Two weeks ago, John Jerry earned his first start of the season against the Oakland Raiders, filling in for the injured Vernon Carey at right guard. Jerry played well, looking much improved from his less than adequate rookie season. Injuries once again made it necessary for Jerry to start again, except this time at left tackle. Umm… what? Our franchise left tackle Jake Long was out with a back injury suffered in the Eagles game. Nate Garner took his spot during that game and the result was disastrous. He and Marc Colombo were about as effective against the Eagles pass rush as a Old Wild West saloon door. If Long missed any time, we were going to be in serious trouble… right?
This week, word got out that John Jerry had been taking first team reps at left tackle during practice. If would seem to make more sense to allow Vernon Carey to play that position since he has pro experience there. Jerry has never played the left side of the line... EVER! Besides, Long had practiced this week and he should be good to go. But as the game rolled around, Long’s back wouldn’t cooperate and Jerry got the starting nod. This was going to be an adventure for sure. While he played right guard admirably a couple of weeks ago, left tackle is a different beast altogether. We are starting a player, who until two weeks ago, was a bust at arguably the least important position on the offensive line. And now we are starting him at the most important position on the line (chuckles nervously). The result… not what you might think.
Run blocking at tackle isn’t too much different than run blocking at guard. In the 64 plays (including penalties), 39 runs plays were called. For the most part, Jerry did an effective job in the run game. On most inside runs, he was asked to kick out or seal off the defensive end. Occasionally he was asked to pull on an outside run. There were a few key plays that I’d like to discuss.
Play 11 (Third Drive)
This was a 3rd and 1 play, with Bush in the backfield. Jerry tries to get a low push and Dwan Edwards just shoves him aside and make the play in the backfield, forcing a punt. This was just bad blocking for anyone.
On this play, Buffalo defensive end Spencer Johnson lines up outside the tackle in a 2-point stance. Johnson is 6’3" 305 pounds. At the snap, Anthony Fasano stands him up and drives him back. Fasano isn’t going to be a great receiving threat at tight end. But he will always have value because of his blocking. Very few tight ends are going to block a 300 pound defensive end like an offensive tackle would… Fasano did.
Play 20 (Fifth Drive)
This was the "B-button" play for Bush where he juked George Wilson out of his shoes. At the snap, Jerry and Incognito are doubling Dwan Edwards. Incognito hands off Edwards to Jerry and blocks someone else. Jerry finishes the punishing block by driving Edwards onto the ground. This was just power football in the trenches, and Jerry won this match-up.
Play 23 (Fifth Drive)
This was a first and goal at the one yard line. At the snap, Jerry got zero push and his defender gets too much penetration. The result of the play was a loss of yards. Long was surely missed on plays like this. If we plan on winning more games in the future, our line is going to have to get some push in situations like that, especially the tackles.
Play 47 (Drive Eleven)
Jerry gets beat by Kyle Moore with a swim move. Bush cuts back in time and thanks to his speed and elusiveness, avoids the tackle of Moore. Jerry just gets beat on this play. He struggled with speed all day and we’ll get to that in the pass protection section.
Play 53 (Drive Twelve)
Jerry started blocking down, along with the rest of the line. However, the defender he was originally blocking got by him and made the tackle in the backfield. If Jerry holds that block, there was a hole opening up between him and Fasano for Bush to pick up some yards.
Play 61 (Drive Fourteen)
This was the 76 yard touchdown run by Bush. The entire left side of the line gets some great blocking on this play. Jerry kicks out Spencer Johnson while Pouncey and Incognito open a hole that any of us could have run through and gained positive yards. Great blocking by everyone involved.
Left tackles who can pass protect make tons of money. Left tackles who are only adequate in pass protection become right tackles. Left tackles who can’t pass protect well at all become guards. Needless to say, pass protection is the bread and butter of left tackles. Given that Jerry has never played left tackle at any level, he did a decent job in pass protection. As far as production goes, he did not allow a sack. That’s very important. But he also played with good technique for the most part and that‘s important as well. His footwork wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t atrocious either. He typically got good initial punch and kept his hands inside most of the time. On most pass plays, he was able to sink his hips and get a good base to stay balanced. He was able to create the "arc" by pushing the defensive ends up the field. He did struggle with speed rushers and that would be expected for a converted guard playing the position for the first time. He also struggled redirecting the ends when they used an inside move. But overall it was a decent performance given the situation. Here are some key plays.
