Due to the short week, I was only able to get through grading most of the first half from Sunday’s game against the Bucs. Since we are pretty much in full Patriots mode, here is an abbreviated version of my weekly offensive line column that I will run through the 2013 season. Check back next week for the first full version after the Patriots game. Keep in mind that these are all 1st half grades. Click here to see how I come up with the grades.
From what I saw, the Jets’ offensive line looked much more physical than they did in 2012. Willie Colon, Austin Howard, and Vlad Ducasse were putting guys on the ground left and right. They did show some signs of growing pains in the new offense, however. Nick Mangold struggled calling out protections and guys were clearly confused as to who they were picking up. The Bucs also gave the Jets fits with the amount of twisting and stunting they were doing up front.
The Kevin Mawae Lineman of the Week – Austin Howard
After I reviewed the film on Austin Howard in 2012, it was clear that he still had to make some big strides to become a consistently solid NFL offensive lineman. If week one is any indication, Howard has taken some of those strides. He graded out in the first half at a 90% and had the first positive “plus/minus” since I started grading the Jets. Howard played a very physical brand of football Sunday with 5 knockdowns in the first 31 plays alone. It is apparent that the Jets want to run the ball primarily behind Howard and Colon as the majority of runs went to the right side. He still struggled with his footwork in pass protection, but showed some ability to recover that he did not possess in 2012. It was a really solid showing from Howard in week one and should provide a lot of hope that he can keep getting better and better.
Block of the Week – Austin Howard
Out of this formation, the Jets will run a screen out to the right to Kellen Winslow. Howard is lined up at right tackle with Da/Quan Bowers lined up inside of him.
For this screen play, Howard pass sets on Bowers. He is in pretty solid position on him, but his main goal is to sell this play as if its a deeper pass play.
In the backfield, Geno Smith pump fakes out to the left. As Smith pump fakes, Howard tosses Bowers for his first knockdown of the play.
After the pump, Geno spins around back to the right to dump the ball off to Kellwn Winslow just behind the line of scrimmage. Austin Howard is now out in front of the screen looking to get a block downfield. He is eyeing up LB Lavonte David.
David is in good position to make a play on Winslow, but Howard dives out of nowhere and makes a big block for his second knockdown of the play.
While there were bigger hits in the game and more important blocks, I absolutely love the physicality and hustle that Austin Howard exemplifies on this play. This is the type of work ethic that has allowed Howard to get better from year to year. Howard deserved this block of the week because he had a ton of knockdowns throughout this game.
Week One Recap
Looking at the grades, it’s obvious that Austin Howard played the best game up front. What about the other guys? At the other tackle spot, D’Brickashaw Ferguson did not look great. His grade is higher because the Jets were running away from him most of the 1st half so he had little impact, but accomplished has assignment. Besides that he did not look very good in pass protection, which is widely considered to be his strong suit. He got beat inside on pass twists a few times with one of them leading to an interception. When he was simply pass setting on an edge rusher, he looked like the old Brick. My concern is that teams are going to watch this film and see how much trouble the left side of the line had with pass twists. I would expect to see them a lot this year if struggles continue.
Vlad Ducasse, who received my worst grade in 2012, did not play great. He was a little better than I expected though, after following much of the game on Twitter. n the first half, he ended up with an 81% grade, which is not terrible. When watching Vlad it is about consistency in his footwork. He has a few plays where he takes good steps and is OK. Then the very next play he takes a horrible pass set and gives up a drive killing strip sack. It is inexcusable. Vlad needs to follow in the footsteps of Howard and start to develop some form of consistency or he will be out of the lineup.
The big disappointment for me in week one was Nick Mangold. Mangold got a 77% grade at center for the first half, which is not acceptable for an All-Pro. Part of the problem I see with Nick is that he is too worried about the “new” guys playing next to him. Both Vlad and Willie Colon are new starters and it is painfully obvious that Mangold isn’t comfortable with them or the new offense yet. Nick struggled setting protections and was often the guy not picking up the twists and long scoops that the Bucs front threw at him. The scary thing to me is how he performed on zone run plays. Despite being one of the better zone blockers in the NFL, Nick took improper steps, often stepping back into the backside defensive tackle instead of staying on his “track” and getting to the next level. It happened on a few occasions and Nick’s man was often making the tackle on the line of scrimmage. On one play, he actually stepped the wrong way and gave up a big TFL that earned him a “-2” grade on the play. I hope the Jets offensive coaching staff isn’t teaching this, because than we have a bigger problem on our hands.
Willie Colon started off the game extremely hot. He had a knockdown on the second play of the game and was absolutely stone walling people in pass protection. As the game wore on, however, some of his old issues came back to haunt him. He had a costly false start right before the end of the 1st quarter. He also gave up a big hit on Geno Smith because he was slow out of his stance and fell on his face trying to recover. These were the two main issues I saw coming out of Pittsburgh. Hopefully Willie can limit these mistakes going forward as he gets more comfortable in the offense. I love the attitude and physicality he brings up front and it appears that it is contagious for that right side of the line.
In week one, the Jets offensive line didn’t do much to help their rookie Quarterback. They struggled opening up holes to get the run game going and they allowed way too many hits on Geno Smith. They were confused by a defensive line that used their athleticism to play games up front. They will need to get in the film room to see and correct these mistakes if the offense has any intention of scoring more than 16 points.
What does this mean for this week? The Jets have good film on what they need to work on up front. The bad news is that so do the Patriots. I’m sure Bill Belichick will be talking to his buddy Greg Schiano this week about some of the things that worked and didn’t work against the Jets, and I can guarantee the use of twists and stunts up front will be part of the conversation. However, the Patriots are built a little differently up front. Immovable object Vince Wilfork will be all over the front. A lot of people think he will line up over Ducasse because he is the weak link. I expect him to be planted on the right side a little more often because that’s where the Jets like to run the football. This will be a big test for Willie Colon as Brandon Moore had a very difficult time against Wilfork last time these teams met. The point of having two giants up front like Wilfork and Tommy Kelly is to keep guys off of Brandon Spikes. They will have difficulty running the ball inside because of these three. I would look for the Jets to lean on the stretch game with Bilal Powell.
As it was in week one (and any week in a Marty Mornhinweg offense), the pass will be a bigger factor in the game plan. They will look to attack the Patriots secondary. The key to a successful pass game is if the Jets can pick up blitzes against the multiple fronts they will see against the Patriots’ defense. They struggled against the Bucs, but four of the starting five linemen are a lot more familiar with their rival. If they can’t pick up blitzes and stop guys like Mayo and Hightower from getting pressure like they did last year, this offense led by a rookie quarterback will be in for a rough day. Alot of this will fall on the shoulders of now injured Nick Mangold. Nick needs to get his head on straight and return to form in week two. This offensive line will go as far as Nick can lead them.