BGA: Jaguars at Jets

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.

Coming up, your detailed analysis of yesterday’s win over the Jaguars, including a bounce-back performance from two defensive backs who were widely criticized for their performances last week and a detailed look at the question everyone wants an answer to: Just how terrible were Colin Baxter and Wayne Hunter? The answers may shock you. Or perhaps not. Don’t forget, there will also be BGA Extra later in the week, where I will respond to your questions or requests from the comments section.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much post-game negativity after a 29-point win. Yes, the Mangold injury is potentially a huge blow, but he hasn’t even been ruled out for Sunday yet. Other than that, the Jets’ dominating win is being dismissed as not that impressive because Josh McCown is just a “career back-up”. However, in the lead up to the game, all we heard all week is how the Jets shouldn’t overlook the Jags because they’re going to give the Jets a tough game and McCown was a revelation in preseason (he kind of was, actually) and the Jags “out-toughed” the Jets last time the teams met and so on and so on and so on. This is the team that beat the (Tennessee) Titans, who just beat the Ravens, who destroyed the Steelers, who just shut out Seattle, so maybe they’re better than they’re getting credit for. After a 29-point win, the Jets must have done something right – let’s hope it shows up on film:

Quarterback

Although Mark Sanchez made two bad decisions on his interceptions, he was on point for the rest of the game. With the Jaguars leaving the middle of the field open, he exploited that well, with Dustin Keller accounting for over half of the Jets’ passing offense.

I’m liking what I’ve seen from Sanchez this year in terms of accuracy, not just from a statistical standpoint, but he seems to be hitting his receivers in stride on intermediate throws with more consistency, which is going to do wonders for his yards per attempt numbers. I’m also impressed by his decision making in the pocket. He threw the ball away a couple of times and took off at the right time, gaining a career-high 29 rushing yards and – for all the documented struggles of the offensive line – he was only sacked once for a one-yard loss.

Receivers

Let’s begin with the tight ends and in particular the guy who is going to be the Jets’ MVP if he carries on playing like he has so far this season. Dustin Keller’s six catches for 101 yards included a touchdown and two downfield catches where he created some yards after the catch. His hands have been particularly solid this season and he is definitely blocking with more consistency.

Matthew Mulligan and Jeff Cumberland saw plenty of reps again, often in two or three TE sets. Although they only combined for ten yards on three catches, the way they are using them gives a fresh look to the offense which they didn’t have last year. Mulligan’s run blocking has been spotty at best since preseason began, but he had a couple of good ones here.

As we’ve heard, Plaxico Burress was unable to catch a pass for just the third time in his career, mainly due to the fact they always had safety support downfield. This potentially takes away the back shoulder throw – because the cornerback can jump the route knowing he has someone behind him – as well as the fade route. Sanchez was able to get Santonio Holmes involved with a touchdown pass over the middle, as Holmes ran a beautiful route and then a quick hitch on the outside as Holmes made a low diving grab. Derrick Mason had just one catch, one of eight Jets to catch a pass. Patrick Turner saw some reps, mainly as a run blocker, and he and Jeremy Kerley shared garbage time, but weren’t targeted.

Running Backs

After LaDainian Tomlinson saw more reps last week than Shonn Greene, what presumably constitutes normality was restored this week, with Greene getting almost twice as many snaps. Tomlinson had a first down catch on the first drive, but ran for just eight yards on six carries and had a bad drop. It’s a relief that he played so well last week, otherwise everyone would be panicking that he no longer brings anything to the table. (You could probably say exactly the same thing about Burress).

Shonn Greene got off to a decent start, gaining 42 yards on his first 10 carries, but was held to just seven yards on his last six carries, to end up with an average just over three yards per carry. He did get in the endzone, though, and I would once again attribute his lack of yardage to the performance of the offensive line.

Joe McKnight saw some brief action late in the game, carrying six times for 14 yards but, by then, the Jets were running out the clock with mostly backups in the game. McKnight very nearly had another punt block too.

John Conner was in on 15 snaps this week. He didn’t make much of an impact with his blocking, but again the offensive line didn’t really create too much room for him to make any clean blocks. He did contribute a first down catch to the cause.

Offensive Line

I don’t know if it will make you feel better or worse to pass along that the offensive line looked great until Mangold went down. He was only in the game for 15 snaps – less than a quarter of the game – but had already made some solid run blocks and sprung some decent gains. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up getting the highest grade on the line, even with just 15 reps. His importance to the offensive line is obvious because everyone struggled after he left the game, although you have to give the Jets credit for still being able to put some points on the board, even if this win was very much defense-driven.

