Every week throughout the season Mike O’Connor will break down the performance of the New York Jets secondary. Here is his take on week 1
With so much confidence in the New York Jets front seven all summer and heading into the regular season, the re-shaped secondary that was once undoubtedly the Jets’ biggest strength has been somewhat overlooked. Even heading into the week of preparation for Week One, most expected the Jets’ primary focus to be on the Bucs’ biggest game-breaker on offense: running back Doug Martin. s we learned with the Jets’ close win, sometimes an offensive weapon’s greatest effect is to draw focus away from the rest of the team.
Buccaneers’ wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams took advantage of the countless man coverage opportunities, combining for 11 receptions for 206 yards and a touchdown off 21 targets. Incredibly, no Bucs’ wide receiver outside of the pair even had a catch. Thus, we have two areas to look into before we put the game into the books. Why were the Jets’ starting corners so suspect, and how did everybody else in the secondary play when they were hardly targeted in the passing game?
Grading Scale: Every week, I’ll be handing out simple letter grades to each member of the Jets’ secondary. Additionally, I will be charting and publishing their success rates in coverage for most of the other games in the season (this week is stunted by the Thursday night game, so game film isn’t available at the moment). Remember, a better grade for a lesser known player doesn’t necessarily mean that he played better than a starter who received a worse grade. The snap differentials will likely be drastic between a starter and a backup, so I’m just grading these players on the role they had. If a player was excellent despite his 10 snaps, than he’ll get that kind of favorable grade.
Snaps – 61 (100%)
We start off our first evaluation of the season with possibly the most curious case we’ll come across. It took no analysis to see that Cromartie, a leader for the Jets all summer and a very solid player over the years, had an off game. In fact, he wasn’t just off from his usually great play; he was bad. Jackson had his way with Cromartie in his short and intermediate routes most of the day, which is surprising for me to even type. Typically, Cromartie is not only instinctive, but he positions himself so well based off the receiver’s cuts and the quarterback’s eyes. The combination of the two make for a lockdown corner, especially when he’s not forced to flip his hips downfield to run.
However, I find it very worrisome how stiff Cromartie was this past Sunday, and the same goes for his slow reaction time. I hope I’m wrong, but signs like these may be clues that a corner is starting to show his age. Here are a few examples that I took from the game to further explain my complaints.
In this image, Cromartie is in man coverage with Jackson, and he gives him quite the cushion to run on. However, caught above is Jackson’s first step outwards to initiate his curl route. Cromartie isn’t facing Jackson, so he needs to judge when he should come back to the ball off of Josh Freeman’s eyes and step into the throw. Notice how he is just crossing the 25 yard line now.
The next image above should immediately strike you, because Cromartie has just made his move inwards back to Jackson, but he didn’t react to this throw until he had ran beyond the 20 yard line. Wasting movement and steps can be crucial to a corner’s success, and Cromartie runs at least seven unnecessary yards on this reception allowed.
Here is another head-scratcher from the corner. Jackson runs about a ten yard post route, with his break coming right before Cromartie’s feet, instead of opening up his hips to run with Jackson, he shows some ugly stiffness. The two scary signs here are Cromartie’s flat-footed stance when a receiver is running straight by him, and the fact that he even tries to press Jackson so far off the line to slow him down. I applaud Cro’ for at least recognizing that his positioning is off, so he tries to slow him down, but this could result in a penalty if the pressing is noticeable enough.
The combination of Cromartie’s stiff approach to Jackson’s route result in far too much separation for a big receiver who can run, and the result is a first down and much more.
Cromartie didn’t play like the 2010-2012 Antonio Cromartie was capable of this past Sunday, and it was very noticeable. He will surely be tested by Tom Brady and company just two days from now, and by quicker receivers. He needs a big recovery game to ensure fans that he’s not starting to decline.
Snaps – 61 (100%)
Nobody should have expected a flawless day for the rookie corner, especially Jet fans after seeing Darrelle Revis have his struggles when he was a rookie. For his first NFL game, Milliner was alright. Milliner’s main mistakes in the game were some that most rookies will have: body positioning and struggling to find the ball.
When Milliner allowed catches, he would be pressing off the line alright and running with either Williams or Jackson fairly well. However, the receivers’ routes would throw him off just enough to lose leverage on the play. When Williams would make the first break in his route, Milliner felt obligated to keep his eyes on him, and not run while swiveling his head. When corners resort to this tactic, it becomes very difficult to win. Instead of cutting off the receiver’s routes with appropriate positioning, the corner is simply stuck tracking the receiver’s every move, and therefore trailing them. As you can probably guess, this makes man coverage much harder than it needs to be because of the extra running that it takes. Here is an example below.
