Preseason BGA: Eagles 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.

BGA is back…and this time, it’s preseasonal!

Coming up, your detailed analysis of last night’s preseason loss to the Eagles, including an outstanding performance on the defensive line, some disappointing displays from most of the inside linebackers and a breakdown of the struggles on the offensive line.

Let’s not sugarcoat things, this was a pretty brutal performance by the Jets, especially on offense. If you’re reading this now, give yourself a pat on the back, because you gained more yards in the first quarter of last night’s game than the Jets offense (-1). Let’s go searching for some silver linings:

Quarterback

It was a difficult game for Greg McElroy, who rolled out and threw a pass to Jeff Cumberland on the first play of the game for a first down, but wasn’t able to build on that. He had one throw sail on him that was almost intercepted and ended up with just three completions before hitting his thumb on the back of Matt Kroul’s helmet and leaving for good in the second quarter.

First order of business this weekend will be to check on the results of McElroy’s MRI. If he is likely to miss any extended time, the Jets figure to be in the market for another backup quarterback. (Note: Since this was written, we now know that McElroy has had surgery).

Could that Quarterback be Drew Willy, perhaps? In short, it doesn’t look likely. Erik Ainge, Kellen Clemens and Brett Ratliff all had preseason campaigns with a QB rating well over 100, none of which translated to any kind of regular season success and Willy’s performance fell well short of that. However, considering he entered at short notice and not under the best of circumstances, with the second unit offensive line surrendering heavy pressure, Willy’s performance was creditable. His touchdown throw to Scotty McKnight was certainly well done and he had two nice completions to Cumberland and Jeremy Kerley, one on a rollout and one down the seam. He didn’t always show ideal pocket presence though, and I would imagine he was at least partially responsible for some of the pressure generated.

While I’d never wish injury on any player, let alone a Jet, I would have been interested to see what the Jets would have done if Willy had been knocked out of the game, which – let’s face it – was not altogether unlikely. Would Mark Sanchez have raced backstage to get some pads? Seminole formation with Kerley on every play? Punting on first down probably wouldn’t have resulted in a much worse time of possession that they ended up with (less than eighteen minutes).

Running Backs

It’s difficult to find anything positive to say when your running backs combine for NINE yards on 12 carries, but let’s try.

The obvious caveat is that they didn’t really have any room to run. WIth a second unit offensive line and no fullback in uniform, the backs were relied upon to make something happen and none of them were able to. Bilal Powell did break one tackle, but only managed to turn that into a two yard gain. He did have one good blitz pickup, but that was about as good as it got. He also hurt his case by fumbling, although the Jets recovered. Also fumbling was Joe McKnight, although the announcers felt his forward progress had clearly been stopped. According to the replays, this was debatable at best because he did still appear to be fighting for yardage and only started moving backwards after he lost the ball). Either way, it’s a worrying reminder of last year, when failing to protect the ball became something of a trend for McKnight. On the bright side, McKnight did slip a tackle to pick up a first down on a screen pass. His best run was a slippery five yarder.

Josh Baker filled in at fullback and didn’t actually look too bad, but was unable to sustain his blocks well enough to create any kind of seam. Chris Jennings lost a yard on his only carry.

Offensive Line

When Drew Willy leads you in rushing at the half and Dan DePalma is your overall leading rusher, something went wrong. Clearly the finger needs to be pointed at the offensive line.

Let’s start with Vladimir Ducasse. Throughout the rest of the preseason, he’s actually done a pretty good job as a run blocker, but last night he had no impact whatsoever. In fact, he was driven back into the backfield on one play that went for a big loss. He had a decent second level block on DePalma’s reverse, but that was the only positive run block I recorded from him all day. The silver lining, I suppose, is that the rest of the line was struggling so it was pretty impossible for him to make an impact on his own. If called into action with the starters, whether as an injury replacement or a Jumbo Package TE, I think he can contribute well as a run blocker and (as the Bengals game showed) they can mitigate any deficiencies in pass protection.

Speaking of pass protection, Vlad had another difficult day, surrendering two pressures and two hits. He was also beaten on one other occasion. A lot of the time, Ducasse looks good in pass protection, moving his feet well and finishing his blocks with good strength, but he is still obviously susceptible to lapses when left on an island.

Ducasse also had two false starts, but at least one of these was excusable. You may have noticed him remonstrating after one of the false starts. It didn’t look like he was complaining to the referees, rather the snap was obviously a split second later than he expected. That might be because Robbie Felix snapped it too late, or because he wasn’t used to the new QB Willy’s cadence, but he dropped into his stance a split-second before the ball was snapped and I’m certain this wasn’t his fault because Dennis Landolt did exactly the same thing at the exact same time. One worrying tendency with Ducasse is that he appears to get frustrated after a mistake and then immediately makes another. Sure enough, on the very next play, he blocked his man well and angrily shoved him to the ground, but he actually shoved him into the quarterback for one of his two hits surrendered!

