Film review: Downhill from the first play

December, 3, 2013
12/03/13
5:30
PM ET
One last look back at the New York Jets' 23-3 loss to the Miami Dolphins:

The Jets ran 54 plays in the game, and the vast majority were pretty lousy. It would take too long to list all the breakdowns, so we'll start by focusing on one play -- the first one. It ended with a sack, a demoralizing way for a slumping offense to begin a game. Talk about a bad omen. We picked this play because it illustrates many of the ongoing problems on offense.

For a change, coordinator Marty Mornhinweg went into the game with an aggressive approach, looking to throw deep out of the box. Have to like that, right? Unfortunately for the Jets, it all crumbled in less than four seconds, a concern on many levels. Here's what went wrong:

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
AP Photo/Bill KostrounThe Jets beefed up their pass protection Sunday against the Dolphins, and still allowed four sacks.
A. Poor pass protection: QB Geno Smith had three pass rushers in his face -- DE Olivier Vernon (he beat LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson), DT Randy Starks (beat LG Brian Winters) and LB Philip Wheeler (unblocked).

B. Miscommunication: FB Tommy Bohanon chipped Wheeler before running a pass route into the left flat. After absorbing the block, Wheeler proceeded on his merry way, straight up the middle. No one picked him up. With a six-man protection, that shouldn't have been an issue, especially against a five-man rush. RB Bilal Powell, too, leaked out of the backfield. It's possible he was supposed to stay home to block.

C. Wrong receiver: The coaches knew Santonio Holmes wasn't 100 percent because of a balky hamstring, which he aggravated last week in practice, yet they sent him on an 18-yard vertical route on the first play. Clearly, he lacked his usual burst. It would be his final pass route of the day.

D. Bad field vision: Smith looked at Holmes the entire time, never looking to Bohanon, who was wide open in the flat. He didn't have enough time to get the ball to Holmes (3.7 seconds from snap to sack), but he could've thrown it to Bohanon. Instead, he succumbed to the pressure, ducking into the pass rush. Wheeler and Vernon combined for the sack.

One play, so many problems. Welcome to the Jets' offense.

Other takeaways after reviewing the tape ...

1. Geno's second-quarter interception. The Dolphins did a nice job of disguising, and it fooled the rookie quarterback. They put seven at the line of scrimmage, with linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Wheeler lined up in the A gaps. It looked like a double A-gap blitz, but Ellerbe and Wheeler never rushed. The Dolphins rushed five others, including a safety. The Jets blocked it nicely, giving Smith time in the pocket.

In his pre-snap read, Smith noticed Greg Salas uncovered in the slot and a two-deep safety look. He probably thought the Dolphins were in Cover 2, meaning there would be a soft spot in the middle for Salas on a deep seam. Just before the snap, Ellerbe glanced quickly toward Salas, a barely discernible tipping of his intentions. On the snap, the Dolphins rotated out of the Cover 2 look, leaving Ellerbe in man-to-man coverage with Salas, with a safety over the top. The 245-pound linebacker ran stride-for-stride with Salas, giving Smith no window for a pass. He threw it anyway -- his last pass of the day, as it turned out.

This was a well-executed play by the Miami defense, a great individual effort by Ellerbe and a poor decision by Smith.

2. Live and die by the blitz: The Jets' best defensive play came on a blitz. Their worst play came on a blitz.

In the second quarter, they rushed six, including safeties Ed Reed and Dawan Landry. DE Muhammad Wilkerson beat his man and clobbered QB Ryan Tannehill as he released the ball, forcing a bloop pass in the direction of Mike Wallace. CB Antonio Cromartie boxed him out, basketball-style, and made a nice interception.

In the third quarter, Rex Ryan decided to get aggressive on a second-and-8 on the Jets' 28-yard line, sending seven rushers. That included linebackers David Harris and Demario Davis, who came on a double A-gap blitz. The Jets played zero coverage, meaning no deep safety. It was man-to-man coverage across the board. This time, the Dolphins blocked it and Tannehill calmly tossed a short pass to Wallace, who broke a feeble tackle attempt by cornerback Dee Milliner and raced to the end zone.

3. Serious problem at left guard: Winters continued to struggle in pass protection; the rookie was involved in three of the four sacks. He didn't surrender the sack on the Jets' first play, but he allowed pressure that factored into the play. Later, he was responsible for two sacks by Vernon. Clearly, the Dolphins targeted Winters, lining up Vernon over him on some occasions.

4. Looking for Ed: Reed has received a lot of criticism for his performance, and deservedly so. The play that drew the most attention was his missed tackle on Brian Hartline's 31-yard touchdown -- one of the few plays in which Reed was near the ball. For the most part, Reed appeared reluctant to engage in contact. Look, we all know he's not going to the Hall of Fame because of his tackling ability -- he's no Ronnie Lott -- but at least make an effort. I watched every play on the All-22 tape, and I noticed only two plays in which he was involved in hard contact, both on runs by Lamar Miller.

5. Added security: Trying to beef up the pass protection, the Jets used more six-, seven- and eight-man protections than usual -- and they still allowed four sacks, which is alarming. The downside to the strategy is that, even when the quarterback has time, he has fewer options. When a receiver gets open, you have to hit him. Smith wasted a great opportunity on the first series, overthrowing a wide-open David Nelson. It was a seven-man protection, affording Smith all the time he needed to make at least a 30-yard play.

6. Rex tweaks defense: Burned by too many long balls, Ryan took a more conservative approach in the secondary, using more two-deep looks than usual. Tannehill wasn't able to throw any balls over the top, but he found soft spots with passes over the short middle. It also probably explains why the Dolphins ran for 125 yards.

7. Odds and ends: It was a rough day for Davis, who missed a tackle on Hartline's touchdown and allowed six completions (seven targets) for 83 yards, according to ProFootballFocus.com ... RT Austin Howard played well against DE Cameron Wake, who was held to no sacks and one solo tackle. ... It went unnoticed because it happened on a sack play, but RB Chris Ivory rag-dolled Wake while pass-blocking. ... The Jets' best chance to score a touchdown turned into a disaster. On a third down from the 2, Ivory had no chance against a nine-man box. Next, Ryan made a bad decision, opting for a field goal. Down 13-0 late in the third quarter, they needed seven points, not three.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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