BGA: Jets at Patriots

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 loss to the Patriots, with details on how the offensive line held up with Nick Mangold back in the fold, why the Patriots were able to run the ball and Jamaal Westerman’s breakout game. Don’t forget, if you ask me to investigate something in more detail in the comments, I will do so in BGA Extra on Wednesday night.

While it was encouraging in some level to see the Jets in a competitive game with one of the league’s best teams on the road, this team has set a higher standard for itself than that. Frustrations are boiling over after a disappointing offensive output after a game which – had a just a few plays gone the Jets’ way – was tantalizingly winnable.

Everyone’s asking questions about the coaching on the offensive side of the ball – and with good reason – but maybe the issues run deeper than that. What about opening two drives with 12 men on the field on defense? Why did they remove their run-stopping personnel? How did the culture of the organization shift to one where players are reportedly questioning each other and the coaches, then backtracking?

You don’t come to BGA to hear yet another debate on who’s most responsible for the issues this team undoubtedly has, though. You come here because we dig deeper than anyone else to find that silver lining or glass-half-full point of view, so we can all regroup and start believing in our team again in time for next week’s game. So here it comes…

Yes, it was a crushing disappointment and, no, it was nowhere near good enough. However, after last week’s performance, it looks like they hit rock bottom in Baltimore. They’re not back to playing like a Jet yet, but after the disarray last week, that’s hardly surprising. Take a deep breath and let’s see this for what it was: A step in the right direction.

You don’t get anything for moral victories though, so let’s take a closer look at what went wrong:

Quarterback

Without a shadow of a doubt in my mind, there was something of a hangover from last week’s game, as far as Mark Sanchez was concerned. After being under such consistent pressure last week, I’m not sure Sanchez fully trusts his offensive line again, yet. Naturally, the return of Mangold shored things up considerably, but it’s going to take a while for Sanchez’s internal clock to slow back down.

In this game, there were some examples of plays where he was able to sit in the pocket, scan the field, maybe buy some time. That comes after last week where there were exactly zero plays where he didn’t get rid of the ball or hit within 2.5 seconds. However, there were quite a few plays where the protection held up, but he got rid of the ball early anyway, perhaps expecting the protection to break down and thereby forgoing a chance at a potential completion.

Although Wayne Hunter has played much better over the last couple of weeks, the fact he was struggling early in the year may have contributed to Sanchez’s eagerness to get rid of the ball.

It may sound like I am making excuses for Sanchez, but the opposite is true. While it’s understandable that Sanchez is less confident in the pocket than he was when he was playing well at the start of the year, he needs to get over this, otherwise he won’t come close to maximizing his effectiveness.

While he was noticeably getting rid of the ball too early for much of the game, there were also a couple of examples later in the game where he held onto the ball too long – perhaps in response to having been advised to be more patient, or just realizing himself that he should do so. The last thing he needs to do is bring more pressure on himself, though. For example, there was one play where he had LaDainian Tomlinson open in the flat on third down and a well-placed pass would have ensured the first down, but I don’t think he had the confidence to throw it and instead he ended up holding onto the ball and being sacked.

The Jets did string together a couple of nice drives and got into a nice rhythm once they got going. However, the above mentioned play, plus a couple of drops, a costly penalty and an inaccurate third down throw to an open Dustin Keller all ended drives prematurely.

One bright spot is that – while his decision-making seemed like it could have been better – Sanchez didn’t turn the ball over. However, it’s likely he was on a shorter leash this week, which – while understandable after last week – coincided with him facing a defense which (statistically, at least) was right at the bottom of the league.

The Jets will have to loosen the shackles for the offense to work at full capacity. Let’s just hope no permanent psychological damage was done by last week’s ordeal.

Running Backs

Shonn Greene did a good job of quieting some of his doubters with an excellent display of downhill running. Breaking some tackles, falling forward at the end of plays and getting into the endzone will do wonders for his confidence and the coaching staff’s confidence in him. Naturally, the difference between this performance and those over the last two games are attributable to the offensive line, but he showed that – given some room to at least build up a head of steam – he can carry the load and be productive, even against a team with a lot of guys close to the line of scrimmage, not to mention some elite players on the interior.

