Post Game Thoughts: Jets 22 Steelers 17
A very nice all around effort by the Jets offense and special teams today, as they pick up another road win in a very tough place to play and move a step closer to a return trip to the Playoffs.
Going into the game I read a blog posting by WR Braylon Edwards where he gave a very honest assessment of what was ailing the team and what they would be trying to do to fix it. He more or less summed up his thoughts by saying the team was going to simplify the gameplan and help QB Mark Sanchez just get the ball into the hands of the playmakers on the offense. That is exactly what they did and the offense had its best overall performance in over a month. The Jets were very efficient on the day and ran the same style of offense that was so successful in the playoff run last season. The offensive gameplan change mainly consisted of Sanchez taking short drops and finding his receivers quickly and not hesitating too long in the pocket. Sanchez had one long pass to Edwards, a beautiful throw down the sidelines, that went for 38 yards, but almost everything else was under 10 yards, a total departure from the way they normally play the game. This kept Sanchez almost completely clean the entire game as the depleted offensive line was not asked to block for too long or to get confused by the Steelers blitz schemes. Sanchez danced his way out of trouble once or twice, but to only take one sack in Pittsburgh is the sign of an excellent day. The quick passes saw Sanchez' accuracy soar and most importantly saw the team put together long time consuming drives that kept the defense off the field and took the momentum back from the Steelers time and time again. There was a time in the early 2000's when people complained about using a style of play like this because it doesn't take chances down the field and does not put up a ton of points, but this is an entirely different situation and it was a much needed change. Those teams in the past almost always had a veteran QB at the helm and he should have been smart enough to have been allowed to take chances. This is different. There is a young QB that is struggling to grasp the concept of the offense so making things easier on him in a necessity. The end result was 5 drives of 8 or more plays that either resulted in points or took a significant amount of time off the clock. No drive was more important than the drive that began the third quarter. Pittsburgh had taken control of the game and looked as if they were toying with the Jets defense. The Jets had to answer with a score. It was perhaps the most important drive of the season with Sanchez going 4 of 5 for 35 yards, all completions to different targets, and then scoring a TD on 4th down on a brilliant play call that saw Sanchez walk into the end zone. That one drive and one play that capped off the drive changed the entire game and the Jets never trailed again.
It was a brilliant game for Edwards who the Jets used as more than just a decoy this week. Edwards caught everything that hit his hands and he took some brutal hits in the middle of the field. There are a lot of people that do not think much of Edwards and find him overrated, but I have a feeling he gained a lot of respect today. He never dropped the ball, got alligator arms, or complained about anything. He got hit, held up, stood up, and went back to make another play. It was probably his best all around game as a Jet and probably his best game in years. The Steelers defense seemed keyed on Holmes but he responded by catching everything and sticking to short routes where he hoped something would break after he caught the football. His catches in the second half were all important in keeping the drives alive. RB LaDainian Tomlinson had a nice bounce back day. He ran for 49 yards on just 11 carries against a defense that usually never gives up anything on the ground. The Jets kept the Steelers off balance the entire game with their run pass selection and Tomlinson was a big benefactor. His 3rd down runs were huge. RB Shonn Greene did not have the big runs but did have a few nice runs. A lot of credit has to go to the Jets interior line, specifically C Nick Mangold. They completely blew the Steelers away up the middle which opened up holes for Tomlinson that nobody ever gets in Pittsburgh. G Brandon Moore looked good as well and G Matt Slauson was adequate in the run game, though he had two mistakes on passing downs that were bad. His hold in the first quarter cost the Jets at least 3 points. Still it was a tremendous day for the offensive line, which has not looked good as a unit for some time. Maybe the offensive switch in passing scheme allowed them to focus more on their run blocking because it really was phenomenal. Just an all around team effort today from the offense.
We should start with the good here. There were three times when the Jets defense absolutely had to make a stop and on those three drives they did it. When the Jets offense bailed the defense out and tied the game at 17 there was no possible way the defense could allow the Steelers to get those points right back and take the game over again. They held them to 13 yards with the help of a Pittsburgh penalty and forced the punt. Late in the game the Steelers had two chances to tie or win. Their first chance ended with a LB Jason Taylor tackle in the end zone for a safety to put the Jets up 5 points and got them the ball back. I have no idea why the Steelers had RB Mewelde Moore in over RB Rashard Mendenhall in that spot since Moore rarely carries the ball, but Taylor shot in and wrapped him up so the ball had no chance of getting beyond the goalline. It was his biggest play since his sack of Patriot QB Tom Brady in week 2. On the final drive the Steelers had a few chances to win the game and the Jets stopped QB Ben Roethlisberger two times from the 10 yard line. Roethlisberger helped them out somewhat by taking far too long on his first play and thus limiting his chances, but they had the coverages they needed on the short field. CB Drew Coleman had an impactful game. He had 2 huge sacks on the day including one on the final drive.