Play Three (Drive One)
Of all the plays I watched, this one took the most time to analyze. It was the first pass play of the game. The result of the play was a sack, but that was due to a mix up between Pouncey and Incognito. But there are a couple of interesting things that happen during this play. First of all, the Dolphins look like they are using a silent count. All the linemen are looking at the ball, and Moore does not yell out a cadence. Buffalo is using a 4 man front, which they used a lot in this game. Secondly, Colombo gets off the snap ridiculously fast. At regular speed, it almost looks like he jumps early. But in slow motion, you see Pouncey look up and as he starts his snapping motion, Colombo is starting his back pedal. He is two steps into his kick-slide by the time Moore gets the ball. As bad as Colombo is, he should get some credit for his reaction time, anticipation, and awareness on that play.
The second person who gets a great jump is the pass rusher Arthur Moats. He gets off the snap really fast and this created a problem for Jerry. It wasn’t that Jerry started too slow, but looks as though he is not anticipating Moats’ speed very well. By the time Jerry gets balanced, Moats is already a step behind him. Jerry gets his hands on Moats, but the pass rusher is already turning the corner. Moore was in the shotgun and takes a step or two back, which Is right in the path of Moats. Reggie Bush is back in blitz protection and also blocks Moats. This prevents Moats from beating Jerry completely. Moats slips and Jerry falls on top of him. Unfortunately, Pouncey and Incognito get mixed up on who to block on a stunt by the defensive tackles and Moore gets sacked by Dareus.
Here’s where I struggled with the analysis of this play so much. Jerry obviously gets beat by the speed of Moats. He finally gets his hands on Moats, but they are on the outside of his pads. This looks very bad in terms of technique. If Bush hadn’t chipped Moats, then Moore would have been sacked or Jerry would have gotten a holding penalty. However, if the interior pass rush had been contained, Moore would have been able to step up into the pocket. Jerry may have been able to recover and keep Moats out of the way. In my opinion, I think Jerry should have gotten his hands up quicker and tried to redirect Moats before he turned the corner. But given that this was Jerry’s first play at the position against an underrated speed rusher, it would be expected that his technique would have been a little off. I really wish that we could have seen a true one-on-one battle between the two, but the interior line didn’t do it’s job.
Play 5 (Drive Two)
This was the second pass play of the game. I’m sure Long must have been coaching him up on the sidelines, because this was much better. Jerry is able to get into his kick-slide faster (thanks to the cadence) and gets his hands on the pass rusher early. The rusher Johnson is more of a power rusher than a speed rusher and I think this was an advantage to Jerry. Jerry leans a little too much, but is still able to maintain his balance. He never let the defender turn the corner, creating the arc, and giving Moore a good let side of the pocket. The defender sees Moore step up and tries to move inside of Jerry. Jerry maintains good footwork and stays in front of the defender. He completely neutralized the rush on his side.
Play 12 (Drive Four)
This was the big play to Charles Clay. Clay starts out lined up to Jerry’s left, standing about a yard behind him. At the snap, Clay runs into Spencer Johnson and knocks him back a yard (6’3" 305 remember). Clay continues into his route and Johnson starts his pass rush again. At the snap, Jerry has no one to block as Clay has practically bowled over Johnson. Jerry begins to slide in anticipation of the rush once Johnson gets to him, but Johnson puts a little move on him and breaks inside. Jerry did not anticipate that and did not get his hands on Johnson firmly enough to redirect him. Johnson is able to get by Jerry, forcing Moore from the pocket. The good news on that play is that Moore had about 4.5 second inside the pocket before Johnson got to him, thanks in part to a beastly block from Clay. The bad news is that Jerry got beat with the inside move. But…
Play 13 (Drive Four)
Jerry makes amends with almost perfect technique on this play. His kick slide was efficient and he sunk his hips well. He got his hands inside the defender and locked on. He completely erased the rusher. Oh, and the result was a touchdown pass to Fasano.