LaDainian Tomlinson got the ground game going with a nine yard run in the early going, but only handled the ball a couple of times. He had some adventures in pass protection, with Shaun Ellis lighting him up on the play that ended with Jeremy Kerley’s touchdown catch. He was late getting over on one blitz pickup, though.

John Conner also made a mistake in pass protection, leaving a guy unblocked, but that wasn’t his worst mistake. Judging by how well the Jets offense got going once they got some momentum, his third-and-two drop on the first series could have affected the whole dynamic of the Jets early offensive display. He did have one great block to spring a Greene run as the Jets ran the “Swerve”.

Joe McKnight didn’t go anywhere with his one carry, but continues to be a revelation as a kick returner.

Offensive Line

The return of Nick Mangold had an immediate positive effect on the running game, the pass protection and the performance of the two guys either side of him. Watching him, I’d suggest he is nowhere near 100% healthy yet, as he seemed to be limited at times. However, the confusion on the line all but evaporated and he was constantly in the right place, which is vital when you’re facing guys like Albert Haynesworth and Vince Wilfork, who can make impact plays when left in a one-on-one situation.

The line’s performance as a whole was not perfect, but there were some signs that the line is continuing to gel – which I first speculated was happening in the Jags game before Mangold was hurt – and that they can perform at a level close to or maybe even beyond what they achieved in last year’s postseason.

By my reckoning, Mangold had more positive run blocks than anyone else on the line and combined with his guards to double team a tackle and drive them five yards off the point of attack on a number of occasions, something the line never came close to doing during the Colin Baxter era. He wasn’t flawless, letting a few guys get off their blocks to make a stop and once getting stood up by a blitzer, leading to pressure up the middle. However, considering it was his first game back from injury, he was excellent and his calming influence on the rest of the line was apparent. Let’s just hope that spreads to Sanchez next week.

While Mangold was out, both Brandon Moore and Matt Slauson have had their struggles. On Sunday, they were both much better. Again, they both had good and bad plays – Slauson gave up a couple of pressures and Moore let a couple of guys get off his blocks early on – but the way Slauson was teaming up with Mangold and Moore was drive blocking next to Hunter suggested that the line is not too far off the level of cohesiveness we’ve become accustomed to since 2008.

Hunter had another decent performance to hopefully show that his early season struggles are now behind him. He had some good run blocks and his negatives were more of the “letting his guy make the tackle four yards downfield” variety rather than being badly beaten at all. His man did sack the quarterback on one play, but that was ironically a play where Hunter made a good cut block. The playcall was for a short pass, but Sanchez held onto the ball and Hunter’s man was able to get up and get credit for a sack as he took Sanchez down for no gain. Other than that, the only pressure Hunter surrendered was on the last play, where his man got by him and Sanchez was sacked by D’Brickashaw Ferguson’s man.

Ferguson also gave up a couple of pressures, although one of these was again down to Sanchez holding the ball for too long late in the game. Ferguson had some good run blocks and didn’t make many mistakes in the running game.

In the course of doing BGA, I’ve noticed that sometimes a player will make a couple of bad plays and everyone will assume they played really poorly, yet when I review the whole game, it turns out they actually performed pretty well apart from those mistakes. Enter Caleb Schlauderaff…

Making his debut (and, in fact, first NFL start) on offense, Schlauderaff had two particularly bad plays. One where he let a man get right by him for a free run at Sanchez and another where he was blown up at the line of scrimmage and driven into the backfield with the Jets fortunately running it the other way. Unfortunately for Schlauderaff, the film doesn’t do him any favors here…they were his ONLY two plays of the game. Hopefully we can chalk that down to opening night nerves or something.

Receivers

Considering the Jets didn’t throw as much this week – and we were warned in advance that this would be the case – Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes did get plenty of looks this week and each had a couple of big grabs, including Holmes’ touchdown. Burress, of course, had one called back too. His toe can’t have been more than half an inch out of bounds, on what would have been a confidence boosting connection. Where these two let themselves down was by combining to drop three passes. Holmes also blew a couple of blocks.

Jeremy Kerley was a rare bright spot, catching his first NFL touchdown and also absorbing a big hit to haul in a 23-yarder late in the game. It’s good to see him fulfil some of that preseason promise, which never really manifested itself outside the confines of practice until now.

