Time for a little Three on Three. If this comes out well, maybe we'll make it a series. Here we go: three things that bothered me about the game, and three things I loved. As is customary with pragmatists like myself, we'll go with the bad news first.
1. Flacco's Accuracy. He missed badly on a deep ball to Mason, threw a couple of other passes out of bounds when he could have at least given a receiver a chance, blew a wide open would-be-touchdown throw to McClain while Heap was open right in front of him, and lead Heap so far when he blew past Leonhard that Heap had to lay out for it and bruise himself up. If you check the highlight, Flacco could have hit Heap in stride.
I'm not sure what is happening here, maybe Flacco just gets too excited, but he needs to reel in some of these throws. Sometimes it seems like his cannon just takes over and he throws the ball halfway around the world. It wasn't a game-breaker last night, since we got the plays we needed. But the next time he blows a wide-open touchdown throw to McClain, the offense might not get a second chance to score.
2. Late-Game Mamby-Pamby Play-Calling. On our second-to-last possession (where we ran the clock down to under two minutes and forced the Jets to use two timeouts), the play-calling became very vanilla. I have no problem with ball control offense, but our passing game had been accomplishing that up until that point. I was nervous to see us go to a run-only format when the Jets had clearly stuffed the run all game long and would surely get one more possession as a result. Granted, I had little doubt that we would shut down Sanchez with less than 2 minutes and only one timeout, but there remained that 1% chance that something strange could have happened to get them into field goal range for a potential game-winner.
What would I have done instead? Exactly what we were doing before. Short passes, stay in bounds, and get first downs. Even if an incomplete pass or two were to stop the clock, we knew they couldn't stop us from getting first downs. We could have ended the game without ever giving the Jets the ball again. It wasn't an issue when Sanchez was the guy getting the ball back, but what happens if we're in that situation against Carson Palmer or Ben Roethlisberger? I would like to see us stick to our guns next time.
3. Flacco Feeling the Rush. Flacco seemed to learn his lesson after the fumble-causing explosion he experienced on the first play from scrimmage, so I'll be brief. That play--although not repeated--displays Flacco's main problem as a passer. He doesn't feel the rush well. As Jaws and Gruden said, it's a 3-step-drop where everyone chop-blocks, so you have to know to get the ball out of there. But Joe stood back there like he was waiting for something to develop when the play called clearly didn't give him enough time for that. It's year three buddy, you have to know better than that.
This is something that I expected Zorn to fix. Perhaps Zorn is working hard with Flacco on this and it's just a case of "old habits die hard." That's what I hope. What worries me is that he might go into Cincinnati or Pittsburgh and pull this routine again. He can't afford to continue this habit. It will cost us the ball and it could cost him his health.
Now, for all you positive thinkers out there:
1. So Much for Bad Cornerback Play. How about Chris Carr out there? He looked great against Braylon Edwards and Jericho Cotchery! Granted, they're not Chad Ochocinco or Terrell Owens, but it was still a stellar performance in pass protection. Carr may indeed be starting corner material at this point. Congratulations to him.
And this isn't even mentioning how we're going to look once Webb gets back to full speed and Josh Wilson becomes fully acclimated to our defensive schematics. Opposing fans are now on notice: stop dissing our corners!
2. Ngata Working on Pass Rush Moves. It has been said that the only hole in Haloti Ngata's game is that he isn't a terribly effective pass-rusher. As a result, we heard repeated reports from camp and practice that Haloti had been focusing much of his offseason efforts on improving that aspect of his game. We may have witnessed that last night when he posterized Slauson, throwing him aside like yesterday's newspaper, en route to sacking Sanchez. That must have been painful.
3. Third and Long. Granted, the Jets gave us a hand in this department as Cromartie and Wilson just couldn't keep their hands to themselves in man coverage. But putting that aside, the simple fact remains that the so-called best defense in the NFL could not stop us on 3rd and long. (In fact, they stood a better chance on 3rd and short because that's when we might have run the ball.) Our new weapons, especially Boldin, looked absolutely menacing last night. Boldin is a real force when he leaves his feet for the ball, as Kyle Wilson learned the hard way.
Overall Grade on Week 1 Performance: B+
As much cause for optimism as this is, I still look at my three areas for improvement as factors that could cause problems in the coming weeks. Chiefly, Flacco's pocket awareness and his accuracy on would-be big throws. Heap saved you once Joe; don't make him do it again.