Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Jets-Raiders Postgame Thoughts

              Now that week 3 is in the books, we can hopefully start to move on from the Jets’ sub-par performance and start to focus on the Jets difficult, but winnable, game against Baltimore next weekend. In the meantime, however, let’s take a look back at the game versus Oakland and try to figure out what worked, what didn’t, and where the Jets will go from here. 

                Because we are talking about the NFL, analyzing the Jets’ offense starts with analyzing Mark Sanchez. Sanchez’s performance this weekend was strikingly reminiscent of his performances from the first two weeks of the season. He combined several throws that were amazing with throws that left Jets fans shaking their heads, wondering why Sanchez continues to make the same mistakes that he’s always made.  
             The play I refer to, of course, was Sanchez’s interception in the end zone. There is absolutely no way to defend Sanchez’s decision-making on this throw. Sanchez was rolling out, and it was clear that no one was open. Sanchez was well outside of the pocket, and he simply had to throw the ball away and give the team more chances with the ball right outside of the red zone. Instead, Sanchez forced a throw that had no chance of being completed. Without overstating things, I can safely say that those are throws that Sanchez simply can’t make. For Sanchez to have great games, then he can’t have the type of brain farts that he’s had over the past few weeks. Being an elite quarterback requires an intense attention to detail on every play. That’s not to say that elite quarterbacks can never throw interceptions: everyone knows that’s not the case. But those interceptions should come as a result of a tipped pass, or a bad throw or a defense doing a good job of disguising its coverage; not from a quarterback having ample time to read a defense and then forcing a throw afterwards. 

                Of course, we also need to give Sanchez his due; he made several throws that had me shaking my head in amazement. His throw late in the fourth quarter to Dustin Keller down the middle of the field was a thing of beauty. He placed the throw in the perfect spot; over the linebackers and in front of the safeties, and he hit Keller perfectly in stride. Sanchez’s touchdown throw to Plaxico Burress was excellent as well. It seems as if Sanchez is getting more comfortable throwing the ball to Plax, and the results are good. Burress is as good of a red zone target as you will find in the NFL, and I’m hopeful that Sanchez will continue to utilize him throughout the season. One other throw that impressed me was Sanchez’s throw to Cumberland in the end zone. Although the results of the play were clearly disastrous, (a dropped pass and Cumberland tearing his Achilles) the throw that Sanchez made was very impressive. I haven’t used the Pythagorean Theorem in quite a while, Sanchez must have thrown that pass at least 55 yards, and he put good velocity on the throw as well. It’s clear that Sanchez isn’t a perfect player, but a lack of arm strength is not one of his problems.

                There were other positives from the offense as well: The Jets running game showed a spark for the first time this season: also for the first time, the Jets made an effort to run the ball outside of the tackles, and they had success doing so. I wonder if the Jets will now make an effort to get Joe McKnight on the field and run some of those pitches to him. While it was nice to see Shonn Greene picking up yards on pitches, he just doesn’t have the speed that Joe McKnight does. It was also nice to see Shonn Greene involved in the pass game. Although Greene will never be the type of receiving threat that will keep defensive coordinators awake at night, it would be great if he could at least keep defenses honest. While the running game certainly looked better, the unquestioned offensive star of the game was LaDainian Tomlinson. There are a lot of things that have frustrated me about the Jets’ season thus far, but one thing that I’ve been thrilled with is the Jets usage of LT. From the beginning of the season, I thought that LT could be one of the top third down backs in the league, and he has done nothing but confirm that opinion thus far. 

His long screen pass showed that he still has a lot of the shiftiness and ability to break tackles that made him such a dominant force in San Diego, and his touchdown pass was an absolute clinic; he ran a great route to get separation from the linebacker and presented a great target to Sanchez. I hope that LT continues to get 10-15 touches a game, and that he keeps his legs fresh and remains a great target for Sanchez throughout the season.

                One area that everyone was discussing before the game was the offensive line without Nick Mangold. While the offensive line was not great, it was not terrible either. In the first half, the offensive line was superb; Sanchez was rarely touched and Shonn Greene had occasional lanes to run through. In the second half, however, it was a different story. The Raiders defensive line increased their pass rush and the Jets offensive line did not appear to be up to the task. Although Colin Baxter was not a specific problem, he was beaten on occasion, and Tommy Kelly physically manhandled him on one play en route to a sack. The downturn in the offensive line’s play coincided with the offense’s struggles in the half. It seems like Oakland’s defensive line simply wore down the Jets offensive line, and the Jets didn’t have an answer in the second half. 

Hopefully the addition of  Mangold will help solve these problems in the future, but one positive that I saw was that Wayne Hunter looked much better in the first half of the game. It was nice to be reminded that Hunter actually has the physical ability needed to be a successful tackle in the NFL. Now, he just has to do it on a consistent basis. 

By and large, the offense did its job. If the Jets offense can score 24 points, then the Jets should win most of their games. Unfortunately, this weekend was an exception. While many Jets fans are positively apoplectic over the team’s defense, I’m not quite as angry. In fact, I think a more measured analysis might reveal a more complex picture, but let’s start with the negatives.