That was where the good ended. Those who said the Jets benefited greatly from the weather, not to mention the ineptness of the Dolphins offense, last week were generally proven correct. The Steelers had sputtered on offense in the weeks leading up to this game and they destroyed the defense. At one point it actually looked like the game would be non-competitive. After a good start to the game they gave up back to back to back drives of 96, 53, and 74 yards which resulted in 17 points. On the final drive they allowed Pittsburgh to drive 82 yards in under two minutes before getting the stop on the short field. It was a terrible showing on third downs. Pittsburgh converted on nearly 65% of their third downs and these were not easy third downs either, with many of them over 10 yards. The Jets have one of the worst, if not the worst, 3rd and long defense in the NFL and nothing was more disgusting than giving up a 3rd and 24 on the games last possession. The problems seem to be twofold. The pass rush is absolutely non existent. The Steelers have one of the worst lines in the NFL and allow Roethlisberger to be sacked on about 14% of his attempts. The Jets got to him on less than 7% of his attempts. The other issue seems to be when they flood the coverage, which they did on the last drive because they feared the big play, the secondary gets all confused and they end up leaving guys wide open in the middle of the zone coverage. The secondary tackling was awful at times. There were a number of times when the player should have been stopped after the reception, but a blown tackle led to gaining a first down. CB Darrelle Revis, S Brodney Pool, and CB Antonio Cromartie all were guilty on at least one occasion. WR Mike Wallace and WR Emanuel Sanders tore the Jets apart. The Jets decided to put Revis on Ward most of the day and the result was 102 yards for Wallace. Had Roethlisberger made a few better throws on the day Wallace would have scored at least once as he blew by Cromartie on one or two occasions. The early TE coverage was a nightmare with LB David Harris giving up a score when he went in the wrong direction and LB Bart Scott simply getting outrun by the backup TE on another big play. Luckily the Jets seemed to fix things in the second half and TE Matt Spaeth, who hasn't had an eventful game in a few years, was held in check.
For as good as the run defense was last week it was that bad this week. The Jets controlled nothing in the trenches, routinely getting blown up. Both Harris and Scott had quiet days. Mendenhall ran for nearly 6 yards a carry, a huge number for him. He was always able to break free in the backfield and the Jets tackling technique was poor as they were often just slipping off him and allowing him to gain extra yards. DE Shaun Ellis had him dead to rights on one play, but Mendenhall faked him out and LB Calvin Pace, for whatever reason, slowed down before realizing he had to make a stop, by which point it was too late. I would think that Steelers fans are killing the coach for not only the Moore decision that resulted in the safety, but in the decision to pass on 3rd and 3 with 2 minutes left in the game when Mendenhall probably would have easily picked up a first down with the way the Jets were playing defense. It is games like this that show that the Jets offense has unfairly gotten too much blame this season. When the defense plays well and the team losses its glaring because the end result is a loss. When they play poorly but the team wins nobody gives credit to the offense, but they have bailed this defense out a number of times in 2010. Hopefully the coaching staff takes a critical eye to this performance and does not get wrapped up in the final drive stop. This defense has to play better as the Jets make the turn into January football.
KR Brad Smith opened things up perfectly with a TD return. Give Smith credit for the TD, but how about a hand for the special teams unit and their blocking. That score wasn't about Smith turning it into an extra gear or making moves to have guys miss him. The blocking was just superb and all he had to do was follow this giant hole created by the blocking and waltz to the end zone. The score took all the pressure off the offense. P Steve Weatherford was exceptional as were the coverage guys that were constantly downing his punts at the goalline. K Nick Folk made all his field goals, though his kickoffs were terrible all day.
This was such a huge game for the staff and they came up with the win. The offensive gameplan was so well done because it was so simple and caught the Steelers off guard. They just did not look prepared for what the Jets did and put the Jets in the best chance to succeed. Rex Ryan had a great game except for his horrible clock management at the end of the first half. It was just so bad. They did not use a time out off a short gain in the middle of the field and everything was like chaos. Sanchez was yelling at the sideline and then grabbing his helmet as if his speakers were out. Needless to say they ran out of time without even giving themselves an opportunity.
