By: Mike O’Connor, Staff Writer
With the letdown the Jets supplied us with earlier this week when us fans were actually expecting good things, it’s a sad event to have to return to the film. Yet the season goes on, and if any Jets’ season was going to be a bumpy one, it’s the 2013 Jets. You have to roll with the punches when you’re starting a dominant defense opposite of a rookie quarterback, and that’s exactly what the Jets will need to do to bounce back.
This Titans’ game exposed the Jets significantly, however. Holes that weren’t so apparent are now ever-so evident, and adjustments need to be made. Some players have played well overall and maintained their strong performances even in a disgusting loss, but most haven’t. With the depressing film on the back-burner, it’s time to dissect the loss.
Sheldon Richardson: The dominance, from a rookie no less, just keeps on coming. I shyly ignored it at the start of the season, but now I’ve embraced it: the rookie is outperforming Muhammad Wilkerson. It’s not that Wilkerson has had that shaky of a start, it’s just that Richardson has played off the grid. He’s been consistent, which he really didn’t do at Missouri; he has been steadily improving in his pass rush, and he’s making highlight-reel plays by embarrassing solid lineman. For an example, there was a play versus the Titans when he blew up the Titans’ big free agent acquisition Andy Levitre by faking a rip move to the right, then literally stiff arming Levitre onto his backside. It’s simply incredible how Richardson has been playing, and even more so that he kept up a solid showing against the Titans’ high-quality guard tandem in Levitre and Chance Warmack (three quarterback hurries).
Damon Harrison: ”Snacks” saw less snaps this week against a Tennessee offense that loves to play a spread-out game, therefore leaving the Jets to give time to more pass rushers instead of run stoppers. Still, Harrison managed to make a strong impact on the game. The Titans had no business running on the Jets’ defensive front in the early stages of the game. A large chunk of the credit belongs to Harrison. The big man was so powerful at the point of attack and hardly ever lost leverage to Rob Turner and company, and made his mark numerous times by laterally chasing down stretch runs.
David Harris: An unexpected comeback just keeps on getting better. Harris started the year off on fire, and he has yet to cool off. The veteran is always around the ball, and he’s been making defensive reads of the offense that take me back to his first three years in the league. According to the always dependable Pro Football Focus, Harris is the only starting inside linebacker who hasn’t missed a tackle yet this season. With how he played at times last season, that statistic blows me away. With the way he is backing up a dominant defensive line, I’ll welcome this fresher side of Harris with open arms.
Nick Folk: Notice the pattern here? Jets who have been playing well nearly the whole first quarter of the season aren’t slowing down. With Folk’s two field goals from last Sunday in the books, his efficiency through this year is still 100%, as he’s made all eight field goals he’s been asked to. Not only is he pinpoint with his accuracy, but he’s been nailing touchbacks all year. Here’s a stat that will blow your mind: Folk has never missed a kick in the month of September with the Jets. He’s 22/22 on field goals in the season’s first month. With the way he’s been driving the ball, it’s likely his success will continue in October and beyond.
Ryan Quigley: After his disappointing debut, it’s nice to see a bounce-back game from the Jets’ new punter. He punted the ball really well versus Tennessee, averaging 49 yards a pop with a long of 56 yards. He also downed a punt inside the twenty. Take this game form Quigley for what it’s worth, which is not much until he performs consistently.
Bilal Powell: Powell was by no means as great as a runner as he was in Week Three, but he still brought his all-around skills to play, as he charted 108 yards of combined yardage. He was efficient, too, as he averaged 4.7 yards a carry and 14 yards a catch. Of course, Powell wouldn’t be himself without his pass protection, which blew away that of Tommy Bohanon’s in this game. It will be really interesting to see how Mike Goodson, who returns from suspension this week, will be incorporated into the offense with Powell playing very well as a rusher and a receiver, and Chris Ivory likely coming back from his concussion.
Kellen Winslow: Winslow finally managed to get back on track in the air attack, charting six receptions for 72 yards. Granted, most of his receptions came when the Titans were already leading by a considerable margin, but he was still finding some keen soft spots in their zone coverage to sit in and stay open. If he can build off of this somewhat convincing performance, he may be able to serve as a little safety blanket to Geno Smith (who could definitely use one).
Muhammad Wilkerson: The Titans let Sheldon Richardson slide a bit past their gameplan, as they seemed to focus almost entirely on Wilkerson. They would often immediately double team Wilkerson right off of the snap, no matter where he was lined up. If they didn’t, they typically chipped him with an H-back if he penetrated the pocket. Despite the difficult gameplan throw at him, he still managed to get his nose in the run game, and he even made a (controversial, though it shouldn’t be) hit on Jake Locker. Wilkerson is seeing much more attention this year than he did last year, but he’s coming over the hump of his slump this year to get the better of his opponents.
Leger Douzable: It seems that whenever Douzable checks into the game, he makes a tackle for a loss. His shedding ability alone may rival that of some of the Jets’ starters. If you’re looking for a fresh rotational lineman, Douzable is your man.
