Sunday, October 23, 2011

Jets-Chargers postgame thoughts: Offense

Well, it was certainly nice to be reminded that this year’s Jets actually have something in common with the group that has appeared in two straight AFC Championship Games.  Of course, the Jets still have a long way to go to get back to that point, and they still haven’t played anything close to a complete game yet this season, but it’s still great to get a win against a good team, and head into the bye week with some positive momentum.  Even though I wasn’t totally thrilled with the Jets’ performance, the fact that the Jets were able to pull out the victory speaks volumes about their resiliency. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how the different players and position groups performed today.

Like most postgame reviews, this one will start with an evaluation of Mark Sanchez. I thought that Sanchez played reasonably well today. Although a stat line of three touchdowns and one interception is certainly excellent, I felt that his actual level of play was closer to a B/B+ level. On all three of his touchdown passes to Plax, Sanchez put the ball in the perfect spot where it needed to be, and he allowed Plax to make a play on the ball. In addition, Sanchez took advantage of better protection from his offensive line which gave him the time to find open receivers down the field. On his nullified touchdown to Santonio Holmes, Sanchez delivered a perfect pass that hit Holmes right in stride. 

Despite all of his positives, however, it also looks like the game still isn’t “slowing down” for Sanchez like we’d like it to. He seems to rush himself in the pocket too often, and he frequently looks off of his receivers or makes the decision to check down too quickly. Sanchez’s biggest flaw, however, can be seen during the plays when he absolutely locks on to a receiver and decides where he is going to throw the ball before the ball is even snapped. In this game, we saw that happen twice. First, on his interception, Sanchez was determined to throw the ball to Plax in the end zone, regardless of coverage. Because Sanchez’s intentions were so obvious, it was easy for Eric Weddle to read the play and ultimately get the interception. The other play where Sanchez locked in on a receiver came near the goal line, when Sanchez forced a throw to a double covered Jeremy Kerley.  Clearly, Sanchez was throwing the ball to Kerley no matter what; Kerley could have fallen over and it wouldn’t have mattered. In my opinion, that’s a problem. Although the Jets got lucky with that play when the interception was dropped, Sanchez can’t continue to force throws like that and hope to be consistently successful. 

I thought that the receivers played quite well today. Although Santonio Holmes did have his touchdown nullified, he had two nice catches, and he drew a (very dubious) pass interference penalty that really helped the Jets secure their win. Except for Dustin Keller’s unfortunate drop/fumble, he was an effective target throughout the game and he really displayed his athleticism on a 32 yard catch and run. Before I start talking about Plax and his three TD day, it’s important to take a minute to talk about Jeremy Kerley. When the Jets decided to release Derrick Mason (who had one catch for seven yards today) there was a lot of discontent in the Jets’ locker room. I think it’s safe to say  that most of that discontent is gone now. Today, Kerley was excellent as a slot receiver, particularly on third downs. I’m not sure how much athleticism or explosiveness Kerley actually possesses, but the fact that he and Sanchez seem to have a connection can’t be ignored. Because Sanchez is the only pro QB that Kerley has ever caught passes from, it’s likely that Kerley was much more of a blank slate when he entered the league, and he had far fewer adjustments to make when learning about Sanchez’s tendencies.  Today, Kerley had two big catches on third downs that led to first downs, and I look forward to him developing into even more of a weapon as the season progresses. Before this week’s game, Rex Ryan said that the Jets were not going to force the ball to Plax any more, and would only throw him the ball when Plax was open. Clearly, Rex lied. It seemed like nearly every throw that went to Plax was a pre-determined read, and that Sanchez was going to make sure Plax was targeted, regardless of how many defenders were around him. In this game, that approach worked three times, because Plax is huge and a dominating red-zone target. In my humble opinion, that is where Plax should be used, and his offensive role between the twenties should be minimized. I would love for Plax to be a big part of the offense, but Sanchez, for whatever reason, seems to feel compelled to force Plax the ball, and I think that is a big problem unless Plax his single coverage in the red zone. Although Plax had three touchdowns today, I think it’s clear that Plax also doesn’t have very much explosiveness, and most of his value will come from his size and strength. The Jets need to utilize that going forward and put both Sanchez and Plax in positions where they will succeed.  I think that means less intermediate pass routes for Plax in the middle of the field, and more of a focus on the red zone, where Plax excels.

There really isn't much to say about the running backs. At this point we know what Shonn Greene is, and what he is not. He is a powerful, bruising runner who takes what the offensive line creates for him and can move a  pile forward. He doesn't really have the ability to make many potential tacklers miss, but he is certainly a serviceable NFL player. Today, with the line playing better than it has all season, Greene looked better than he has all season. Greene isn't an elite talent and he can't be expected to create yards on his own, but he shouldn't need to if the line is playing well.

The offensive line deserves a ton of credit for their work today. One thing that I noticed during the game today was how much of a difference a competent Wayne Hunter made. Notice that I didn’t say a “good” Wayne Hunter: simply not having to worry about Hunter getting Sanchez killed on every play was a huge improvement, and the offense  improved exponentially as a result.  Overall, the offensive line did quite well today. Although they gave up a few pressures and hits on Sanchez, they did a very good job of keeping him upright, and they cleared large running lanes for Greene. Surprisingly, the weakest link of the line today was Nick Mangold. His holding penalty nullified a touchdown to Santonio, and his ineligible man downfield penalty wiped out a nice gain to Kerley and excellent field position. Something tells me that Mangold won’t be too much of a problem going forward, so I’m very happy that he could get his worst game of the year out of the way during a Jets win. One other thing that I thought was worth mentioning came when Vlad Ducasse checked in for a play as a blocking tight end. Vlad clearly false started, but the refs called the penalty on the Chargers D-line, which was a nice break. The last thing Vlad needs is to be reminded of his ineptitude. I’ll have my post-game analysis of the D up later tonight or tomorrow.
Thanks for reading!

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