Film review: Breaking down Big Mac

December, 4, 2012
12/04/12
12:35
PM ET


The story of the game, of course, was QB Greg McElroy, so let's take an in-depth look at how he was able to succeed in his NFL debut.

Offensive coordinator Tony Sparano did a nice job of calling high-percentage plays that maximized McElroy's ballhandling ability while also exploiting the aggressiveness of the Cardinals' defensive front. A few trends developed:

1. Misdirection: The Jets burned the Cards with clever misdirection runs. It allowed them to create holes against eight-man fronts. With McElroy at QB, they ran five misdirection plays for 34 yards, including 17- and 10-yard gains by Bilal Powell. If fact, they were the exact same play. It was '22' personnel (2 RBs/2 TEs/1 WR) in the I-formation.

On both plays, RG Brandon Moore pulled to the right and delivered a kick-out block. The run-action flowed to the left, but FB Lex Hilliard and Powell swerved to the right, with Hilliard delivering a lead block on LB Paris Lenon -- both times.

2. Moving pocket: McElroy isn't known as a mobile quarterback, but they ran three bootlegs -- two runs for seven yards and a one-yard TD pass to TE Jeff Cumberland. Why put McElroy on the move? Two reasons: Obviously, it made it harder for the Cards' pass rush to track him down. Also, it made it easier for McElroy to read the defense. It cut the field in half, reducing the number of reads -- the right call with such an inexperienced quarterback.

3. Safe passes: McElroy threw only one pass more than 20 yards -- his first attempt, an overthrow to WR Stephen Hill. The rest of his throws were underneath stuff. Naturally, the best pass was a game-clinching, third-down strike to WR Jeremy Kerley on the final drive. CB Patrick Peterson, already one of the best in the business, had man-to-man coverage. But McElroy threw a well-timed, back-shoulder fade for 13 yards. Kerley made a sensational, one-handed catch. McElroy completed five of seven for 29 yards.

4. Lots of tight ends: Sparano didn't expose McElroy to many open formations. In fact, they used 2+ tight ends on 22 of 27 plays (not counting two kneel-downs at the end of the game), occasionally using Cumberland and Konrad Reuland in the backfield. Backup OT Jason Smith also was heavily involved as a jumbo TE. Rex Ryan commended Smith for playing one of his best games as a Jet. You'll see a lot of these heavy packages if they decide to stick with McElroy.

In four possessions, the McElroy-led offense produced 150 total yards on 29 plays -- a 5.2 average. In 45 plays with Mark Sanchez, the offense generated 139 yards -- a 3.1 average. The question is whether McElroy can sustain it over four quarters. Obviously, the next opponent -- the Jaguars -- will be prepared for him.

UGLY OR BEAUTIFUL?: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Many observers called this one of the ugliest games they'd ever seen. Rex Ryan, a defensive-minded coach, called it "beautiful." It was dominant, that's for sure. Consider:

• The Jets held the Cards to 0-for-15 on third down. They became the first team in modern history to take an O-fer on 15 third-down plays, according to Elias.

• Not counting the 40-yard run on a fake punt, the Jets held the Cards to 97 total yards on 54 plays from scrimmage -- a 1.8 average. That's positively mind boggling.

• Cards QB Ryan Lindley, who displayed Nuke Laloosh accuracy (for you "Bull Durham" fans out there), completed only 10 of 31 passes. It was the worst completion percentage by a Cards QB (minimum 30 attempts) since Jim Hart in 1977, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

HEADY PLAY: It was overshadowed amid all the QB hysteria, but RB Shonn Greene made a smart play by taking a knee at the Cards' 1 on the first play after the two-minute warning. No doubt, Fantasy owners were fuming (and gamblers, too). But if Greene had scored, the Jets would've led, 14-6 -- a one-possession game. The Cards would've had a chance to tie the game. It would've been tough, with no timeouts and a scatter-armed quarterback, but with the Jets' luck, you never know what might have happened.

ODDS AND ENDS: Give credit to CB Antonio Cromartie for shutting down one of the best WRs in the game, Larry Fitzgerald, who was held to one catch on seven targets. But I think Lindley was just as responsible for shutting him down ... P Robert Malone (42.3 net average) was terrific. The Jets held Peterson, one of the most dangerous punt returners in the league, to nine yards on one return. Malone, a nice pickup at the end of the preseason, has solidified the punting position. Give credit to assistant GM Scott Cohen and the pro-personnel department for pouncing on Malone as soon as he was cut by the Chargers.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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