By: Mike O’Connor, Staff Writer
The Jets have certainly supplied us fans with heart-stopping moments over the years, and yesterday didn’t disappoint. A last second field goal from the heroic Nick Folk ended another fairy tale win to open up the season, with the score 18-17. A win is a win, and there’s much to like from the effort. However, the Jets have mountains to climb before they become a dangerous threat in the AFC in 2013. Let’s take another look at who impressed and those who didn’t in yesterday’s entertainment.
The Defensive Line- Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Damon Harrison, and Kenrick Ellis all looked absolutely stellar yesterday. It’s incredible that I have nothing to critique any of the four on about their performance, for they all did their jobs perfectly. Wilkerson worked hard all day like he typically does, picking up a sack and getting excellent penetration versus the run. His versatile was on display, as we saw him blitz from an inside linebacker position while doing his usual work on the defensive line at the 5-tech and 3-tech. Richardson was superb in his rookie debut, collecting seven tackles and half a sack, though his pass rush efforts had him intruding Josh Freeman’s pocket all day long. In all honesty, Richardson looked like a seasoned veteran, and a drop-off between him and Wilkerson wasn’t evident.
Harrison and Ellis teamed up for an amazing effort plugging the run all day. Harrison played many more snaps than expected, and even over Ellis in some 3-4 fronts at nose tackle. There’s an interesting positional battle brewing here between the two, but the rotation they had working to hold Doug Martin to 65 yards rushing is extremely promising regardless.
Austin Howard- Howard was easily the most impressive offensive lineman in a Jets’ uniform on Sunday, which is extremely impressive to start with. Howard was his usual self as an efficient pass blocker, but he seems to be a better run blocker compared to last year. This was evident when the Jets ran heavily to his right side of the line, with greater success than D’Brickshaw Ferguson’s left side. Howard doesn’t have to play at the high level he did yesterday to be successful, he just needs the consistency between pass blocking and run blocking which he had on Sunday. IF he does continue to play so well, however, I certainly won’t be complaining. He’s already solidifying himself and erasing the mild concerns I had attached to him going into the season.
Nick Folk- This one’s simple. Folk kicked his kicking competition out of town this summer, and rolled into the regular season with the same momentum still flowing through his veins. His kickoffs are still booming noticeably farther than ever before as he’s notching countless touchbacks, and he hit all three of his field goal tries, including his clutch 48 yard game winner. I’ve always felt superstitious about kickers and their success, but I’m beginning to forget about any lucky tricks with Folk. The guy has ice in his veins.
Demario Davis- I had a plan for Davis before the game (Last step here), and the Jets seemingly executed hat plan with Davis almost to my exact hopes. Finally, Rex Ryan and the rest of the coaching staff seem to have caught on to the fact that David Harris is harshly limited as an inside linebacker in the Jets’ scheme. He can’t run an assignment that involves picking up delayed receivers out of the backfield, even though it’s often an easier job than pure man coverage in the flat. Davis is finally in the works for a full year of starting, and the Jets have handed him the duties that involve his speed and defensive reads. All day long, Davis was personally spying on every move Doug Martin made when he did and didn’t have the football. When Martin wasn’t on the field, Davis flowed to the receivers crossing the flat or escaping the backfield to become a check-down receiver. As a result, the Jets hardly allowed any easy check-down first downs, or even simple yards-after-catch on short passes. In fact, the Jets missed only 5 or 6 tackles as an entire team from my re-watching of the game.
In addition, I couldn’t move on without addressing Davis’ outstanding effort when all hell broke loos on Vincent Jackson’s fourth quarter catch and run. Even before Dawan Landry missed his tackle on Jackson, Davis was angling himself appropriately to chase Jackson down the field, and that’s exactly what he did. The sophomore linebacker ended up making the shoestring tackle, and essentially kept the Jets’ chances of winning on life support.
