle. Thomas should perhaps have slowed him with a jam at the line, so he wasn’t entirely blameless, but that’s a minor complaint. Glad you found it amusing though!

It is my understanding that in American football, there are 5 “offensive linemen” and that their names are “Tackle” “Center” and “Guard”. Please explain the difference, and why do they call it “Tackle” if he plays offense? Is it because D’Brickashaw Ferguson (who I understand to be a “Tackle” makes “Tackle” on “Linebacker” “Interception” “Return”)?

– DSmizzle

Congratulations, not only do you have the longest question in BGA history, but now you also have the most incoherent. Um…yes?

I can’t agree about the Austin TD. Cro clearly has possession in the endzone before Austin has two hands on the ball. Should have been a touchback.

– Iain

Okay, maybe you saw an angle I didn’t. Either way, there probably wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the call on the field, so it may have stood if the on-field officialy gave him the benefit of the doubt.

You didn’t speak much to play-calling today and I have become to believe that yelling about second down calls are tough things to do but there’s one thing that has bugged me since last year. When are the Jets going to realize that Sanchez only wakes up after he leads a two minute drills and start to toss in a hurry up offense either to start the game or somewhere in the first quarter?

– Gary

I prefer to avoid talking about playcalling in BGA because that’s supposed to be observational rather than subjective. In BGA Extra, I’ll respond if asked, but my answer will usually be that it’s difficult to know who to credit/blame. The last time they tried a hurry-up offense during a non-end of half situation, they lost by 42 points.

I’ve been to 90% (only missing games due to college) for the past 15 years and can say this is the first game I ever noticed that the crowd caused false starts/delay of games. I felt the entire fourth quarter the crowd actually was impacting the game during 3rd downs and feel it has to be mentioned even with all the Cowboy fans how we made a difference. And I wanted to know if it was this noticeable on TV.

– Gary

TV never does it justice, but it did come across a bit. It was obvious the crowd played a big part so thanks for doing your bit if you were there!

Let’s close by discussing Eric Smith:

Can’t stand when people defend Eric Smith’s play. He is constantly getting beat for big plays. And I dont even wanna hear how he’s a good run stuffing safety or whatever.

– tk

I’ll try not to defend Smith too much because he’s a guy who has graded out as the worst defensive player on the team in each of the last two years and has been beaten for some big plays over that timescale.

However, it’s undeniable that he is a different player when he starts or plays most of the game. Perhaps he’s only “above average”, but he has performed much better in every discipline, as I discovered here. Check it out:

Run defense

* More than 50 snaps – 62 solo tackles (6.2 per game), four missed tackles, PFF rating +6.0
* Less than 50 snaps – 40 solo tackles (1.2 per game), nine missed tackles, PFF rating -2.5

Pass coverage

* More than 50 snaps – 17-for-29, 183 yards, no touchdowns. QB rating 77.2, PFF rating +3.9, one 20 yard play given up
* Less than 50 snaps – 23-for-40, 314 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions. QB rating 86.9, PFF rating -13.5, four 20 yard plays given up

Pass rush

* More than 50 snaps – Four pressures in 33 pass rush attempts, PFF rating -0.7
* Less than 50 snaps – 15 pressures in 150 pass rush attempts, PFF rating -9.4

Overall

PFF rating in games where he played more than 50 snaps is +7.3 and when he plays less than 50 snaps is -28.7

[Regarding] Eric Smith, the problem with him is that he plays a position where one mistake is a killer and he does it too often. It just seems like you can almost always count on him for a PI call or big pass completion. They looked to have replaced him with Pool at the end.

– Jason

They didn’t actually replace him with Pool because Smith was still on the field for virtually the whole time (missing one play on goal line defense). Here’s how they typically use Smith:

On running downs – in the box (to make use of his run stopping ability)
On probable passing downs – in centerfield (so he doesn’t have to match up with a TE or slot receiver)
On obvious passing downs – near the line of scrimmage (so he can blitz or cover a RB out of the flat)

In terms of “he constantly gets beaten for big plays” or “you can almost always count on him for a PI call or a big pass completion” he’s no worse than middle of the pack where that’s concerned, especially when he starts.

To compare his numbers with some other safeties, you expect him to give up more catches, yards and big plays, especially since the Jets’ corners are so good that the safeties are perhaps targeted more. However, he gave up 20 catches last season, including the playoffs. 40 NFL safeties gave up at least that many in the regular season alone. His 236 yards was fewer than 53 safeties and the big play by Witten was only the second 20-yard catch he’s ever given up as a starter.

So, although he perhaps tends to get beaten for catches more than his teammates (at least now Drew Coleman, who gave up seven catches on Sunday, is gone), the rate at which he does so is not that bad on an NFL-wide basis.

People have been decrying the departure of Dwight Lowery, but he gave up 22 catches for 381 yards last year. You might think that could be affected by how many snaps he got at cornerback, but he was a safety 78% of the time (Smith 94%) and although he played a lot less than Smith, their coverage snaps weren’t too dissimilar (335-274). It may be fair to say that Lowery (and many of the safeties who gave up more catches last year) had more man coverage assignments, but even that may not be true because Lowery was usually roaming center field when he played safety.

Don’t get me wrong, I actually think Smith has poor coverage skills, but if the Jets are able to use him in ways where he doesn’t get beaten much more than once a game – which happens even to elite cover safeties, then the defense can benefit from his positional and communication skills and his instincts.

With Pool as the third safety, my assessment is that they have an above average starter and an above average backup. Bumping him for Pool could not only mess up the chemistry of the unit, but also might mean that they have an above average starter and a bad backup.

However, if Smith gets burned like he did on Sunday many more times, he could easily be benched, as he was after week two last year.

Thanks to PFF for giving us exclusive access to stats that were used in this article.

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