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Jets 7 Cardinals 6: Defense Dominates; McElroy Does Enough

Jets win to go 5-7.


The Jets are 5-7 after a 7-6 victory over the equally hapless Cardinals today in the Meadowlands. The offenses were actually worse than the score would indicate. Arizona's two field goals were set up by a 40 yard run on a fake punt and a Jets fumble in their own territory. It was a game that offended anybody who enjoys watching functional offenses. It was also a game that signaled the end of an era for a certain first round Jets quarterback and perhaps the beginning of a new era for an unheralded quarterback from Alabama. Join me below as we break down this win.

The Good:

Rex Ryan: I almost hesitated to put Rex here because a number of the moves he made were long overdue and have come too late to make a difference in the season. At the end of the day, however, Rex should get kudos for this game if he is going to be criticized for the season on the whole. The difference in the game was one coach putting an inept quarterback on the bench where he belonged while another stood by an inept quarterback. The Jets don't win this game if Rex stands by Mark Sanchez. The Cardinals probably win this game if Ken Whisenhunt pulls Ryan Lindley for John Skelton. It was the case that simply making a change at quarterback was more important than the player who replaced Sanchez. The Jets played much more inspired on both sides of the ball. Defenders flied to the football. The offensive line was more punishing with its blocks. The backs finished their runs. The receivers were more focused. Maybe this was because the players finally saw somebody held accountable and realized they could be the next to head to the bench. Maybe it was because they were fired up because they do not believe in Sanchez. We may never know, but the move lit a fire under this team.

Rex's game plan on defense was just what it needed to be. He needed to attack and mix things up with exotic looks against a young quarterback who seemed flustered by vanilla schemes. Lindley didn't understand the fronts the Jets threw at him. He was guessing which coverages the Jets were playing. The Jets have been a bit of a bully team the last two years. They have struggled in the big games, but they still know how to eat bad, inexperienced quarterbacks for lunch.

Finally, it was great to see the Jets finally change how they used their running backs. We saw a bigger helping of Bilal Powell early. Powell is a more complete back than Shonn Greene and has more moves to gain yardage when the defense is fresh. Then the Jets used the hard-charging Greene as the hammer as the defense got tired late in the game. Again, this is overdue. But if Rex gets criticized in the context of the entire year for making this change too late, he gets credit for making it if we are strictly talking about this game.

Greg McElroy: We did not see the Jets ask McElroy to do very much. With the way the defense and the run game were working, he did not have to. All things considered, McElroy probably didn't think there was any way he was going to get into the game when he arrived at MetLife Stadium today. He was lacking in practice and game reps. There were things to like and nothing to dislike.

His arm strength surprised me. It got much better from preseason 2011. Rex Ryan commented on it in his postgame interview. There was zip on Greg's ball. He hit Stephen Hill on a big completion to extend the touchdown drive and then made a beautiful back shoulder throw to Jeremy Kerley to extend the drive that iced the game. Aside from that, he was given very simple tasks. But he accomplished them. When he didn't see what he wanted, he didn't force things like Sanchez has done. He protected the football. He didn't panic when nobody was open downfield on third down. He dumped it to Kahlil Bell and gave Bell a chance to make something happen.

Even on the interception that got called back, I liked what was going through his head. We will have to see on film, but it's possible he saw that Stephen Hill was obstructed and decided to take a shot when he knew he had a free play. Even if not, it was third down. He took a shot and put it up to try and give his big receiver a chance to make a play and win a jump ball. An interception there isn't bad. It works like a punt.

I don't know what this means in the long term. Like I mentioned in the last article, I remember Brooks Bollinger giving the Jets a significantly bigger spark coming off the bench in a game in 2005 and then melting down the next week. A handful of safe throws aren't significant. But now the rest of the season at least has meaning. We will find out what the Jets have in McElroy. If he melts down, we will at least be learning something opposed to learning nothing from watching continued Sanchez meltdowns. He'll have to do more than simply protect the football, but by simply protecting the football, he was a major upgrade over Sanchez.

Shonn Greene: Where has this guy been all year? He was finishing his runs. He was hitting his holes. He was getting to the corner on outside runs. Greene finished with 104 yards on 24 carries. He also made a smart play going down instead of scoring the last touchdown. It gave the Jets a chance to run out the clock by taking the knee. Had he scored, Arizona would have gotten it back in an 8 point game, needing a touchdown and a two point conversion to force overtime. In similar spots two years ago against New England and last year against Washington, he scored. Greene showed great knowledge of score and time.

Bilal Powell: Powell found a lot of hidden yards out there bouncing off initial contact and contorting his body to gain 58 yards on 12 carries.

