We're going to kick off today's analysis with some things you might not have noticed from yesterday's game:
The Pure Shank Redemption
We all should have known it would be a long day when the Jets' first drive ended in a three-and-out and Braden Mann's punt was shanked out of bounds so New England's opening possession began in Jets' territory.
While New England didn't score, it was a reminder of how strange things happen when the Jets play the Patriots and you can never seem to rely upon those things you usually can.
Why would a usually reliable punter suddenly randomly shank a punt 22 yards off the side of his foot and why does this always seem to happen against New England, in the one game where you know you need to avoid any uncharacteristic mistakes?
But this must just be a perception thing, though, right? Something that has happened a few times over the years against this team that just stuck in the memory as one of those things that always happens. Or is it?
After all, shanks do happen randomly. Mann himself showed this in week one when he had a 20-yard punt against the Ravens. However, it does seem that when it happens to a Jets' punter, it's more often than not the Patriots that seem to be the ones to benefit.
So, let's look at how often Jets punters have shanked punts against New England over the years and how this measures up against what could normally be expected.
First of all, how do we define a shank? Let's keep it simple and just go with any punt that is 30 yards or less.
Since the start of the 2006 season in games against New England (35 games, including two in the postseason), the Jets have had 14 punts of 30 yards or less.
Now, to get some idea of how many shanks you might ordinarily expect, let's consider every NFL game that Braden Mann has played against a non-Patriots opponent in. In 31 games, he's had seven punts of 30 yards or less. (One of these was actually a blocked punt that rolled past the line of scrimmage so it was officially a six-yard punt though, so really it's six).
So, it seems to be approximately twice as likely to happen against New England. If we instead look at punts of 25 yards or less, it's seven in 37 games against New England, but only three (not including the deflected six-yarder) in 31 non-New England games for Mann.
And sure, maybe not all of those punts were actually shanks. If we eliminate punts that landed inside the 20 on the basis that these were misjudged directional kicks rather than pure shanks, the gap reduces to 9-5 in terms of 30 yards or less...but 6-2 in terms of 25 yards or less.
That's an inexact science anyway. If you use these rules a 21-yard punt from the 40 yard line is not a shank but a 29-yard punt from the 50 is and that doesn't make a lot of sense, but we mention it for completeness.
Looking back over this list, there's some blasts from the past:
- Robert Malone had a 21 yard punt against New England after which he got cut and never played in an NFL game again;
- Steve Weatherford had an 18 yard punt in a playoff game and a 12 yard punt in a regular season game against them; and
- Ben Graham had six punts of less than 30 yards against them, albeit that three of these landed inside the 20. These included a 10-yard punt and a zero-yard punt and again he was cut immediately after one of these.
In any case, the evidence does seem to suggest that this is something that happens more against New England than other opponents. Conspiracy theorists might put this down to ball-tampering or some kind of magnet-induced cheating technique, while a pragmatic analyst could consider that New England gets better pressure on punts than other teams or something. (Anecdotally, that didn't seem to be a relevant factor on most of these though).
The most obvious explanation is that these games are always tense from the Jets' standpoint with a team-wide focus on not being the one to make a mistake and it's human nature for a player to get tight and choke under such conditions.
That's boring though, so we'll just assume you probably didn't read this section properly anyway and bold this part which isn't actually true: We have established conclusive proof that Bill Belichick has been cheating on Jets punts for the past 15 or so years.
Interesting and thought-provoking stuff.
One unique aspect of yesterday's game was that the Jets racked up six sacks by six different defensive linemen. When was the last time six different defensive linemen had at least one sack in a game for the Jets? Never. It's never happened. (Not since the sack became an official statistic, anyway).
Taking it one step further, how rare is it for six different players to record at least one sack? It looks like this has happened twice:
In 2013, the Jets beat the Bills 27-20 on Geno Smith's late touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes. In this game, seven different Jets had at least one sack. However, only two or three of these (depending on whether you count Calvin Pace as one or not) were defensive linemen. This emphasizes Rex Ryan's penchant for the blitz. However, although they apparently blitzed 14 times that day, seven of their eight sacks came when they didn't blitz. This was likely a quirk of the blitz compilation system which would not regard a four man rush as a blitz if you sent two extra guys but also dropped two linemen.
In 2000, the Jets beat New England 34-17 and this was the only other time six different players had a sack. Again, though, it wasn't six linemen as Mo Lewis and Bryan Cox had one each.
