BGA: Jets at Eagles

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 after the jump, an analysis of yesterday’s loss to the Eagles, including a focus on the struggles of the offensive line, against the run and in the secondary. Oh, and maybe a little bit of ranting, because I was feeling left out. Remember, if you want me to look into anything in particular or go into more detail, leave a comment and I’ll include it in BGA Extra, which will follow in a few days.

It’s an all-too familiar pattern. The Jets fall behind, perhaps due to an unfortunate bounce or an individual error, then they look to get back into the game only for a similar play to put them in an even bigger hole. They have enough opportunistic players on the team that they might make a few plays to make you think they’ve got a chance to get back into it, but with no margin of error remaining, the Jets are too inconsistent to climb back into it without making another mistake that completely kills any momentum they’ve built.

In the Rex Ryan era these “spiral out of control” games have happened four times against New England, earlier this year against the Ravens and in the postseason against the Steelers last year, which was the closest they came to completing the comeback. Clearly, this team lacks the firepower to overcome a deficit against teams with a lot of talent. That doesn’t mean they’re incapable of beating such teams, but they need to keep the game close in the early stages and establish themselves on both sides of the ball. Against San Diego, the Jets fell into a hole after their first possession ended with a freak touchdown on a fumble return for the Chargers and almost didn’t recover. In a similar situation, the Eagles never looked likely to surrender their early lead, which grew to 28 in the second quarter, as the Jets made more mistakes and the Eagles showed that – although their record is comparable to the Chargers – they have more talent and are not an easy team to knock off at home.

Essentially, the Jets had some bad luck/mistakes early on, fell behind and presumably let that take them out of their intended gameplan. They ended up looking like a team without a plan and that was reflected on the scoreboard.

This is a particularly difficult game to grade, because if someone made a couple of early mistakes as the Jets fell behind, but then made a handful of impact plays later on, what’s the use in that? Similarly, if a player was playing well early but then started playing poorly when the game got out of hand, isn’t that even worse? As usual, I looked at every play to see who did their job and who didn’t – you can make up your own minds what to make of it all.

Quarterback

Considering how heavily the Jets lost this game, their quarterback didn’t have as much of a negative impact as you might expect. An early interception wasn’t really his fault, as his pass went through Santonio Holmes’ hands and he did make a few pretty nice throws.

His biggest mistake came on third and two, as the Jets looked to run the ball, but Sanchez got his wires crossed and expected LaDainian Tomlinson to be going to the right. He instead had to tuck and run, and then compounded his error by losing a fumble as he tried in vain to extend the ball past the first down marker. Later on, he had a pass intercepted which he never should have thrown – the defensive player was sitting on the quick slant to Holmes and the ball bounced straight up into the air.

Sanchez was also at fault on one of the times he was sacked, because he easily could have dumped the ball off to a wide open Tomlinson, who likely would have got down inside the five and perhaps would have scored. Instead, he hesitated and went down.

His job wasn’t made any easier by the amount of pressure he was under, although there were times when the protection held up well and he still couldn’t find anyone.

The concern now is that, even if by some miracle, the Jets sort out their pass protection issues before they face the formidable Giants’ front on Sunday, the chances are that Sanchez will still play poorly because the residual effect from those games where he’s had to run for his life has tended to be at least a one-week hangover where he seems to lack confidence and misses too many throws because his timing is off.

He did complete a long bomb to Dustin Keller and made two great throws on his touchdown passes, but elite quarterbacks will march their team down the field to get them back in the game when the other team goes up big, so the size of the gap between Sanchez and those elite guys is readily apparent to everyone.

