Timing Is Right For McKnight, As Jets Revisit Ground Attack

Joe McKnight first joined the Jets last year as a nervous, fumbling fourth round selection. A player whose real first notable performance in Green and White entailed vomiting during minicamp. Thus earning him an underachieving label that the former USC tailback almost couldn’t shake. Until now. One blocked punt and the longest play in Jets history later, McKnight’s moment has clearly arrived. The timing of it couldn’t be better for an offense that has lost their identity, while a special teams unit perhaps found the answer to the loss of Brad Smith. As the Jets return to the “Ground and Pound” mentality this week, they must add to it more plays designed for McKnight. A guy who can break off big runs from a variety of places.

On special teams McKnight has found his rythym. His solid forty plus yard second half return in Oakland following Antonio Cromartie’s injury (occurring while trying to retrieve his own fumble during the prior kickoff) was followed by his 107 yard TD encore in Baltimore this past Sunday. McKnight’s blazing speed, and quick cuts are finally beginning to make their way to the surface.  Natural instinct is starting to topple what has been a paralyzing habit of overthinking by McKnight during runbacks.

On offense the 5’11 198 pound McKnight can become the speedy outside rushing threat that without him, the new version of the Ground and Pound doesn’t have. After weeks of horrid blocking in pass protection and too much of a focus on throwing the ball, Ryan wants to return to running the ball. Additional speed like McKnights’ would certainly help provide another choice within that concept.

McKnight could also make things happen in the passing game. Prior to becoming a Jet, many NFL draft scouting reports highlighted his hands, and pass catching abilities as a strengths as well. Now may be the perfect time for offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to add McKnight’s tools into the gameplan both on the ground and through the air.

The reasoning being simple. McKnight can score. From anywhere. Yet the offensive line and feature back Shonn Greene have struggled. A weekly change of pace from a pair of breakaway speed legs provided by McKnight might provide the remedy. With the ball in the hands of McKnight, plays won’t take very long to develop, but will still retain the upside potential for long gains.

McKnight could also line up in the slot. For bubble screens and quick outs into the flat. Both of which could turn into favorable one on one situations against much slower defenders. Line McKnight up as the “QB” of the Wildcat as well. This to obtain the ability to work the option on the perimeter. All to be used as a way to allow McKnight a few more opportunities to break free and change games. The way Smith used to from whatever position HE was put in.

Sometimes an offense just needs a little boost. A new look that turns into a big play. McKnight could be the one to provide this. At 2-2, with the notion of returning to a ball control style on offense, the Jets must go beyond simply PONDERING the idea of using him more frequently. Instead, they must see that now IS the right time to explore just how big of a weapon Joe McKnight truly CAN be.

Preliminary Thoughts: Jets vs. Raiders

The New York Jets have their first road game of the 2011 season this Sunday when they face the 1-1 Oakland Raiders. In their last trip out to Oakland in 2009, the Jets rolled to a 38-0 win, however that had a large part to do with JaMarcus Russell being under center. Oakland has since improved but is coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Buffalo Bills, where they allowed a massive second half comeback led by Ryan Fitzpatrick and Fred Jackson.

On offense, Oakland begins and ends with Darren McFadden. Jason Campbell is a decent quarterback and rookie wide receiver Denarius Moore had an incredible game last week. Yet, a Campbell/Moore combination doesn’t do much in the face of Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, and Rex Ryan blitzes. The Raiders best chance lies in a huge day from McFadden both running and catching the ball out of the backfield. On defense, the Jets may want to consider having a safety like Brodney Pool shadow McFadden out of the backfield, so he can avoid being matched up on a linebacker.

The Raiders are solid on defense but are clearly missing Nnamdi Asomugha, as they were carved apart by Fitzpatrick last week and couldn’t cover Stevie Johnson or David Nelson. Fred Jackson was also able to pile up well over 100 yards on their rush defense, which looked terrific the week before against Denver. But then again, doesn’t everybody look great stopping the run versus Denver? Mark Sanchez should be able to move the football, even with the absence of All-Pro center Nick Mangold.

