Let's take a day-after look at the Jets' thrilling 27-24 victory over the Cowboys -- only the third time in team history they rallied to win a game after trailing by at least 14 points in the fourth quarter.
It was an entertaining game, with big plays and momentum shifts, but it also was a chess match between the two coaching staffs. The Ryan brothers, Rex and Rob, lived up to the family reputation, employing a variety of blitz packages. They threw the kitchen sink at each other and, once again, Rex beat his twin 'bro.
With help from Kim Meyer and John McTigue of ESPN Stats and Information, let's go inside.
EARLY ADJUSTMENT: The Jets' plan was to put CB Antonio Cromartie on WR Dez Bryant for the entire game (that's what Cromartie told me afterward), but it took only one play for the coaches to change their mind and scrap the plan. Bryant beat Cromartie on a jump ball in the end zone, a three-yard touchdown on the game's opening drive, and the coaches had seen enough.
They put Darrelle Revis on Bryant, and that was all she wrote. Tony Romo was 3-for-3 in the first quarter when targeting Bryant, totaling 71 yards and a touchdown. (That included a 26-yard catch on Revis.) After the first quarter, Romo targeted Bryant four more times for no catches and the crucial fourth quarter interception. In 2010, Romo was not intercepted once in 29 targets of Bryant.
Revis, of course, made the game-turning interception in the final minute. Ryan credited his defensive coordinator Mike Pettine with the "call of the night." Pettine called "Jet Mike Mix," basically a play in which Revis covers Bryant underneath, with help over the top from S Brodney Pool. They duped Romo and Bryant into thinking it was straight man-to-man. Revis, knowing Pool was behind him, took an aggressive approach and jumped the route. Truth be told, Bryant could've done a better job of going for the ball; maybe he was exhaused after a night of Revis.
SANCHEZ HANDLES PRESSURE: QB Mark Sanchez faced some heat from the outset, getting sacked/crushed by OLB DeMarcus Ware on the Jets' first play. (RT Wayne Hunter was beaten cleanly, the start of a long night for the newest starter on the Jets' O-Line.) Players said afterward that Rob Ryan, the Cowboys' new defensive coordinator, surprised them with looks they hadn't seen before. The Cowboys ended up with four sacks and six QB hits, but -- and this may surprise you -- they failed to fluster Sanchez when they rushed five or more players. That occurred on almost half of his dropbacks.
In fact, Sanchez threw his only interception of the night when Dallas sent four or fewer pass rushers, while throwing for a TD against five or more pass rushers. Sanchez also excelled when the Cowboys sent a member of the secondary, going 4-for-6 for 54 yards and nine yards per attempt.
Here's a breakdown:
Mark Sanchez by No. of Pass Rushers
Category .... 4 or Fewer .... 5 or More
Comp-Att .... 12-21 ........ 14-23
Comp pct .... 57.1 ........... 60.9
Yds/att ....... 6.3 .............. 8.8
RED FLAG: That old bugaboo from last season -- the ability to generate points in the first quarter -- lives on. The Jets have gone 16 straight games without an offensive touchdown in the first quarter. Sanchez has developed a reputation as a slow starter, but you can't blame this on him. He started 5-for-5. This time, you can blame the pass protection. The Jets were on their heels, reeling from the Cowboys' pressure schemes. It took nearly 27 minutes for them to settle down.
Not surprisingly, the offense finally found a rhythm when it went into a two-minute drill at the end of the first half. Sanchez always seems to play better when he's in a hurry-up, no-huddle mode; it allows him to play by the seat of his pants, which suits him. The Jets ended up scoring with 44 seconds left in the half to cut the Cowboys' lead to 10-7. Afterward, LG Matt Slauson told me, "Luckily, we scored before halftime or else it would've been a different halftime show in here. The coaches would've chewed us, but they were real positive."
ON THE FLY: It probably went unnoticed during the craziness of the game, but offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer made a great adjustment in the second half. He had to figure out a way to protect his quarterback from the Cowboys' blitzes, and this is what he came up with:
On their second possession of the third quarter, the Jets employed a one-back/three-tight end formation on at least five plays of a 10-play drive that ended with a FG. Ordinarily, that is "run" personnel, but they threw a curve by spreading the field, flexing out Dustin Keller and/or Jeff Cumberland, and throwing the ball against the Cowboys' big people. It forced the Cowboys to defend the spread out of their base personnel, meaning Ware and his pass-rushing partner, Anthony Spencer, had to drop into coverage instead of rushing Sanchez.
You can't pull that off unless you have receiving threats at tight end, and the Jets have that with Keller and Cumberland. In the long term, you probably don't want to keep the Big Three (Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason) off the field too long, but in this case, the strategy helped the offense out of its funk.
ATTACK UNTIL THE END: The Cowboys began the night without their No. 1 CB, Terence Newman, and they also had to play without their No. 2 and No. 3 (Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick) for portions of the game. The Jets bailed on their running game and kept attacking the secondary, finally capitalizing on the the Cowboys' lack of depth in the secondary.
After averaging 6.2 yards per attempt and throwing an interception against defenses with at least five defensive backs in the first three quarters, Sanchez averaged 7.7 yards per attempt with a touchdown in the fourth against nickel and dime defenses.
TROUBLE SPOTS: It's no secret that the Jets sometimes have problems defending the pass in the middle of the field. The Cowboys exploited that with their TE, Jason Witten, who caught six passes for 110 yards. He beat S Eric Smith in man-to-man coverage on a 64-yard pass play. On a few occasions, they took advantage of the Jets' linebackers in space, either on screen passes or with zone-beating crossing routes. Said one NFL scout: "Just as I thought. Hit 'em on the perimeters, with Felix (Jones) on the linebackers, and work the passing game between the numbers." No doubt, other teams will continue to attack the Jets in that fashion.