Even allowing for the pressure he was under, Sanchez’s accuracy on short throws could have been better this week. The Jets have used the screen to good effect in recent weeks, but the Eagles were well-prepared for it. Against the 9-wide style of defense, a screen pass can be a boom or bust play because there are more potential tacklers spread across the field, but – if you do get past the first wave – you can break into the open field. On Sunday, the Jets busted almost every time as each screen they set up looked set to go for big yardage, only for the one defender in the area to avoid being blocked and get to the receiver to blow it up. The one on the first drive should have been a 20-yard gain, but with three blockers out ahead of him, Tomlinson was hit in the backfield as soon as he caught the ball. Both Matt Slauson and Nick Mangold could have done a better job of blocking that guy and then the play would have been successful, but their job wasn’t made any easier by Sanchez’s ill-timed pass that wasn’t ideally placed. As we feared following the last two games, without the screen pass, the Jets passing attack is pretty one-dimensional.

Offensive Line

After two consecutive solid performances against teams with decent pass rush ability, hopes were high that the Jets’ offensive line would be able to handle the Eagles front seven. Early signs were even positive, as Shonn Greene broke a couple of nice runs on the Jets first drive. Unfortunately, it all went downhill from there.

All eyes were on the inconsistent Wayne Hunter, as Jason Babin and Juqua Parker gave him fits all game. However, it’s very difficult to blame Hunter for the loss, because although he gave up an early sack to Babin, that was the only pressure he gave up until after the Jets were 28-0 down.

It was in the third quarter where Hunter really struggled, with another sack occurring as he and Brandon Moore each double teamed the same guy and Babin stunted around the outside. In that quarter, Hunter was beaten several times, but in the rest of the game, he managed to stay in front of his man almost all the time. Assuming the Jets made some adjustments at halftime, it seems likely that these weren’t something Hunter was adequately prepared for and it hurt their chances of getting back into the game.

After last week, where his pass protection was good, but his run blocking was poor, this week it was the other way around. He made a couple of decent blocks in the running game and only had one block that noticeably he failed to sustain. However, I had him down responsible for two sacks and five or six pressures and he compounded that with two false starts, even if the Jets did protest vehemently against one of them.

Hunter wasn’t alone in having problems in pass protection. Slauson and D’Brickashaw Ferguson were also caught out by a Babin stunt that led to a sack and Moore – who hadn’t given up a sack or a QB hit ALL season – got beaten for a sack on the play where Sanchez should have dumped it off to Tomlinson. The three of them also gave up four pressures between them.

Nick Mangold did not appear to be responsible for any of the pressure, although he might admit to part of the blame on those plays where there were missed assignments by his linemates, for not communicating the linecalls well enough. It wasn’t the same kind of dominating performance we’ve come to expect from Mangold, who had two missed blocks on screen passes and not as many punishing run blocks as had been the case in recent games, although that’s not to say that he didn’t have some good ones.

Moore got off to a great start, but seemed to struggle more and more as the game went on. I don’t know if his hip was bothering him, they made him take on tougher assignments or he just got frustrated and stopped trying, but it was a disappointing way to end what started out looking like a potentially dominant display.

Slauson also had a good start, making a couple of great pulling blocks to spring early runs. However, he also struggled as the game started to slip away from the Jets, missing some blocks on screen plays, false starting once and getting driven into the backfield on one play, so the runner had nowhere to go. He did finish with some decent blocks at the end, including one where he pulled and pancaked a linebacker, but it’s very difficult to assess such an uneven performance.

Ferguson did well to limit the amount of pressure he surrendered, but didn’t have any impact in the running game, except for one decent second level block. It wasn’t a bad performance, but expectations for Ferguson are so high, an average performance from him is almost as damaging as a poor performance from the likes of Hunter or Slauson, which you might half-expect and be prepared for.

As much as Hunter struggled, he didn’t look as bad as Vladimir Ducasse this week. I’ve been singing Ducasse’s praises recently as the Jets have been building his role and giving him some straightforward assignments and he’s been responding with largely error free performances. Unfortunately, this week was another setback. Not only was he inexcusably beaten inside in pass protection and called for a hold, but he also got beaten inside on two running plays, enabling his man to stuff each run up the middle. When you’re only on the field for a handful of plays, you shouldn’t be making the same mistake three times. The Jets were already trailing heavily when he made these mistakes, so you can’t pin the loss on him, but it was disappointing to see all his recent progress evaporate as if it never happened.

