Game Balls – “Don’t Call It A Comeback”

The New York Jets finally put an end to their month-long losing streak against the banged up Baltimore Ravens. The story lines heading into this game all centered around the long-called-for QB change to Geno Smith but it was the defense that ultimately stole the spotlight, showing flashes of the turnover-producing, QB-terrorizing unit we grew accustomed to seeing in 2015. As such, we have some metaphorical accolades to hand out, so for the first time this season, let’s paint em up…

Game Balls

Sheldon Richardson:

“Boss Hogg” is by and large the Jets’ best and most versatile defensive linemen and this coaching staff is well aware of it. Unfortunately, for the first six weeks of this season, Todd Bowles and company got too caught up in trying to take advantage of Richardson’s versatility by playing him outside of his natural position in order to put all of their talented defensive linemen on the field at the same time. Whether it was out of necessity, or simply coming to their collective senses, the Jets coaching staff went back to a conventional 3-4 defense for much of yesterday’s game, putting Richardson’s hand back in the dirt and letting him manhandle OL at the point of attack. Richardson led the team with eight total tackles (3.5 of which were for a loss) and rounded out his day with one sack, two QB hits, and his first Game Ball of 2016.

Quincy Enunwa: 

When Eric Decker went down with a shoulder injury, most people figured that Enunwa would see a significant uptick in both targets and touches. However, because the QB play had been so putrid since Week 2, he had yet to have the breakout game that so many of us had been waiting for. Enunwa padded Geno Smith’s abbreviated stat line by turning a seven-yard hook into a 69-yard touchdown, showcasing that 4.4 speed we all saw late in last year’s OT win against the Pats.

As one of the lone bright spots from the John Idzik era, Enunwa is blossoming into a dynamic weapon for this Jets offense but is probably the victim of shortcomings both at the QB position and the OL. During Ryan Fitzpatrick’s stint as the starter, there were plenty of times where he was open and Fitz simply didn’t see him or made a horribly inaccurate throw (see: Arizona game). In respect to the Offensive Line, the makeshift right side and shaky play all-around has necessitated the use of multiple TE sets (which unfortunately include Kellen Davis) and because Enunwa plays primarily in the slot, he sees less playing time in two receiver sets.

Regardless, Chan Gailey needs to figure out more ways to manufacture touches for this guy, whether it’s screens, sweeps, etc because he’s a YAC machine and needs to eat too.

Brandon Marshall: 

Although it was a relatively quiet day for Marshall (3 receptions for 39 yards), this Game Ball is awarded almost entirely for simple “Heads Up Football”. With 1:46 left in the 3rd Quarter, the Jets were once again prepared to snatch “defeat from the jaws of victory” when a Matt Forte fumble inside the Red Zone threatened to essentially wipe away Marcus Gilchrist’s interception that set the Jets up with incredible field position. Once the ball hit the turf, Timmy Jernigan picked it up and inexplicably attempted to try and run it out of the end zone and did so into the waiting arms of none other than “B-Marsh” himself, who then made what in my estimation was a game-saving play by stripping the ball back from Jernigan and setting up a brand new set of downs that led to a touchdown and an eight-point lead.

Not only is Marshall an elite receiver, who routinely bails out his Quarterback when he makes inaccurate throws, he’s also an extremely heady player when he’s not attempting to lateral the ball to the other team. If you’ll recall,  this is not the first time Marshall has done something like this, as he reversed a Ryan Fitzpatrick interception against the Cleveland Browns by stripping the ball and setting the offense up for a Touchdown. Feel free to complain as much as you like about the all-too-frequent big drop but you can’t overemphasize Marshall’s value to this football team.

Matt Forte: 

Matt Forte owes Brandon Marshall a steak dinner or something because if not for him, he would be on the wrong side of this list. Luckily for him, it was no harm/no foul as his otherwise outstanding day remained unblemished. Although I believe this coaching staff’s proclivity for handing him the ball 30 times a game is going to come back to bite them, yesterday Forte showed flashes of why he was such a valuable asset in Chicago for so many years. Not only did he rack up 100 yards on the ground behind an offensive line that struggled even with Nick Mangold, he also showed off those famous hands by hauling in four catches for 54 yards and a critical TD at the end of  the first half. More importantly, his performance earned him his first Game Ball as a New York Jet although I gave him one in my head after the Buffalo game.

