Monday, September 10, 2012
Inside the game: Tebow the table setter
By Rich Cimini
A few observations on the game after breaking down the tape:
Tim Tebow didn't have the most productive day on offense, but he served as a set-up man for QB Mark Sanchez. In essence, the trend was this: Run out of the Tebow package, pass with Sanchez. Over and over and over. That's what Tony Sparano showed us in the highly-anticipated debut of the Wildcat.
Let me explain: The first six times Sanchez returned to quarterback after a Tebow play, he passed -- and he passed successfully. In fact, he completed 5 of 6 passes for 66 and two TDs in those situations.
Did Tebow's presence on the previous play have any impact on Sanchez's success? There's no way of knowing. The Jets might have been able to accomplish the same thing with a routine running play with Sanchez at quarterback. They, of course, will say Tebow's presence had an effect on the Bills' defense. Whatever it was, it worked in this game. The next opponent, the Steelers, will go to school on that. Now it'll be up to Sparano to counter.
The Jets ran eight plays with Tebow in shotgun, using four different personnel groupings. They used two RBs and two TEs on most of the plays, but when they got to the red zone, they showed an "11" package -- 1 RB/1 TE/3 WR. That didn't work, as Tebow was stuffed for no gain on his read-option run, and the crowd booed.
Overall, the Wildcat had a subtle impact on the game even though it didn't generate much production, but as I wrote in my game column, I still think there's plenty of potential for controversy.
Another Wildcat note: On Tebow's first play in shotgun, Sanchez split out as a receiver. He was nowhere near the play, but he got rag-dolled by rookie CB Stephon Gilmore. He might catch some grief from teammates in the film room.
HELPING HAND: RT Austin Howard played the game of his life. That's easy to say because it was only the second start of his life. He deserved a lot of credit for shutting down DE Mario Williams, who played more like Mario Batali. But this wasn't a one-man show. RG Brandon Moore, too, played a key role in neutralizing Williams. Our film study shows that Moore provided a double-team on six of 21 drop-back passing plays. The breakdown:
Howard 1-on-1 vs. Williams -- 13 plays
Howard/Moore vs. Williams -- 6 plays
Howard, with help from RB chip block -- 2 plays
By my count, Williams had only QB hit on Sanchez -- and it came after he released a short completion to Jeremy Kerley. Howard handled Williams' bull rush and he showed surprising lateral agility when Williams tried to go from power to speed. The Jets have to be thrilled with Howard -- and the entire O-line. They didn't allow a sack. LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson did a terrific job on DE Mark Anderson, another of the Bills' marquee free-agent additions.
Perhaps the most impressive pass protection came on Sanchez's flea-flicker to Stephen Hill. By my stopwatch, Sanchez had 4.0 seconds to deliver the ball. On that play, it should be noted, recently-acquired Jason Smith blocked Williams and basically stoned him. Smith was used as a jumbo tight end.
WHAT THE HILL: In the preseason, a lot of critics said the Jets blew it by not re-signing WR Braylon Edwards, who was Sanchez's deep threat in 2009 and 2010. (Full disclosure: I was one of them.) It's only one game, but it looks like Sanchez and Hill are developing that kind of rapport.
Sanchez was 2-for-2 with 60 yards and a touchdown when targeting Hill over 20 yards down field, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Sanchez completed just 25.6 percent of passes thrown that distance last year (29th in NFL) with three touchdowns.
As for Hill, this was a command performance by a rookie who looked shaky at time in the preseason. Get this: He became only the fifth player in the last 25 years to have two receiving TDs in his first NFL game. It last occurred in 2005 (Alex Smith, Bucs). The other three: Anquan Boldin (Cards, 2003), Charles Rogers (Lions, 2003) and Randy Moss (Vikings, 1998). Rogers should serve as a cautionary tale for Hill, who still hasn't arrived.
KERLEY FRIES: I guess Kerley's slightly torn hamstring is okay. Did you see the acceleration he showed on his 68-yard punt return?
There were a couple of key blocks as well. Kyle Wilson knocked down the Bills' gunner, which slowed him just enough to allow Kerley to make his initial move. Ellis Lankster also made a nice seal block on the backside. After that, it was all Kerley. At one point, he was virtually surrounded by five would-be tacklers, but he shifted into another gear and blew straight through them for the TD. Impressive.
FOOLING FITZ: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick was confused for most of the day, but there was one play in particular where he was utterly clueless. It came on Antonio Cromartie's interception return for a TD.
The Jets were in a rare Cover-2 look on a first-and-10 from the Bills' 36. Instead of sticking to WR David Nelson in man-to-man, Cromartie dropped off him and became a "squat" corner in zone coverage. Fitzpatrick misread the play completely and served up a gift to Cromartie. It was a nice change-of-pace call by the Jets.
THE LOW POINT: The defense played a terrific game, forcing four turnovers, but there was one play it would like to have back -- C.J. Spiller's 56-yard TD run in the second quarter. The Jets' D-line got knocked off the ball, especially Marcus Dixon. Mike DeVito, playing the nose, was double-teamed. Rookie Quinton Coples couldn't get off his block, allowing Spiller to dart through his gap. Downfield, S LaRon Landry and LB Bart Scott missed tackles, resulting in the score.
Spiller finished with 169 yards, the most by a Bills player in a season opener since 1975. Try to name the player who did it in '75. I'll provide a clue with some initials -- O.J.