Wayne Hunter once again had his struggles but, based on the film, I actually thought he was a lot better than last week. Don’t get me wrong, I am still disappointed overall with his level of play compared to how he finished last season, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.

Hunter actually got off to a great start and was making plenty of good run blocks. I had him down for five positively-graded run blocks before he had a negatively graded one, so he was off to a terrific start. Most of these were kick-out blocks, but I can’t really speak on degree of difficulty. He did have one particularly good surging block over the right side.

Once Mangold left the game, he was less effective in the running game, although he only got beaten a couple of times. He did also have a holding penalty, as the linebacker darted inside him and he grabbed him with one hand to prevent him from getting a hand on the ball carrier. On that play, he probably didn’t need to hold, because the runner might have got to the edge anyway. You could see that he tried to let go, but just held for that crucial split second. Overall, I would say he graded out positively as a run blocker, although I’d caution that he would probably grade out negatively for the time when Mangold was not on the field.

In terms of pass protection, Hunter was poor again, but still only let Sanchez get hit once and gave up a couple of pressures. Considering he gave up a sack and six pressures last week, that’s progress. The Jets did give him help at times, but he was often left to his own devices and usually managed to handle his assignment well. He did have a facemask penalty, but he wasn’t beaten on the play and just appeared to get his hand placement all wrong. The TV crew didn’t really give us a good look at this one, but it looked a little harsh.

As Jets fans, we’ve been spoiled by having two of the best pass protecting tackles on the line for each of the last few seasons. Clearly it is too much to expect Hunter to live up to that, but you’d be hard pressed to find an available tackle that isn’t going to get beaten three times most weeks.

Although part of his improvement can be attributed to the fact that he wasn’t facing DeMarcus Ware this week (and I’d also note that they threw the ball a lot less), he was still going up against Matt Roth, who was one of the league leaders in generating pressure last season, averaging almost 3.5 QB disruptions per game.

Hunter clearly still has a lot of work to do. Next week will pose another tough challenge because the Raiders lit up the Broncos for five sacks, three hits and 23 pressures in Week One.

Replacing Mangold at Center was Colin Baxter. If you want to know more about what Baxter brings to the table, I did a scouting report on him in preseason. Click here if you missed that. Long story short, he looked really good in the first three games and then got completely dominated by a 49ers backup because he couldn’t cope with his bullrush.

In this game, I’m afraid Baxter is going to end up with a very poor rating for run blocking. He got beaten or driven back several times and didn’t really make any notable positive blocks. He also almost got Shonn Greene injured because he snapped the ball too early and half of the line didn’t move and then snapped the ball too late on another occasion, causing Brandon Moore to false start.

You know what, though? That almost doesn’t matter. To enter the game at that point, when he’d never even snapped the ball to Mark Sanchez in practice (!), he deserves credit just for snapping the ball and doing what he could to block up front. In terms of pass protection, he got plenty of help from one or other of the guards on most plays, but still should be commended for keeping a clean slate. His head must have been swimming out there, so I would hope that he will fare much better with a week to prepare – if he is required to start this weekend, that is.

Most of Baxter’s errors seemed to be more confusion-based than technique-based. He did get physically overpowered a couple of times, but no more than Rob Turner has whenever he has filled in for Mangold in the past. Hopefully this is a sign that he can perform more consistently once he develops some familiarity with the scheme.

As for the rest of the line, Moore’s run blocking was also good while Mangold was in the game and subpar when he left the game. He also gave up a couple of pressures in the second half. D’Brickashaw Ferguson was up and down in the running game, although he had an outstanding block on Greene’s touchdown run. He only got beaten once in pass protection. Matt Slauson did not have a particuarly good game. No doubt affected more than anyone by Mangold’s absence, he gave up a hit and a pressure and was ineffective in the running game, too often not sustaining his block and allowing his man to stuff the runner. On balance, he probably had a worse game than Hunter.

Vladimir Ducasse was in for the last six snaps, all running plays. It’s too small of a sample size to judge him really, but he did whiff on a block at the second level. At least he didn’t give up any sacks!

Defensive Line

On the defensive side of the ball, there surely can’t be too many complaints, even from the most pessimistic of Jets fans. Once again, Rex vowed to fix the defense and did it almost overnight. That’s impressive work by the coaching staff. Other than Maurice Jones-Drew’s 88 rushing yards, an acceptable number, the Jets stifled the Jaguars offense all day and showcased some opportunistic playmaking.

Sione Pouha once again led by example on the defensive line. He batted two passes down, stuffed a couple of runs and was strong at the point of attack. He did have a couple of missed tackles, but his presence was a big part of why the defense was so effective.