In order to protect rookie Colin Baxter, who will be starting in Mangold’s place. The Jets must implement a high amount of quick passes to the outside. Get the ball in the hands of Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress in space, as both should have mismatches this week. Dustin Keller should also be a major factor in the short/intermediate passing game. The Jets can also help Baxter by shifting their rushing attack to the outside, which could lead to an increased use of 2nd year back Joe McKnight and hopeful Brad Smith clone, Jeremy Kerley.

Jets vs. Cowboys: Grade Report

Quarterback (B) – Outside of two ugly turnovers, Mark Sanchez put together a strong performance. The game manager title is clearly a thing of the past, as he went 26/44 for 335 yards and two touchdowns. His confidence is fully there and considering the weapons around him, a big statistical year is a real possibility. The turnovers must be eliminated as they both came in killer spots. However, it was nice to see how well he distributed the football among his top targets and didn’t hesitate to push the ball down the field.

Running Back (C+) – LaDainian Tomlinson gets an “A” while Shonn Greene settles in somewhere around a “D.” Neither Greene (10 carries, 26 yards) or Tomlinson (5 carries, 16 yards) did much running the ball but Tomlinson was key in the receiving game, finishing with 6 receptions for 73 yards, leading the team in both categories. The Jets are going to need more from their running game, Greene in particular, moving forward.

Wide Receiver (A) – The playmakers did what they were paid to do. Santonio Holmes turned in a solid 6 reception, 70 yard performance, while Plaxico Burress stole the show in the second half with 4 receptions for 72 yards and a beautiful touchdown catch. Burress looks capable of having a much bigger year than many (including myself) projected. Derrick Mason had 3 receptions for 19 yards, and dropped a potential touchdown pass. Jeremy Kerley only played one offensive snap.

Tight End – (A) – Dustin Keller remains a reliable safety valve for Mark Sanchez and posted 6 receptions for 51 yards, along with the team’s first touchdown of the season. The offense finally demonstrated the use of a two tight end look as a passing threat, by getting Jeff Cumberland involved on a 33 yard reception.

Offensive line – (D) – It wasn’t a pretty night up front, as Mark Sanchez was sacked 4 times and there was no push in the running game. Wayne Hunter was repeatedly beaten by DeMarcus Ware in his first game as team’s new starting right tackle. Hey…at least he won’t face anyone better than Ware the rest of the year.

Defensive Line – (A) – They were solid against the run, as usual. Mike DeVito also had one of the biggest plays of the night by forcing a crucial Tony Romo fumble on a sack. He finished with 3 tackles. Muhammad Wilkerson was quiet in his NFL debut with 1 tackle.

Linebackers – (B+) – Bart Scott had a big night with 8 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 tackles for a loss. Calvin Pace also had a sack. The group still struggled defending the screen pass at times and part of Jason Witten’s big night goes on them. However, on the whole it was a productive night.

Secondary – (C) – It is going to be a long season for Antonio Cromartie if he keeps up at this pace. He was beat by Dez Bryant on a jumpball for a touchdown and then by Miles Austin on a deep touchdown, where he let him pull the ball away from him, which is unacceptable. Eric Smith and Jim Leonhard continued to struggle in pass coverage. Darrelle Revis was beat by Dez Bryant on an early deep ball down the sideline but shut him down after that and then came up with an enormous interception that set up the game winning field. You know the saying, “you come at the King, you best not miss.”

Special Teams – (A+) – The deciding factor in this game…outside of Tony Romo being a choke artist….was the Jets special teams. Nick Folk was money on the game winning 50 yard field goal. Joe McKnight blocked a punt in the 4th quarter that Isaiah Trufant took back to the house. TJ Conley was solid all night at punter as well.

Coaching – (B) – They didn’t come out ready to play and at times seemed a step behind Jason Garrett and Rob Ryan. Yet, this is a resilient, scrappy team that finds ways to win games and a big part of that comes from Rex Ryan. Also, stand up and take a bow Mike Westhoff for continuing to put together excellent special teams units. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine deserves credit for his call late in the game that help set up the Revis interception, which did a good job of masking zone coverage as man.

