Sometimes, a football game doesn’t turn on a spectacular catch, or a crunching hit, or a zig-zaggy punt return. Sometimes, it’s smaller than that, it’s subtler than that, it’s less about flash and more about flush.
Sometimes, what it takes is a 6-foot-even, 220-pound running back like Chris Ivory to power his way through the defensive line, keep both hands on the ball, keep his legs grinding, and maybe give a defensive back — in this instance, Saints’ cornerback Keenan Lewis — a ride for a few yards.
Twenty-one yards later, a genuine MetLife folk hero was born.
Twenty-one yards later, the Jets had a new look on this game. And maybe on their season.
It was early, yes, the Jets’ second possession of the game. It ultimately yielded only a field goal. The Saints would take a lead. All of that would happen. And yet when the Jets looked back from the splendid perspective of a 26-20 victory Sunday, their signature win of a surprising, satisfying season, the image they talked about was of Chris Ivory, human Brinks truck, giving Keenan Lewis a lift.
Giving them one, too.
“A play like that … it just kills their game,” Josh Cribbs said, smiling, shaking his head, nodding at Ivory across the dressing room. “Sometimes, a guy plays in a zone. And he can take you there with him.”
Said coach Rex Ryan: “We know, if he’s healthy, this young man has the ability to be a punch-you-in-the-face kind of back. Any time your big back makes plays like that, it energizes everyone. He has speed, he has vision, he runs with power …”
What he doesn’t have is much of a desire to talk about himself, a refreshing departure from the look-at-me culture that generally rules the sport. Later, he would add a businesslike yet entirely critical 52-yard rumble when the Jets were backed up to their own goal line, denied more only because of a fine play by New Orleans’ Kenny Vaccaro (because that’s how the Vaccaros roll).
In all, Ivory would pile up 139 hard yards on 18 punishing carries, and even at a time when passing rules the roost in the NFL, every time Ivory touched the ball it sent a jolt through 76,957 at MetLife Stadium. All of this against the team that exchanged him for a fourth-round pick, the 106th selection in the draft.
That player, tight end Dion Sims — flipped to the Dolphins — presently has two catches for 5 yards on the season. The NFL can be a cold place. In other sports, when you get traded, it’s at least (usually) for someone you’ve heard of. In the NFL, you can get swapped for a lotto ticket.
“To say there’s nothing special going against your old team?” said Ryan, inching ever so slowly back to his old pithy self as the wins add up. “Yeah, right.”
Ivory didn’t want to dance. All week he insisted there were no hard feelings on his end, that facing the Saints was no more meaningful for him than Bills, Browns or Bengals. For most of yesterday, he held true to that position.
“Was this special?” he was asked.
“The win?” he asked in reply. “Yes, that was special.”
“How about who you beat?”
He paused. Smiled. And did his best to keep the smile from widening when he said “No.” But the smile widened anyway, allowing you to draw your own conclusions.
And you know what? As far as the Jets were concerned, it mattered not at all why Ivory stepped up with his best game of the year, just that he did, especially as hard as the Jets had been punched in the mouth last week in Cincinnati. Just that he kept bulling his way through the line, kept ferrying Saints along his path for a few extra steps here and a few extra yards there.
The Jets just finished a five-game stretch — at Atlanta, home to Pittsburgh and New England, at Cincinnati, home to New Orleans — where it wasn’t impossible or remotely unfair to wonder if they might be staring at an 0-5 sink hole. Instead they went 3-2, get a bye next week, and there isn’t a single game left on the schedule that qualifies as unwinnable.
It has been a season of pleasant surprises. And Ivory is the latest. Acquired five days after Darrelle Revis was dealt to Tampa Bay, his arrival wasn’t going to provide any kind of equal-time solace for the disenchanted. He is no island. But Sunday, he was a hell of a fine towing service. The Jets will take it.
I got goosebumps reading about Ivory. He made the difference especially that long run when we were deep in Saints territory. The whole team got a lift from that run and the air went out of the Saints sails.
