In the first quarter of Sunday’s game, the Jets had the ball on a fourth and 1 just over midfield. The play turned to catastrophe. The Eagles registered a pick six to take a 14-0 lead and would never look back. Let’s explore what went wrong here.
The first thing that sticks out to me about this play is Demaryius Thomas’ presnap motion. Thomas starts going in motion from left to right across the formation. He is initially followed by cornerback Craig James who has him in man coverage.
It is very difficult for a defender to run all the way across the formation so the Eagles rotate Malcolm Jenkins down from the safety spot to pick up Thomas on the other side of the formation. James rotates to Jenkins’ safety spot.
Thomas then motions back across the formation from right to left. Jenkins rotates back to his original safety position, while James picks up Thomas again.
Thomas ultimately wasn’t a part of this play. The playcall had Luke Falk rolling away from him. Why am I focused on Thomas? It is because he wasn’t involved in this play.
When a team motions a receiver, there should be a purpose to it. The motion should accomplish something. You don’t just motion for the sake of motioning.
In this instance, there was a very good reason to motion Thomas. It was fourth and 1. The defense essentially has to play press coverage against all wide receivers.
When the offense only needs to pick up a single yard, providing any sort of cushion gives the offense an easy completion.
A corner cannot press a receiver who is running in motion, though. The motion creates a cushion off the line of scrimmage as defenders need to play soft against a moving wideout.
If you time the snap correctly, this is close to an automatic completion that will gain one yard. It’s a perfect play for fourth and 1. That’s how you use motion to manufacture easy plays to execute for your quarterback.
That wasn’t the call here, though.
For the play the Jets did call, the Eagles had an easy time dismantling the blocking scheme. They just move linebacker Zach Brown to the line of scrimmage, and the Jets end up at a numbers disadvantage.
Brandon Graham suddenly has a free path to the quarterback because they moved that extra linebacker down to the line of scrimmage. The Eagles have one more guy than the Jets can block now.
This is similar to a play we discussed a few weeks ago when Myles Garrett was unaccounted for. This one might actually be worse because the playcall actually has Falk rolling right into the path of the unaccounted for defender.
I must emphasize once again that there is a difference between not blocking a defender and not accounting for a defender. Sometimes a defender is unblocked by design, but there is some sort of deception in the play intended to make him run himself out of the play. There might be a fake, an option, or some other misdirection.
No such thing happens here. Graham is released right at the quarterback because the Eagles outscheme the Jets. Opponents are outscheming the Jets and getting favorable matchups with alarming frequency through the first four games. Predictable playcalling is typically the culprit when we see things like this happen with this degree of regularity.
Graham is bearing down on Falk. Now we look to his primary option, Le’Veon Bell who has two defenders assigned to him.
At this point, one might ask whether Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was in the Jets’ huddle before the play.
For his part, I think Falk throws a bit late. If he gets the ball out to Bell quicker, the back at least has a shot of getting upfield to the sticks even though it won’t be easy against two defenders.
This is where I think the ball needed to come out.
This is where it came out.
That said, the easiest thing in the world to do is throw a young quarterback making his second career start under the bus.
If we are going to note Falk’s lack of timing, we also must note the role practice reps play in helping a quarterback figure out timing. There’s no definitive way to correlate a lack of reps with performance, but we know the Jets did not install the bulk of their gameplan with Falk last week. Had he been able to get more time practicing this play, would he have gotten it out quicker? We will never know, but at the very least I think you have to put an asterisk if you criticize Falk on a play like this. The Jets didn’t really prepare him to start this game.
Things become even more difficult for the quarterback when somebody like Graham is given a free run at him. This is not an easy throw to make off your back foot with a big edge guy bearing down on you.
The end result is as ugly as one might expect.