Kellen Winslow Jr- Count me in with the crowd who was pleasantly surprised-actually-pleasantly blown away with Winslow’s performance in the Jets’ win. It’s not like Winslow had some ridiculous stat-line. His seven catches for 79 yards were impressive and clutch at times, but it’s the expectations I had for him that make his outing all the better. I expected Jeff Cumberland to still be the go to target when tight ends were targeted, but Cumberland has hinted more and more that he might be more suited as a second tight end with his red zone efficiency, and that’s it. Winslow was gaining smooth separation all over the field, whether he was running deep hitch routes, or simply crossing underneath. I doubted Winslow, but obviously he’s proved me wrong with how much he has left in his tank.
Antonio Allen- Some may have thought Allen deserved a “great” placement after his rangy performance in his start. However, I beg you to temper your expectations. The Buccaneers featured a very basic offense in MetLife. They through early and often to their two stud receivers in Jackson and Mike Williams, who both ran simpler comeback routes against Antonio Cromartie and Dee Milliner most of the time. The so few deep routes that either of them or any other Bucs’ weapon ran was staggering, and even more so that Josh Freeman hardly ever targeted them on these. Therefore, Allen wasn’t exactly given a challenge in pass coverage. He didn’t have to play man coverage often, and he only roamed in coverage when not regulated to one player.
This is nothing against Allen’s performance. He played a great game and was involves with plays all over the field, racking up six tackles, with many of them coming at or near the line of scrimmage. However, this is what we’re going to get from Allen. He’s a play-maker when allowed to step up and play within the box, but he’ll likely face harsh challenges when tested downfield versus more spread-offense teams.
David Harris- As critical as I’ve been of Harris lately, he stepped up for the regular season opener. He was nowhere as impressive as Davis was, but he still played a solid contributing role to the brick wall that was the Jets’ run defense. When the defensive line got penetration but didn’t converge to make the tackle, Harris was often the final slab to bust the play, as he collected seven tackles for himself. Harris also forced a fumble, though it was recovered by the Buccaneers. If Harris can play anywhere near average, the Jets’ pairing of inside linebackers could hold up much more stable than originally thought by most.
Geno Smith- Ah, there he is. The new era is in the works after Smith led the Jets to a victory in Week One, and that’s really all that matters. We could rant about how his overall performance was, but it’s really simple, in the end. Smith will face struggles like an rookie will, as evident by his holding on the the ball too long yesterday by taking some questionable sacks and having an ugly fumble. These mistakes have to be expected to a certain extent as a rookie, week in and week out. On the other hand, one could even make the argument that Geno played great. after he tossed his one interception of the day, he controlled possession of the ball and delivered some precise throws when he needed to. He didn’t seem nervous, and looked through all of his reads when the time was available. Nothing spectacular came out of his performance, but it’s really how you want to look at it. The rookie won his first NFL game by fighting every second of it, and he fared alright. That’s a good performance in my book.
Antwan Barnes- Barnes didn’t play too much in the game (44% of snaps), but he still made his presence felt with his motor and explosiveness rushing the passer off the edge. Barnes picked up a sack of his own and contributed to multiple pocket-collapses on Josh Freeman. He needs to keep playing at a high level if he wants to not only unseat Garret McIntyre as the starter, but to keep receiving notable playing time when it matters when Quintin Coples returns.
Offensive/Defensive Playcalling- No, not all of the play-calling on both sides of the ball was bad, but it was highly questionable often enough to make me remember to place it in this category. Marty Mornhinweg didn’t call a bad game, but some third down ply calls were just down right disgusting. If Geno Smith has any sort of a rhythm, you don’t take the ball out of his hands to put in Jeremy Kereley’s….on a pitch. If Chris Ivory hasn’t fallen short of a short yardage conversion all game, you don’t put the conversion on the shoulders of Bilal Powell….in the Wildcat. Overall, I found myself scratching my head-wait-screaming at my television at many of these play-calls, and when they mattered most to drives that were moving downfield.