The offensive line was a mess yesterday, especially in the running game. They were not in sync at all and the runners basically had no running room. On 16 carries, Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory gained just nine yards before first contact and there were several plays where more than one player messed up their assignment.
With no running game to speak of, the passing game became that more important and pass protection was also a major issue because rookie Brian Winters was so overmatched. The Jets came with a good plan, with Nick Mangold effectively operating in a free safety role to double team Winters’ man whenever he was in danger of being beaten. The Jets did this on the majority of plays and it was an effective way of mitigating pressure. However, whenever Winters was left to his own devices, he was completely overmatched. He gave up two sacks and four pressures, one of which led to another sack and another of which led to the hardest hit Smith has taken all year. Getting beaten six times in 46 snaps is alarming, but when you consider that he had Mangold’s help on most of the 40 plays where he didn’t give up a pressure, that’s even worse.
Winters’ struggles also seemed to have an adverse effect on D’Brickashaw Ferguson. On consecutive plays in the first quarter, Atkins drove Ferguson back into Smith to collapse the pocket. On those plays, it looked like the Jets had deliberately schemed for Ferguson to pick up Atkins, perhaps in an effort to keep Winters away from that matchup after Atkins had bullrushed him into Smith for an earlier sack. Winters pushed Atkins to the outside, passing him off to Ferguson and then stayed at home to pick up the end, who had been chipped back to the inside each time.
Despite doing what they could not to expose Winters to Atkins, he still struggled with Brandon Thompson – a second year player whose contributions as a rotational linemen so far this year had been so nondescript, I didn’t even mention him in my game preview. Thompson was in the backfield making plays all day.
The Jets obviously like Winters – and he shows signs of potential sometimes. (His best block yesterday saw him drive his man off the line on a short yardage conversion … although that was on a defensive back). However, right now, his pass blocking and run blocking are both inferior to what Vladimir Ducasse was providing the Jets with earlier in the year. The only place where he’s been superior to Ducasse has been that he hasn’t been committing any penalties, but even that ended yesterday as he was hit with a holding call. I get the long term benefits of allowing Winters to learn on the job (and it wouldn’t have made a difference to yesterday’s outcome), but right now the offense is suffering with him in there.
Back to Ferguson. Whether or not it was influenced with him having to constantly keep watch on the man to his right out of the corner of his eye, Ferguson was embarrassed by Michael Johnson on a couple of plays, including one where Johnson pushed him to the ground and blew past him. Johnson is a good player, but that’s uncharacteristic for Ferguson, who also had two bad missed blocks in the running game.
Once again, I had to admire Mangold’s performance as he did what he could to ensure Smith had a clean pocket the majority of the time. At the same time, having him clean up someone else’s mess can limit his own influence. You have to wonder whether he could have alerted Smith to some of those Reggie Nelson rushes from the slot and may not have been able to because he was too busy ensuring Winters knew his own assignment.
Here is a week 9 update:
One key adjustment they made was that instead of Mangold operating as the free man to clean up anyone else’s mistakes in pass protection, they tried, where possible, to get Mangold to pick up a block, leaving Winters free to react and double-team accordingly where required. This worked a lot better than last week and makes a lot of sense, because when Winters has been getting beaten it’s been because he’s been overpowered or “out-techniqued”, not because he’s failed to carry out the correct assignment. In fact, dealing with stunts correctly has been one of the things he’s done well. He did give up one pressure on a rare play where he ended up blocking one-on-one but that was all – a major improvement, even though the Jets only dropped back to pass 25 times and were getting the ball out quickly.
-- Rex Ryan won't commit to quarterback Geno Smith beyond one week.
Quarterbacks coach David Lee, however, sees a future with the New York Jets for the rookie.
"I've had long enough to feel good about him and his future here with us," Lee said. "I think he has great arm talent. He can escape."
Does rookie QB Geno Smith have a long-term future with the Jets?
The Jets will soon have to decide whether they believe Smith is their answer at quarterback or if they need to go in another direction. Smith has certainly shown during the Jets' unexpected 5-4 start why he can be a quarterback to build around, but he's also been a turnover machine through nine games.
