With 12:16 left in the fourth quarter of yesterday’s game, the Jets were in pretty good shape. They held a 20-18 lead and had the ball with a 2nd and 11 on their own 45. What followed was a play that cost the team the lead for good. Josh McCown fumbled on a sack by Wes Horton. Luke Kuechly scooped and scored, and the Panthers were on their way to a victory.
Let’s take a look at the play. There are two ugly elements at play here. Most of the focus has rightly been put on McCown, but he was not the only culprit. The Jets suffered a blocking meltdown on this play. It was so bad that I can’t even identify exactly what went wrong.
Based on the way the players executed, this is what the blocking scheme appeared to be. In pass protection, every blocker is either assigned a man to block or an area of the field to block. When it is an area of the field for an offensive lineman, it is either directly to his left or directly to his right.
On this play, Brandon Shell seemed to have an area to his right. The rest of the linemen had the area to their left, and Elijah McGuire had the gap between Shell and Brian Winters.
The issue started when Horton made an inside move. He started from Shell’s outside shoulder but went inside into the gap as displayed by the FOX telestrator.
This left the Jets with a defensive end moving into the area of the field occupied by a running back. I can’t say with 100% certainty how this is coached, but I am pretty confident the Jets do not want a running back blocking a defensive end one on one so something had to give here.
Shell could have carried Horton inside and left outside blitzer, number 20 safety Kurt Coleman to McGuire. A tackle on a defensive end, and a running back blocking a safety would have been a much easier assignment for the Jets.
The odd thing was that Shell didn’t even make a cursory attempt to stay with Horton to help out McGuire as the defensive end went inside. Shell went straight to the safety.
It was almost like he was expecting the guard to be there to pick up the defensive end. This has me wondering whether Brian Winters slid the wrong way. Maybe Shell was counting on Winters to be there, and that’s why he did so little to help.
Part of the issue might have been that Winters was trying to pass off number 98 Star Lotulelei to Wesley Johnson. Johnson just didn’t seem to be paying attention. There was no way for Winters to get back because Johnson wouldn’t react and block the guy right in front of him. Instead he blocked air and watched James Carpenter.
This play was such a mess that it is difficult to say whether Shell, Winters, Johnson, or some combination of the three was to blame without knowing the call. You could make a case for any of the three. When something this big is so unclear, it is a sign of a major breakdown.
What isn’t up for debate is McGuire was forced to block Horton one on one, which wasn’t fair to McGuire. He has no chance on his own against a defensive end, and Horton got to McCown.
That brings us to the second problem with the play. McCown is going down for a sack. There clearly isn’t anything to be done that can salvage this play. With a normal quarterback, the Jets would be looking at a third and long.
There’s a reason I call McCown the anti-game manager, though. Once again we see the veteran quarterback’s uncanny ability to take a bad situation and make it worse. There is no reason a throw should be attempted at the point the picture above happens, but McCown is having none of it.
There is a risk-reward ratio to every play a quarterback makes. On this play the reward was small, saving a few yards. Trying to make that throw had inordinate risk. We saw the downside. That isn’t the type of risk that makes sense in the first quarter of the game. It was an unfathomable risk nursing a 2 point lead in the fourth quarter. Was saving a few yards worth risking the game?
It was another rookie mistake by a veteran quarterback. He also got help from his offensive line.