In an effort to get a little bit more inside the game, Alen Dumonjic, an x's and o's football junkie who blogs for The Score, will give us his insight on the intricacies of the game. Look for his analysis before each game.
BREAKING DOWN THE JETS' OFFENSE
The Jets' offense features three main personnel groupings: 11 (1 back, 1 tight end), 12 (1 back, 2 tight ends) and 21 (2 backs, 1 tight end) personnel. They operate mostly out of 11 personnel and find different ways to use it, such as TE Dustin Keller lined up at the wing or at the traditional inline alignment as well as off-set in the backfield. RB LaDainian Tomlinson will be in the backfield or sometimes lined up out wide.
Along the offensive line, the Jets often zone protect and have a running back who is the sixth blocker, typically Tomlinson. He’s their best pass protector and has handled the responsibilities well in the past. However, despite this six man protection, the Jets have allowed roughly three sacks per game, which is 10th-worst in the league.
The absence of All-Pro center C Nick Mangold has had a significant impact on the poor play of the offensive line, as they have had multiple issues such as identifying blitzers, calling protections and simply snapping the ball. Mangold is expected to be back, and they hope to get their power running game going forward. The running game features similar run concepts to other teams, such as Power, Lead, Toss and Counter Trey to name a few. Regardless of who is at center, Mangold or rookie Colin Baxter, they could have issues running the ball. The Jets are averaging just over three yards a carry because of their poor offensive line play. G Matt Slauson and RT Wayne Hunter in particular have had issues moving the line of scrimmage in run blocking. Because of these issues in the running game, more pressure has been put on QB Mark Sanchez to make throws.
The Jets like to run a lot of play action, such as off the Power run concept, and roll Sanchez out to throw the flat or corner route. However, the lack of run game has prevented this from working as well as it did in the past, which has made Sanchez force throws in an effort to make plays. He’s completed only 55 percent of his passes this year and has thrown five INTs through four games. These are alarming numbers considering some of the simplistic game plans created by offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Last week was not a great showing by his offense. Despite a game plan that was very simple and should have been executed with more success, the offense ran into many issues, from pass protection to the lack of physicality from the pass catchers as well as turnovers.
In this simplified game plan put together by Schottenheimer, the Jets used a lot of three and five step drops, screen passes (bubble, flanker, running back) and ran quite a bit of three specific passing concepts: Slant/Flat, Stick and Curl/Flat. The Slant/Flat passing concept was discussed last week in the preview of the Oakland Raiders so in an effort to not repeat myself, I will look at the Stick and Curl/Flat concepts.
The Stick concept is one of the best and my favorites of all passing games because of how effective it is at horizontally stretching defenses and creating a passing lane for the quarterback to throw through. This passing concept is a combination of routes from two pass catchers. One of the pass catchers, usually a tight end or slot receiver, runs a vertical stem of about five to six before settling down yards in between two linebackers and turning around to his quarterback. Simultaneously, a running back runs a flat (sometimes called “shoot”) route, which widens the outside linebacker by drawing his attention, thus creating an open pass to the tight end or slot receiver.
The final pass concept that we saw last week against the Baltimore Ravens and against other teams in the past is Curl/Flat. The Curl/Flat pass concept is another one that horizontally stretches a defense and can be ran against various coverages, although it is sometimes preferred against Cover 3. This concept is combination of two routes, with the outside receiver typically running a 12 yard curl route while the inside receiver (slot or TE) or running back out of the backfield runs a flat route at a depth of about three yards. It is pictured on the right of the image below.
BREAKING DOWN THE JETS' DEFENSE
The Jets’ performances on defense has raised a lot of eyebrows because they've had issues stopping the run. This is something they pride themselves in, and it’s what their front seven is built for.