Since the Eagles got an extended look at Ducasse and Hunter in the Bollinger Bowl, I wonder if they identified some specific weaknesses in that seemingly-meaningless game and told their starters to attack these.

Running Backs

When Shonn Greene gained 33 yards on four carries, after the Jets had forced the Eagles to punt on their first possession, things were looking promising for the Jets. Unfortunately, they opted to go away from the running game when they fell so far behind. In fact, it’s not certain that he would have continued this early success – after all, his 14 carries from that point onwards netted him only 40 yards, which is less than three per carry.

Greene had a couple of nice runs, but also got beaten for a pressure and dropped an easy first down over the middle. That was the kind of mistake that only seems to happen in these “everything that can go wrong does go wrong” games.

Tomlinson had one half-decent run, but didn’t have much success with his four catches. On the play where he and Sanchez got their wires crossed, it did look like the draw play would have given him a good chance of a first down.

Joe McKnight saw some action late in the game, gaining 27 yards on the only successful screen pass of the day, thrown by Mark Brunell (who I didn’t mention in the quarterbacks section, but he misfired horribly on his other two pass attempts). McKnight apparently injured his shoulder, so he may be done for the year, although we await confirmation of his status.

As for John Conner, he made a nice gain on a FB dive play, but his blocking was inconsistent once again, although he did have a couple of good ones.

Receivers

With a fumble that was returned for a touchdown and a dropped pass in the redzone that ended up being intercepted, Santonio Holmes – having won two of the last three games for the Jets – pretty much lost them this one. Though those two plays alone weren’t insurmountable, they both came at the worst possible time and put the Jets in a hole that they were always battling to climb out of.

He did catch four passes, including a touchdown, but even that left a sour taste in the mouth, after his mindblowingly senseless celebration penalty with the Jets down 28-9 (although it didn’t actually hurt the Jets in the end). Holmes is now tied for the Jets lead in touchdowns despite the tight coverage he often faces which seems to have curtailed his statistical production. That’s a sign of his talents, but he’s got a long way to go if anyone’s going to discuss him as a potential hall-of-famer (his stated goal for his career in the offseason) with a straight face.

Plaxico Burress drew a pass interference flag and had a beautiful diving catch for a meaningless late score. That catch? His only one in the last ten quarters. He’s actually been pretty good value for money this year, but he needs to finish strong if any team is going to give him a decent contract next season.

Jeremy Kerley had a couple of nice first downs, but Patrick Turner did not record a catch.

Defensive Line

For once, the Jets didn’t dominate upfront on the defensive side of the ball, as the shifty LeSean McCoy was able to break several runs and Mike Vick did some damage with his legs too. Between them, the Eagles running backs accounted for exactly five yards per carry with McCoy getting in the end zone three times. How did they do it?

On the face of it, Muhammed Wilkerson showed more in this game than any other, with several impact plays. He had a sack, a pressure, a tackle for a loss, a tackle for no gain and a play that he strung out to the sideline well for no gain. Unfortunately, he also had more negative plays than he had in any other game, as he kept getting caught inside or driven out of the play, missed two bad tackles and jumped offsides. He lost contain on Vick’s touchdown and missed a tackle on McCoy’s longest one. It definitely seemed like the Eagles were targeting him and though he responded well a couple of times, they ultimately saw plenty of success in doing this.

It was surprising to see the Jets run defense struggling even though Mike DeVito returned to the line-up. There may have been some lingering effects from his recent knee injury, as evidenced by how easily he was blown off the line on McCoy’s second quarter touchdown. He did stuff one run, forced a fumble and had one pressure, but he didn’t otherwise have a major impact.

Sione Pouha has been superb in recent weeks. This week, he didn’t have the same impact in the running game, but it might have been the best pass rushing performance he’s had all year. He had a couple of pocket-collapsing bullrushes and flushed Vick from the pocket three times.

Marcus Dixon had a sack and a hit and stuffed one run, but it was all in garbage time. He was also called for a roughing the passer penalty, although it seemed to be harsh. Ropati Pitoitua got good penetration on one play, but was blocked out of at least three running plays. He did have one good bullrush, but Vick was able to get the pass away before the pocket collapsed completely.