Buster Skrine: 

What a week for Buster Skrine, he goes from being victimized by Bruce Arians and the Cardinals in prime time and having Jon Gruden declare him unfit to play anything but Nickel Corner, to having a big game six days later. Skrine’s official stat line only credits him with one pass-defensed but obviously the only stat that counts here is his interception of Joe Flacco half way through the Third Quarter. From where I was sitting, it looked like Skrine might have gotten away with some contact but no need to nitpick what wasn’t called. The veteran CB has found himself in the cross-hairs of opposing offensive coordinators on a regular basis and probably should still eventually be moved back inside but on this day, he rose to the occasion so we’re going to paint up our final Game Ball just for him.

Take A Lap:

For those that might have forgotten, for every stand-out performance there’s just as many if not more guys surely but slowly playing themselves out of the league so let’s see who screwed up this week. 

All of Special Teams: 

If you’re a Punter or a Kicker, save from gadget plays and holding snaps you have one job and when you fail to do that job in catastrophic fashion, it drives coaches and fans insane. So when Lachlan Edwards not only muffs a snap backed up near his own goal line but then does everything but kick that ball out of the end zone, it’s enough to make fans start looking for tall building. In that situation you kick that ball out of the end zone 100 times out of 100, it’s simple math: two is less than three. If that wasn’t enough, Edwards then proceeded to kick nose-down knuckle balls for the  rest of the afternoon, which I have to imagine is partly a function of the blustery conditions as opposed to just shear incompetence.

Fortunately for Edwards, he has some company as the rest of this unit wasn’t particularly awe-inspiring either. Jalin Marshall had a tough time deciding when it was appropriate to field or return punts/kicks, I guess you can chalk it up to a lack of spatial awareness. Finally, we get to the game-changer that wasn’t: with time running down towards the end of the fourth quarter, the Jets had an opportunity to ice the game with a field goal (albeit a pretty long one from 51 yards), which was then blocked by the Ravens, giving them a chance to knot up the game in the final seconds. Fortunately, the defense did its job but all and all, a dismal day for this unit.

The Offensive Line: 

Speaking of bad units, the Offensive Line, which many (including myself) thought would be the undoing of this team heading into the season is starting to show some serious cracks. For the past two weeks, Jets Quarterbacks have been under consistent pressure and have taken some big hits, one of which actually knocked Geno Smith out of the game yesterday. This is an area that in my opinion, the Florham Park think tank has neglected ever since Damien Woody retired following the 2010 season. Brian Winters may be grading out highly on PFF but the Right Tackle platoon is a disaster and its hurting the versatility of the offense because any offense that needs to play Kellen Davis cannot be considered versatile. The Jets Quarterbacks were sacked five times and hit (officially) seven times. With Nick Mangold’s health status in question, these guys need to figure things out in a hurry.

Ryan Fitzpatrick:

Fitzmagic admittedly did a fine job of managing the offense in relief of Geno Smith, especially in running the two minute drill before the end of the first half that culminated in a Matt Forte receiving touchdown. However, you saw a lot of the same from Fitz in respect to his ability to generate points and make sound decisions in the Red Zone. What ultimately has the bearded one doing some extra running today, are his post game comments where he essentially threw down the gauntlet to the entire Jets brass. Although Fitzpatrick’s anger is justified, considering he just got benched for Geno FREAKING Smith, he has no one to blame but himself. In other words, don’t point the finger, point the thumb. If he wanted this job so badly, he should have earned it instead of making the same mistakes over and over again. There’s a reason he’s been on six different teams and is probably going to be on to his seventh after this season and it’s the same reason he’ll be doing some extra wind sprints today at practice.

Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com