FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Sharpen those number-twos, turn off the cell-phones, bring out the Scantron strips. Everyone quiet-down.
Three-weeks after watching Kris Jenkins limp off the Meadowlands turf against Buffalo, the Jet defensive unit will face its first true test since watching their leader go down for the season. Much like the Scholastic Aptitude Test, this exam is also better identified by its three-letter nickname; M-J-D.
In the two games without their defensive leader, the platoon of Sione Pouha, Howard Green, Mike DeVito and Marques Douglas have so far, exceeded expectations with their play. In fact, the unit has only yielded an average of 82.5 rushing yards per game since the Jenkins injury. Granted, it’s only been two games and the Jets have yet to face off against an elite back since they limited Tennessee’s Chris Johnson to only 97 yards on the ground in Week 3.
This week is a different story, as the Jets gameplan will game-plan to contain the powerful, yet fleet-footed Maurice Jones-Drew. “MJD” has more than stepped up in his first-season as the main-man in Jacksonville.
For the first three seasons of his career, Jones-Drew split carries with veteran Fred Taylor, with Taylor being the featured runner. Despite running behind an insufficient offensive line, Jones-Drew has made the most of his starring role, leading the league in total points scored (66) and touchdown rushes of ten-yards or more (4).
The fourth-year star‘s 737 rushing yards through eight games ranks sixth in the league and has had no problem finding the end zone this season, racking up 11 TDs.
He is the consummate two-way threat, excelling not only as a shifty runner but also as a more than capable receiver in the Jags’ passing game. Despite his relatively small frame (5-foot-8, 208 pounds), Jones-Drew has also gained notoriety as one of the league’s most feared blockers and toughest players.
Jets safety Kerry Rhodes believes that Jones-Drew’s small size is more of an advantage than a disadvantage.
“He’s a small guy, but he’s big,” said Rhodes. “You don’t really have a big target to hit. So, if you’re going in there, he gets low. You’ve gotta gang tackle him, if you don’t he can break tackles and make big runs.”
In their road losses to Miami and New Orleans, the Jet defense struggled to bring guys down, missing a number of tackles. A similar performance on Sunday could spell doom. Jones-Drew is a powerful runner who is adept at breaking tackles and making big plays in the open field.
“He’s tough man,” said Jets head coach Rex Ryan. “He’s just a tough, competitive and I say bowling ball.”
“He’s low to the ground, got great balance. When you think he’s down, he’s still up. We’ve got to make sure we get him on the ground. We’ve got to have more than one guy on him.”
Jets safety Eric Smith talked about the tough task of tackling the one man wrecking crew that is, MJD.
“That guy is hard to bring down,” said Smith. “He’ll start one way and take it the other way and break four or five tackles. Three guys will wrap him up and he’ll still get out of it.”
In his Wednesday news conference with the New York media, Jones-Drew was asked to talk about his running-style, which he had trouble labeling, but described as “doing whatever to win”.
“I really don’t know,” he said. “If it’s blocking, I block. If it’s running to get a first down on third-and-short, that’s what it is. If I have a chance to make a big play, I do that.”
Jones-Drew attributed most of his success to the performance of his supporting cast. “A lot of things happen because the guys in front of me are blocking well and the big runs we have are because guys are downfield blocking. Granted, you can make one or two guys miss, but when you have everybody blocking where you don’t need to have anyone miss, it makes it that much easier for a running back to run.”
Jones-Drew also spoke on how much pride he takes in his innate ability to break tackles. “It’s very prideful,” he said. “I think every running back prides that. That’s why we’re running backs. We’re built to make the first guy miss and keep driving your feet. If everybody is working that hard to create space for me to run, I feel like I’m letting them down by letting the first guy tackle me and I really don’t want to do that.”
If the Jets are successful in bringing down Jones-Drew on Sunday, that letdown will be inevitable. Otherwise, the disappointment will be on their side of the field.
LB Vernon Gholston was seen riding the stationary bike at this morning’s practice. Gholston tweaked his hamstring during the Monday walk-through and his status for Sunday is uncertain at this point.
Limited during practice were DE Shaun Ellis (knee), WR Brad Smith (quad), OT Damien Woody (lower back) and WR Wallace Wright (knee).
Cornerbacks Lito Sheppard and Donald Strickland both went through the full practice. Sheppard will play Sunday, but Ryan stated that he is not willing to name Sheppard the starter yet.
Del-Rio meets the media
Jack Del Rio’s bunch has been a model of inconsistency throughout the 2009 season. While they stand 4-4, three of those wins have come against the likes of Tennessee, St. Louis, and Kansas City, bottom feeders of the NFL.
Jacksonville was also defeated in their other meeting against the Titans, and was blown out by the 3-5 Seahawks in Week 5, 41-0.
In his conference call with the New York media on Wednesday, Del Rio addressed the current state of his .500 ball-club.
“I think the biggest thing for us, this year in particular, we’re a team that’s got some room for improvement,” admitted Del Rio. “We’re a team that’s working hard to get better. We’re excited about getting going in the second half of this season and playing better football down the stretch.”
“We have an opportunity to start the second half of this season with two teams that would like to be a in a better situation, two teams that very much need to win, so it should turn out to be a heck of a game.”
Jets head coach Rex Ryan worked with Del Rio on the Baltimore Ravens staff from 1999-2001. Ryan worked as the defensive line coach, and Del Rio coached the linebackers.
Ryan commented on his relationship with Del Rio during his Wednesday press conference.
“I like the way he coaches football and I admire the way he played football,” said Ryan. “But again, we’re good buddies but once we’re out there, we’re gonna try and kill each other.”
“Feliz cumpleaños a tí…”
For our inarticulate readers, that’s “Happy birthday to you” in Spanish. Today the Jets celebrate quarterback Mark Sanchez’s 23rd birthday.
One of the more humorous moments of the day came when Rex Ryan joked that he noticed something different about Sanchez today, aside from the fact that he wore short sleeves during the morning’s cold, windy practice.
“He looks older to me, today,” joked Ryan, who was then alerted by one of the beat writers that today is in fact Sanchez’s birthday. “Oh, see I’m on top of this. I mean, I can tell these things.”
“23. Don’t we wish we can all go back to being 23? God, he’s a young dude. What were we thinking drafting him that high?”
Sanchez returned to his locker after practice to find his birthday present from the team; a pile of dirty socks, courtesy of the defensive linemen.
Air-attack to take flight?
Jacksonville has struggled mightily to defend against the pass all season. The Jaguars defense has given up an average of 242.2 yards per game through the air, which ranks 26th in the NFL.
A bulk of the unit’s ineptitude can be attributed to a non-existent pass rush, a glaring weakness which was amplified by the loss of defensive end Reggie Hayward to injury. Jacksonville has only registered eight sacks all season, dead-last in the league.
The lack of pass rush gives opposing quarterbacks a wealth of time to sit back in the pocket and locate open receivers, and is something the Jets should be licking their chops to exploit on Sunday.
Jets honor the armed forces
Sunday, the Jets will host their 10th annual Military Appreciation Day at the Meadowlands. The day’s events include a military fly-by during the national anthem and a halftime performance by the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard Precision Drill Team.
Air Force Chief Master Sergeant James A. Roy and Coast Guard Commander Captain Robert O’Brien will serve as honorary captains for the game.