With Derrick Mason benched, he was limited to one first down catch. I’m not sure how a 37-year old that was already showing signs of chippiness is going to respond to that, but we’ll just have to wait and see. You’d like to think he wouldn’t have had the success he has over the course of his career without having a lot of professional pride, so hopefully he will respond positively and perhaps others will too.

For the second straight week, after I praised him for his blocking in the Raiders game, Patrick Turner motioned over to tight end and the Jets ran a toss sweep which failed because he blew his block. Turner also committed a penalty on special teams.

With the Patriots sometimes dropping eight into coverage and Sanchez turning down any risky throws, it was Dustin Keller that didn’t get involved in the offense this week. If the Jets are going to run more, they’ll have games like this where they only throw 26 passes, or less, and it isn’t going to be easy to appease everyone (even if you bench one of them!) The only time I’d say I noticed Keller was open and wasn’t thrown at was just before Kerley’s touchdown. On this occasion, Sanchez was under pressure, having held onto the ball for too long again, and barely got a little flip pass to Burress underneath for a first down, so I don’t think he would have been able to get it to Keller.

Matthew Mulligan had a pretty bad game as a blocker (as did Keller), but his most costly mistake was his false start that took the Jets from 2nd and one to 2nd and six on their second possession.

Without wishing to dwell on it too much further, I’m more concerned with the dissention in the ranks than on-field performance as far as the receivers are concerned. That’s something I can’t put a positive spin on.

Defensive Line

Due to a combination of tiredness, pass defense personnel being in the game and some missteps technically, the Jets gave up a disappointing amount of yardage on the ground. I only counted seven missed tackles, but virtually all of these were at the point of attack and led to a short gain turning into a gain of eight or more.

The Patriots did an excellent job of using Rob Gronkowski to double team with a tackle and set the edge. Although the Jets didn’t lose contain many times, this enabled them to cut back inside for chunks of yardage. Muhammed Wilkerson and Jamaal Westerman were the two main targets when they did this.

While he was driven out of the play by these double teams on a few occasions and was blocked to the ground on a couple of other plays, Wilkerson did have plenty of positive moments too. He had a couple of pressures, shed a block to stuff a run and got good penetration on one play. Overall, he still isn’t the finished article, but he is contributing.

The veterans Mike DeVito and Sione Pouha didn’t have as much impact as they have in some of the other games this year. DeVito was getting good penetration, but then let himself down by failing to seal the deal, missing three tackles in the hole. He did make three great plays where he came off his block, including one for a loss. Pouha was knocked over a couple of times and driven into the endzone by Green-Ellis, but did get good penetration on a third down stop and didn’t get driven back at the point of attack often, if at all.

Marcus Dixon saw plenty of action in pass rushing situations, but the Patriots capitalized by running a lot. In retrospect, the Jets probably would have been better off going with their base defense when they pulled within one score in the fourth quarter, because Dixon may have been a little overwhelmed.

As for Ropati Pitoitua, how Tom Brady managed to go a whole game without having him deflect one of his passes, I’ll never know. He was constantly in the passing lane, but the pass always seemed to just evade his formidable reach. Pitoitua had a couple of big stops against the run and showed good perseverance to get his first sack, but he also made some mistakes in the running game.

It may seem like lazy analysis whenever anyone starts talking about pad-level and leverage in relation to the 6-foot-8 giant, but there were at least two very clear examples (and one last week) where his blocker got under him while he was still upright and drove him back off his spot. These were both late in the game and, I expect, impacted by his level of tiredness. On the whole, though, I have been thrilled with his performance so far this year.

Linebackers

With Bryan Thomas out, Jamaal Westerman made the most of his opportunity. Westerman has been a disappointment so far, especially after he made some mistakes against the run in the Raiders game. However, he has been quietly racking up the pressures and he continued to do so yesterday with the additional playing time afforded to him by Thomas’ injury. Westerman had two sacks, a hit and two pressures and also made a couple of plays against the run, where – despite the fact he was blocked out of the play a couple of times – he didn’t make any obvious costly errors.

