Another week and another disappointing loss is in the books for the New York Jets following the team’s 2012 Monday Night Football debut, as they fell to the Houston Texans 23-17. However, unlike New York’s week 4 performance against the San Francisco 49ers, the defensive effort from this past week was much more respectable. Outside of a couple of drives, the defense played very well, despite giving up 152 yards on 29 carries to Houston’s Arian Foster. Foster hit a 46 yard run in the first quarter, but take that away, and he finishes with 106 yards on 28 carries, for a 3.7 YPC average, very good numbers against one of the NFL’s best backs.
This week’s game, although still far from perfect, consisted of several excellent individual performers. For this edition of our defensive film breakdown, we will format this column a bit differently. Before getting into each group by position like we have in the past, we will highlight each player considered to be a top performer this week. The remainder of the column will follow as normal. Let’s get right into it.
Week 5 Top Defensive Performers:
Kenrick Ellis - Ellis has been New York’s best defensive lineman through the first month of the season, and that did not change this past Monday. Ellis has arguably the highest motor on the entire team, and is so much more than a pure run stuffing Nose Tackle, despite excelling in that area.
Stepping into the starter’s role against Houston, Ellis did not show any signs of slowing down. As a pure zero technique, Ellis was once again virtually unblockable. He does a great job of recognizing particular blocking schemes, and reacting appropriately to them. He once again proved to be strong and explosive enough to consistently split double teams, but also displayed great agility by not allowing himself to be scooped or cut off by either guard at any particular point during the game. Below is a demonstration of how explosive Ellis really is. He sheds the block of the guard with one arm and makes the tackle right in the hole. Absolute textbook play here.
Ellis also continued to prove to be an extremely hard worker. On certain plays, when lined up further on the outside, as either a 3 technique, or head up on the tackle, he tended to get knocked around a bit, as he is clearly not too familiar with the down block. However, what is most encouraging about Ellis, is that even if he does get beat on a play, it proves to have no effect on his mental state. He follows each play with an even harder effort on the next. On one particular play in the second half, Ellis chased down a Houston screen and made the tackle 30 yards down the field. Most NT’s would never even come close to making such a play. Not only did Ellis make the play, but he did not miss a rep afterwards, and stuffed Arian Foster for a gain of 1 yard only two plays later. The consistency that he displays on film is unparalleled across the entire defensive line.
Ellis’s injury will prove to be a big loss for the Jets. The youngster is really coming into his own, and it is quite unfortunate he will miss the next couple weeks at this pivotal point in the season. However, if Ellis can return and continue to play with the consistency and tenacity that he has displayed thus far, there is no doubt that he will be among the league’s best defensive linemen within the next couple of years.
Antonio Cromartie - No surprise here, but Cromartie played arguably his best game as a Jet this past Monday night. Offensive performance aside, Cromartie was Revis-Like in locking down All-Pro Wide Receiver Andre Johnson, holding the veteran to just 15 yards on 1 reception. What was most impressive about Cromartie, though, was his poise on the field. He assumed the role of the leader of the secondary, and you could just feel his confidence through his demeanor.
His interception of Houston Quarterback Matt Schaub in the first quarter was one of the most impressive displays of man coverage you will ever see. In the media, Cromartie has been discredited on this play due to Schaub making a bad throw. In reality, yes Schaub should not have thrown this pass. However, the quality of the throw had nothing to do with the interception. Cromartie had Johnson blanketed from the initial snap, and Schaub seemingly tried to force the ball to his number one target, in an apparent attempt to test Cromartie as a true number one corner. Perfect coverage, perfect finish.
Rex Ryan - Rex Ryan deserves a ton of credit for putting together a unique defensive game plan against an opponent that his team was clearly overmatched against. Ryan mixed it up in terms of personnel, scheme, packages, and coverages, something we have been waiting for him to do all season long. 1st round selection Quinton Coples finally saw extended reps, and continues to grow with each and every one. 3rd round pick DeMario Davis was mixed in heavily, primarily in 3rd down sub packages, and was used to blitz and drop in coverage.
