The New York Jets lost to the Patriots 24-17 in a game that really helped reveal many positives in the Jets road to rebuilding and many negatives that must deal with along the road. Both of those conflicting elements can be found in the Jets’ passing game with Josh McCown. Let’s go through some moments from the game where the Jets executed well, where they left something to be desired, and where they plays left on the field due to lack of awareness.
What went well?
The first play we’ll look at is one we actually covered in the film breakdown earlier this week. Robby Anderson is lined up wide against Malcolm Butler. The Patriots look to be playing with only a single high safety in the middle of the field. So McCown knows pre-snap he has Anderson, who’s the fastest player on the field, running a fade with a single high safety that probably won’t get there in time. At the snap, Anderson beats Butler soundly off the line. McCown is looking at the other side of the field, and there’s a good chance he’s just trying to look off the safety. But he takes too long and then puts way too much air under his throw to Anderson. Butler then catches up to the Anderson with the under-throw and makes a play on the ball, eventually ripping it out of Anderson’s hands. Easy to say Anderson should have held on. More logical to say the throw should have been earlier and better.
On this next play, McCown and Anderson connect for a nice gain but take note of the route Anderson runs here. It’s not your typical out route. Butler is playing about 10 yards off of Anderson here. Instead of the typical burst, stutter and then cut to the outside, Anderson does a slight head fake inside and then breaks outside. Butler is again in shambles here and McCown hits the open man. Again, remember this route.
Next up is the first big play by Jeremy Kerley. On this play, Kerley is running a drag route but sees McCown is in trouble. He then turns upfield with the defender trying to keep up. McCown identifies this redirect and leads him with a great pass towards the pylon. Kerley showed great strength and body to control to be able to fend off the defender and make the catch. Being able to successfully improvise or come off of routes during extended plays is something we haven’t seen much from Jets’ receivers this season. Kerley did really well here and McCown made a great throw.
The next impressive play is the Kerley touchdown. On this play, the Patriots with man to man on the receivers with the linebackers dropping back in zone. Kerley ran a crossing route behind the linebackers. McCown saw that Kerley had his man beat but needed help to separate. He led him slightly upfield with a great touch pass and Kerley made the catch and finished for a TD. Kerley’s technique as a WR is impressive and hopefully a good influence on the young receivers around him.
What was left behind?
Now we’re going to start to look at evidence of McCown not willing to take risks in and instead opting for the easier play. It’s interesting the amount of shots the Jets took early on in the 1st half. It’s likely those were scripted or decided pre-snap. As the game went along, McCown’s confidence started to waver, and his play fell off a cliff. He started to miss some big plays and throw into tight coverage.
On this next play, the miss is not too egregious. McCown sees the Patriots are in cover 2 man and knows he’ll likely have Kearse open over the middle. It’s the right read and the safe throw underneath the two dropping safeties. However, on the outside, to the far side, you see ArDarius Stewart roasting the CB on his side and breaking open on a fade. You also see there’s a sizable window between him and the dropping safety to his side. I think there are QBs in this league that would definitely take that risk and hit that window for a huge play. McCown makes a nice play and probably the right play. But it was second down and nobody would fault any quarterback for taking a shot there.
On this play, McCown takes a shot to Anderson but its unclear why he did. Patriots had a single high safety with man to man underneath like they did when Anderson was open earlier in the game. McCown seems to assume Anderson gets open here and just throws it up. He almost gets Anderson killed here because the safety had a beat on it this time and the corner had Anderson covered for the entirety of the route.
Now here let’s harken back to the out route we showed earlier from Robby Anderson. On this play, Malcolm Butler is playing press coverage as opposed to 10 yards off the ball like he was when Anderson ran this route earlier in the game. You can see Anderson runs the route the exact same way as before with a head fake to the inside and a roll off to the outside. He’s clearly not open at all here. McCown throws it late and weak and Butler easily picks it off. Many fans have stated Anderson should’ve fought for the ball or run a better route. I can see how maybe he could’ve been more physical (though that probably wouldn’t have made a difference here). However, it’s possible that’s exactly how he’s meant to run that route and it was just not open.
