ReFo: Jets @ Panthers, Week 15
Playoff hopes were on the line as the New York Jets took their outside postseason chances to Carolina to take on the Panthers who are in the midst of a heated division and wild card battle in the NFC. The Jets are technically still alive in the mediocre AFC though losing to 30-20 yesterday didn’t help matters. Carolina bounced back from their division loss to the New Orleans Saints last week and they’ll get a chance at revenge next week in the rematch that will break the tie atop the NFC South.
As for the game, it was rather evenly matched with a handful of big plays sticking out to make the difference. Running back DeAngelo Williams caught a 72-yard screen pass late in the second quarter to put the Panthers up 13-6. The Jets battled back to within three points at 16-13 early in the fourth when a blocked punt proved to be the turning point in the game. The Panthers recovered deep in Jets territory and tacked on another touchdown to go up 23-13. The final nail was Jets quarterback Geno Smith’s poor throw and resulting pick-6 by cornerback Captain Munnerlyn that put the Panthers up 30-13 to seal the deal in the middle of the fourth quarter.
Here’s a look at the other key performances that shaped this game.
New York – Three Performances of Note
Defensive Line Stout Again
A week doesn’t go by that the Jets’ defensive line isn’t garnering praise and this week was no different. Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson pulled the highest grade this week at +3.6, due mostly to his +4.5 work against the run. He was constantly in the backfield and if it weren’t for two plays he couldn’t finish due to missed tackles, his grade would have been even higher. His play at the 12:24 mark of the first quarter set the tone for his afternoon as he knifed past center Ryan Kalil, tossed tight end Greg Olsen to the ground and made the tackle for loss in the backfield. His fellow starters graded in the green as well as nose tackle Damon Harrison continued his stellar season at +1.7 while rookie DE Sheldon Richardson graded at +1.8. As has been the case for much of the year, the trio was rarely moved in the running game and they shed blocks to make plays throughout the afternoon.
While the defensive line continued their strong play, the Jets did not get great support from inside linebackers David Harris (-2.4) and Demario Davis (-3.3). Despite leading the team with four stops, Harris was handled at the second level by Carolina offensive linemen throughout the game. He was also charged with coverage on Williams’ 72-yard touchdown, though he was only partially to blame on the play. A combination of great play call timing, Harris’ inability to get off left guard Travelle Wharton’s screen block, and strong downfield blocking from the Panthers all paved the way for the big play. Davis had tackling issues in the running game as he missed two on the day, and he was also the victim of a Wharton screen block that sent him to the ground. Like Harris, Davis was sealed out of a number or running plays as his -2.5 was the team’s worst on Sunday. The inside linebackers were unable to take advantage of the defensive line’s strong play up front.
Pressure Coming off the Edge
The Panthers brought an aggressive defensive game plan as they blitzed the Jets on 17 of 36 dropbacks, including Munnerlyn seven times from slot cornerback. He came away with two sacks and three hurries on his few attempts as the Jets had few answers for the Panthers’ blitz. Linebacker Luke Kuechly came away with an unblocked sack of his own as the Panthers continued to overload the Jets’ protection schemes. As for the individual battles, both starting offensive tackles had some issues as LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson graded at -1.5 in pass protection while RT Austin Howard graded at -1.6. Ferguson gave up four hurries on the Jets’ 37 drop-backs while Howard gave up two hits and two hurries. Both players had their issues with DE Greg Hardy who had success on matter where he lined up. Whether it was Munnerlyn and Kuechly blitzing or simply Ferguson and Howard getting beat, quarterback Geno Smith was under heat for much of the afternoon.
Carolina– Three Performances of Note
Hardy Controls Both Sides
Of course Hardy has to get a mention as the Panthers’ top-graded player showed well as a pass rusher against both Ferguson and Howard. He finished at +3.5 for the day including +3.9 as a rusher, picking up a sack, four hits, and two hurries on 29 attempts. Hardy made his presence felt on the Jets’ last touchdown drive, first beating Howard to the outside to help force the incompletion at the 6:39 mark of the fourth quarter and it was more of the same a few plays later as he got outside Howard once again to put Smith on the ground. Hardy’s lone sack came against LG Brian Winters as he got inside him at the 1:08 mark of the first. Hardy was the clear star of the Panthers defense.
Rookie Struggles at CB
It’s been a rough few weeks for rookie cornerback Melvin White who has now graded negatively in five of his last six games. His struggles continued Sunday as he graded at -3.4 including -2.3 in coverage. Though the raw numbers show otherwise – he was charged with two receptions on five targets for only 14 yards – the coverage grade stems largely from getting beat but benefitting from missed throws and dropped passes. He was beaten by WR Santonio Holmes at the 10:00 mark of the first quarter but Holmes dropped the ball and White should have been the culprit on a Holmes touchdown with 4:45 to go in the game, but a miscommunication between Smith and Holmes led to another incompletion. White was also guilty of an end zone defensive pass interference against Holmes and he also got called for illegal hands to the face late in the fourth. So while the coverage numbers look great, it wasn’t a great day for White.
Big plays were the name of the game for Carolina, led by Williams’ big day as a receiver and as a runner. As mentioned, the screen pass had a number of factors working in Carolina’s favor, but Williams showed the burst to make it work. On the ground, he picked up 81 yards on 15 carries including a season-high six forced missed tackles. In addition to Williams, the Panthers got big plays out of tight end Greg Olsen (+2.8 in the passing game), though his -4.9 grade in the running game left a lot to be desired. He caught five of his eight targets for 88 yards, all of which went for first downs. Also making the most of his targets was WR Brandon LaFell who converted all three passes thrown his way into first downs, including a beautiful catch down the seam with 8:04 to go in the first quarter. It was an efficient, well-balanced day for the Panthers’ offense.
– Geno Smith was pressured on 20 of his 36 drop-backs going 4-for-13 for 60 yards and four sacks.
– The Jets finished with nine missed tackles on the day while the Panthers had 10.
– Wharton’s +1.6 grade marks his ninth positive in 10 games since taking over as starter at left guard.
PFF Game Ball
Greg Hardy was a force of both edges and he takes the game ball for his +3.5 overall grade.
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