Each week I will be reviewing the coaches’ tape from the previous week’s game and grading out the performance of the New York Jets Offensive Linemen. This grading process is the same one I use to grade the offensive linemen I have coached at the college and high school levels. To see how I grade click here. To see previous Big Man Reports, click here. Let’s see how the big guys performed in week 5.
My word of the week for last week’s Big Man Report was “Quicksand.” The Jets couldn’t seem to get anything going up front against a revitalized Titans defense. This week, the word is ”redemption”. The Jets offensive line had its best game of the season from a grade standpoint. For the most part, they dominated Atlanta’s defensive front. Although there were a few breakdowns here and there, the line was excellent, particularly from Center to Right Tackle.
There was a ton of movement in the run game and Geno Smith had all day to throw the ball on all but a few dropbacks. ure there were some breakdowns and some guys performed better than others, but this was another encouraging sign to see a line that could bounce back from a really bad performance from a week ago. The one thing we have to take with a grain of salt is that the Falcons are not very good up front. I don’t like the fact that they got a few sacks from Osi Umenyiora and Corey Peters (one of them was Geno Smith’s fault), but besides that they really didn’t make any plays against this Jets line.
The Kevin Mawae Lineman of the Week – Austin Howard
I feel like I say this every week, but I could have went with Nick Mangold here. He finished tied for the highest grade at 91%. He was steady all day, but I decided to go with Austin Howard because of the number of positive impacts he had. He finished tied with Mangold for the highest grade at 91%, but had 7 positive impact which resulted in a positive plus/minus. A positive plus/minus is very rare for an offensive lineman. Howard was stout and extremely physical finishing with at least 5 knockdowns. I also saw solid improvement from last week against the pass as he only let up one pressure. That pressure didn’t even hurt them because it led to a Geno Smith scramble that put the Jets in position to win the game.
Block of the Week – Austin Howard
Sometimes the block of the week is a a high impact block that leads to a big gain. Sometimes its just a crushing hit. Austin Howard had a crushing block on a screen to Jeremy Kerley in the 3rd quarter.
The Jets toss a quick screen out to Jeremy Kerley who is split out to the right. Austin Howard is supposed to pull almost flat off the line of scrimmage and kick out any defender he can find to give Kerley an inside lane to run through. Howard is tracking William Moore but obviously can’t hit him yet or it will be a block in the back.
Kerley does a great job of coming inside to set up his block. When Kerley cuts, Moore turns back inside to try and make the tackle only to see big 77 coming at him.
Notice that Howard makes contact with Moore at the 24 yard line.
Howard sends Moore head over heels all the way back to the 20 yard line and springs Kerley for a solid 8 yard gain and a Jets first down. If you get a chance to watch this play in real time you can see the real speed impact of this Howard block.
Week 5 Recap
The Jets offensive line followed up their worst game of the season with arguably their best game. Looking at the box score, it may seem like an issue that the Jets only ran 46 plays and held the ball for only about 24 minutes. However, the Jets won the field position battle and were able to move the ball effectively both on the ground and through the air. The key stat for the Jets offense was having zero turnovers. The guys up front rarely get credit for having a turnover free game, but in this case I think they deserve it. They kept guys off Geno Smith for the most part and got excellent push giving backs plenty of space to run through before contact.
Looking at the grades, Austin Howard, Willie Colon, and Nick Mangold had excellent games. D’Brickashaw Ferguson was right behind them with an 85% which is a very solid grade. Brian Winters finished far behind with a 70%. I’ll get into Winters performance in a little bit but for now, the other four Jets offensive linemen showed that they can dominate an inferior defensive front. Thats what the Falcons were, but thats no reason to diminish how the Jets line played. The worst thing that could have happened in this game was for the Jets line to play tentatively against a group that they should be able to push around. And they didn’t.
From Center to Right Tackle, this group was dominant. Between Mangold, Colon, and Howard there were no penalties or major mistakes and only 13 blown assignments. That’s pretty impressive. Colon and Howard once again brought the physicality as they had numerous knockdowns. Mangold didn’t have as many knockdowns, but his double teams and combo blocks in this game with Colon and Winters were the best I’ve seen from him all year.
Ferguson, was his usual solid self. Nothing flashy, but good job on linebackers in the run game especially on the zone read package that Marty has Geno running right now. The only reason his grade suffered more than the other three veterans was the sack he gave up in the 4th quarter. He got beat around the edge pretty badly by Umenyiora. It was the first time I’ve seen a defensive end get the edge and than rip under Brick. It was a really bad play, but luckily he did a nice job against the ex-Giant throughout the rest of the game.