In two of the first three weeks, the opposing team has taken the opening kickoff and scored a touchdown with barely any resistance. That’s not acceptable, and I’m not sure if most of the blame should be shouldered by Rex or by the players, but it’s something that needs to change ASAP.  It seems like the Jets come out with a defensive scheme that is completely incompatible with the realities of the game, and they need to be scored on for anything to change. It would be great if the Jets could go back to their old ways of forcing a three and out and getting the ball, and the momentum, three minutes into the game.

            While many people are freaking out about how poor the Jets’ run defense is, let’s stop and give Darren McFadden some credit. I truly believe that Darren McFadden is the best running back in the NFL right now. He’s big, he’s powerful, and he’s faster than everyone else on the field. Against most other running backs, the Jets failure to set an edge on one play would have resulted in a twenty yard gain. Against McFadden, it was an easy touchdown. Fortunately, the Jets won’t face anyone with McFadden’s ability for the rest of the season (maybe LeSean McCoy, but he doesn’t face the crowded boxes that McFadden does.)

                For as poorly as the Jets defense played, they didn’t allow a third down conversion, which is almost always a key indicator of defensive success. After the first drive, the Jets pass defense was quite good, and the only big play it allowed was an absolutely perfect throw by Jason Campbell who threw on the run to Michael Bush. If a quarterback is going to make that type of throw, you just need to tip your cap and move on. I see much of the defense’s performance against Oakland as an outlier, and not an indicator of a larger problem.

                Similarly, Antonio Cromartie is taking a ton of heat for things that he really doesn’t deserve. Yes, his fumbled kickoff return was brutal, but that was just awful luck; Cro has been, and will continue to be, an excellent returner. He was also flagged for four penalties, but at least two of those calls were ridiculous. While Cro might not have had a very good game, the idea that he is a bad football player is ridiculous. He is one of the better second cornerbacks in the NFL and he’s vital to the Jets defense. On a related note, Kyle Wilson continues to impress. He has shown excellent open-field tackling ability and increased coverage skills. Although Donald Strickland played over Wilson when Cromartie came off the field with his lung injury, I have to think that Wilson would be the starter if either cornerback was to miss any extended amount of time.   

Also, the Jets did well when defending bootlegs, with one notable exception. As I wrote about last week, I expected the Raiders to attempt to use bootlegs as much as possible to get Darren McFadden in space against the Jets linebackers. Although the Raiders did indeed try to use bootlegs, the Jets defense defended them very well. The only time the play worked at all was when Calvin Pace was called for a defensive holding in the fourth quarter. When you consider how poorly the Jets defended those plays in the past, that is certainly progress.

                The Jets special teams were a mixed bag this weekend. On the bright side, Jeremy Kerley showed some of the punt return skills that made him so productive in college. I thought it was funny watching him field his first ever punt from Shane Lechler. Kerley lined up at a reasonable spot, and then had to sprint backwards for 15 yards to get to the ball. Shane Lechler is really good. On the down side, of course, was Antonio Cromartie’s botched kickoff return. It was interesting to see that Janikowski and the Raiders tried a new strategy on their kickoffs. Instead of simply booming the ball out of the end zone, Janikowski hit a line drive that Cromartie had a chance to field. He had actually done the same earlier in the game when the kickoff was fielded by John Conner. I’m not sure what the intent behind the move was, but it certainly worked out for the Raiders.

                Although the Jets lost, there is absolutely no reason to panic. Sometimes good teams beat other good teams, and this was just such a case. It’s always difficult for teams to go across the country and win, and this was no exception. The Raiders got a number of fortunate breaks that they were able to convert into points, and the Raiders took advantage of the fact that Darren McFadden is playing on a different level from everyone else right now. I think it’s best for the Jets to simply move on from this game, make the necessary adjustments to make sure that running backs can’t get outside so easily, and prepare to face the Ravens. Before everyone predicts a loss against Baltimore, it should be noted that the Jets defense dominated the Ravens last season, and it was only because of an awful performance by Sanchez and the Jets’ offense that the Ravens were able to escape with a win. This year, I think the Jets are hungry for revenge and we will see an inspired, disciplined team that will go and beat the Ravens. Thanks for reading, and I'll have more detailed analysis of this game later in the week!

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff again. It was definitely a rough game for NY. Sanchez certainly does some things that dazzle you when he shows off his arm. I just cant understand why his decision making remains so poor at times. Though its super early in the year to read much into it he is currently throwing ints per attempt at about 57% above the average rate for his schedule. Its more worrisome for him than someone like Philip Rivers simply because of the track records Sanchez has. In terms of big plays (+20 and +40 yards) he is right near the top of the league. I just dont know if he is ever going to be smart enough for a team to trust enough to let his numbers per attempt ever translate into pure stats.

    This will be a big game for the Jets defense. If they play poorly I think it might be a long season.