Linebackers

Over the last few weeks, Calvin Pace has been doing a great job of stopping runs getting to the outside. You’ll often see him blocked by a tackle or tight end on the edge and perhaps assume he’s been blocked out of the play, but actually he is working hard to get upfield and force the runner to cut back. Unfortunately, he had a couple of slip-ups on Sunday. He was blocked to the ground on one play, letting the runner get to the edge and tried to get off his block to make a play and ended up getting caught on the inside on another play. Pace was also blown up and driven back into the endzone on one of McCoy’s touchdowns and had a missed tackle. He did stuff a couple of runs early on and got a couple of pressures, although one of these saw him flagged for roughing.

Perhaps the best job all day of keeping contain was by Jamaal Westerman, which is a positive sign. Westerman not only maintained outside leverage, but also drove his man upfield and forced the runner to cut back inside where he was stuffed. If Westerman could master this role, they might have more of a pass rushing threat on the field when they’re in their base defense without sacrificing anything in the running game. Westerman also had a couple of pressures and a forced fumble on special teams, but missed a tackle and had a penalty on special teams too.

Speaking of the importance of maintaining contain, a good example happened on McCoy’s long touchdown run in the fourth quarter involving Bart Scott. Scott attacked the hole as McCoy looked set to run off left guard, but he did it – I’m sure deliberately – by attacking his outside shoulder so that he couldn’t bounce it to the outside. McCoy slipped off Scott’s arm tackle but was forced to cut to the inside, where Wilkerson should have tackled him in the backfield. Unfortunately, Wilkerson missed the tackle and McCoy was able to reverse his field and get to the outside on the right side instead. While Scott will undoubtedly get graded down for this particular play, because he didn’t secure or at least slow down the runner well enough, I believe the fact that he attacked the runner in such a way that he could only escape to the inside where there was help is part of his assignment, but it’s an interesting example of discipline and gap control nevertheless.

Other than that – and a big completion to Celek where he might have had support over the top if Kyle Wilson didn’t slip over – Scott had a solid enough performance, with a sack, a tackle for a short gain and a key assist at the goal line, but I still feel the Jets are diluting his influence by getting him to play disciplined gap control rather than attacking the line of scrimmage with what could almost be described as recklessness, even though he does carry out both roles well.

Much like the situation with Wilkerson, David Harris made several impact plays, but was also involved with a lot of negative plays to overshadow his positive contribution. Harris had an interception, a pressure, a tackle for no gain and a tackle for a loss, but overpursued on one of McCoy’s touchdowns, gave up a couple of big pass plays, missed a tackle in the hole and got driven out of a play at the second level.

Aaron Maybin, for once, was unable to generate any pressure in pass rushing situations. Garrett McIntyre saw some action in garbage time and missed another tackle. Josh Mauga also saw action late.

Defensive Backs

As usual, we’ll start with Darrelle Revis, but it was a pretty inconsequential performance from the PFG one. Revis gave up three big catches, although one was negated by a penalty and only one was a first down on a leaping catch by DeSean Jackson. He was better than Antonio Cromartie though. Cromartie was burned for a touchdown and gave up two other big plays. He also didn’t do a very job of downfield tackling on McCoy’s long touchdown. At least he didn’t fumble a return, I guess, although I can’t be alone in expecting it every time he gets tackled.

With Jim Leonhard out, there were only two obvious coverage breakdowns. The first was the long completion to Celek where Bart Scott ran with him across the field and Wilson slipped downfield and was late getting over. I’d need to see the coaches film to see if Wilson had responsibility for him there, or if he just reacted to the play and came off his man. The other saw Celek make a huge gain with Eric Smith chasing after him. On this play, Smith was covering a slot receiver, playing off him, and David Harris was covering Celek. Harris backpedalled and Celek broke off his route as the slot receiver ran an out pattern. Harris and Smith both seemed to react to the receiver and Celek – either by design or by craftily reading the situation – actually ran a stop and go/post route. Harris was in no man’s land with his momentum carrying him in the other direction as Celek re-accelerated. However, Smith was closer to the sideline, so he had a long way to go to make up ground on Celek. In these situations, it’s impossible to know who was at fault, although one report suggested Smith was chewed out by Rex immediately afterwards, so it seems likely he either blew his assignment or his call of the coverage.