Calvin Pace only had a couple of pressures this week, but made a handful of good plays against the run. His blocker got the better of him a few times, but overall he did a good job of setting the edge. I wonder if he’s going to take on a more Bryan Thomas-like role on non-passing downs.

The inside linebackers failed to have their usual impact against the run. For Bart Scott, he was actually not on the field quite a lot of the time due to the Jets’ usage of coverage personnel. Scott did hurt his foot early in the game, but I expect he would have left the game in those situations anyway. Both Scott and Harris too often found themselves engaged with a blocker, for which the defensive line may be partially responsible, although it is probably yet another side-effect of going with six or more defensive backs, as the Jets regularly did. Harris did well as a pass rusher (one sack, one hit, one pressure), but didn’t really make any standout plays against the run to offset his numerous negative plays. Scott did make one big hit for no gain and had one pressure, but he was nowhere near as effective as last week’s standout performance.

Aaron Maybin got a few reps as a pass rusher, but was mostly just redirected upfield again. The same thing happened on a draw play, creating a huge hole. There was also a play where the Jets dropped him into coverage and Tom Brady may not have seen him. The pass went just wide of his outstretched arm.

Eddie Jones and Nick Bellore both saw action on special teams. Bellore had a costly late hit penalty.

Defensive Backs

Compared with the numbers he had put up against every other team so far this year, the Jets did a creditable job of containing Tom Brady. However, it was not a game that they will be proud of, given their usual high standards.

Once again, Antonio Cromartie struggled. He was beaten for three first downs and a touchdown, as he either gave his man too much cushion or, in the case of the touchdown, lost sight of him altogether. It could have been two touchdowns, but he got lucky when Aaron Hernandez bobbled the ball on the goal line. It was a good opportunistic play to pick the ball off though and it’s a shame the clock ran out because he made a nice return. To his credit, Cromartie did make an important tackle on third down to force a fourth down, but he has overall continued to be too inconsistent.

Darrelle Revis broke up a pass in the endzone and only gave up one catch for five yards, although it was a third down conversion – albeit on a virtually impossible to defend pass over the top to Wes Welker. Revis’ ability to cover Welker on third downs definitely slowed down the Patriots gameplan, but they still managed to convert too many – either via penalty or to their tight end. Revis was called for one such penalty and it looked to be a bad call, as his man merely tripped.

Revis also had to make a touchdown saving tackle after Eric Smith bit on a playfake and got burned by Welker for a 73-yard gain. That was inexcusable. Smith gave up at least one other first down and was washed out in a couple of running plays, but did have a QB hit, a good open field tackle on Aaron Hernandez and a big tackle for a loss on third and short. Overall, it was probably his worst game of the year, though.

Jim Leonhard didn’t fare too well either, giving up a first down catch and then missing the tackle to allow for extra yards and being blocked to the ground on a crucial third down conversion in the fourth quarter. He also got to Brady once.

In terms of bench players, they all had their ups and downs. Brodney Pool gave up a couple of first down catches and had an interference penalty, but did have a tackle in the backfield. Kyle Wilson was beaten a couple of times, missed a couple of tackles and was penalized once, but did have a pressure and a pass breakup. Finally, Donald Strickland had a pass interference penalty on 3rd and 27 – although it looked like the receiver initiated all of the contact – and gave up a first down catch, but he did sack Brady. It didn’t count though, courtesy of yet another penalty.

Special Teams

I’ve already mentioned Joe McKnight’s return prowess, but Emanuel Cook needs to be more careful. He just about pulled out of what would have been an obvious – and unnecessary – block in the back, that could have seen the 88-yard runback negated.

TJ Conley started the year pretty well, but has been underwhelming these last few weeks. I wonder how safe his job is?

Conclusions

I wasn’t really expecting the Jets to win on Sunday, not that this made it any less painful when they lost. Clearly this is a team going through some things right now and every time they seem to have shored up one issue, two new ones rear their ugly heads. I have faith that the Head Coach and the Quarterback are going to work tirelessly to find a way to get better. Maybe it will take one week, maybe it will take six weeks or maybe they’ll never manage to right the ship, but I can’t see them ever giving up and as long as they’re working towards that goal, we as fans can still have hope.

The Jets need to get back to winning ways this Monday night. Let’s get this season off the ground again.

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.




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