The pass protection as a whole was a disaster. On one play, I actually graded all five linemen negatively because Robbie Felix blocked nobody, Ducasse got beaten on the inside, Landolt and Zane Taylor both got beaten after their men ran a stunt and Kroul’s man blew by him for the sack.

All told, Zane Taylor gave up two sacks and two pressures, Landolt and Kroul each gave up a sack and a pressure and Pete Clifford gave up a sack, a hit and four pressures. Robbie Felix did not give up a pressure, but – like everybody else – was beaten at least once on plays that didn’t end up in a pressure.

Returning to the run blocking, Taylor had a good seal block on DePalma’s reverse, but was driven into the backfield on a play his man stuffed for a loss. Felix let his man shed his block to stuff a run and on another occasion was bullrushed so that his man batted a pass down at the line. Nevin McCaskill did make one impressive pulling block, making him the only run blocker to grade out positively.

Matt Kroul appears to have hit a wall, although this may be because he is making the team, but they are having to throw a ton of stuff at him faster than he can handle. Aside from his adventures in pass protection, Kroul had two bad snaps in his debut at Center, one false start penalty and also graded out negatively on three runs that were stuffed.

Receivers

The receivers had such a non-impact on this game, that I almost omitted this section entirely by mistake! They combined to catch three passes. Kerley had a nice 24-yarder down the sideline, Scotty McKnight held on well for his touchdown and Michael Campbell had a short catch. DePalma added eight yards on a reverse. McKnight was only thrown to once all preseason. Maybe the plan was for him to go on the practice squad all along.

The tight ends fared a little better, with Cumberland and Baker making a couple of downfield grabs each, although Baker also dropped two. Matt Mulligan caught one, but was called for a hold after losing inside leverage on a Seminole play and Keith Zinger’s veteran run blocking expertise didn’t help the running game, especially when his man beat him outside and stuffed a run for a loss.

Defensive Line

At times, it may have seemed like the defensive front was struggling, but most of them actually performed well. They held the Eagles to three yards per carry and that might have been even lower if not for missed tackles (the Jets had 19 in total) or missed assignments from the linebackers.

Last week, I said it was hard to say who was the best player on the defensive line, but this week I thought Marcus Dixon was head and shoulders above everybody else. Dixon had two tackles for a loss, two pressures and a tipped pass. He also beat his man another two times as a pass rusher and played a key role in four other runs that were stuffed. He might have had a third tackle for a loss, but he missed the tackle, although it was still stopped for another short gain. His only other negative was that he jumped offsides. This performance caps off a great preseason from Dixon, a guy I wasn’t too high on last season.

A guy I’ve always been high on is Ropati Pitoitua. He didn’t play as much as some of the other linemen, but didn’t make any mistakes and had two plays where he penetrated and shed his blocker to stuff a run – one for a loss. He also had one QB pressure.

Muhammed Wilkerson got off to a good start, stretching out a running play that was stopped. However, he lost contain once, got driven back off the line and missed a tackle on a play where he had displayed excellent lateral pursuit. His motor was on display as he hustled over to ensure Marquice Cole was able to complete his sack. On the whole, he didn’t make the same impact as in some of the other games, but he looks good.

Kenrick Ellis outperformed Wilkerson in the first preseason game, but since then he has been outshone by the higher pick. He was driven off the line three times, but does have a good burst to the ball, which helped him stuff a couple of runs and got good penetration on a play that went for a loss.

Jarron Gilbert made the most of his opportunities, with two pressures and a QB hit (which led to a pick six). While he missed one tackle and his blocker got the better of him a few times, he did make a couple of good plays against the run.

I was a little disappointed with Martin Tevaseu’s performance. He has had a good preseason, but last night showed he can’t really cope when he is double teamed. He was driven way off the line three times to create holes and blocked to the ground at the point of attack on another play. The saving grace is that perhaps it won’t matter if he plays with the first unit, because if he gets doubled, that will leave someone like DeVito one-on-one and that will be enough for the play to be blown up.

Linebackers

Aaron Maybin once again made a strong case for himself with two sacks and two pressures. He should have had a third sack, but Vince Young broke free from his tackle. Maybin didn’t do much else, other than rush the passer, but that will be his role anyway, if he makes it.

The incumbent “Designated Pass Rusher”, Jamaal Westerman had one QB hit on a strong bullrush one-on-one with the left tackle, made a play against the run and had an interception negated by a penalty. He also made a good play against a screen pass, which has been a rare sight this Summer. However, he lost contain on one big run, gave up a catch in zone coverage and probably underperformed his Head Coach’s expectations in terms of total pressure.

