Saturday, October 29, 2011

Jets-Chargers Postgame analysis

Last week, the Jets played what was by far their best game of the season. By pulling out a win against the Chargers, the Jets left themselves in decent position heading in to the bye week, and they might have begun to answer many of the questions that pundits were posing about the team. The Jets won with a combination of resiliency, good luck, and good execution. Now that I’ve had time to break down the game film and take some notes on playing time, let’s take a look at some trends that might have gone unnoticed until now.

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!

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.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Jets-Ravens Postgame Thoughts

Hi Folks. Unfortunately, my hard drive crashed, so while I wait for a new one, you will be forced to read my thoughts without any pictures to accompany them for this week. Don't worry though, I should be up and running by next week.

After two days, I’m still bitter over the embarrassing loss to the Ravens. There are a lot of mistakes that I can overlook when I evaluate a team’s performance. Sometimes players will have bad games. I get that. What I can’t understand, however, is how a team’s offense can come out and look so completely unprepared for the onslaught they had to know what was coming. And for the record, I’m not exempting anyone on the offense from last night’s performance. Brian Schottenheimer, Mark Sanchez, Bill Callahan, the entire offensive line: everyone needs to take some blame for the awful performance. Before I get in to more gruesome details about the offense’s complete breakdown, let’s look at some positives.