Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Jets-Pats Postgame Thoughts: Defense

In his 1996 masterpiece Infinite Jest, the late, great David Foster Wallace imparted a bit  of wisdom that we would all be wise to follow: try to learn to let what is unfair teach you. As a Jets fan, it’s good to remind yourself of this maxim, especially when watching the Jets head to Foxboro to take on the Patriots and the referees. It’s unfair that every call seems to go the Patriots way when the Jets play in Foxboro. It’s unfair that Tom Brady can play at three-quarters efficiency for much of the game and then suddenly get hot, and it’s even more unfair that the Pats can seemingly always call the perfect play at the perfect time to beat the Jets. To me, all of that seems unfair, and I know many of you will agree. Having said that, however, there is a lot that we can take from this weekend’s rather disheartening loss. Let’s take a look back at this weekend’s performances and evaluate who played well and who did not.

Jamaal Westerman makes a splash: When Jamaal Westerman had a sack in his first career NFL game, Jet fans were convinced that Westerman was going to be the second coming of John Abraham, except with the toughness to excel in the playoffs. Of course, Westerman didn’t have a sack for the next two years. With the season-ending injury to Bryan Thomas, however, Westerman has finally gotten his chance to play, and he appears to be making the most out of that chance. He had two sacks against Brady, and he led a defense that was more successful generating a pass rush than I have ever seen from the Jets’ defense under Rex. Calvin Pace generated some pressure, Ropati Pitoitua also had his first career sack, and the Jets defense succeeded in making Tom Brady more uncomfortable than he has been this season. Of course, the pass-rush wasn’t entirely successful, as Brady was able to convert on several third and longs when he had all day to throw. Third and longs continue to be the bane of the Jets defense’s existence, as the Jets seem unable to get off the field in far too many of these situations.

As for Westerman, he was a bit of a mixed bag as well. While his pass-rushing was very good, his run defense was not, and he was at least partially responsible for the success of the Patriots offense as the Patriots managed to keep possession away from the Jets for the last seven minutes of the game. To some degree, Westerman’s struggles aren’t a surprise. Westerman is simply not as big as Bryan Thomas, and his body type is that of a speed-rushing outside linebacker. Unfortunately, the injury to Thomas doesn’t give Westerman the luxury of only filling one role. There is almost no chance that Westerman will miraculously gain fifteen pounds and maintain the quickness that could make him a pass-rushing threat, and there doesn’t appear to be any immediate help on the horizon, so the Jets will need to count on Westerman, for better or for worse, and hope that he can be at least adequate against the run.

On the Jets defensive line, Ropati Pitoitua continues to show why my man-crush on him is so justified. Although he had a few plays where he was moved far too easily, he displays impressive quickness and power for a man his size. In addition, Wilkerson continues to show the ability to be a force on the defensive line in the near future. Although Wilkerson will still make mistakes on occasion, and sometimes he will over-pursue a runner and leave a lane that the running back can exploit, he clearly has more talent than anyone else on the defensive line, and his snap-count will only increase as the season progresses.

Last year, most Jet fans were willing to call the draft class of 2010 a complete and total bust. Now, less than a full-season later, most Jets fans have changed their tune as Vlad Ducasse has emerged as a potential superstar. Kyle Wilson and Joe McKnight have both shown that they have the ability to be really, really good. We’ll get to McKnight later, but for now, let’s just say that McKnight might be the most explosive player on the Jets’ roster; I’m not sure if that’s a good thing. 

As for Kyle Wilson, it was clear last year that he didn’t lack the ability to stay with opposing wide receivers. If Jet fans watched Kareem Jackson on the Texans last season, they saw a rookie cornerback who looked completely lost on a football field. Kyle Wilson simply looked like a talented player who had taken a few too many lessons at the Antonio Cromartie school of grabbing the opposing wide receiver whenever he tries to run away from you. 

Now, after an off-season of training with Darrelle Revis, Wilson had come back with enhanced physical skills and a much clearer mental understanding of how to play the position. Wilson’s most impressive play of the game came on a 2nd and 9 pass to Wes Welker, when Wilson managed to stay with Welker on a deep route across the middle and then bat away a pass at the last second. I know Jet fans are hesitant to say this because of his struggles last season, but Kyle Wilson is turning into a good player, and he might displace Antonio Cromartie by next season.