Schematically, Ryan was extremely creative. Throughout the course of the game, the defense constantly shifted their alignments and disguised pressures and coverages tremendously. On one particular play, Calvin Pace jumped from his normal spot as an outside rusher, to a three technique with his hand on the ground, only to drop in coverage once the ball was snapped. Although Pace is certainly not the fastest player to be put in a role like this, the act of it alone was usually enough to throw the offensive line off.
In the fourth quarter, on a very pivotal 3rd down play, Ryan and the Jets came out in one of the most interesting fronts you will see in this league. Pace and Coples lined up as down lineman, while David Harris, Aaron Maybin, and DeMario Davis lined up as linebackers, all moving around, showing blitz.
The confusion on Houston’s offense line was obvious, as you could see the tackle and guard on the right side trying to communicate some sort of line call before the snap. After the snap, the guard, completely unsure of who to block, allows Calvin Pace to blow right by him and make the tackle for no gain. This is a great example of excellent coaching and schematics being the difference on a particular play.
On to the remainder of the team, per the usual formatting of this column.
Quinton Coples - Coples saw the the most reps he has seen all season long in this contest. While he still continues to make mistakes that you would expect of someone this early in his career, his talent level is absolutely astronomical. One of the best plays I have seen any defensive lineman on this team make this season came in the second quarter, when Coples was lined up as a 5 technique and came on an inside move. He was so quick off the ball, he was in the backfield while the tackle was hardly out of his stance.
Unfortunately, once he broke through the line, Coples made a very young mistake. Seemingly surprised by how easily he got into the backfield, Coples lost sight of his fundamentals by dropping his head and allowing Arian Foster to spin to the inside and turn a 3 yard loss into a 3 yard gain. Coples needs to realize that his athleticism and talent are going to put him into positions like this, and he cannot be caught off guard when he needs to make a play. As he matures, this is a play he will begin to make more often than not. In his defense, he had a very difficult task at hand in making a one on one tackle with one of the league’s top running backs.
Coples’ pass rush ability is certainly there, but he just needs to put it all together. In this contest, like he has been doing in the previous four, Coples was moved all over the defensive front in passing situations. He lined up as a 1, 3, 5, and 7 technique, and came on stunts to both the inside and outside. He is a bit reckless, but is right on the cusp of getting to the quarterback, something that, once it happens, could become very habitual based on his immense talent level.
Muhammed Wilkerson - While Wilkerson has been seemingly inconsistent all season long, this past week’s game was telling sign of why that notion may be misconstrued. Wilkerson is relied upon to do a number of things in this scheme. Like Coples, he was moved all around the defensive line this past Monday, but in a much greater capacity. When he was lined up at the nose, he played a true nose, rather than stunting. The same goes for when he was lined up as a 3, 5, or 7 technique. Wilkerson is being asked to play just about every position on the defensive front, which certainly speaks to how this coaching staff evaluates his ability. So, while he may seem inconsistent, it is likely more of a case of Wilkerson getting a little dose of everything on the defensive line, and maybe not necessarily being put in a spot where he can get in a consistent rythm. Still, Wilkerson proves to do everything very well, and like Coples, is right on the cusp of becoming a play maker. Either way, the future is very bright for this group based on the talent levels of Wilkerson, Coples, and Ellis.
Mike DeVito - Monday night was undoubtedly DeVito’s best performance of the season. Relentless with his motor, DeVito consistently shuts down any run that comes his way, displaying great recognition for all types of blocking schemes. While he is still virtually useless in rushing the quarterback, his ability to defend the run is among the best on this unit. His tenacity and leadership displayed on the field continued this past Monday night. DeVito also moves around, but more primarily on the inside, from the 1, 3, and 5 technique spots, performing the best as a 3. While he won’t jump off the stat sheet, something he proved once again Monday, his value to this group cannot be duplicated. His motor rubs off on the younger guys, and with Kenrick Ellis, the interior of this defensive line possesses arguably the highest motor of anyone on the team. A true blue collared player, every defensive line needs a guy like Mike DeVito.