Initial Reaction: Still Got It – Jets Win Thrilling Opener 27-24

It was about as memorable as an opening night you could ask for, as the New York Jets pulled out a gutty, thrilling 27-24 comeback win over the Dallas Cowboys.

You can say what you want about this team but they understand how to win. They have a ton of heart and resiliency and it is foolish to ever count them out of a game.

It came from everywhere tonight. Plaxico Burress turning it on in the second half for 4 receptions for 72 yards, along with a beautiful touchdown reception. Mark Sanchez posting up 335 passing yards and distributing the ball around to Burress, Santonio Holmes, Dustin Keller, and LaDainian Tomlison who all also had big nights.

There was Joe McKnight coming up with a huge blocked punt that was returned for a score by Isaiah Trufant in what was the loudest I have ever heard a crowd at a Jets game. Mike DeVito forcing a Tony Romo fumble in the fourth quarter to keep the Jets alive. Darrelle Revis coming up with an interception to set up Nick Folk’s game winning field goal…and of course Folk hitting that game winning 50 yard field goal in what must have been a sweet moment of redemption, considering Dallas cut him.

It was a complete team win. The Jets are far from perfect and have plenty of issues to still work out but a win is a win and it was a hell of a way to start the season.

Jets vs. Eagles: Battle Of The Backups Preview

Ah, the annual pre-season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles aka the battle of backups provides our last look at many New York Jets scrapping to make the roster as reserves. Here are a few players to keep an eye on tonight before the countdown can begin to week one (how about 7 days to Saints/Packers?)

Greg McElroy – The rookie quarterback has impressed all pre-season and will get the start under center tonight. Mark Brunell will return to the backup role when the regular season starts but you have to wonder if Mark Sanchez were out for an extended period of time, if the Jets would consider handing the reigns off to McElroy instead of the 65 year old Brunell.

Muhammad Wilkerson – It has been a good, not great pre-season for the Jets first round pick. He was ejected last game for getting into a scuffle with Brandon Jacobs and still hasn’t generated much pressure on the quarterback, despite being solid against the run. He should log a ton of playing time tonight, so hopefully he can take advantage of the Eagles backups.

Nick Bellore/Garret McIntyre – A pair of undrafted rookie linebackers who have a very good shot to make the roster after strong training camps and pre-seasons. The Jets could be risking it by going so young with their backups but if they are the best players on the roster after the starters, they deserve a spot on the final 53.

Aaron Maybin – He needs to make a play or two to intrigue the coaching staff enough to keep him around for a longer look. The speed is there but Maybin is easily pushed around because of his lack of size.

Joe McKnight – It has been a strong all around pre-season for the Jets second year running back, who could use one more solid performance to demonstrate that he should be involved with the first offense when the regular season starts. McKnight could bring a much needed speed dimension to the Jets running back group.

Jeff Cumberland – The second year tight end missed last week with an injury but should be back. I’d be shocked if the Jets didn’t keep him on the final 53 because of his size and potential but he needs a good performance to lock himself in.

Jets – 17 Giants – 3: Ten Thoughts From TOJ

1. The positives for the Jets last night primarily were on the defensive side of the football. Despite allowing the Giants to move the ball, they bent but didn’t break, keeping them out of the end-zone all night, by coming up with timely big plays. The second unit made a nice statement with a 4th and inches stop on the goal-line against the Giants first unit. Overall, Rex Ryan has to be feeling good about his defense heading into the regular season.

2. David Harris was an absolute beast last night, playing like one of the top linebackers in the league that he is paid to be. He had 7 tackles, 2 passes defensed, and an interception. Beyond that he drilled Eli Manning in the chest forcing his first interception that was picked off by Jim Leonhard. He smashed Hakeem Nicks and separated him from the ball when he tried to come over the middle. When Harris is playing like he did last night, the Jets are tough to score points on.

