Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
05 Nov 2013
by Mike Ridley
The New York Jets continue onward with their roller-coaster season.
Just one week after suffering the worst loss of the 2013 season, the Jets and their defense rebounded in a big way, upsetting the Saints at the Meadowlands. With the win, the Jets continued their up-and-down season, alternating wins and losses for the ninth-straight week. Scott Kacsmar will note this was their first victory during that time that didn't require a game-winning drive by Geno Smith, who was anything but sharp most of the afternoon.
With Smith struggling for most of the game, the Jets' offense heavily relied on their strong run game, led by ex-Saint Chris Ivory. The fourth-year vet started out slowly with a loss of two on his first carry, but quickly showed his power and tenacity when he reeled off runs of 27 and 52 yards in two of his next three carries, with a 30-yard dash later in the game. On the day, Ivory finished with 139 yards on just 18 carries along with his first touchdown of the season, good enough for a season-high 23 DYAR.
The Jets were able to get by with the ground-and-pound approach thanks to uncharacteristic miscues by the Saints offense. New Orleans entered the game as one of the least penalized teams in the NFL, accumulating just 38 flags in their first seven games. The Saints marched to a much different beat Sunday. They committed nine penalties, including two delay of game flags (one coming out of a timeout) and two false starts. The yardage total (59 yards) wasn't insurmountable, but it was very indicative of New Orleans' offensive struggles in the Meadowlands.
Drew Brees, despite posting his sixth 300-yard game of the year, was unusually inaccurate. He completed just 58.8 percent of his passes and threw two interceptions. Although one was off the hands of a wide-open Nick Toon, the other came on a ball thrown well behind tight end Benjamin Watson. The Jets were able to rattle Brees with pressure up front from Muhammad Wilkerson and rookie Sheldon Richardson, who consistently clogged the six-foot tall quarterback’s passing lanes. If heat wasn't coming from up front, it was coming from Quinton Coples, who came up big on both of the Jets' fourth-down stops. It was that final stop, on fourth-and-10 from the Saints own 10-yard line, that allowed the Jets to hang on to victory.
The Jets decisively won all three phases of the game.
|Jets Take Off|
|Team||Off. VOA||Def. VOA||Special Teams VOA||Total VOA|
As suspected, the Jets' offensive VOA was carried by their running game, although the passing game did have an above-average 8.5% VOA. Ivory and company amassed a 28.3% VOA on the ground, but that number drops dramatically after factoring in the Saints 28th-ranked rush defense. New Orleans' offensive VOA is heavily brought down by their running game, or lack thereof. Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram carried the ball a combined 10 times for 43 yards, but the -8.4% VOA mostly comes from the worst New Orleans run of the day.
Midway through the fourth quarter and the Saints trailing by nine, Brees had his team marching. After Jed Collins dropped a would-be first down pass on third down, Sean Payton was faced with a fourth-and-1 from the New York 36-yard line. Into his bag of tricks he went, and out popped a ... reverse to a third-string tight end? Yes, with weapons like Jimmy Graham, Lance Moore and Thomas, Payton dialed up an end-around to undrafted rookie free agent Josh Hill, who promptly lost eight yards. We noted in Audibles that the Saints have had success in the past using similar plays. However, those situations likely featured players who are a little more fleet-footed than the rookie out of Idaho State.
The Jets may have come away with the win on Sunday, but there is still cause for concern in their defensive backfield. For the second consecutive game, the Jets were repeatedly burned on deep passes. After allowing five plays (including a pass interference penalty) of 30-plus yards against the Bengals, the Jets allowed another four plays of 25 yards or more to the Saints, giving them 23 on the season.
New York has found the most trouble in nickel situations. Their DVOA against third and fourth receivers was 14.1% going into Sunday, 25th in the league. As Jimmy Graham showed, covering tight ends isn't a distinct talent for the Jets either. Prior to Graham amassing 116 yards on nine receptions, New York was 28th in the NFL with a DVOA 22.4% against tight ends, a number that will surely rise.
Safety Jaiquawn Jarrett was the main offender on Sunday. Brees repeatedly targeted the third-year man out of Temple, notably on Graham's 51-yard touchdown that saw Jarrett dragged into the end zone by the record-setting tight end. Antonio Cromartie, who has been slowed by injuries, also got in on the action. The 2012 Pro Bowler tripped while covering Robert Meachem, allowing the speedy receiver to get open deep for a 60-yard reception. The catch was the sixth reception of 46 yards or more given up by Cromartie this season, who was one of the best cornerbacks in 2012.
The Saints now have two tough losses against AFC East opponents and sit only one game ahead of the hard-charging Panthers for the NFC South lead. With Tampa Bay remaining winless and the Falcons all but eliminated, the division appears to be a two-team race. For the Saints to come out on top, they’ll need to do a much better job protecting Brees. He took only two sacks on Sunday (thanks to his innate ability to get rid of the football), but was constantly surrounded by Gang Green members. With a running game that ranks 26th in DVOA, the Saints playoff future lives and dies on Brees’ ability to deliver the football.
Sitting at 5-4, the Jets continue to lurk around the playoff picture, currently holding onto the sixth seed going into their bye. Of their seven remaining opponents, only Carolina has a winning record, giving the Jets a realistic shot at grabbing a wild card spot. To have a chance at winning as the weather grows colder, Smith will have to gain a better handle on his turnovers. In the Jets five victories, Smith only has four interceptions; in their four losses, he has nine. A more judicious Smith could be New York's ticket back to the playoffs.
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