Play 36 (Drive Eight)
This was the big pass play just before the end of the first half. At the snap, Jerry starts out well with good footwork and using his hands properly. However, for some reason, he just does not finish the block. Johnson turns the corner and hits Moore only moments after the balls is released. A tenth of a second later, and Moore is sacked or the pass is incomplete.
Play 37 (Drive Eight)
This was the infamous "fumble" play. You know, the one where the ball came out of Moore’s hands, moving forward and spiraling, yet it was a fumble. The fumble happened because Colombo just plain got beaten by Chris Kelsay. The play was supposed to be a screen to Bush, who had Pouncey well out in front to clear a path to the end zone. Jerry was facing Moats again, and this time moves out quickly to neutralize the speed rush. Moats recognizes this and moves inside. Jerry counters and maintains good footwork while redirecting Moats. However, Colombo gets beaten badly and bad things happen.
Play 42 (Drive Nine)
This was the Marshall touchdown pass. At the snap, Jerry starts out with good footwork. However, he wasn’t ready for the speed of the pass rusher, Kyle Moore. Moore, like Moats earlier, was able to turn the corner on Jerry. Bush is back in pass protection and chips Kyle Moore. If he doesn’t, Matt Moore is sacked.
I wanted to highlight this play for two reasons. Obviously, to point out what happened with Jerry. But I also wanted to highlight that throw by Matt Moore. Look, I’m not saying he’s the answer at quarterback for this team. But you have to give credit where credit is due, and that throw he made was beautiful. I thought the back shoulder throw to Hartline a few weeks ago was great. I thought the Marshall touchdown pass against Philadelphia was great. This one was even better. The ball was thrown 47 yards in the air (thrown from the Dolphins 28, caught at the Bills 25), hitting Marshall in stride to his outside shoulder away from the defender. Florence was in great coverage, looking back at the ball, and still had no chance. That was simply a perfect pass. Again, I’m not going to say Moore is the answer, but he can continue to make throws like that on a regular basis, then he will be a good quarterback in this league.
Jerry wasn't perfect is this regard either. He finished the day with two penalties. One was a holding call and the other was a false start. Both were on running plays oddly enough. The holding call was a result of a cutback by Bush. The defender tried to cut back as well and Jerry tackled him. But two penalties aren't that bad, especially since he had none in the passing game.
It’s safe to say that John Jerry is not going to make anyone forget about Jake Long anytime soon. But for a guy who was almost cut this preseason, and who has never played the left side of the offensive line, Jerry played well enough. He struggled with speed rushers for most of the day and inside moves gave him some trouble. But overall, his footwork was good, and he used his hands well. For a player of his weight, he was able to sink his hips and stay balanced. When he locked onto defenders, they were neutralized. He played about the same in the run game as he did at guard. He really showed some promise in the technical aspect of the game.
We also have to realize that he was playing the Bills defense, which is weak in the pass rush department. We have to temper any enthusiasm for Jerry’s play due to that. Would he have fared as well against better pass rushers like Tamba Hali or Trent Cole? Who knows. This was the perfect game to try an experiment like this. Hopefully, Jerry can get some playing time at right tackle before this season is over and we can get more data as to how he can play at the tackle position. Going against better pass rushers will be a better test for him and will give us and more importantly, the coaches, a better idea of where he can play.
That being said, I think John Jerry’s improvement is a good sign of things to come. He will never be a great left tackle, but the Dolphins don’t need that. What he can be is a starting caliber right guard or right tackle, who can move to left tackle if needed. While he struggled some this week, he still showed aptitude for handling the more technical position of tackle. With more practice and better conditioning (dropping about 10-15 pounds), Jerry could be an answer at right tackle. Even if he isn’t, he can still earn a starting right guard job. At the very least, he can give the Dolphins excellent depth at some crucial positions. This experiment revealed that the Dolphins may have one less need to worry about come draft time.