It has flown under the radar, but right tackle Austin Howard is playing some really good football since the bye. The start of his season was very shaky after his Week 1 domination of Mario Williams. He was only marginally better than Wayne Hunter the first half of the year. In the last five weeks, he has elevated his game.
According to Pro Football Focus, in the last five games he has allowed 2 sacks, 0 hits, and 3 pressures in 154 pass blocking plays. That means he is allowing somebody to impact his quarterback on 3.2% of plays he's pass blocking. That's in the neighborhood you see the best tackles in football. It's a vast improvement on the Hunter-ific 10.7% from the first eight games. It's also impressive because a sizable number of these snaps came in garbage time against New England when the Pats could pin back their ears and go after the quarterback, knowing the Jets had to throw.
I've also been quite impressed with the job Howard is doing as a run blocker. When I watched the second half against Jacksonville over, I thought he was the most important lineman in the success the Jets had running the ball. I was surprised by his mobility. The Jets pulled him pretty frequently, and he was able to deliver the key block on a number of good gains on the ground. Howard's 6'7" 333 pound frame made him something of a mauler in the run game in the first half also.
It's good to see Howard come into his own. Does this mean the Jets should feel good about him at right tackle heading into next season? I would have serious reservations. A nice stretch doesn't necessarily mean Howard is developing into a starting level player who can maintain a high level for sixteen games. Maybe the young guy is putting it all together. Let's say he is. We have been talking about offensive line depth for two years. If the Jets get a top flight right tackle in free agency or the Draft, Howard can become a cheap, experienced, quality backup. That's a really good thing.
Austin's emergence shows what is so frustrating about this organization. If Mike Tannenbaum, Rex Ryan, Tony Sparano, and Dave DeGuglielmo had been honest in the offseason and not tried to tell us Wayne Hunter was capable, maybe we would know more. An entire offseason of work with the first team might have helped Howard early this year and we would know more about how capable Howard is as a starter. They do deserve credit for finding him and helping him get to this point, but you can't help but wonder how different things might have been had they realized what they had instead of turning to Howard out of desperation at the last minute.