The Offensive Line (Other Than Vlad Duccasse): Willie Colon, Nick Mangold, Austin Howard, and D’Brickshaw Ferguson all had fairly poor games. It’s odd because the entire line gave Geno Smith an absolutely flawless pocket for two or three plays during a sequence in the second quarter, but they just gradually collapsed. Whether it was simply fatigue or halftime adjustments by Mike Munchak and company, each one of these players looked overwhelmed. Derrick Morgan slowly got the better of Howard, Colon and Mangold were beaten often by Ropati Pitoitua and Sammie Hill, and Ferguson looked slow protecting Smith’s blind-side from Kamerion Wimbley. With an overall curiously bad performance protecting their rookie quarterback, this Jets’ offensive line will need to get back on their feet, and quickly. Smith won’t improve with pressure in his face moments after the snap.
The Return Game: They always said that simply not turning the ball over on a punt return is a positive outcome, but who needs the old-timers’ game? The Jets could use some favorable field position, which Kerely certainly did not achieve for them in his efforts. Actually, I shouldn’t call his returning an “effort,” because he essentially just hesitates as he fields the punt, waits to find a lane, doesn’t get one, and treads sideways for a yard or two. I’ve had enough.
Clyde Gates has been equally a dismal when returning kicks. He doesn’t take contact very well, and that’s detrimental for a guy that’s usually running near his full speed (which is fast). I’d rather take a touchback so he can avoid an injury and loss of yards if he continues to be the guy back deep. The Jets should place Mike Goodson back there this week and for the future, without hesitation.
Tommy Bohanon: The offensive line can’t be given the entire blame for the constant pressure on Smith. Bohanon was miserable in picking up the free blitzers that were clearly assigned to him. As a result, Akeem Ayers and Zach Brown contributed a whopping five hits on Smith, which is unheard of from linebackers in a base 4-3 defense (unless you’re Von Miller). The fact the Bohanon couldn’t pick up the blitz let Mike Munchak sacrifice coverage for blitzers in the mid-portion of the game since it was becoming so easy for them to reach the quarterback.
The Injuries: I normally wouldn’t write about injuries, but a notable negative factor in this game was the number of Jets’ receivers that were hurt at some point during the game. Santonio Holmes aggravated his hamstring badly enough to keep him sidelined for a few weeks, Stephen Hill suffered a nasty concussion on the second play of the game, and Clyde Gates was coming up gimpy all day long. Assuming Hill’s concussion will sideline him along with Holmes, the Jets will face Atlanta, a team who’s challenged vertically, with just Jeremy Kerley, Ryan Spadola, and David Nelson if Gates also can’t go.
The Corners: Anybody who watched the game could tell that the Jets’ cornerbacks were getting abused by Tennessee, allowing Jake Locker to pick up momentum on early success. It’s understandable that Darrin Walls struggled early on in his first NFL start versus capable receivers like Kendall Wright, but seeing Antonio Cromartie play poorly again is worrisome. Cromartie was coming off a better game last week than he’s had through the whole first quarter of this season, but he fell back to mediocrity last Sunday. Nate Washington had his way with Cromartie too many times for a corner who was supposed to hold up as a leader for the defense this year. It may be that his hip still isn’t fully healed, but Cromartie’s inconsistency has me thinking that he could just be showing signs of a permanent decline. Kyle Wilson was also his usual self out there: not instinctive, poor around the ball, and lacking.
Vladimir Ducasse: Ducasse was simply atrocious; there’s no way to put it kindly. He was once again stricken with penalties that buried the Jets’ offense in holes when they showed signs of life. When that wasn’t the case, he was getting murdered by Karl Klug or Jurell Casey on their way to Geno Smith or Bilal Powell in the backfield. It seemed like Ducasse didn’t even know his play assignment half of the time. The team has already announced that rookie Brian Winters will start in Ducasse’s place thisweekend, and rightfully so. Winters would have to not show up to practice all week to not overtake Ducasse for the starting left guard spot.
It’s just a really unfortunate story with Ducasse. He looked decent in Week One, and surprisingly fantastic in Week Two before the tires came off. This is likely the end for him. It’s just to unimaginable for him to start another game this year, barring an injury, considering how awful he’s looked in the past two weeks.
Geno Smith: Like I said earlier, nobody should expect consistency from a rookie quarterback, especially with one like Smith. Smith has made some excellent throws already this year, but he has matched those eye-openers with a fair share of turnovers and ugly mishaps. His behind-the-back fumble versus Tennessee was no short of mind-boggling, and the interceptions lacked so much timing and accuracy that they were hardly any better. Once again, you’ve got to expect issues in a rookie quarterback, but the Jets also must help him in terms of protection to get him back on track to solve these flaws in his game. If Smith constantly has to take the hits he’s been taking, and get on the move as much and early as he has been, he’s doomed in terms of any development in his rookie year. At least the rookie will face a surprisingly depleted Atlanta defense next week.