Lee described Smith's play as "hot and cold" thus far. He appreciated how Smith has led the team back from fourth-quarter deficits, but Lee said Smith has hurt the team at other times, mentioning the losses to Pittsburgh and Tennessee. Smith has yet to win back-to-back games.
"I'm pleased with his progress," Lee said. "Just [would] love to see more consistency."
Lee noted improvement in Smith's decision making when it comes to throwing the ball away or trying to make a play.
The coach praised Smith for throwing the ball away roughly five times in Sunday's 26-20 win over the Saints, including once late in the fourth quarter when the Jets were trying to ice the game.
Smith has eight passing touchdowns to 13 interceptions, and in breaking down Smith's turnovers, Lee said it's a mixture of things including location and decision making. Lee added that Smith also has freelanced at the end of some games and that has come back to haunt him.
"At the end of the game there's times he'll leave the game plan and do too much, do things on his own, which we've had hard talks about that," Lee said. "He said, 'Coach, I did the same thing in college. I feel desperate, I feel pressured.'"
Overall, Lee likes the way his quarterback has evolved through nine weeks.
"Right now he's improving weekly and he improves on things he screws up which is what's encouraging to me," Lee said. "Geno's smart. He prepares. He's in this building 6 a.m. every day. It's not a mistake he knows what he's doing, the ball comes out fast because he's preparing and knows where to go. He's worked hard."
Chris Ivory ran like he was mad at the turf on Sunday. Despite the fact that he said it was just another game, he ran like he intended on showing the New Orleans Saints what they were missing when they traded him away. 18 carries for 139 yards and one touchdown is a breakout performance. Chris finally performed the way the entire fan base hoped he would.
Let’s take a look at it in more detail:
SUCCESS ON THE EDGE: Finally, the Jets gave Ivory the chance to get out into space, and he made the defense pay. His greatest success was on the edge, the left or the right side. Chris ran around the left end twice for 41 yards, a 20.5 yards per carry average. Around the right end, Chris ran it three times for 53 yards, a 17.7 yards per carry average. Ivory didn’t run for over 10 yards per carry anywhere else, and only between center and right guard did he average over four yards per carry.
It shows us that if you give Chris the chance to start downhill with a head of steam, you are going to reap the benefits. He isn’t as good between the tackles, but when you get him moving, look out!
He also broke or made six tacklers miss. Get Chris a head of steam and he is elusive.
YARDS AFTER CONTACT: We have talked many times about the yards after the catch in the passing game. That in a “West Coast” offense, yards after the catch make the offense go.
Well, yards after contact in the running game don’t hurt either, and Chris Ivory piled those on against his former team. Of his 139 yards, 100 of them came after contact. Clearly, when Chris gets his feet moving, he is a tough man to bring down. If he can stay healthy, he can be the guy we all hoped he would be, coming down the stretch for the New York Jets.
In the beginning, Geno Smith clashed with his quarterbacks coach, David Lee, an old-school disciplinarian.
Jets QB coach David Lee has become a fan of Geno Smith's approach.
"We butted heads early, just like any guy coming in," Lee said Monday. "He was late for a meeting and I went nuts on him, and he had to learn, 'You're not late ever, for anything.' "
Lee is good for Smith because of his buttoned-down style -- and he also happens to be a well-regarded technician. Truth be told, the entire organization is developing Smith with a different approach than it did with Mark Sanchez in 2009. There's no coddling.
There was concern about Smith's ability to play hurt, so when he sprained an ankle in the preseason, he wasn't allowed to take any days off. It probably slowed the recovery, but the coaches wanted to teach him a lesson.
Even though Smith is entrenched as the starter after winning the job by default, he hasn't received a long-term commitment. Technically, he's week to week. We all know it's a matter of semantics, but the braintrust feels it's important, if only symbolically, to withhold a coronation. In '09, Sanchez was handed the starting job after an abbreviated competition/charade and never felt threatened, probably not until he was benched late last season. The Jets want to make sure Smith doesn't grow up with a sense of entitlement.
