Easily the most second-guessed aspect of the New York Jets' loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers is the four-play sequence at the goal line midway through the fourth quarter. The Jets trailed, 24-10, and came away with no points.
Rex Ryan has shed little insight into the play calling, although he did throw Brian Schottenheimer under the bus by saying that, in hindsight, it would've been better to call four straight running plays. ESPNNewYork.com has requested to speak with the Jets' coordinator but was told that he's not likely to speak with the media this week. That's unfortunate, because media and fans would like to hear his take on the matter.
Here's our breakdown of the four plays:
The play: From the 2-yard line, Shonn Greene ran up the middle for one yard.
Personnel: The Jets used "23" personnel -- two backs, three tight ends (counting Rob Turner), no wide receivers.
Analysis: Curiously, the Jets had LaDainian Tomlinson in the backfield with Greene, not FB Tony Richardson. Tomlinson motioned to the right, leaving Greene in a one-back set. Richardson is a better blocker than Tomlinson. Not sure what they were trying to accomplish by having Tomlinson in the play. Did they think the threat of a pass to Tomlinson would throw off the Steelers?
What should've happened: All things considered, this still was a successful play -- they cut the distance in half against a stout run defense.
The play: Mark Sanchez threw an incompletion to Dustin Keller in the short right end zone.
Personnel: Once again, they were in "23" personnel, except this time it was Tomlinson and Richardson in a two-back set.
Analysis: The Jets snapped the ball with only two seconds left on the play clock because Sanchez had trouble getting the call from Schottenheimer. They claimed the headset in Sanchez' helmet was malfunctioning, so Sanchez had to run toward the sideline to get a verbal call from Schottenheimer. Because he was rushing, Sanchez didn't do a great job of selling the play fake to Tomlinson. Ziggy Hood and Lamarr Woodley were in Sanchez' face almost immediately, which affected his throw -- low and outside. It was a tough play for Keller, but it was catchable.
What should've happened: A running play. Tomlinson is one of the best goal-line backs in history.
The play: An incomplete pass to Santonio Holmes on a quick slant.
Personnel: The Jets used "11" personnel -- one back, one tight end and three wide receivers.
Analysis: Sanchez took a quick drop and fired immediately to Holmes, who made an inside move on his man. Sanchez didn't see Woodley, who was standing in the passing lane. Sanchez's bullet hit him right in the chest, so Holmes never had a chance. RT Wayne Hunter, responsible for blocking Woodley, should've tried a cut-block on Woodley in an attempt to knock him off his feet or make him lower his hands to protect his legs. That would've allowed the pass to get through the window.
What should've happened: If you really wanted to throw a pass in that situation, why not a fade to Holmes or Braylon Edwards? Sanchez has uncanny accuracy when it comes to throwing fades into the corners of the end zone.
The play: Tomlinson was stopped up the middle for no gain.
Personnel: The Jets went back to "23" personnel, with Richardson and Tomlinson in the backfield.
Analysis: They used their bread-and-butter running play, "Blast." This is the play the Jets have used in almost all of their "gotta-have-it" situations over the last two years. Interesting subtext here: On Dec. 19, the Jets faked "Blast" on a fourth-and-1 against the Steelers, and Sanchez sold the fake so well that he was able to walk into the end zone on a seven-yard naked bootleg. You have to wonder if Schottenheimer was contemplating another naked boot, thinking the Steelers never would expect it again.
This time, LG Matt Slauson pulled to his right and into the center/right guard gap -- just like the left guard always does on "Blast." The Jets were certain this was going to work; their confidence in "Blast" borders on arrogance.
What should've happened: You can't second-guess a team for going with its favorite play in crunch time. A lot of people expected Tomlinson to try one of his famous leaps, going over the pile. Why didn't he? Take a closer look: When he got the handoff, there was an opening between RG Brandon Moore and Hunter. Tomlinson had daylight, with Richardson leading the way. He liked his chances, but the hole closed quickly. By then, Tomlinson was stuck in the traffic and couldn't gather enough momentum to try a leap.
Final thoughts: The two-game series against the Steelers could be defined by two fourth-and-1 plays. On Dec. 19, Schottenheimer made perhaps his best call of the year, going against his grain, and he looked like a genius. This time, he went with the chalk play and it backfired.