ReFo: Saints @ Jets, Week 9
Future opponents might want to check their schedule to see which version of the New York Jets they’re expected to get. The New Orleans Saints fell right into their “odd-week” trap as the Jets continued their win-one, lose-one streak with a 26-20 victory. A week removed from getting blown out at the hands on the Cincinnati Bengals, New York proved resilient once again, marking the fourth straight time they’ve won a game following a loss. They did it in old-school Jets fashion with a strong running game and pressure on defense, combined with timely turnovers. The big question, of course, is whether or not they can notch their first winning streak of the season, or else it just feels inevitable that they’re destined for a 9-7 mark by the end of the year.
On the other side, the Saints took a step back in their power ranking ascent, showing some weaknesses despite starting to garner attention as one of the league’s best teams. They didn’t get many favorable bounces in the turnover department, but they have only themselves to blame for a sloppy defensive effort that featured a number of uncharacteristic blown assignments and missed tackles. They still sit atop the NFC South, but their lead has shrunk to only one game over the surging Carolina Panthers.
Here’s a look at the performances that shaped Sunday’s game.
New Orleans – Three Performances of Note
For all of the talk about defensive coordinator Rob Ryan coming in and fixing the defense, there’s one glaring differences from a year ago — tackling. The Saints came into the game averaging only 4.1 missed tackles per game, compared to 8.0 missed tackles per game in 2012. It may not sound like much, but those missed plays add up, particularly if the running back goes for an extra 51 yards as Chris Ivory did after Curtis Lofton’s missed tackle at the 14:57 mark of the second quarter. The Saints missed 12 tackles on the day compared to only 29 coming into the game, so the difference was quite noticeable. Lofton was the biggest culprit with three misses as he’s now up to 14 on the season to lead all inside linebackers (at least for now while other games are being tallied). He has over 33% of the Saints’ missed tackles on the season. Defensive end Cameron Jordan picked up his first two missed tackles of the season, including a whiff on a sack, while LB David Hawthorne added two of his own. After a fundamentally sound first half of the season, the Saints reverted back to 2012 form and it proved costly.
Poor Angles from Bush
In addition to the missed tackles, free safety Rafael Bush’s poor angles were a big reason for the Jets’ 198 yards on the ground. After Lofton missed the tackle on Ivory’s 52-yard run at the beginning of the second quarter, Bush failed to get on top of the play, and instead found himself in catch-up mode before getting bailed out by fellow safety Kenny Vaccaro who tracked down Ivory and may have saved a 98-yard touchdown run. It was more of the same with 17 seconds to go in the third quarter as Bush’s flat path toward the line of scrimmage made for an easy run for Ivory to get to the outside, though this time Bush was able to track him down after the 30-yard gain. When we see nearly 200 yards on the ground, it’s easy to assume that the offensive line dominated up front throughout the afternoon, but, as is often the case, a couple of bad plays can do serious damage, and that’s why Bush’s biggest missteps cost the Saints nearly 80 of those yards. Bush finished with a -2.2 grade against the run.
Brees to Graham
With the Saints’ offense banged up, it was clear that quarterback Drew Brees had to rely on tight end Jimmy Graham, and the combination helped the Saints get out to a 14-6 lead in the first half. Graham got past FS Jaiquawn Jarrett with 2:56 to go in the first and Brees used some nifty pocket maneuvering to clear his throwing lane to get the ball over the top for the 51-yard touchdown. The duo hooked up again in the second quarter as Brees hit Graham on the out route in the end zone despite fairly tight coverage from CB Antonio Cromartie. Both plays were perfect examples of the matchup problems created by Graham. When matched up with a safety, he was able to run right past him, while the cornerback matchup saw Graham use his massive frame to overpower and secure the touchdown. He finished with nine catches for 116 yards and a +2.1 grade in the passing game.
New York – Three Performances of Note
Perhaps “revenge” is a bit strong, but Ivory certainly got the best of his old teammates. He finished with 139 yards on 18 carries, including 100 yards after contact, while forcing six missed tackles. He did most of his damage on the five carries that saw him get to the edge of the defense as that’s where he picked up 94 of his yards. The aforementioned run with 14:57 to go in the second was blocked fairly well, but it was Ivory who made it happen by bouncing off Lofton’s tackle and outrunning Bush’s angle for the 52-yard gain. While that was his longest run of the day, it may have been his first big gainer that set the tone at the 7:34 mark of the first. He hit the hole, made Hawthorne miss, and dragged cornerback Keenan Lewis for an extra 10 yards once he reached the secondary. When you add it all up, it was easily Ivory’s best game for the Jets and he chose the perfect weak to break out with his former team in town.
New York’s defensive front has carried them all season, and Sunday’s game was no different. In addition to their usual strong work against the run, they got after QB Drew Brees, pressuring him on 19 of his 53 drop-backs. While the raw numbers don’t jump off the page, it was the timely nature of the pressure as the Jets continued to step up at just the right times. Whether it was the suffocating back-to-back sacks from DE Muhammad Wilkerson and OLB Calvin Pace with 3:56 to go in the third quarter or the last two passes of the game that saw Brees make throws with DT Sheldon Richardson and DE Quinton Coples in his face, the Jets made good use of their pass rush all afternoon. The results were night and day as Brees completed 24 of 34 for 310 yards and a +2.5 grade from a clean pocket, but when pressured he completed only 6 of 17 for 72 yards, two interceptions, and a -0.4 overall grade. Those pressures proved to be the game-changing plays the Jets needed for the victory. As for the individuals, Wilkerson led the way at +1.9 with a sack, hit, and two hurries on 54 rushes while Coples (+0.2) added three hits and three hurries of his own on his 54 attempts.
As mentioned, looking at raw rushing numbers is not always indicative of offensive line play, particularly Sunday as the big totals came mostly due to New Orleans missed assignments and strong running from Ivory. Rookie left guard Brian Winters had his struggles for the third week in a row as he graded at -3.5 overall including -4.3 in the run game. He completely whiffed on DT Tom Johnson on a QB draw with 12:45 to go in the third quarter, but a nifty move from QB Geno Smith saved what could have been a 7-yard loss. Winters had his problems with DT Brodrick Bunkley as well, as he got called for a hold at the 13:41 mark of the fourth quarter and was later tossed to the ground by Bunkley with 3:01 to go in the game. In addition to the plays where he was easily discarded, Winters was stood up at the point of attack a number of times as his struggles in the running game continue.
– Only 4 of QB Geno Smith’s 115 yards came through the air, with 111 yards after the catch. Only three of his eight completions traveled beyond the line of scrimmage.
– Saints WR Nick Toon dropped his only two official targets, though he had a nice first-down catch negated by a penalty. He finished at -2.3 overall on 55 snaps.
– Jets rookie CB Dee Milliner bounced back from a rough Week 8 outing with a career-high +1.0 grade. He deflected two passes, though one was negated by a teammate’s penalty.
PFF Game Ball
Chris Ivory’s hard-nosed running set the tone for the Jets as they got back to their run-first, play defense style of football.
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