Other than that, neither safety made any mistakes and there were no obvious breakdowns. Smith had five tackles – for once not on players he’d given up first down catches to. Pool broke up a pass, recovered a fumble and had a pressure, so hopefully his comfort level is growing and he will continue to make plays like these.

The bigger concern is that the Eagles (per Eric Smith) apparently knew all of the Jets’ calls and what they were running defensively. It’s no wonder they looked so impressive moving the ball. Maybe the Jets would have been able to change things up with Leonhard in there, but their limited preparation time clearly hurt them in that regard. They probably already had to simplify things, so kudos to the Eagles for being ready, I guess.

The one saving grace if that is true is that the last team they’ll want to go sharing that information will be the Giants.

Kyle Wilson was beaten for another big gain by Celek and also missed a tackle as he tried to sack Vick, letting him get away for a positive gain. He did have two other pressures. Donald Strickland was in good position on a downfield throw and made a good open field tackle in the flat.

In garbage time, Tracy Wilson had a nice hit and also made a good special teams tackle, although he missed another two. Isaiah Trufant came on for one play and was embarrassingly trampled over by the receiver for an easy first down. It’s easy to see where his weakness lies – he apparently just isn’t big enough to play in the NFL.

Special Teams

The special teams had a positive performance this week. Nick Folk hit both of his field goals and TJ Conley landed two of his six punts inside the 20, although he did struggle to get the Jets out from under their own goalposts in the third quarter.

There were a couple of pretty good returns from McKnight, Cromartie and Kerley and some good tackles from the likes of Mauga and Tracy Wilson, although there were also a few missed tackles, including one from debutant Gerald Alexander. Ellis Lankster did a good job of getting downfield and was rewarded with two fumble recoveries.

Conclusions

It goes without saying – the Jets are broken right now.

Can they be fixed? It doesn’t look likely, but I have a hard time accepting that the game would have turned out anything like it did if the Jets didn’t have some big plays go against them early to put them in a hole. With an offense that thrives on balance and breaking tendencies and a defense that likes to mix things up and set traps, this team is not built to fall behind and change things on the fly…and that’s a problem.

How can you avoid falling behind early on in games? A conservative approach would seem to make sense, but the game didn’t spiral out of control because they didn’t adopt such an approach on Sunday.

Player focus remains a major concern and an area which the coaching staff should think long and hard about how they can go about making improvements in. We’ve seen the team come out flat to start games or fall apart when they are trailing far too often this season, when that’s something that should happen less and less as the front office are adding those players hand-picked to excel at the coaches’ schemes.

Last time Jim Leonhard was lost for the season, the Jets gave up 45 points, but we were led to believe that wouldn’t happen this time, because the secondary had learned to cope last year and they had a week to prepare instead of just a few days. If the reason the defense played so shoddily can be attributed to Leonhard’s injury, that’s still not an acceptable excuse. They should have people ready to fill in for each other at a moment’s notice. You only need look at Pittsburgh, where they hardly give any playing time to their backups, but as soon as a starter goes down, the next man up knows his role and seems to perform well.

I imagine the Jets were forced to take some short cuts due to the truncated off-season program, but they still should have themselves prepared for any eventuality, whether that be shutting down a high-powered offense with a backup in your secondary and somebody different making the calls back there, or simply having a plan for when you’re way behind and need to get back in the game.

A couple of weeks ago, I said I was convinced 10-6 would be good enough to get a wild card spot in the AFC, but that I wasn’t sure that the (then 6-5) Jets would be able to get to 10-6. With two weeks to go, it’s still on the cards, with their next opponent also struggling. Whether they can feel good about their chances of making any noise if they do make it is another matter.

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.