Of course, the safeties continue to disappoint as Eric Smith forgot to play defense on Wes Welker and allowed him to get deep for the biggest play of the game. In Smith's defense, he had a pretty solid game except for that one blown coverage. In fairness to Jet fans everywhere, no one really cares about how good Smith was except for that play. Also, Donald Strickland, there is NEVER any excuse to commit pass interference on 3rd and 27. If Aaron Hernandez is going to run past you on 3rd and 27 then tip your cap to him and retire; don't throw a body block and give them a free first down. Please?
One last note on the defense before I turn to the offense: I can’t criticize the defense too much, because I thought they played well for much of the afternoon. The one area of their performance that really irked me was the lack of adjustment from Rex and his staff. I was thrilled with the defense’s opening game plan; Bart Scott, who I admire deeply as a football player, was nowhere to be seen on the field, and this was appropriate, because there is no one on the Patriots he would have been able to cover. For much of the game, the Jets defense did a good job of matching up with what the Patriots were trying to do on offense. There weren’t any glaring mismatches like there were last year when Mike DeVito tried to cover Danny Woodhead. 

All of that changed on the Patriots’ final possession. The Patriots got the ball with 7 minutes left in the game and came onto the field with two tight ends, two wide receivers and a running back. Since the Patriots don’t have a fullback, this formation must be considered “run-heavy” for them. Now, I know that you can’t assume anything about the Patriots’ offense, and I also know that Tom Brady can throw out of any formation, but the Jets proceeded to immediately give up thirty yards on the ground because of their defensive personnel. The Jets went to the line of scrimmage with Marcus Dixon at nose tackle and Calvin Pace and Jamaal Westerman lined up as defensive ends. This was on a first down! As I’ve written about previously, the Jets like to use Dixon as a lone defensive lineman on obvious passing downs, but I don’t think a first and ten from the New England twenty qualifies. I honestly have no idea what Rex’s thought process here was. By the time Rex put Pouha and Devito in (and on the next play, BJGE was stuffed for no gain) it was almost too late, as the Patriots were already at midfield and had killed nearly four minutes. 

While Rex had a great defensive plan for much of the game, using Marcus Dixon as the sole defensive line seems like a blatant invitation for any team to run the ball at will, and it was an invitation the Patriots were only too happy to accept.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned tomorrow for my take on the Jets offense.


  1. Rex clearly got outmatched at the end of this game. I understood where he was coming from since the Pats often go for the kill through the air, but he may have tried to hedge his bets a little. I thought what NE did well (and other teams are doing against the Jets as well) is use the quick huddles to keep the Jets from subbing. Rexs defense relies on tons of subs, but Rex is a borderline mess with getting personnel in on time. He had no chance to get anyone out of the game on that last drive. They found their matchup and NE exploited it. They did this earlier in the game as well. They werent running plays fast at the end but their manner of approach left the Jets guessing at personnel while Brady started getting to the line.

    I find it very hard to rate the Jets defense. They play well in spurts but are awful to start games and the deficiencies in the personnel are pretty obvious. The safety mistakes are blatant and the Pats caught that in the first half when Welker realized Smith would get caught looking in the backfield whenever the TE stayed in. As soon as they identified the coverage again they hit that big pass play since they knew there was a good chance Smith was going to fall asleep again. The speed of the ILBs is a problem and Harris has been a total dud this year. Hes not shedding blockers, hes taking bad angles, and he is almost a non-factor. If the Jets miss the playoffs this year and end up with a draft pick between 15 and 20 I would not be stunned to see them draft an ILB to eventually replace Scott next year and then fill in for David years down the line.

  2. Jason, I completely agree with everything you've said. The fact that the Jets regularly struggle with personally and get flagged for 12 men on the field or have to burn time outs is unacceptable.

    In a lot of ways, the Jets defense is harder to evaluate than the offense. The Jets D will have stretches of complete dominance, but Rex often seems to be unable to make in-game adjustments. As for upgrading at ILB, I think safety and ILB need to be the target positions. As much as I love Scott's ability against the run, if they could replace him with a cheaper and faster alternative, then I'd be in favor of that.