Those who viewed the game can probably recognize this particular play: it is Mike Williams touchdown grab. Milliner is in man coverage, and like I earlier described, he’s not allowing much separation to Williams. However, he’s also not swiveling his head around to Freeman when he has the chance to. If he were, he could already start to cheat inside more, so that Williams can’t capture his inside shoulder so easily.
Since Milliner’s head never turns around, he’s left tailing Williams; basing his coverage off of mimicking Williams’ steps. Predictably, this stalls him just a couple of steps, and that’s all Williams needs. Additionally, Milliner doesn’t even have a chance at deflecting this pass because he still has no idea the pass is coming, unless he’s analyzing the receiver’s body language adjustments towards catching the ball. He isn’t though, because Williams easily comes down with the touchdown grab.
Milliner wasn’t all bad in his debut, however. He even showed off what he did best in coverage in his Alabama days. When Milliner couldn’t fully turn around to face the passes thrown at him or couldn’t at all due to the time the ball was thrown, he used his ball skills and physicality perfectly.
In this play, Milliner is facing Williams in man coverage again. He already pressed him a bit off the line, but Freeman times this throw perfectly and he’s left to run this fade pass down with Williams already eyeing it.
Milliner uses his ability to judge the receiver’s body control to time his own jump and defense. First, he places his arm on Williams’ arm nearest to the play. He does this with just enough force to make Williams have to be out muscle him just to get to the ball, without doing it obviously to draw a penalty. Then, he goes up with Williams and properly spaces out his body to deflect the pass. This is great reading of the receiver by Milliner, so that he can defense the pass as well as he can without risking to turn around and lose leverage by looking for the ball.
I give this grade while valuing that this was Milliner’s rookie debut. In actuality, he played about as well as Cromartie did, but his flaws expose a skill-set that needs more development than Cro’s (which of course is true). Yet, Milliner also flashed his potential in a few small glimpses. In the end, it balances out to somewhere between the hill of a high C+ and low B-. I expect that we’ll see steady improvement from Milliner, with more exposure of what he already does well when he faces different types of receivers in different defensive based schemes.
Snaps- 20 (33%)
Snap Occurrence – 1st down (20%), 2nd (40%), 3rd (40%)
The legend lives on. It is a wonder that Kyle Wilson still sees as much playing time as he does, especially considering the amount of talent Darrin Walls and Isaiah Trufant have. But he’s still out there, and we still have to break down his performances. Wilson was basically his usual. His instincts left him late to react to a few passes sent his way, and his overall speed made it even harder for him to get there to contest the pass. Lucky for him, his receiver was Kevin Ogletree, who couldn’t bring down any of the passes that were intended for him.
It is actually surprising to see Wilson’s first and second down snaps as high as they were. With the amount of simple, two receiver sets the Buccaneers featured, it becomes apparent that Wilson was on the field quite often when he didn’t have a specific man coverage assignment. It does make sense, because Wilson is a willing tackler off the edge and can shed a block here and there. While his coverage skills are still questionable at least he served a purpose in this particular game. In the future, it will be interesting to watch if Wilson continues to get the nickel-back snaps versus teams that heavily feature three, or even four receiver sets. If the Jets know their opponent will be dependent on spreading the ball around, like the Patriots are guaranteed to be this Thursday, then we might see Walls, Trufant, and Ellis Lankster spell him a bit to get the snaps they have each deserved.
The only reason that Wilson’s grade is such a stable one is because he really wasn’t challenged. In fact, it would be higher because of his help versus the run, but he still managed to look bad when Josh Freeman threw his way very sparingly.
Snaps- 6 (10%)
Snap Occurrence – 1st (0%), 2nd (17%), 3rd (83%)
Everybody’s favorite little guy once again played much bigger than his 5’8 frame, even though he only received six measly snaps. Still, Trufant had an effect on nearly every play he was in on. As you can see from his snaps occurrences, he played nearly selectively on third down. On three of these six plays, he was a blitzer. Blitzing is actually something Trufant does much better than it seems he should. His small frame can burst through the tightest of seams in the offensive line to get to the quarterback, and his quick twitch allows him to make him a near-impossible block to make for less athletic lineman when he comes off the edge. Twice, Trufant hit Freeman, with one of these hits leading to Dawan Landry’s interception.
In coverage, Trufant was used on three plays, which all came at the end of the game when the Jets fully expected a pass. He didn’t match up particularly well with any Buccaneers’ offensive weapons, but he didn’t allow any catches anyway.