But that was pretty much the only negative. Rex made great use of his timeouts on that final drive to organize the defense and get the coverage protections properly matched up. He waited until the Steelers showed their personnel groups and alignments to make the calls and get all his subs on the field and make sure there are no 10 men penalties. The other brilliant decision he made was to go for it on fourth and goal on the game changing 3rd quarter drive. Normally Rex is always a big believer in his defense and would take the 3 points and assume the defense would quickly get him the ball back, but he understood what was going on in this game. He knew he could not afford to have that drive end in a FG. 17-13 would be 24-13 in a matter of minutes the way the defense was playing. 17-17 changes everything. It gives the offense a ton of confidence and puts the Steelers in a position where they changed the way they played the game and that benefited the Jets. He also wisely decided to not play for long field goals and instead made the Steelers play for long yards. He should not have that kind of confidence in his kicker anymore and it was a smart decision that paid off in a safety and the Steelers running out of time at the end of the day.
Now everyone can let up on the panic button. All the Jets had to do to keep things under control was not allow a three game losing streak to happen and they did just that. Three losses may have seen things snowball. 2 losses in a row happens to almost everyone. The Jets have their 10 wins and one more win locks up the playoffs. They went on the road and beat a good football team that has a tremendous home field advantage. The Jets are now 6-1 on the road and this is a great confidence booster for a team that is most likely going to have to go on the road in the playoffs.
The Jets right now just need to go out and start to get hot on both sides of the football. They took a step back on defense today, but took a giant leap forward on offense. While it was only 13 points it was the way they got those 13 points that mattered. It just wasn't a fluke play or a big bomb that got the points. It was long sustained drives that gave the impression that the Jets could in fact play offense at the NFL level. If they can build on that these next two weeks they may have something going for them when they get into the playoffs and matchup against a division champ.
One thing about this game that needs to be pointed out is the officiating. I do not know what was going on with the officials but some of the things were ridiculous. They constantly seemed to be throwing flags and then pulling them off the field. The gave the Steelers a first down when they were so short that the chain guys and sideline marker people did not change for a first down. The officials had to stop the game to get them set. It was a gift play. They gave Hines Ward a very generous spot, but at least that was a debatable first down call. The first was even a debate. They gave a team a free down when everyone in the stadium knew it wasn't first down.
Do the Jets still have problems? Sure they do, but this was a good win for the team and who doesn't have problems. The AFC is wide open this year. Teams like the Colts and Chargers are in a battle with the Jaguars and Chiefs just to make the playoffs. The Jets just beat the Steelers and should have beaten the Ravens earlier in the year. They are 1-1 against the Patriots, and while everyone has written the Patriots into the Super Bowl they have their hands full with a depleted Packers team tonight. Anyone can lose in the AFC this year and there is no reason to think the Jets are out of it just because they stubbed their toe against the Dolphins. They may not be a great team, but nobody is this year. If they can get their issues somewhat fixed before the playoffs begin you never know what could happen. We should get a better idea about what this win means to the team when they take the field next week in Chicago.
My memory is foggy, but at the time I didn't think there was enough time left in the first half for us to do a whole lot. I was much more upset with the playcalling at the end of the game, particularly the pass on the final 3rd down--running there forces the Steelers to take their last timeout, which incidentally loomed huge because of Coleman's sack. If we force them to take that last timeout, the sack all but ends the game. Thoughts?
I have felt confident that Sanchez would right his ship - he will not be a super star but he will be adequate with a decent personnel around him.
How about those Bills ? I expect them to give the Patriots a competitive game and give the Jets all they can handle to close the regular season out.
Right now I am thinking a close Jets win in Chicago on the road but a defeat to the Bills closing out the regular season.
Dan- The drive at the end of the first half started badly when one of the up guys on the kickoff (Hartsock?) just allowed the ball to roll through his legs. If he falls on that ball instead of having Turner grab it and run they probably get an extra 4 or 5 seconds and similar or better field position. Anyway they had the ball at the 37 with about 30 seconds left and 2 timeouts. To take a long FG chance they have to go about 30 yards. Thats easily doable. Its took the Jets 20 seconds to run a 6 yard pass play to Edwards and get the next snap off. Late in the game the Steelers took less time off a 16 yard pass with no timeouts to run a play. Thats just terrible by the Jets.
I did not mind the end of the game decision to throw. In that instance the timeout is really only valuable in three situations. One is to get the FG unit out, which was a nonfactor. Two is to get set after a bomb, which the Jets assumed they would protect. And the third is off a long sack, which probably is not a high percentage chance. The other question is whether or not the steelers would have even taken the time out. Weatherford kicked at 2:13 and the Steelers had the ball by 2:08. Tomlin may have just decided to hold the timeout and let the clock go to 2 minutes anyway.