In '09, Sanchez was largely insulated from the media. There was little interaction beyond the league requirement. He was granted veteran status, designated as one of the two players required to speak only once during the week. That chafed some veteran teammates. Smith is a twice-a-week guy, and he's almost always willing to go above and beyond.
Smith displays more maturity as a rookie than Sanchez did in his first few years. It's hard to imagine Smith chomping on a hot dog while sitting on the bench during a game, as Sanchez did in '09. Unlike Sanchez, a highly emotional player, Smith is even-keeled. He's such a flatliner that some teams perceived him as aloof during pre-draft interviews, which may have contributed to his slide.
"He is the calmest guy," Lee said. "I mean, he goes out in pregame warmups, he's calm. We come in, beat New England, he's just as calm as can be. I just wanted to slap him, and say, 'Hey, we won.' He's really calm, and that's a great trait to have as a quarterback with the pressure that's on all these games."
Of course, outward demeanor can be overrated. Before he won a Super Bowl, Eli Manning was deemed too stoic. Now he's Cool Hand Luke because he has a couple of Super Bowl rings. It's all about winning. Smith is 5-4 as a starter; Sanchez started 4-5 as a rookie, finishing in the AFC Championship Game. We'll see how it goes for Smith, but the early signs -- at least from an intangible standpoint -- are encouraging.
"I've always been the same person," he said. "I've always had this demeanor, and I don't think it will change ever. I don't know what it is about me. I just think it's in my mental makeup and really in my genetics to be this way."
Smith has a good teacher in Lee, who doesn't own kid gloves. He's a no-nonsense coach and won't hold back on criticism, feelings be damned.
"I'm just dead honest with him and pour out my heart, and I want him to be the same way with me," Lee said. "And I think it's why we've got a great relationship today, because we're both really honest with each other."
It’s a football Friday, but one without a Jets’ game. It’s that annual week off that we all have to just sit and suffer through, watching other teams play. It’s the bye week. So, without a game to preview, let’s do our mid-season “State of the Jets” address.
First, we will talk about the offense.
So far in 2013, we have seen the best of what this group has to offer, and the worst of what it has to offer. It starts with the quarterback position, though it is to be expected due to his youth.
Geno Smith is performing well for a rookie, and is getting more and more confident each week. He is learning about protecting the football, and has improved on that with each game, especially lately. As his consistency goes up, so do the Jets’ wins. When Geno plays well, the Jets win. When he doesn’t protect the football, the Jets lose.
According to PFF, in four of the Jets’ five wins, Geno’s grade has been -0.8, 3.6, 1.5, and -0.2. In the four losses, -1.6 was his highest grade. Just like any team, with the quarterback goes the team. For the Jets to make a run at the playoffs, Geno Smith must find that consistency.
With that, Geno’s weapons must be consistent. He doesn’t have a lot at his disposal, although Kellen Winslow does return after the bye. Jeremy Kerley is likely to miss a few weeks, but the team is hopeful to get Santonio Holmes back after the bye. Whomever is out there, they have to play consistently to help Geno Smith out. They have to get separation, and get it all the time. And when their number is called, make the catches. They may be limited as far as depth is concerned, but if they get the job done it won’t matter.
The offensive line is coming around as well, but they have been inconsistent as well. The biggest surprise has been D’Brickashaw Ferguson, who has had a tough year. Is some of it due to the uncertainty next to him at left guard? Probably. But whatever the reason, he has gotten beaten quite a bit so far in 2013. As Geno’s blind side, Brick needs to step up his game.
For the most part, the line has kept Geno Smith clean. Seven sacks in nine games is not a large number at all. Geno is also pretty mobile which has helped, but you have to give credit to the offensive line. They have shown flashes in the running game, such as last week as they opened holes for Chris Ivory to the tune of 139 yards on 18 carries. They just need to do it more often in the second half.
Bilal Powell has been a nice surprise in the first half. Everyone figured that Ivory would be the guy, and the others would simply be backups. Well, Ivory was hurt, and that paved the way for Powell to take the lead role early in the season. If the line continues to improve, the Jets’ running attack will be just fine.
Some more consistency over the second half could allow the Jets to make a run in the second half.