Jets defense not playing up to snuff
With potent Houston Texans on horizon, Rex Ryan & Co. admit unit needs to step it up
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.
Five Things To Watch
1. The Early Bird. Rex Ryan, hoping to cure the first-quarter doldrums, implored fans to get to their seats early and be loud. It might help if the Jets give the fans something to cheer about. In four home games, they've yet to score a first-quarter touchdown. In a word, that's brutal. Maybe it's because the fans know the Jets save their best for the fourth quarter.
2. Unleash Mark Sanchez. The Texans' pass defense is dead last in the league, surrendering 301 yards per game. We're talking historically bad. WRs Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes should be able to have their way against CBs Glover Quin and rookie Kareem Jackson. The Texans play a lot of zone -- soft zone, evidently -- so it could be a big day for TE Dustin Keller.
3. Revis Island. This is the kind of game where Darrelle Revis is worth his weight in gold. The Jets can leave Revis in single coverage against WR Andre Johnson, allowing them to keep a safety in the box to help defend Arian Foster, the league's leading rusher. Most teams would have to double Johnson, making it harder to stop Foster.
4. Twilight Zone. The Jets are ranked last in the AFC in red-zone efficiency, and that has to improve. They should put the ball in the hands of Shonn Greene, who is averaging 4.3 yards per carry inside the 20. LaDainian Tomlinson is averaging only 2.0. An occasional fade pass to Edwards (see the New England game) might help matters, too. Sanchez has misfired on 13 of his last 20 passes in the red zone.
5. Super Mario. The Texans might be pathetic on defense, but they're still getting strong play from DE Mario Williams (5.5 sacks), the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 draft. The man blocking him will be the No. 4 overall pick that year, LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson, who has been sensational over the last few weeks. If Ferguson neutralizes Williams, there's no reason why the Jets shouldn't have a big day.
-- Rich Cimini
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.
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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."
AFC TITLE GAME: STEELERS 24, JETS 19
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