I dont think the sack would have ended the game there, but they would have never gotten to the 9. They would have been taking chances from the 20. The bottom line is what killed the Jets was completely losing contain on the QB (again) and allowing him to scramble for 22. Then allowing them to convert a 3rd and 24 and then two more 3rd and 10s. That had nothing to do with time and everything to do with a really overrated defense. The one thing Rex probably could have done was accept that one penalty to push them back 5 yards and give them an extra down. They were running everything downfield so Im not sure the downs would have really helped but it would have made the field longer. I was also surprised they brought no pressure since that line is very apt to hold.
GG- the Jets defense is really overrated. As a one on one unit they are overmatched almost every game. They are a team that relies on gang tackling and team effort. The only guys that can tackle consistently one on one are Harris and Scott. When the support isnt there you see what happened yesterday where the arms just slip down a guy or they just miss completely....Bills are playing competitive but part of yesterdays win is also the fact that Miami is inept, especially at home...I think the Jets can win in Chicago. Chicagos offense stinks. Its just a question as to whether or not the Jets can pressure Cutler and catch the ball when he throws it to them.
I agree Buffalo will be tough and da bears always play tough. But this is "Playoff" football time of the year. Survive and advance. The jets did it, Pittsburgh did not. Rex and the Steelers coach - said see you in the playoffs during the handshake.
With all that has been said (Mike Fran), this team wins games. it really has been a team thing - offense, defense, special teams have all won and lost games this year.
If all three can get going for the end of year run, they can go far. This is not a perfect team, but who does? We need help at with Pass rush, Safety and FG Kicker. The QB is learning and another RB next year would help. this years disappointing draft has been a killer with few contributions from any of the selections, and the jets could use the help.
Mr T will need to do better next year in the draft, but if he can find some blue chippers on the Defensive side, and keep the wideouts, we will continue in the right direction.
What can you say about brad smith, he is not the ideal kick returner, but his timing is outstanding. Bringing back leon next year would be nice. If McNight can hold onto the ball, he looked like a dangerous punt returner in the pre-season... I know it may be foolish to add McNight to the punt return team, but with the current offense, he may need to be this year's shone greene with a late season arrival.
Been a great year, thanks Jason for all of the data!
Draftwise the team needs a good draft. The jury is still out on Sanchez but its been some time since the drafts have produced a quality starter. Keller has been the best since Harris and hes an average TE.
I agree that the defense is not the dominant force it was last year. I don't know that this can be blamed on any one thing. Having Jenkins out for most of the season certainly has to affect a 3-4 defense. Revis' hamstring is not 100%, though he still isn't being challenged a whole bunch. There does appear to be a weakness in the middle.
Still, I get the feeling the defense is currently of a "bend but don't break" vein. That is, you let the team march down the field, but you keep them out of the end zone. Not counting the Patriots blowout, each team the Jets lost to was limited to 10 points or less (vs Ravens 10-9; vs Packer 9-0; vs Dolphins 10-6).
Several weeks ago, when the Jets were on an extended winning streak, the defense was ranked 12th in the league, and the offense was ranked about the same. When looking at scoring, however, the Jets defense was ranked 4th in the league, and there was little change in the offense stat.
It goes to show you that yards allowed by a defense has a lot of influence over a defense's ranking while points on the board are what win a game.
I do not belittle the yardage stats because the more yards your opponent racks up, the longer your defense is on the field, and then fatigue becomes a factor, usually in the last quarter of the game. But, I have seen the "bend but do not break" defense successfully employed before. That was the Buffalo Bills' trademark during their string of Super Bowl appearances.
This defense, of course, only works when the offense is putting points on the board. While the defense appears to have slipped a notch, the offense does appear to have improved a bit.
Regarding Sanchez, I thought the rule of thumb was "four years for a QB to mature." If I had any concern regarding Sanchez, it would be that his stats nose dive during inclement weather.
Other than that, I never thought it fair to say to a 2nd year QB, "OK, we're behind by 21 points. Go in there and win this game for us." Of COURSE he is going to get picked off.
Without a doubt, Jason, the adapting of the game plan to a more manageable one for Sanchez was clearly a good move. My only concern there is that it appeared Ryan had to step in before that happened.
Just once, I would love to see Brad Smith THROW the ball from the Wildcat.
Once again, Jason, thanks for your insightful analysis.
Did you have a chance to observe Lowery's play at safety? I know you have been very critical of Eric Smith back there so I was wondering what you thought of Dwight.