By: Mike O’Connor, Staff Writer
The Jets somehow managed to make a game close that was, at times, utter domination in their favor in their 27-20 win against the Buffalo Bills, sending them to 2-1 on the season. In a tough division match-up that saw two rookie quarterbacks have totally different performances, an explosive offense for the Jets, and nearly thirty total penalties, we sure have a lot to review.
Santonio Holmes: Holmes took advantage of the opportunities to test the injured Bills’ secondary vertically, torching them for 154 yards and a touchdown off of five receptions. Not only was he getting open, but he looked like the Santonio Holmes of old, when he would get open all over the field. He used his entire route tree to his advantage, and it’s definitely been awhile since we saw him haul in anything as deep or impressive as his 69 yard touchdown. While you have to consider how banged up the Bills’ secondary was playing without Stephen Gilmore, Jarius Byrd, and Ron Brooks, Holmes finally looks fresh. This means everything to the Jets when Geno Smith is properly developing.
Bilal Powell: I admittedly doubted Powell’s chances of holding up as a stable starting NFL running back. While he’s not there yet, his 149 yard-breakout performance Sunday marks a major step in his journey to get there. Powell took off running when Chris Ivory’s infamous hamstring was frustrated within the first few minutes of the game. Consistent run blocking from the Jets’ offensive line and effective downfield vision made Powell a major piece of Sunday’s win. It’s been a long time since we have seen a back be able to rip off long runs every now and then, and Powell isn’t even known for his explosiveness. The Jets’ run game could be on a major rise with Powell leading the way.
Damon Harrison: At this rate, Harrison could be the Jets’ defensive MVP this year. None of us even knew he was going to get the majority of snaps inside over Kenrick Ellis heading into the season, and now he’s the biggest plug for the Jets’ run defense. Although his performance won’t show up on the stat-sheet, he was constantly disrupting running lanes and penetrating the pocket. You can even credit some of the success of other Jet pass rushers to Harrison, who was often getting double teamed but holding his own.
David Harris and Demario Davis: As one of his biggest critics, I’ve been blown away by the season Harris has been putting together early in 2013, and it was on display again versus the Bills. Harris isn’t showing more speed than we knew about or anything, but he’s making the absolute most of his skillet, which matches up very well with his sidekick, Davis. Davis has been impressive in his own right. He’s more of a playmaker than Harris, but it’s not just that kind of play that you’ll get from him. He’s smart, instinctive, and he’s an efficient tackler. Davis didn’t have his best game in 2013 last weekend, but him and Harris combined to back up the defensive line perfectly. The two combined for four tackles for loss. Opposing running backs have hardly reached the Jets’ second level, and it’s because of the stout play from these two guys in the middle.
Muhammad Wilkerson: It’s a bit surprising, but this is the first time I’ve loved Wilkerson’s play all season. He seemed to start the season off sluggish, and it’s peculiar that his best game came off a week where he was healing from a minor injury. All previous story-lines aside, Wilkerson looked like the player that left off last year right behind JJ Watt and Geno Atkins in most effective interior defensive lineman. He rushed the passer better than we’ve seen this year, picking up two sacks and five total hits on E.J Manuel. He also held a strong edge when placed further outside the line at the 5-tech, which we haven’t seen him consistently do until now. In the end, Wilkerson still has room to get even better, which is unbelievable. His performance on Sunday was encouraging of him improving.
D’Brickshaw Ferguson: When I went back to watch the coaches’ film on the game, I expected to see Mario Williams get the better of Brick a few times that went unnoticed under my eye, just because of how good Williams has been early on this season. To my delight, Brick was stellar, and stoned Super Mario for no sacks and no hits on Geno Smith. When you consider that this same monster notched 4.5 sacks the previous week, Ferguson came up huge. He didn’t make the same mistake of trying to lock Williams in place like he has with other solid rushers. Instead, he acknowledged Williams’ strengths and tendencies, and did just enough to direct Williams out of the pocket, every play. The Jets also ran many successful stretch plays to his side of the offensive line, where he made some key blocks. For a player that has some holes in his consistency, it was great to see a lock-down performance when it mattered most.
Austin Howard: Howard didn’t exactly have the kind of test on his plate that he had last year when he was handed Williams for the game, but he had no easy test in handling Manny Lawson. Howard still, however, shut down Lawson and his athletic pass rushing. The Jets didn’t run as effectively to Howard’s side of the line, but Powell still sprung some nice runs through him and Willie Colon’s blocks. D’Brick and Howard deserve solid grades to start with just because they didn’t go on penalty sprees like the rest of the line did, or many any crucial mistakes (Mangold).