Now on this play you can see McCown just leaking confidence. McCown has a ton of time in the pocket but when the short routes to his left aren’t open he starts to panic. On the outside to the far side you see Robby Anderson running another nine route but here he gets inside leverage and before widening back to the outside when the corner dropped underneath. He is wide open pretty quickly here but McCown had already started to panic. It looks like McCown does spot Anderson jumping and waving his arms but just has no confidence whatsoever that he can get the ball there. He gets the first down on this scramble but this is a huge problem. Your 38-year-old QB being overly reliant on his running ability is really not ideal.
Next up is McCown’s 2nd INT which was also covered in our film breakdown from earlier this week. This was just a terrible play call in general but also really poor technique from McCown. He does a good job avoiding the initial rush and giving Tomlinson time to get open. However, when he throws it you see he’s off balance, not set, and the throw goes straight to McCourty.
On the next play, it’s again more about taking a shot or not. Again, it’s second down. On this play the Patriots are again in single high man to man. McCown goes with the checkdown to Matt Forte here but there were other options available that you’d see a better QB maybe take a chance with. Kearse is paired with Forte tight to McCown’s right and runs a flag. You see he has the corner beat and with the right throw could perhaps have scored. On the other side of the field you see Robby Anderson running a fade from the slot. Anderson is going to win with that route from the slot against man to man most of the time given 5 yards cushion and he does here. Once he has his man still squared to him when he’s closed the distance to about a yard you know he’s won. With one deep safety it’s a bit of a surprise McCown didn’t even look there. But the safe play was to Forte.
Not going to beat a dead horse with this next one. It’s pretty straightforward. McCown overthrew the fade by A LOT. Once again Anderson runs a good route here but isn’t rewarded.
Later on, here’s another overthrow on a fade. Anderson gets bumped this time but he course corrects and is in good position. But McCown, again, throws it well beyond him.
This one’s painful. McCown makes a check at the line that the Patriots shift to. You can see pre-snap, Jermaine Kearse is completely isolated man to man against “not Malcolm Butler.” Kearse is money in these situations. McCown doesn’t even look his way until he starts panicking and by then its too late. Kearse runs a perfect skinny post and he’s wide open for an easy TD. McCown scrambles and eventually throws it away but that’s another major opportunity lost in a big moment.
The next play is irresponsible. Jets are driving looking to tie the game up with just seconds on the clock. It’s not fourth down here. There’s still time on the clock. But yet here we see McCown scramble outside the pocket and then throw into double coverage to Austin Seferian-Jenkins. You can tell he forgot about the safety over top. Seferian-Jenkins did a good job breaking off his original route to give try to get open but McCown has to recognize another defender lurking behind him. Somehow it doesn’t get intercepted.
Next up is the last play of the game. We’ve all seen this a few times by now most likely. McCown buys time by rolling to the outside. While doing so Cadet breaks wide open with the option to make the catch and step out of bounds to stop the clock. He definitely seems to be in McCown’s line of sight but the veteran quarterback seemed determined to throw to Jeremy Kerley. But the throw was way off and landed harmlessly incomplete.
You might feel like I’m picking on a 38-year-old veteran quarterback that has well documented limitations. I’m not. He’s an awesome guy and a great motivator and encourager. But this isn’t really about him. This is about what the Jets should be looking for in their next quarterback given what the offense is exploiting in defenses week to week with their wide receivers in the passing game and the potential for big plays. McCown was brought in to be safe and take what the defense gives him. That minimizes the chances for soul crushing turnovers but it also can hinder growth from the young wide receivers.
The Jets have started opening things up more on offense to find a balance but that has started to reveal McCown’s flaws and that should be expected. There have been some very encouraging signs from ArDarius Stewart, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and Robby Anderson behind the brilliance of the veterans, Kearse and Kerley. Eventually you outgrow your training wheels. I’m starting to believe perhaps the New York Jets should take a walk on the wild side with their next quarterback in 2018. The results might be explosive.