Calvin Pace - The story with pace has been the same for the entire season. He is very fundamentally sound, has great tenacity, but is simply too slow to be overly effective at this point in his career. Pace is very slow in his pass rush and coverage, but still sets the edge better than any player at his position on this roster. Pace has come under heavy scrutiny by the Jets fan base, many calling for his benching. However, from what the other OLBs have shown, there is no one else at this position worthy of taking his spot. Sure, rushing the passer, Pace is very ineffective at this point. However, so are Aaron Maybin and Garrett McIntyre, and neither of them play the run as well as Pace. Why sacrifice what Pace can do against the run for someone who will not be an upgrade? Should he be subbed on 3rd and longs and passing situations? Sure, it would be wise to bring in speed in these situations. However, Pace still remains the best on the roster at this position, and does the little things well enough to keep his job. Don’t expect him to be watching from the sidelines anytime soon. He continues to demonstrate a veteran knowledge of the game, the defense, and fundamentals.
Bryan Thomas - Thomas is generally in the same boat as Pace, however he is nowhere near as fundamentally sound, nor does he posess the same tenacity as Pace. He does a good job at setting the edge, as he displayed the ability to string out outside runs and turn them back inside against Houston. When in space, however, Thomas has serious issues. He lost contain on one end around early in the game which led to a big game, and when Houston came at him again a few series later, he would have been shook in the open field if not for the ball carrier falling down. Thomas, in Kyle Wilson fashion, got up waving his finger as if he made some sort of impressive open field tackle. Still, outside of Pace, I don’t see anyone on the roster who can play the run better at his position.
Aaron Maybin - I’m not sure what there is more of: words in this write up, or the amount of plays that Maybin ended up 5 yards directly behind Matt Schaub in his pass rush. To his credit, Maybin did attempt an inside move, once, in the second half and was completely stonewalled by the offensive tackle and guard. To say his disapointing season continued Monday night would be an understatement.
Damon Harrison - Harrison looked promising, but with very limited reps, against a tired offensive line, it is hard to give a fair assessment. This week will tell a lot about where he stands.
The Linebackers – Bart Scott and David Harris were both very hot and cold once again. There were times when they made quick reads, and got to the ball carrier on the drop of a hat. Then there were plays where they were repeatedly sealed by offensive lineman and cut off, opening running lanes for Arian Foster and company to gain more yardage. Their play has been inconsistent, but was not terrible this past Monday. Coverage wise, they could each be better. Harris was roasted by Foster on a route out of the backfield, but in his defense, there aren’t very many linebackers in this league that can match up with him in man coverage.
DeMario Davis saw quality reps, and seems to be getting more comfortable with more playing time. Still, he was not much of a difference maker this week.
Josh Mauga and Garret McIntyre saw a decent amount of action as well. Both play hard, but should really be limited to special teams at this point. McIntyre struggles against the run, despite a great motor.
The Secondary - Outside of Cromartie’s dominant performance, Kyle Wilson seemed to step his play up a bit as well. He did not give up any big plays, and you can see him starting to build some confidence on the field.
The safeties, for the most part, played on an average level. LaRon Landry was used in much more of a free safety role this week, with Yeremiah Bell getting a lot of reps in the box. Both players do not hesitate to stick their noses in on the run, which is good, but can prove to be costly as it was on Owen Daniels’ touchdown reception, on which both Bell and Landry bit on the play action, leaving Houston’s tight end wide open in the middle of the field.
Outside of a few drives, the defense played much better this week. This unit is certainly banged up, heading into week 6 when they will host Andrew Luck and the surging Indianapolis Colts, a game that certainly will not be as easy as it once seemed. Cromartie needs to continue to assert his dominance against Reggie Wayne, and Rex Ryan should be just as creative as he was this week to confuse the rookie and force him to make some mistakes.