Sheldon Richardson: Oh, how I wish I could put Richardson at the top because of his overall highlight-reel performance. However, he wasn’t on the good side of the highlights every time. On Fred Jackson’s 59 yard run, Richardson was caught celebrating prematurely when he thought that Jackson was bottled up. His second effort was a good one, however, and he ran right by the ecstatic Richardson, who could have easily made the tackle. I have to set a punishment for this major mistake, but Richardson is still playing at an extremely high level, and put it on display on Sunday. He’s oddly been dominant versus the run all year after most, including myself, thought rushing the passer would be his greatest value to a team coming out of Missouri this past spring. The best part of his play against the Bills was the upside he showed rushing E.J Manuel, as he took advantage of the poor play from Bills’ guard Colin Brown. He picked up a sack and naturally recorded two tackles for loss. His athleticism is so incredible, that he was able to drop back in coverage and pick up receivers underneath when the Bills were in the Red Zone.
Antonio Cromartie: Cromartie’s hip injury must have hindered is performances in this season’s first two weeks significantly, because he was noticeably more fluid in coverage versus the Bills, the week he said he was finally back to 100%. Cromartie’s game might be judged due to the respectable stats of Stevie Johnson on the day, but in re-watchign the game, you can see that he only allowed two catches overall, and none to Johnson. Cromartie even got back to his newfound hitting ability, as he forced a fumble on C.J Spiller’s outside carry by coming off his block and laying the wood. Things are back on track for Cromartie after his good game, and we’ve probably seen the worst of him already this year.
Geno Smith: The rookie had another strong outing that was similar to his play in Week One, but even better. Smith hasn’t been a game manager under new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, which is good although it might not sound it. He’s allowed to take shots downfield in this offensive scheme, and his mindset isn’t being hesitant about it. Geno has been spreading the ball around smartly, and has improved on his accuracy a little bit each week (though it still needs work). Of course, when he’s slinging it so much, he’s going to have a few mistakes. These interceptions he has thrown, especially the two versus Buffalo, are timing and decision-making issues; both of these can see significant improvement with more time under center. It’s looking like the rookie has already learned and improved within the first three weeks of the season, and Sunday was a prime example of some of the marvelous pure-arm talent that he has.
Nick Mangold and Willie Colon: These teammates weren’t perfect, but they were still essential puzzle pieces to the Jets framing together an effective ground game to down Buffalo. Mangold made a crucial mistake when he snapped the ball without Smith under center, and Colon caught the penalty bug trying to spring runs just a bit too much. However, Powell still appreciated the major gaps and lanes they were creating for his burst to take advantage of. Not to mention, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus (limited snaps) didn’t see any face time with Smith in the backfield all day.
Stephen Hill: Hill’s performance on Sunday (3 catches for 103 yards and a touchdown) was very helpful to one person: Stephen Hill. The sophomore wide receiver needed this kind of performance more than any Jet needed. He showed some improvement s in his shaky route running by shunning cornerback Justin Rogers with a double move on the Jets’ first drive, and he later burned Rogers for his 51 yard touchdown by beating him with pure speed and physicality to maintain leverage. In short, the raw physical tools that we always knew Hill possessed were on display, but he also flashed some improvement.
My only worry is about how Hill will be able to keep showing up for the Jets. In this game, the Jets main focus was apparently to challenge the Bills vertically, and rightfully so with Jarius Byrd and Stephon Gilmore out. He took advantage of Rogers, who isn’t a refined downfield corner. If Byrd was healthy to go and was able to play a ballhawking role that he pertains to, rather than Jim Leonhard doing so, Hill could could have seen his targets at least cut in half with Byrd shadowing the deep ball. With most NFL teams having better back end talent than Buffalo showed off on Sunday, I worry how Hill will keep getting these chances to use his still-limited skillset.
Antwan Barnes: Though all he managed to register was a single hit on Manuel, Barnes was consistently bringing heat to a collapsing pocket when he saw pass rushing snaps on Sunday. Additionally, he was inches away from blocking a punt in a crucial moment of the game in the second half. It looks like this will be Barnes’ role on defense for now on with Quinton Coples’ return; a skilled, explosive, pass rushing addition.
Antonio Allen: While Allen is still lacks an all-around skillset to be a premier NFL safety, he has really absorbed the role Rex Ryan has laid out for him in this defense. In the Jets defense’s 3-4 and 4-6 looks, Allen is allowed to play alongside a Jets’ inside linebacker in the box to come up and defend the edge. When the opposing team uses receiver sets with more than one featured in the slot, Allen will typically play man coverage on one of them. He will hardly ever be featured as a safety who can roam the back end and pick up receivers deep, but he can manage with his assignments around the line of scrimmage. This includes his blitzing from the edge, too, as he recorded two tackles for loss and a sack versus the Bills. He’s still sharing (but getting the majority) of reps with fellow safety Jaiquawn Jarrett, but it’s clear who’s the more effective safety for a team that loves to stack up the box to defend the run.
Ellis Lankster: Lankster has found a home on special teams this year for the Jets, and he crushed the Bills on the third unit. He made two solo tackles on punt coverage, and downed a punt in the last remaining minutes of the game inside the five yard line with a nice save. If the depth at corner is deep enough that Lankster will hardly see the field, at least he can work hard on specials.