I wasn’t as critical of Rex’s defensive play-calling, since the run defense was simply unstoppable all game. Yet, I did have some questions about particular blitzes Ryan dialed up. If the defensive front has achieved consistent pressure on Josh Freeman all game long by just rushing four or even three players, than why dial up an all out blitz that’s positioned on only one side of the field? I love the creativity Rex brings to his blitzes; they’re like no other coaches’ in the entire league. They’re are just certain times where you have to depend on some of your best players (the defensive line, in Rex’s case) to get their job done to make the rest of the defenses’ job easier. Instead of trusting the defensive line to produce pressure, Rex blitzed one side of the field on the fourth quarter play when Vincent Jackson nearly ended the game for the Jets.
The Offensive Line Outside of Austin Howard- Now, this grading might be a little unfair to some, but Howard was honestly the only lineman who stood out. Other than him, the group contributed to an inconsistent overall effort. D’Brickshaw Ferguson surprisingly gave up a handful of hurries on Geno, and had him hit multiple times. Gerald McCoy gave him fits when he slid over to the 3-tech when they double teamed him. Vladimir Ducasse was alright at times, but missed on a few key blitz-pickup assignments.
Next, despite how dominant the Bucs’ run defense could be, the run blocking was atrocious by the Jets. Once again, Howard was successful in this category, but everybody else was getting blown off the ball. McCoy feasted on Powell and Ivory all game long. The effort has to step up when it gets the chance to this week against a Patriots’ interior defensive line that looks awfully porous.
Antonio Cromartie/Dee Milliner- It hurts to say it, but the Jets’ starting cornerbacks were flat-out bad in the win on Sunday. Cromartie allowed Vincent Jackson to have a field day, as he gave him far too much separation on simple slant routes. It’s worrisome how stiff and slow in reaction Cromartie appeared. On the opposite side, Milliner had a classic rookie performance. He let Mike Williams and Jackson fare quite well, and Williams beat Milliner with ease for the Bucs’ first touchdown. Of course, Milliner is excusable to a certain extent because he’s a rookie, but he has to learn how to turn around and find the ball if he’s going to be playing so often, and therefore, being tested. If Josh Freeman could have his way with the Jets’ starters, just imagine what a dangerous quarterback will do.
The Run Game- This goes hand in hand with how poorly the run blocking was by almost the entire offensive line, but Powell and Ivory definitely didn’t help the cause with some very average running. Ivory looked hesitant and slow to pick his lanes, while Powell simply lacks the explosiveness to make anything out of the little space he was given to run with. Granted, the Jets will have better days running the ball against weaker defensive fronts, and that is a given, but it would have been nice to see Geno get a little support from his backs. It’s odd how it’s understandable the running game was so poor, but there’s really no need for desperation and concern. The backs are young and unheralded, and they need to see time against a weaker run defense before they fully adjust. Additionally, Tommy Bohanon will gradually improve as a lead blocker when he’s included.
Stephen Hill (somewhere in the middle)- It was a weird day for Hill. The second-year receiver caught six passes, but for under 40 yards on the day. He looked better in his actual catching skills and physicality around the point of the catch, which is promising. Oddly enough though, Hill played for a whopping 95% of the team’s offensive snaps on Sunday. With so many snaps, it’s a wonder how he wasn’t open downfield more often. Well, it’s really obvious. Hill is still a very limited receiver. His straight-line speed is still useless because of his rawness as a route runner. He was getting open in the flat yesterday, but he isn’t busting of the line or making clean cuts in and out of his breaks to be consistently open in all of his routes, not just the short ones. We still need to see much more, but it’s a start.
Dawan Landry (somewhere in the middle)- Landry also had an odd, up and down type of day. Landry never fatigued as the game wore on, even with his wear and tear. He was making consistent reads of the run and stepping up to supply hits, just like fellow safety Antonio Allen. However, Landry was unimpressive in the other facet of his game: versus the pass. Although he had an interception with a nice return to it, it was put on a silver-platter by Josh Freeman for him. On more notable plays, Landry was late in his safety help assignments a few times, and most notably, he missed the key tackle on Vincent Jackson in the fourth quarter that nearly blew the game for the Jets.