Six sacks is good, but seven would have been better. In fact, the Jets are almost unbeatable when they record seven sacks. They've lost just three times when they have, including just once in the last 51 years. (That one loss, a 23-22 opening day loss to Cincinnati in the first game of Todd Bowles' second year as head coach).
Another remarkable stat: The Jets are 9-0 in franchise history when registering eight sacks or more. Six of these games were in 1981 (the sack exchange year), though.
What a steaming pile of snap
Some nuggets from this week's snap count data:
- The Jets used just three personnel packages on Sunday: Nickel (59 snaps), base (13 snaps) and dime (six snaps).
- Carl Lawson only had 41 snaps this week, his lowest since week four. He may have been banged-up at one point.
- The main person benefitting from Lawson losing snaps is Vinny Curry, whose usage continues to creep up. He had 27 snaps and other than the starters was the only defensive end with more than 20. Is his role going to continue to increase or are they working him hard to keep other players fresh because he'll be inactive when Jermaine Johnson returns?
- One trend that was reversed this week was at the tight end position. CJ Uzomah's playing time had been increasing every week and Tyler Conklin's was reducing, to the point that Uzomah had been outsnapping him for the past two weeks. This week, Conklin outsnapped him 44-37 and responded with a big day (six catches, 79 yards and a touchdown). For his own part, Uzomah also had his biggest catch of the season on a 27-yarder.
- Finally, Elijah Moore played just 10 snaps. Jeff Smith had 13, Braxton Berrios 30 and Denzel Mims 44. Read into that what you will.
Le Hits Now
All aspects of Zach Wilson's performance will be analyzed and dissected this week after he threw three of the worst interceptions he's ever had, but also racked up a career high 355 passing yards, set a career-mark for yards per completion (17.8) and completed 20 passes for just the fourth time in his career.
We wanted to focus on one specific factor, though, which is closely tied to his most obvious problem. Wilson is constantly flushed from the pocket, dropping back 15-20 yards and then having to throw the ball away. In fact one of his interceptions was an attempted throw-away and the other two were in situations where he perhaps should have done that.
As we know, Wilson came back from knee surgery in week four and won four starts in a row heading into yesterday's game. However, has concern over the possibility of potentially losing him to injury again influenced the way he's playing?
In his return against the Steelers, Wilson was sacked once and hit five times. On the first four of those five, he threw incomplete, but on the other, he completed this pass to Ace Carter to help set up the game-winning touchdown:
After that game, you can imagine that either the Jets said to Wilson that they would like him to take fewer hits, or that Wilson himself decided he didn't want to take as many hits. Whether or not this conversation happened, things changed from then onwards.
Wilson has been sacked nine times in the past four games, including yesterday's. However, he's only been hit two other times. (And, for the record, he threw incomplete on both so that Carter catch above is the only time he's completed a pass when taking a hit in the five games so far).
It's easy to see how Wilson has avoided being hit - he's rolling away from pressure, running backwards and fading away from contact, often just so he can launch the ball out of bounds. However, there's no sign he's willing to sit in the pocket and take a hit as he gets a throw off (or even risk this possibility).
Only two hits doesn't sound like much, but when you compare it with all the quarterbacks facing the Jets, the disparity is emphasized even further. In the five games Wilson has started, they've recorded 16 sacks but they've hit the opposing quarterback as he threw 31 times. Opposing quarterbacks are sitting in the pocket and taking hits as they throw, but Wilson is either unprepared to do this, or has been told not to.
Keeping Wilson healthy is obviously important, but let's not forget that his surgery was due to a non-contact injury. Right now, as soon as someone breathes on Wilson, he's vacating the pocket and isn't seeing the field well enough to find anyone on a scramble drill and even if he does, he often has his momentum going backwards or laterally and this means he's constantly unable to set his feet and deliver the ball accurately.
Many Jets fans will tell you Wilson can never be redeemed and they should pull the plug now, whereas Robert Saleh would probably double down on the comments he made last week about Wilson being close to figuring it out. The reality is obviously somewhere between the two, but right now the pessimistic fan view looks much closer to the truth than Saleh's optimistic defense of his player.
Wilson's future isn't going to be determined in one game, but if they're going to get him trending in the right direction again, they need to do everything they can to maximise his chances of success. While "let him get hit more" might seem like an irrational concept, having him be completely unwilling to risk getting hit has hamstrung him to the point of near-redundancy.
(And yeah, this week's nuggets contains exactly zero gifs from the game itself...but you didn't want to see any of that again, did you?)
We'll have some more in-depth analysis for you throughout the rest of today and over the next few days, so keep checking back here early and often.