Garrett McIntyre was involved in a lot of plays. He actually had four missed tackles, which makes it sound like he made a ton of mistakes, but one was on special teams and two others redirected the runner and caused the play to be stuffed. He had one hit and two pressures as a pass rusher, but I am most impressed with how he sets the edge, comes off his blocker and makes the tackle. He contributed to eight runs that were stuffed by getting penetration to redirect the runner or by making or assisting on the stop. He also looked good on special teams and it was interesting to see them try him out as a 4-3 OLB in the late stages.

On the inside, Nick Bellore and Brashton Satele flashed every now and again, like when they combined to stuff a run at the goalline, when Bellore stuffed another goalline run or when Satele stretched a run out to the sideline and made the tackle for no gain early on. Unfortunately, the film is not kind to these two. I counted five negative plays for Bellore, who consistently gets caught up in traffic or can’t get off a block at the second level. Any time the Eagles ran a successful screen pass, it was usually because Bellore couldn’t get sideline to sideline fast enough, including one time where he collided with Satele. I counted 12 negative plays for Satele, including four missed tackles, all of which led to extra yardage, including one touchdown. Bellore in particular shows good potential, but I don’t think either of these players is NFL ready yet.

One backup who flashed was Eddie Jones, who had barely played this preseason. He had a hit, forced fumble and fumble recovery on punt coverage, two tackles for losses and one other run stuff where he shed his block. Jones is not quite the finished article – he lost contain three times – but showed terrific promise.

The ultimate backup performance came from Matthias Berning though, who didn’t play at all on defense in the first three games. Although he didn’t play much last night, he made a huge impact with a big hit on Eagles backup QB Mike Kafka, then made several plays against the run. He stuffed one run for a loss, forced a fumble, stuffed two other runs at or near the line of scrimmage and got penetration to force a runner out wide. He did miss two tackles, but on one of those, the ball carrier ran the opposite way to get away from him. Berning was SO good, that I wouldn’t be surprised if they keep a roster spot alive for him, like they did with Jeff Cumberland, just so no other team can secure his rights. It would be ironic if his college teammate Bellore was one of the guys who missed out as a result.

Defensive Backs

There was much concern over Kyle Wilson giving up two easy catches – one for a score – on similar deep crossing patterns. It’s always impossible to know whose fault it is in these circumstances, but Wilson seemed to be playing his man as if it was a zone coverage and he was expecting safety support inside. In the first instance, Emanuel Cool was slow getting over and on the second one, Brodney Pool vacated center field to give support to an underneath route. Whoever was at fault, we can take solace in the fact that these guys didn’t get open because Wilson is physically incapable of staying with them, just because someone messed up. It’s more worrying that Wilson was also beaten down the seam by Riley Cooper on the play where Brodney Pool was flagged for a dangerous hit. The official also announced there was a hold on Pool, but this was a mistake and Wilson clearly held Cooper as he was beaten at the jam. Wilson did have good cross field coverage on the play where Vince Young was injured.

Aside from the mix-up with Wilson above, which may or may not be his fault, Cook looked really bad when Donald Lee stiff-armed him in the flat and ended up gaining 15 on a 3rd and 14 dumpoff pass. He hasn’t performed that well this preseason, but they have given him a bunch of reps, which may just be a sign that they’re expanding his repertoire. If they are going to give him the James Ihedigbo role, then things like coverage breakdowns are less of a concern.

At cornerback, Cole and Ellis Lankster were tested a lot. Cole had a penalty and gave up two first down catches, with a couple of other near misses, but he had a couple of key tackles, a sack and a great play on special teams. Lankster obviously had the touchdown return, but other than that he was up and down, surrendering two first downs in eight targets. He seems to be pretty willing to play the run, although he did miss two tackles.

None of the other backups did enough to keep their jobs, although Byron Landor had a good play to force a turnover and we know Rex likes Isaiah Trufant, whose offside penalty looked bogus.

Special Teams

TJ Conley’s average looked good, although he did get a lucky bounce on one that he shanked. He did hit two particularly good ones where the coverage prevented any kind of return. It was probably the best he’s looked, but I still wouldn’t be surprised to see someone else signed.

Nick Folk missed a tackle and his only field goal attempt, although it was a long one. That was a weird one, because it seemed to start off down the middle, then took a right turn. I wonder if that was “laces out”.

Conclusions

This week, the conclusions to be drawn are not team-oriented, but pertain to individuals. This time, the conclusions the team arrives at will necessitate affirmative action. The cuts are apparently already underway, so we shall wait and see how closely the team agrees with our own assessments.