3. Another standout on defense was Ropati Pitoitua, who is having a great pre-season and has outperformed rookie first round pick for Muhammad Wilkerson for the starting defensive end job. It was a positive and negative to see Wilkerson get into that scrap with Brandon Jacobs and get ejected. Jacobs is a notorious dirtbag on the field and it is good that Wilkerson stood up for himself as a rookie, yet the reality is that he needs to keep his cool and not get himself thrown out of games. He needs every rep he can get.

4. Darrelle Revis looks like he is in mid-season form. However, Antonio Cromartie continues to struggle in man coverage. Yes, he looked awesome on that kick return and can be a big weapon on special teams but the Jets are paying him to be one of the top number two corners in the league. He needs to be able to handle being constantly picked on.

5. Over to the offense, which was disappointing and inconsistent. Mark Sanchez looked erratic and had an ugly turnover on a fumble. It was good to see him shake off a poor start and stick in a great throw to Santonio Holmes for a touchdown but the Jets need more from their passing offense, as Plaxico Burress and Dustin Keller were invisible last night. The offensive line was pretty good as the Giants didn’t register a single sack last night and the running game was decent, although they never broke a big run.

6. Shonn Greene had a tough 42 yards on 11 carries and Joe McKnight is clearly looking like the number three back as he got 9 carries for 35 yards, compared to only 3 carries for Bilal Powell.

7. The Wildcat was back last night for the Jets as Jeremy Kerley completed a 18 yard pass to Matthew Mulligan, had two carries for 13 yards and handed off once to McKnight for a 8 yard gain. It was Kerley’s strongest overall performance as he had a nice punt return as well. It is nice that the Jets can keep their package of plays for Brad Smith in their offense this year thanks to Kerley’s versatility.

8. Sorry to hear about Logan Payne dislocating his wrist, he seemed to have the lead for the number five receiver job but after the injury Patrick Turner will likely grab that roster spot.

9. How good is it to see Jim Leonhard back on the field and making plays? He has two interceptions in the past two weeks and is going to provide a huge boost to the secondary.

10. Nick Bellore recorded a sack…Bart Scott alternated between missing tackles (allowing a huge play for Ahmad Bradshaw) and coming up with big tackles for a loss…how awful are the Giants special teams?…Kenrick Ellis had 2 tackles…Greg McElroy finished 4/5 for 39 yards.

Initial Reaction: Jets Put Together Encouraging Performance

The New York Jets were far from perfect in their 27-7 victory over the porous Cincinnati Bengals. Yet, there was a collection of very encouraging signs from both the offense and the defense.

Plaxio Burress was the main story of the night, pulling in 3 receptions for 66 yards including a beautiful over the shoulder 26 yard touchdown. Burress didn’t look anywhere near as rusty as many anticipated he would be. Prior to his touchdown, Mark Sanchez connected with Burress on a back shoulder fade down sideline, which was exciting to see because you can’t stop that route if it is thrown properly to a 6’5 receiver. A big chunk of the Jets third down and red-zone problems will go away if Sanchez and Burress are connecting like they were tonight.

Sanchez put together another good performance, going 12/20 for 173 yards and 2 touchdowns. He did an excellent job spreading the ball around to his top targets, as Santonio Holmes caught a 16 yard touchdown and Dustin Keller led the way with 73 receiving yards, including a 43 yarder off a nice play action fake. The sky is the limit for this passing offense once Burress, Holmes, Keller, and Derrick Mason are on the field together.

The starting defense dominated outside of one drive, where they broke down on a screen pass to Brian Leonard which went for a huge gain that eventually led to a touchdown.Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton struggled and threw two bad interceptions, one picked off by Eric Smith and one by Jim Leonhard. The backups on defense keep Cincinnati off the board. Brashton Satele intercepted a pass and fell a couple yards short of a touchdown. Recently signed linebacker Aaron Maybin also came up with a strip sack, in a play that isn’t going to make Bills fans happy.

Joe McKnight deserves credit for putting together a strong performance and taking a big step towards locking down the #3 running back spot. He scored his first NFL touchdown on a 3 yard reception from Greg McElroy and also had 36 yards on 7 carries.Bilal Powell was quiet with 22 yards on 9 carries. Fifth string running back Chris Jennings actually had the run of the night, breaking off a 69 yarder late in the fourth quarter.