Nick Folk: It shouldn’t really surprise anybody with his success over the past two years, but we’re now entering Week Four and Folk hasn’t missed a kick. He’s hit six of six, including two from Sunday. His kickoffs have been consistent touch-backs, when he wasn’t hitting as many last year. It’s hard not to have full confidence when Folk steps up to the plate.
Darrin Walls: It really is a wonder that Walls isn’t a starter yet. He’s continues to perform exceptionally as an outside corner when he gets the playing time over a learning Milliner and a woeful Kyle Wilson. Walls was just as good as advertised versus the Bills. He played a little bit of press and off-man coverage, which basically outlines what is needed to be a successful man coverage outside corner in the NFL. Walls will get his chance since he keeps holding his own.
Chris Ivory: Ivory frustrated his lingering hamstring issues early in the first quarter, but he didn’t look effective even before it happened. He ran a little sluggish and too tentative to be as explosive as Powell was in this game. Not to mention, it’s bad enough for Ivory that he can’t rid of his nagging injuries. It’s even worse when he doesn’t look that great healthy. Well, it hits rock bottom when the player that was supposed to back you up all year runs all over the defense that stoned you and knocked you out of the game.
The Lack Of a Tight End Presence: Kellen Winslow and Jeff Cumberland have already had promising moments early this season, but they certainly didn’t versus the Bills. Only Cumberland saw targets (only 3) on Sunday, despite the fact that we had originally thought Winslow had emerged as the clear starter. It’s clear that the Jets want to use two tight end sets effectively, but it simply won’t work out to its potential when you try and feature a receiving tight end as a receiver and another receiving tight end as a blocker. They’re either using them wrongly or they are trying to abandon the use of two receiving tight ends altogether. A lack of a tight end presence, while it hasn’t been totally evident yet, will make the Jets’ vertical passing game very limited if Geno doesn’t have any options through the heart of the field.
Clyde Gates: We knew he couldn’t impress us for long as a receiver, but now he’s worthless as a return man, too? Unfortunately so. Gates averaged a measly 18 yards a pop returning kicks, a he didn’t even look clean handling the football when doing so. It’s not like I’m going to hunt down Joe McKnight, but a replacement back there is now obviously needed.
Calvin Pace: Pace finally came back to earth after two respectable performances. He missed tackles (one of which led to Fred Jackson’s 59 yard run), he lost contain on the edge, and he offered absolutely nothing as a pass rusher (not that that’s a shock to me). At this point, I wish the JEts would start Antwan Barnes, even though he has a limited skillset, alongside Quinton Coples at outside linebacker.
Rex Ryan’s Challenge Skills: Rex Ryan has never been a prolific head coach in the challenging of plays aspect of the game, but I have never seen two more pathetic excuses of a challenge than I did in this game. First, Ryan challenged a ball spot when Tommy Bohanon clearly, and I mean clear as day, didn’t reach the first down marker on a third down fullback dive. He threw the flag out so fast, that’s there’s no way anybody could have confirmed (not that they would have) upstairs to challenge the call. Ryan then proceeded to challenge an obvious Stevie Johnson deep pass that he caught in bounds, keeping both feet in. Once again, with no time to get any word from upstairs, Ryan through the flag.
Rex has to understand that challenges can’t be used in instances of failure of play calling and pure frustration. Also, there’s a bunch of team workers in the boxes who looks at these replays and tell him whether or not to challenge the play, because, you know, they’re actually getting a good look at the replay and not watching from the sideline. He’s still a great coach and all, but this is just ignorance. The Jets could have used one of these prized challenges to get the ball back when E.J Manuel clearly fumbled the ball but was called down (naturally, this led to a scoring drive).
Kyle Wilson: It’s comical, because Wilson had arguably his best game in terms of play of the young 2013 season. Granted, it was still subpar, but it was better. So why is he getting placed in the corner of dismay, you might ask? Of course it’s because of his five (!) crucial penalties that single-handedly let the Bills right back in the game. Wilson let his frustration go, and even though I thought the officials were getting too eager to throw their flags, he was still out of line on multiple occasions. Even worse, all of the flags were on the same drive, with four of them coming consecutively. Talk about a momentum killer; you’re basically ushering the team down the field and into the end zone. If Rex Ryan had a stable backbone, Wilson wouldn’t see another snaps on defense until he can prove to be a better corner than Isaiah Trufant and Ellis Lankster (which even that, I’m not sure of).
Vladimir Ducasse: Here is another classic case of a fall back to earth. After two games of play that were, to be frank, fantastic from Ducasse’s level, he came crashing down. Ducasse was the only Jets’ offensive lineman letting any consistent penetration from the opposing defender, which can solely be blamed for the slow start by the Jets successful run game. Additionally, Ducasse gave up the only two hits on E.J Manuel and had multiple penalties of his own. He still deserves to keep the starting job because of how evident it is that he’s improved, but he has to kick it back up to that improved level of play to hold off Brian Winters, who could have stepped on the field and outperformed Ducasse on Sunday after no regular season snaps so far.
Biggest Riser- Santonio Holmes.
Biggest Fall- Vladimir Ducasse.