Mike DeVito actually made a bit of a slow start, getting driven back off the line a few times, but he responded to stuff a couple of runs in the second half and his bullrush got him right in the face of McCown on one of his four interceptions.

Muhammed Wilkerson of course made the biggest splash with his sack for a safety. He beat his man one other time in the pass rush and stuffed a couple of runs at or close to the line of scrimmage. Wilkerson sometimes gets ridden out of the action on running plays, but overall his contribution has definitely been positive so far.

Ropati Pitoitua actually ended up seeing more snaps than Wilkerson this week. He didn’t have much of an impact, although he did bullrush his man into the backfield on the play where Bart Scott recorded a sack and he only had one noticeable negative play, when he missed a tackle on the edge. Marcus Dixon wasn’t far behind with 22 snaps and he didn’t have much impact either, although he also didn’t really make any mistakes.

Linebackers

After last week’s impact performance, Bart Scott was a lot quieter this week. In terms of on-field production that is. Still, he did manage a sack, a QB hit and two run stuffs for short gains, so he is still delivering impact plays. He also had good coverage in the flat on a third down incompletion.

David Harris took the opportunity to get some well-earned rest in this one, sitting out the last 18 plays in favor of Josh Mauga. Harris broke up a pass and blew up a couple of runs, but did have issues getting off blocks at the second level on a few plays. Mauga intercepted a pass on his first play and was in on a few run stops in the closing minutes.

On the outside, Bryan Thomas wasn’t perfect against the run, but he had a couple of tackles in the backfield and recorded a pressure from the nose tackle position.

The star of the show, however, had to be Calvin Pace. Pace recorded just six pressures last year, but continues to look like a different player this year – I had him down for four pressures and a QB hit. He also blew up three runs, one for a loss, and beat his man a couple more times on plays where the ball was thrown before he could pressure the QB. I don’t know if it’s more impressive or concerning that he did almost all of this in the first quarter.

Jamaal Westerman had a mixed day, jumping offside on third down, but also getting a big hit on Blaine Gabbert.

Defensive Backs

What a game for Antonio Cromartie! Following some criticism last week, after he gave up a couple of scores, Cromartie pitched a shut-out, intercepted two passes, racked up 150 return yards on just four touches and even rushed for a yard on an end around. He also assisted on a tackle in the backfield. I’m not sure what more he could have done.

Also bouncing back was Eric Smith, who had four tackles, an interception and two pass breakups. He didn’t give up any catches in coverage, either. Jim Leonhard gave up the longest play of the day, a 25-yarder, but other than that he did well and was in good position on a 3rd down incompletion.

Darrelle Revis was thrown at twice, with both falling incomplete. He got involved in other ways though, stuffing a run for a short gain.

Donald Strickland gave up a catch and missed a tackle, but otherwise the rest of the backups held up well. Brodney Pool didn’t see much action until the end, with the Jets taking the opportunity to rest Leonhard. Kyle Wilson made an excellent open field tackle on third and short while the game was still in the balance. He continues to look more and more comfortable out there.

Special Teams

The kick return unit stood out this week, with Antonio Cromartie doing a great job. The Jets tried to set up a touchdown return for Jeremy Kerley on one play, because they matched up Revis and Cromartie against the Jags’ outstanding gunner Kassim Osgood, who had earlier blown by a double team of Cole and Strickland. While Osgood had no chance of getting down there, the return was mitigated by a great punt with loads of hang time. I never thought I’d see Revis on special teams, though.

The coverage units did a fine job, with solid special teams tackles from the likes of Marquice Cole, Nick Bellore, Patrick Turner and Isaiah Trufant. Cole did also have a penalty and a missed tackle, though.

I have no complaints about the kicking game, with Folk going 3-for-3 and Conley steady but unspectacular.

Conclusions

I don’t mean to sweep the Mangold injury under the carpet. This is a major concern heading into this weekend’s game – and could have far wider-reaching effects than that, if it’s something that will keep him out or limit his effectiveness over a longer period. However, the positives to take from this are that the Jets overcame it, against a team who – at least based on their first game of the year – are not that bad. Also, it doesn’t sound like the injury is as bad as it could have been, so we can count our blessings there. We might even be about to see something really special from Mangold, if he is crazy enough to try and play on it. Finally, the defense looked great and that could keep them in games even when the offense struggles.

Bring on the Raiders!

Remember, if there’s anything else you’d like me to comment upon or go into more detail about, let me have your suggestions in the comments and I’ll respond in BGA Extra later in the week.