The negatives? The Jets were still inconsistent at finishing drives and struggled on third downs. They stalled at the 26 yard line on the first drive of the game, followed by Nick Folk missing a 43 yard field goal, also they later had to settle for a field goal when they had the ball in the red-zone. The first unit didn’t run the ball particularly well as LaDainian Tomlinson only had 21 yards on 9 carries. On defense, the screen wasn’t defended well and it was disappointing to see them allow a touchdown drive to such a weak offense.

Overall, it was still a step in the right direction and you have to be encouraged with where the Jets currently are at in the pre-season.

Jets vs. Bengals: What To Watch For

The Jets 20-16 loss in Houston last week left Jets fans concerned about depth on the roster. Thankfully the big pieces to the puzzle, Mark Sanchez, Shonn Greene, Santonio Holmes and the starting defense were sharp in limited action. Perimeter issues rose up however upon review of the contest, primarily that of the club’s backups heading into 2011 season. That said, here is what to watch for Sunday night at home as the Bengals come to town.

PLAX IS BACK:  It has taken two plus seasons but Plaxico Burress will finally return to a football field Sunday night. Burress will start after sitting the first week against Houston due to an ankle injury. All eyes will be on number 17 to see how he cuts, runs and handles game one of his partnership with new QB Mark Sanchez. The stadium will be rocking when Plax touches the football, making it the most exciting story of the night.

THE DUCASSE MICROSCOPE: Aside from Burress, no player will be scrutinized every single play by Jets fans though the way Vlad Ducasse will. The second year Jet caught the evil eye of many in Jets nation for his inability to slide laterally consistent enough in week one of preseason.

Ducasse is a key backup in more than one position on the offensive line this year and that scares alot of folks. Vlad needs a solid night to begin to build his own confidence. It’s not easy constantly switching positions and assignments. Howver, that is what the Jets have in store for him this year so he must start to provide a sense of calm to those around him. The danger created by his failure to achieve that is too scary to even talk about.

MAYBIN OR MAYBE NOT? Aaron Maybin turned out to be Buffalo’s Vernon Gholston. A first round bust of monumental proportions. However, as a Jet, the speed rushing LB simply needs to be disruptive during a handful of snaps each a week. Is Maybin going to be a steal, or an ex Jet by the opener?

MOVE CUMBERLAND AND TURNER UP: TE Jeff Cumberland took matters into his own hands last Monday. Was that a result of his going against the second and third string? We’d like to see Cumberland run routes early in this one, to get a sense of the type of weapon he could be in a a two TE set. Perhaps the Jets could even feature a two TE set with Dustin Keller on passing downs as well.

Patrick Turner’s hands looked great in Houston. His size was a factor in the red zone with his short slant route TD. Let’s see him work against the Benglas starting corners. What a nice WR corps this could turn into if Turner joins Kerley as new faces mixed in with older players like Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress, and Derrick Mason.

POWELL’S CHANCE: With RB’s Shonn Greene out and Joe McKnight one week removed from a concussion, Powell may be poised to make his bid for a spot in the rotation. Ladainian Tomlinson will get a bunch of reps but the rest could go to Powell should McKnight get dinged up early on.

Last week Powell looked quick, cut nicely, and waited patiently for his blockers. We wait not so patiently to see him do it behind Nick Mangold and company. Sunday night may be Powell’s chance to show that he can be a guy who could contribute in 2011.

Sunday Night Is Powell’s Time To Shine

It wasn’t the nine carries for 25 yards against Houston last Monday night that has Jets fans both curious and excited about the potential of Bilal Powell. It was the athleticism and calm sensibility that he displayed from the carries. Powell cut back, broke out of packs, waited patiently for his blockers, showed a burst, and an energy. With Shonn Greene out Sunday night due to a skin infection and Joe McKnight dealing with the concussion received against the Texans, the bulk of the work against the Bengals will be handed to Ladainian Tomlinson, and Powell.

