Commentary

Jets defense not playing up to snuff

With potent Houston Texans on horizon, Rex Ryan & Co. admit unit needs to step it up

Updated: November 21, 2010, 3:17 AM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- This may sound like heresy, but let's be brutally honest: Defensively, the New York Jets are just north of ordinary.

Rex Ryan's swaggerlicious group, which led the NFL last season in several statistical categories, has been so underwhelming that the coach himself called it "a little embarrassing." That should be troubling, considering the Jets are supposed to be built on defense.

A dominant defense wouldn't let a rookie quarterback have his way in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter, but that's exactly what the Jets did last week in Cleveland, where they made Colt McCoy look like Bernie Kosar. Ten plays, 59 yards, touchdown, overtime.

The Jets prevailed, barely, but the fourth-quarter letdown should serve as a warning flare. Actually, they should heed the entire game. They were so discombobulated in the first half that elder statesman Shaun Ellis felt compelled to tear into his teammates in the locker room.

If they struggled with the Browns, what will happen next?

Here's the reality: No big-time D, no Super Bowl. It's as simple as that.

"We haven't dominated; we haven't beaten a team into submission for 60 minutes," linebacker Bart Scott said. "That's what we expect. That's what we have to get back to. We won the game [in Cleveland], but if you look at the attitude and feeling around here it's almost like we lost because we didn't win like we wanted to win."

You call that swaggerlicious?

The first step on the road to redemption is Sunday, when the Jets meet the Houston Texans, who hit town with NFL-leading rusher Arian Foster, stud receiver Andre Johnson and the league's sixth-rated offense.

Houston boasts the NFL's top road offense over the past two seasons (409 total yards per game), which may not bode well for the Jets. They're so hot and cold at home (2-2) that Ryan made a desperate public appeal to the fans, requesting a "Loud Out" on Sunday.

Talk about irony. The noisiest team in the league -- the big-talking, hard-knocking Jets -- has fans that are too quiet, in their opinion.

A quick start by the offense, for a change, will create electricity in the stadium, but championships are won with defense. Right now, the Jets have issues.

Their high rankings notwithstanding (fifth in total yardage, third in scoring), the Jets have lost their big-play ability. Despite having a premier cornerback tandem, Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, they have only five interceptions, and none over the last four games. Their sack total (20) is in line with the league average, but a team that blitzes 50 percent of the time should be better than average.

The Browns, with marginal talent, exploited the Jets' lack of speed in the front seven. They threw a lot of short crossing routes, exposing their linebackers. All teams are throwing in the middle of the field, avoiding Revis and Cromartie on the outside (smart) and testing the safeties and slot corners. Jim Leonhard, Brodney Pool, Eric Smith and Drew Coleman have been the targets.

Anybody missing Kerry Rhodes? Just asking.

Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said he expects opponents to go to school on what the Browns did. As he said, "It's a copycat league." But he claimed they identified those problem plays and formations and worked through them in practice. They expect the Texans to use bunch and stack formations, which can cause confusion for teams that play as much man-to-man as the Jets.

Ryan needs to send out an APB for his playmakers. The Jets have produced 16 turnovers, which isn't terrible, but it isn't championship-caliber defense. His edge rushers, namely Jason Taylor, need to generate more pressure. Pressure will lead to interceptions, which will lead to short fields for the offense.

Three-game losing streak notwithstanding, the Texans will provide a good test, if only because they played like frightened kittens against the Jets in the '09 opener -- the debut of the Ryan era. Matt Schaub seemed intimidated by the Jets' exotic blitzes -- so were a lot of quarterbacks last season -- but Schaub & Co. have had a long time to prepare for the rematch.

Other teams seem to have figured out the Jets' pressure packages. Let's see how the Texans handle Round 2.

"We could practice for the next year and not cover everything that they do on defense; that's how many crazy things they do," coach Gary Kubiak said.

The crazy stuff isn't working as well as it used to, but the Jets have seven games to get it right for the playoffs, when it matters most.

"We'll end up being the top defense in the league, that's my opinion, when it's all said and done," said Ryan, who never has presided over a defense that finished lower than sixth overall. "I expect the numbers will improve. It's a little embarrassing being where we're at now, but there's only one way to fix it, and that's to play better."

Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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