Winters Has Arrived
Right after the Jets drafted Brian Winters I remember a lot of Game of Thrones references like “Winters is Coming.” Due to injuries in training camp and a less than stellar performance in his only preseason appearance, Winters arrival was put on hold and the Summer of Vlad had started. Vlad showed some signs of improvement in the early stages of the season. After a bad showing against the Bills and a historically bad performance against the Titans last week, Vlad was demoted to the bench and, whether he was ready or not, Brian Winters was named the starter.
Winters finished the game with a 70% grade. That grade is not too good and its only 2 points higher than Vlad’s grade in the Titans game. The grade tells a story of a player who made some mental errors and some technical flaws. With his lone “-2″ grade it also shows that Winters was responsible for a bad sack that everyone saw on Monday night. What the grades don’t tell us is the severity of Winters’ mistakes. That is why I include the plus/minus and average grade stat. Against the Falcons, Winters had a plus/minus of “-9″ and an average grade of “-0.2″. In the Titans game, Vlad had a plus/minus of “-24″ and an average grade of “-0.35.”
The key stat is the average grade. In the previous 4 games, Vlad Ducasse had an average grade of -0.24. The fact that Vlad’s overall average grade is higher than a rookie’s average grade in his first career start is encouraging in that he may already be better than Vlad, but not quite where he needs to be. Sure Winters gave up the sack this week, but that was his only penalty or major mistake. Vlad had 8 last week and kept the offense off track the entire day.
Although I think what I’ve seen out of Brian Winters in his first start is encouraging, there are still a lot of things that need work. Since he gave up the bad sack, let’s start with pass protection. Compared to Vlad, Winters has good initial footwork. He has a good, powerful pass set. Similar to Vlad he has a tendency to stop his feet once engaged. Falcons linemen were getting stuffed by Winters initially and then would be able to gain some traction on their counter move. I also didn’t like how he was able to be pushed and pulled from side to side so easily. This usually has to do with a guys core strength and how strong his lock out is on his punch. From what I saw on film, Winters needs to get his weight back in his pass set and continue to move his feet after initial contact.
In the run game, there is one major issue that Winters needs to get corrected. When run blocking, he is in way too big of a forward lean. A good defensive tackle will eat him alive if he continues to lean, because a simple swim move will force Winters to fall off of his block. There were a few times in the Falcons game where Winters would fall on his face because a DT used his weight against him. He also struggled when going to the linebacker, particularly on outside run plays. He just didn’t take proper angles when trying to cut off backers and often didn’t get to them.
I will say that I really like the way the kid gets off the ball though and think he adds even more toughness and physicality to this group. He had the same amount of knockdowns as Willie Colon in this game. The other thing that I noticed about Winters on tape, is that he seems to have a certain confidence about himself that I never saw from Vlad. He was inconsistent, but he didn’t let mistakes compound themselves. He seemed to be excited on the field. Maybe it is just rookie exuberance, but he was always the first guy to the pile after a play to help up the ball carrier.
As I said last week, Winters is a guy that the Jets will have to be patient with. He will have his ups and downs, but, at first glance, he looks like a guy who can develop into a quality starting guard in the NFL.
Looking Ahead – Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers are not playing the type of defense we have been used to seeing in Dick LeBeau’s tenure there. I was shocked to see that they only have 4 sacks on the season and have yet to force a turnover. Let’s hope they haven’t been saving everything up for the Jets. Despite the Steelers past performance, this will be a tough test for the Jets offensive line. They are facing a Dick Lebeau defense that is coming off two weeks to prepare for a rookie quarterback. You can be certain that the Jets will see some stunts and blitzes that they haven’t seen yet this season, except maybe in practice.
Personnel wise, the Steelers will primarily be in their base 3-4 defense. Upfront, they are OK. Brett Kiesel is their best player and will be a tough matchup for who ever he lines up over. He is a particularly tough DE to run the ball at. The rest of their D Line is nothing to get too excited about at this point although they have decided to start Ohio State product Cameron Heyward at DE over Ziggy Hood. Their Nose Guard, Steve McClendon has made a lot of tackles, but none of them for loss. My main concern about the Steelers defense is LaMarr Woodley, who will be rushing the passer against Austin Howard. This is a huge step up from who he faced last week and could struggle with such a relentless pass rusher, but the way he has been playing is encouraging that he should be able to step up and win his fair share of battles. And always, the Jets OL will have to make sure they know where Troy Polamalu is. He will be lurking around the line of scrimmage often and I could see LeBeau firing him through gaps around Brian Winters.
The Jets will have to take care of the football against the Steelers and continue to win the turnover and field position battles if they want to win. They will also need to get off to a fast start. Look to Willie Colon here. He has gotten a lot of knockdowns out of the gate this season to set the tone for the Jets offensive line and he will be playing an emotional game against the team that released him. Will this emotional push propel him to get his first lineman of the week?