Powell had eleven touchdowns and a combined 5.6 yards average from the line of scrimmage as a senior at Louisville. Those numbers somewhat mirror the eight touchdown, 6.2 rushing yards per carry accomplishments that McKnight, also battling for the number three job, achieved during his senior year at USC.

At this time last year, McKnight was in the doghouse. A fumbling, vomiting rookie who was unsure of himself. This year, especially after his 158 yard performance against the Bills in the final week heading into camp, McKnight began camp as third on the depth chart. With the upside potential to receive more work provided that he could turn his speed and solid hands into chunks of yardage. McKnight still may be that weapon for Gang Green.

This Sunday night however, is Powell’s chance to show the Jets what he can be, as he gets work against the Bengals first team defense. A solid night from the Jets fourth round selection in this year’s NFL draft will create an interesting backfield drama as training camp heads into the latter stages.

Thoughts On Jets vs. Texans: Depth Concerns Remain

A look back at the Jets opening pre-season game, a 20-16 loss to the Houston Texans —

Mark Sanchez was an efficient 6/7 for 43 yards. His only incompletion was on a drop from Matthew Mulligan (teaching Sanchez a valuable lesson, to avoid throwing to a backup blocking tight end). The Jets didn’t take many risks with him, which was probably a smart thing since their offensive line was getting beat like a drum, including Sanchez being sacked twice before he even had a chance to finish his drop. Sanchez got both Santonio Holmes and Derrick Mason involved with a few catches each, although he didn’t target Dustin Keller at all.

Shonn Greene looked very good, and crisp with 5 caries for 32 yards despite the “starting” offensive line struggling in pass protection. The main story coming out of this game on the offensive side of the football will be the concern about depth on the line. Rob Turner left with what appeared to be a relatively serious ankle injury and Vladimir Ducasse was beat twice for sacks, including one that resulted in a fumble and one that resulted in an injury (Turner). Those are the Jets top two backups and they currently have nothing but practice squad fodder behind them.

On defense, the starting unit held Houston to only 24 yards. Bart Scott left after the first play with a rolled ankle but appeared to be fine. Josh Mauga filled in admirably with a tackle for a loss and then a sack the following play. He also had an interception later in the game, taking a major step to solidify himself as a top backup linebacker on the roster. Kyle Wilson had a nice play on a third down to force Houston off the field but beyond that it was just another efficient night in the office for the Jets defense. Eric Smith did get beat by Owen Daniels in what could have been a big play if Matt Schaub was more accurate, which was somewhat concerning. I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing more and more Brodney Pool on passing downs.

The second unit had their struggles initially, going against Matt Leinart of all people. They were continually fooled on the play-action bootleg and didn’t generate much pressure. I would have liked to see more out of Jamaal Westerman and some of the other reserve outside linebackers. Later in the game, Kenrick Ellis was very active and batted a pass up in the air which was intercepted. Marcus Dixon and Ropati Pitoitua also got a good push up front throughout the night, showing that the Jets defensive line depth could be better than expected. The backup corners and safeties were inconsistent and didn’t make as many plays on the ball as you’d like to see.

Similarly on offense, the backups started slowly but picked it up as the game went on. Greg McElroy showed a lot tonight by bouncing back from an ugly first few first series to put together an impressive overall night (22/39, 186 yards, 1 TD) even though he couldn’t finish the final drive to give the Jets a win. He stood in the pocket all night and was beat up behind a makeshift offensive line but kept putting the ball up down the field, even though his arm strength isn’t the greatest he could develop into this team’s long term backup.

Jeff Cumberland had a terrific night with 6 receptions for 77 yards. He is a big target, with soft hands and very good speed for a tight end. Brian Schottenheimer needs to find a way to involve him in some packages with the first unit. Patrick Turner used his size to catch a touchdown in the red-zone and provides potential Plaxico insurance. Jeremy Kerley didn’t have the monster night everyone expected but was still good after the catch and on returns.

Both Joe McKnight and Bilal Powell were productive. Powell was particularly impressive on a 19 yard reception out of the backfield. He showed good burst and a natural ability to run north and south.

Overall, it was about what you would expect out of a first pre-season game. The Jets have their home opener this Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.