Trufant has always looked good at whatever job he’s asked of; he’s just a limited player. He played his part nicely this week. His next test will likely be taller than the one he had on Sunday, because he’ll likely play much more versus the Patriots. We’ve seen Trufant start games before as Wes Welker’s kryptonite, so Rex Ryan will probably place him in the same role against a very similar player in Julian Edelman.
Snaps – 61 (100%)
Landry had an up and down game on Sunday. He’s a player who’s effective when playing in the box from his strong safety position because he can come up and tackle, but he also confused us with his missed tackle that almost cost the Jets the game. andry also hauled in an easy interception when Freeman overthrew everybody, and he added a nice return.
It is hard to make out Landry’s performance. On several occasions, he pinched in versus the run nicely, and made a few nice solo tackle on the edge. This is more impressive when you consider how elusive Doug Martin can be. Unfortunately for him, it’s hard to erase the missed tackle on Vincent Jackson, in which Demario Davis had to run him down. Oddly enough, Landry was the harder player from the secondary to break down for me, despite him playing every single snap. He will surely be tested in pass coverage downfield more often by Tom Brady on Thursday, so we should have a better grasp for his play then.
A B seems appropriate for now. Landry is obviously in phenomenal shape, just like his brother, to be able to play 61 snaps straight at 30 years old. His endurance and nonstop support versus the run give him a good grade.
Snaps – 44 (72%)
Snap Occurrence – 1st (45%), 2nd (33%), 3rd (22%)
To start, Allen’s snap details are telling. The Jets tried to keep him off the field in passing situations as much as they could, but it also speaks the truth on how well Allen plays versus the running game. I’ve always stated that Allen is a very good player when the game is in front of him. I’ve also always critiqued him for how his game nose-dives when he has to flip his hips and turn in coverage. Allen was great for the most part on Sunday because he hardly had to do the latter point, as the Jets’ safeties were hardly asked to play any zone coverage downfield, and the man coverage assignments consisted of much shorter routes.
Let’s focus a little further on why Allen was so good the other day. He was always popping up in every run play because he just has a nose for the ball. He reads plays spectacularly, and diagnoses them very quickly, while maintaining his positioning. His reading of the play skills can be credited by his ranging-linebacker role in his time at South Carolina known as the “SPUR” role. Allen is a scrappy, sure tackler, which allows him to have a nice impression on the stat-sheet (six tackles). Here’s an example of what I mean when credit his read and diagnose ability.
First, note how Allen is playing in the box. The Jets featured two strong safeties in this game, and it worked for them because of how little the Bucs’ wide receivers ran deeper routes. Allen (circled), isn’t over-pursuing the play to the left like some young safeties would. Though he’s seeing the offensive line pulling to the left with Martin also taking the hand-off to the left, he doesn’t allow himself to cheat and be out of position.
The play-call turns out to be a play-action roll-out for Freeman, so Allen is all of the sudden in the spotlight, and for good reason. If he had flown with the simulated direction of the play to the left, then he would already be susceptible to the dump off on his side of the field. Since Garrett McIntyre is rushing Freeman from his outside linebacker spot, that leaves Allen as the only defender with positioning on the only Bucs’ eligible receiver on the right side of the field, #82 (designated by orange arrow).
Sure enough, Freeman quickly dumps it off to the designed receiver as he gets wiped out by McIntyre. Due to how he stayed with the play from the start than acted quickly, Allen is already in full sprint, closing on the tight end who hasn’t even turned around yet. Allen is the primary tackler on the play for no gain.
Allen is a very smart player. He’s limited in what he can do, but he’s a prototypical in-the-box safety. He’s a stiff athlete, but his sure-tackling and smarts gave him an excellent start to the season.
Snaps – 6 (10%)
Snap Occurrence- 1st (17%), 2nd (66%), 3rd (17%)
Jarrett played limited snaps as the primary backup to Antonio Allen. He didn’t have any particular role, other than to give Allen a breather. Jarrett still managed to get his hat on a Buccaneer, making two tackles. He hasn’t been tested by any passes yet in man coverage, so time will tell.
Snaps – 3 (5%)
Snap Occurrence – 1st (33%), 2nd (0%), 3rd (67%)
Bush got a few snaps near the end of the game, which is key because of how close it was. The Jets obviously trust Bush in his deep coverage, and I’ve noticed from his college tape that he can also play man coverage quite well. Until Allen and Jarrett are shredded in coverage, it doesn’t look like Bush will see much playing time, however. Bush also showed toughness stepping up from his deep coverage, though, making two tackles of his own.
Biggest Stock Improvement: Antonio Allen.
Allen is finally making up for making me look bad for banging the table for him in the free safety battle. While I still don’t love what Rex Ryan is doing with the whole safety position, Allen is a superior player to Jarrett and he did more than enough to prove that on Sunday.