The front seven is very interesting because it features many different personnel groupings and techniques. The Jets use two man fronts and a lot of three man fronts, with the three down lineman sometimes aligned in Okie (Center and Offensive Tackles covered) front; other times in a reduced front. These three man fronts can be accompanied by anywhere from two to four linebackers. The reason for this is because the Jets are often playing out of their nickel (5 defensive backs) and dime (6 defensive backs) packages, which I’ll get into later.
The Jets also play four-man fronts with three linebackers when facing an inline tight end. They will slide to the Under front when they are playing with four down lineman. The keys to the Under front are the techniques of the under tackle, nose tackle and strong side linebacker. The under tackle is a three technique (outside shoulder of guard on weak side) and the nose tackle is aligned in a 1 technique (outside shoulder of center on strong side). Meanwhile, the strong side linebacker (SAM) is aligned in a 9 technique on the outside shoulder of the tight end.
The Jets will also use their defensive backs to get after the quarterback. They often blitz out of all three of their fronts -- two, three and four -- and use their defensive backs to overload one side of the offensive line. By overloading one side with the blitz, it gives them a numbers advantage as well as blitzers that are quicker at getting to the quarterback. This is important because much of the league has gone to the quick passing game out of shotgun, thus making it more difficult to get to the quarterback. With nickel rushers, the Jets are able to apply pressure at a higher percentage because their defensive backs are quicker at closing the gap between themselves and the quarterback. Along with this, they will turn to Fire Zones, which is a five man rush with the backside end dropping off in coverage while there are two other underneath defenders as well as three deep defenders.
In coverage, the Jets mix man and zone. Some of the coverage’s they play include Cover 0, Cover 1, Cover 1 Robber, Cover 2 Man, Cover 3 and Quarter/Quarter/Half. These coverage’s can be traditionally played (spot dropping) or with pattern reading. They are mainly played out of Jets nickel and dime packages. They especially like to play Cover 2 Man (2 deep, man under) out of their nickel package from what I’ve seen, with their safeties splitting the field in half and aligned over the Twin set of receivers presented by the offense for instance.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Patriots cossing routes vs. Jets man coverage - As noted, the Jets play a lot of man coverage and even though it is possible that they play more zone in this game than previous weeks, they will still go to it at times and the Patriots should look to take advantage of this by running crossing routes that put the corner in trail position.
Antonio Cromartie - Cromartie has had issues this season in coverage, which is nothing new. His issues include the inability to get quickly out of his breaks because he is tall and high cut. Quick passes, curls, and comebacks are examples of routes that give him fits.
Donald Strickland/Eric Smith in the slot - Smith is a safety for the Jets, and at times they will play him in the slot. This becomes a mismatch as he is not quick enough nor is he instinctive enough in coverage to make plays. He has had issues in the past with this as well as issues in the deep parts of the field as a single-high safety. He can be caught cheating forward. Donald Strickland is another cornerback that has had issues. Last week against the Ravens, he was matched up with tight end Ed Dickson and struggled to cover him. If either of these players ends up covering one of the Patriots tight ends, the Jets could have serious problems.
Patriots running game vs. Jets defensive line - The Patriots should look to get the Jets defensive line moving east-west as they have struggled shedding blocks this season and stopping the run. They are still stout up front, but have had major issues stopping runs, especially Stretch runs (inside and outside zone) – which the Patriots run.
Jets roll out passing - The Jets love to roll out Mark Sanchez to create a Hi-Lo read for him with a flat and a corner route being ran to the same side of the field. Sanchez has had issues completing these corner routes this season, but the openings have been there, he simply hasn’t hit them yet. He will eventually, and the Patriots need to make sure it doesn’t happen against them.
Jets screens - Simply put, the Patriots need to tackle better. Screen passes to the Jets running backs and pass catchers (namely Santonio Holmes) can be problematic for New England if they are not tackling soundly this week.
Jets slants vs. Patriots cornerbacks/linebackers - The Jets love to use 1 step slants, and they will use it on the backside of a formation. They’ve done this multiple times in the past with success, and it has continued this season, with Plaxico Burress now catching some of the passes. This is a very strong tendency of the Jets.