Offensive Line: I thought they were effective run blocking against loaded boxes early. It's not an easy job opening holes when the other team doesn't have to respect the pass. They took over the game after McElroy entered, blowing holes wide open. I also thought they were better in pass protection than Arizona's three sacks would suggest. Some of the protection issues were on Sanchez.

David Harris: He looked like pre-contract extension Harris. He was causing problems near the line. He was redirecting runners. He was getting off blocks. He was solid in coverage. David had 6 tackles and half a sack.

Muhammad Wilkerson: On a day the Jets dominated the trenches, Wilkerson continued his breakout season consistently winning his battles. He had 3 tackles and half a sack.

Bart Scott: I thought Scott was active up front. He had 5 tackles and a sack. That's good, but it could unfortunately mean less Demario Davis.

LaRon Landry: He was all over the place. He made plays at the line. He set the edge against the run. He played well in coverage. He picked off a pass. This was the kind of playmaker the Jets wanted.

Antonio Cromartie: Larry Fitzgerald had 1 catch for 23 yards. Yes, Arizona's pathetic quarterback play helped, but Cro also played a big role in this. The completion was not terrible coverage either. He didn't get his jam properly, but it took a great throw to complete the pass.

Kyle Wilson: He was very good in run support. He was also solid in coverage. Whenever you allow 73 passing yards, you are getting good cornerback play. He was legitimately beaten deep early but had the good sense to hold. It's not that you want your corner to get beaten, but if you do it's much better to hold and give up 5 yards than to allow a touchdown.

Ellis Lankster: He also gets credit for the stellar day of pass defense.

The Rest of the Front Seven: The Jets really controlled the trenches today against Arizona. The fake punt skewed Arizona's rushing average. The Cardinals averaged 2 yards per run if you take that out.

Jeff Cumberland: Nice route and catch early. I guess way to not drop the easiest touchdown pass you'll ever get later.

The Bad:

Mark Sanchez: I really don't see any reason for Sanchez to play quarterback for the Jets again. With four years under his belt, he just doesn't understand how to play quarterback. If it hasn't happened now, it probably never will. The interceptions were incomprehensible. The first one was a product of holding onto the ball way too long, allowing the pass rush to catch up to him after the offensive line is asked to block for too long, and just throwing it up for grabs like he didn't care. The second appeared to be a late throw on a pass thrown too softly that should have been completed for a big gain on a pass with zip. The third I blame on his receiver, but he also gift-wrapped a fourth pick six by telegraphing a pass to a covered receiver and a fifth on a high pass that should have been an easy completion to a back. This things aren't on coaching. These are things you really can't coach.

You could write a book on how not to play quarterback based on what Sanchez did. He varied his snap count so little that the Cardinals figured out how to jump it. His shrunk in the pocket and allowed a big pass to be batted down. He didn't pick up on what the Cardinals were doing presnap. He threw inaccurate balls that should have been completed. Last week, his good stat line was exceptionally misleading. This week, his 10/21, 93 yard, 3 interception outing was a good indication of how bad he was. He was so bad that the Jets surely would have lost without pulling him even though the other side was producing an incredibly putrid offense.

Sanchez's benching is overdue. People said Sanchez gave the Jets the best chance to win. He gave them no chance to win. People said McElroy would be worse. You can't be worse than giving your team no chance to win. Even if McElroy finds a way to be worse the rest of the way, I reiterate it will at least teach the Jets something. It will be easier to watch than Sanchez continue to bomb even though we found out long ago he isn't the answer.

Chaz Schilens: He dropped an easy pass that would have put the Jets in scoring position. He was outfought for Patrick Peterson's interception. The ball was there to be won. What good is that big frame if you don't know how to use it? How about protecting your quarterback and getting the ball? He failed to wait for his blocks on a screen. He committed a penalty. I'm sorry. I know people like him, but I just don't see what this guy brings to the table. He never, ever produces when he gets a chance to make a play. He's another guy I wouldn't mind never seeing again.

Nick Folk: Usually I wouldn't get on a kicker for missing kicks as long as 46 and 52, but those could have made the difference in a game where points were at a premium. He is on the team to make them.

Kahlil Bell: You end up in this section when you only touch it once and use that touch to lose a fumble in your own territory in a game where there are only 13 points scored.

Other Thought:

  • I'll rewatch, but my first impression on the fake punt is you can't kill the Jets. It looked like they were going for the block, and Arizona just had the perfect call. Sometimes the other team just executes.

So there we are. The Jets are 5-7. Things did not break well in the AFC Playoff picture with Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati winning. The Jets are probably going to be playing out the string in the final quarter of the season. We will probably find out much more about Greg McElroy. Hopefully he shows a lot more and gives Jets fans a reason to be excited about 2013. He might represent the best chance to find a solution at quarterback in the short run given the players expected to be available and this team's cap space.