Despite the endless fascination the media has with the Jets’ Broadway glitz and glamor, the underlying truth is that Rex Ryan’s carnival is built upon a strong and less than dynamic running game. And while this realization may prove unfortunate to those seeking a splatter of catchy headlines, there is little mystery as to why the Jets have become one of the league’s best teams.
And even less when you consider just how the Jets beat the Browns this past Sunday.
Of course, it’s easy to point a finger at Chanci Stuckey’s fumble or Eric Wright and T.J. Ward’s indecisiveness or even a bad case of game management in the final minute of overtime. After all, finding scapegoats is part of our nature as Browns fans, and it’s obvious that these plays comprised the signature downfall of the afternoon.
But upon closer inspection, it’s worth taking a look at the play of the Browns’ defensive line in order to better understand just where this game was lost.
Although the Browns’ defense did not give up any eye-popping stats against one of the league’s best rushing attacks, the Jets clearly dominated the front lines en route to a marathon victory.
Throughout the game, the Browns continually lost one major battle – as the Jets’ All-Pro center Nick Mangold completely shut down Ahtyba Rubin. While Rubin has clearly emerged as the Browns’ most talented and productive defensive lineman, it was obvious that he was no match for a player of Mangold’s caliber.
Mangold had little trouble quickly engaging Rubin and then driving him backwards. Perhaps even more impressive – or disheartening, depending on your perspective – was that Mangold’s push was nearly all upper body strength. Once his arms locked into Rubin’s, the best nose tackle of the expansion era became a non-factor.
In the first half of the game, nearly all of Shonn Greene’s runs went to the left of Mangold. With Rubin pushed out of the way, the combination of D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Matt Slauson were easily able to advance to the Browns’ linebackers. In fact, Slauson was dominant in his own right early on as he neutralized Brian Schaefering.
This tone continued into the second half as the Jets continually ran Greene either directly to the left side, or via some slight counter plays. And again, while no huge plays were to be had, the Jets continually made first downs and ate up the clock.
“They put themselves in some very manageable third downs,” David Bowens said. “With that power running game they have, those backs get downhill fast. They don’t lose a lot of yardage. We kept getting in those third and one situations, where they would pick up first downs and sustain the drive. But we ended up coming off without giving up points, so for the most part we held on.”
This “holding pattern” continued until the fourth quarter, when Slauson left the game with an injury and was replaced with backup Robert Hunter.
Only then did the Browns’ defensive front begin to push back, as Shaun Rogers proved effective when he lined up as a right end. Rogers got some great pushes against Hunter and helped to slow down the Jets’ ground game during the latter stages of the game.
But of course, the biggest plays the Jets had on Sunday came via the air.
Despite a staggering difference in their run/pass differential, the Jets essentially won this game thanks to about four pass plays. During these plays, the Browns rushed only three defenders. Over the past couple weeks, this strategy seemed to work. However, against the Jets, the Browns defensive line could not generate enough pressure on Mark Sanchez and/or couldn’t bring down the hobbled Jet quarterback.
Despite Sanchez’s second-half calf injury, the Browns struggled to wrap up the second-year quarterback.
“He was [hard to tackle],” safety Mike Adams said. “It kind of surprised me how he moved around in the pocket. That definitely surprised me.”
Conversely, throughout the game the Browns had consistent success when rushing four or five on passing downs. In these situations, the defensive line was freed up enough to generate a push, which contributed to a series of second-half punts by the Jets.
But in the end, we all know that the Jets had a bit more magic than the Browns. Despite the Jets’ success against the Browns’ defensive line, this game was decided thanks to four specific plays.
If we point to Sanchez’s early touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery, a later third-down completion to Braylon Edwards, the “miracle play” in overtime, then of course the “sack that wasn’t” late in the game, the absence of a consistent pass rush ultimately cost the Browns the game.
Of course, being on the field for 48 minutes also didn’t help.