Jets 27, Cowboys 24: Teachable Moments from Sunday Night Football

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Jets 27, Cowboys 24: Teachable Moments from Sunday Night Football
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

So, now that the dust has settled on Sunday night’s epic showdown, what have we learned?   Actually, a lot.  First of all, that was a textbook lesson in playing 60 minutes of football.  That game was up for grabs until the very end.  For the entire Jets team, there is plenty to review and learn from the tape of this game.  

Let’s get to it.

 

Offense

 This will be a good game for the offensive line to study for several reasons.  Obviously, offensive tackle Wayne Hunter got smoked.  That has to get fixed or quarterback Mark Sanchez won’t last the season.  Bill Callahan?  Step right up.  That’s the most obvious and glaring issue, but I think there is a lot to learn here on another front. 

I cannot recall a Jets game in the Rex Ryan era that has been so pass heavy.  My initial calculations put it at about 70/30 pass/run.  Turns out that wasn’t far off from the actual stats of 67 percent pass to 33 percent run. 

This tape has a lot for the offensive line to watch and work on in their blocking.  Blocking for the pass is different than blocking for the run.  I’m not sure that the offensive line has ever had this much valuable game tape on Sanchez trying to operate the passing game under such extreme and extended duress.   Typically in the past, with that kind of heavy pass rush, they’d switch to the run.  However, whether by design or default, the run game just didn’t have a lot of oomph.  So, up in the air it was. 

Ideally, the entire offense could watch the tape together.  It will help the line to see what was happening behind them and what Sanchez's tendencies are when things break down.  This should allow them to anticipate situational blocks for the future.  Likewise, they’ll be able to see what Sanchez is looking for downfield and help hold key blocks for him while he goes through his reads. 

Pass blocking is buying time.  Run blocking is opening up lanes.  This could pay tremendous dividends down the road, especially the next time they see a DeMarcus Ware type—say, for instance, in the person of Ray Lewis in a couple of weeks. 

Actually, Sanchez’s expression in those first few series when Ware was just bringing it reminded me so much of the first time he faced Lewis his rookie year—skittish, jumpy, awful footwork.  I can’t blame him.  He knew he was going to get hit.  Hard. 

Elsa/Getty Images

I think Sanchez acquitted himself very well given the circumstances, except for the two turnovers. 

I’m not that upset about the pick.  Give credit to linebacker Sean Lee for a great play, but Sanchez needs to be reminded over and over to not lock eyes on his receivers.  Lee read him like a book and Sanchez never even saw him. 

(By the way, how great are those Madden 12/EA commercials?  I think it’s Ben Affleck doing the voice over—”Look at that guy!”  The Jets one is laugh out loud funny.  But not so much when right after the commercial aired, Sanchez turned it over for what ended up basically being a real pick six to the house.  Art imitating life, I guess.  Or commerce.  Or something.) 

Anyway, where was I? 

Oh yes, turnovers.  Much worse was the sack fumble.  That was a 2009 rookie mistake flashback.  Once the pocket breaks down and you start to scramble, ball security becomes paramount.  Two. Hands. On the ball.  There is no time like the present to get back to fundamentals.   I know Sanchez hates giving up on plays, but sometimes you just have to live to play another down.

Mr. Sanchez, please learn from Tom Moore’s greatest pupil.  When the heavy rush is coming and you know you’re in trouble, take the sack—but do it your way.  Get down on the ground and curl up around the ball.  Who cares if you look like an idiot?  It’s 1,000 times preferable to being pile driven into the turf by some 300-pound linebacker.  You play the most important and hardest-to-replace position on the team (well, you could make a case for cornerback Darrelle Revis). 

Please stop trying to be a hero and take care of your body.  So what if you lose some yards?  So what if you have to punt?  It’s infinitely better than the alternative: you limping off to the sidelines in agony.

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Look, I give Sanchez a ton of credit for just hanging in there Sunday.  He made some good things happen and I loved it when they went no huddle.  For a brief moment, I saw flashes of the offensive brilliance he displayed in his Rose Bowl triumph over Penn State.  The handcuffs are off.    

What I wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall when consultant Moore goes over this game tape with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.  Moore’s fingerprints are all over this revamped offense.  I love it.  If the Jets had gone with their traditional run-first game plan, they would never have been in this game.  Dallas was stuffing the run (everybody knows it’s coming with Rex Ryan) and too much valuable clock would have been burned.  They could never have scored the points they needed to come back.  Seventeen unanswered in the second half is pretty impressive, even if it did get ugly at times.

 

Receivers

One of the best things that both Dustin Keller and LaDainian Tomlinson do is they know to work back to Sanchez when he gets in trouble and starts scrambling.  They are very quarterback friendly and seem to have a sixth sense for when Sanchez is looking for an emergency outlet.  Santonio Holmes got the hang of it late last year, although he tends to stay a little farther downfield and keep working to stay open in the event Sanchez wants to go long. 

This will be great film for Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason to review with Sanchez and Schottenheimer.  It’s kind of hard to simulate in practice the urgency and uncertainty that happens when plays breakdown in the face of the heavy pass rush.  Nobody can hit Sanchez in practice, but he was running for his life on a lot of plays on Sunday.  Both sides need to communicate what their thinking was and what they were seeing on the field.  This is another example that could pay off tremendously in the future.  

There is a lot to chew over here. 

Elsa/Getty Images

Defense

Isn’t it great to see safety Jim Leonhard back on the field?  I have always loved his terrific hustle.  I know Rex Ryan is mad because the defense gave up so much yardage, but boneheaded Tony Romo plays or not, Dallas can play some offense—great playmaking throughout and the play call at the end by defensive coordinator Mike Pettine that set Revis up for the pick was genius.  

What lack of OTAs and minicamp?

Coaches

I don’t know why some people in the NFL think the shotgun is some kind of second-class formation.  On Sunday it gave your battered QB physical and psychological breathing room.  Plus, it has the added benefit of being able to utilize your tight ends and running backs as additional blockers if you need to.  It buys your QB a little additional time.  Forget this “every snap has to be from under center” stuff.  If it’s not working, switch to the shotgun.  I like how the coaches weren’t afraid to do it. 

However, you did let Dallas dictate the tempo on the opening drive.  Please try to address that because it won’t be long before you are facing Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and the new super up-tempo Pats offense, if Monday night was any indication. 

After that first Dallas drive though, I think things got much more under control.  Over all, the Jets coaches did a good job being flexible and adapting to what Dallas was giving them. 

And what about special teams coach Mike Westhoff’s unit?  That blocked punt was brilliantly executed—what San Diego wouldn’t give for a coach of that  caliber!

In an unbelievably emotional night, the Jets demonstrated they could hold it together and that no game is out of reach until the clock ticks down to zeroes.  True, it was nail-biting at times, but what an opening statement. 

Most importantly for the coaches this week, is to instill the mindset that the Jets cannot look past Jacksonville.  Get rest and treatment, work on the issues from this game and get ready to play a smart, mistake-free match against the Jaguars. 

I promise you, they will not be looking past the Jets.

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