Our front seven has a few one-liners that help explain one of our early strengths in the first quarter of the season.
"There's an old saying that if a team can run on you, there's issues," said LB Quinton Coples.
"Stopping the run on the way to the pass," rookie DL Sheldon Richardson replied. "That's how we play it."
The run defense is no secret. The Jets are No. 5 in the NFL in rush yards allowed per game and No. 2 in yards allowed per carry.
But a few other measures are equally eye-popping. We have 18 tackles for loss on running plays, also second in the NFL. And if you add in pass plays (but not sacks) and include plays stopped for no gain as well as loss, the Jets have 32 such tackles.
That's easily our most in 26 seasons, or since we also had 32 TFLNG at the quarter pole during the fast start to the '86 season.
None of this fazes Q or Sheldon.
"We want turnovers, we want everything that a defensive player can get," said Richardson, the precocious first-rounder who's tied for the team lead with 3.5 tackles for loss, or stuffs, and is a half-tackle off Damon Harrison's team lead with 5.0 tackles at or behind the line. "It's want-to. All it is is you want it. Every play, every snap, we want it."
But what if the other team doesn't want to give you the opportunities to get it? QB Matt Ryan and the Falcons come into Monday night's home game against the Jets with one of the league's four offenses imbalanced at more than a 70/30 pass-to-run ratio. That won't leave many runs for our front seven to try to swarm.
However, RB Steven Jackson is the X-factor here. Atlanta's big offseason free agency acquisition has been inactive with a hamstring injury the past two games. He didn't participate in practices Thursday and today.
"Although they are a pass-heavy team," Coples said, "at the end of the day, if he's back in the lineup, we know they're definitely going to try to run the ball. It's a gametime adjustment."
Many of the Jets know what Jackson can bring to the table. In last year's game at St. Louis, Jackson ran for 81 yards on 13 carries, a decent outing. But he was tackled twice for losses. One of them was by Coples. Forewarned is forearmed for Monday night.
JETS' TACKLE LEADERS AT/BEHIND THE LINE
NT Damon Harrison
LB David Harris
LB Demario Davis
DL Sheldon Richardson
DL Sheldon Richardson
NT Damon Harrison
LB David Harris
DE Muhammad Wilkerson
DE Muhammad Wilkerson
DT Leger Douzable
Hill on the Mend
WR Stephen Hill wore a baseball cap and did not participate in Thursday's practice after sustaining a concussion early in the first quarter of Sunday’s game in Nashville. Today, however, he was out there in the non-contact red jersey and was a limited participant.
“I was encouraged,” head coach Rex Ryan said of seeing Hill throw on the helmet and shoulder pads . “That was a good sign.”
"We're not there yet. We don't know if he's going to play yet or not," coordinator Marty Mornhinweg added later this afternoon.
The Jets aren't required to give the game status of any of their injured players for the Monday night game until after Saturday's late-morning practice.
Still, Hill has attended meetings throughout the week, has been headache-free for a couple of days now, and he’s “feeling good, just ready to play.”
“Whenever they give me the OK thumbs up, I’m ready to go,” he said.
Today's DNP list was down to three Jets: WR Santonio Holmes (foot/hamstring), CB Dee Milliner (hamstring) and T Oday Aboushi (knee). Along with Hill, RB Chris Ivory, TE Kellen Winslow and WR Clyde Gates were limited.
An Ex-Patriot Comes Aboard
We have acquired tight end Zach Sudfeld off of waivers from New England and have released linebacker Scott Solomon.
Sudfeld (6'7", 260) is a rookie free agent out of Nevada. The 24-year-old from Modesto, Calif., had a good preseason for the TE-thin Patriots this summer with eight catches for 101 yards and a touchdown.
He was inactive for the Jets' Thursday night Game 2 at New England but was active for the Patriots' three other games. He was targeted with three passes but had no catches and was in on 45 offensive plays and five special teams plays before he was waived.
Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson has been a game-changer this season.
So many intriguing storylines emerged during the Jets' win over the Falcons on Monday night, including the progression of Jets rookie QB Geno Smith under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. Atlanta WR Julio Jones working against DC Antonio Cromartie late in the game and TE Tony Gonzalez continuing to defy Father Time at 37 years young were also fun to watch.
There's one storyline that stands out more than the others, though, and it's the way the Jets' defensive front manhandled Atlanta's offensive line.
The Jets have invested three of their past four first-round picks on defensive linemen and those investments are paying off. They took DE Muhammad Wilkerson out of Temple with the 30th pick in 2011, they took DE/OLB Quinton Coples out of North Carolina with the 16th pick in 2012 and they took Sheldon Richardson out of Missouri with the 13th pick this year. Let's focus on Wilkerson and Richardson, who shined Monday night.
Wilkerson recorded seven tackles, two tackles for loss and a strip sack. At 6-foot-4, 315 pounds, Wilkerson has impressive versatility for a man his size and the Jets moved him all over the front, making it tough for Atlanta to locate him and adjust its blocking schemes to account for him. His 35-plus inch arms, upper body strength and active hands were noticeable regardless of where he lined up. He discarded blockers with relative ease whether he was rushing the passer or defending the run.
The strip sack is an excellent example of how good Wilkerson is with his hands right now. He beat the right tackle with a quick swim move to the inside and knocked the right guard's hands down before extending that long left arm and knocking the ball out of QB Matt Ryan's hands. The way he played Monday night reminded me of Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, who was selected 19 picks earlier than Wilkerson in 2011.
Players like Wilkerson and Watt are rare. There is one draft-eligible player who has that kind of frame and upside in this year's class, though. Even if Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt isn't quite as big (as I suspect) as his listed size of 6-7, 322 pounds, he's more than big enough to hold his own on the inside and agile enough to play on the outside. He's an above-average hand fighter who appears to have long arms and shows above-average upper body strength on film. If he can refine his technique and improve his consistency in terms of pad level, he has the potential to be a difference-maker at the NFL level. This is why he projects as a first-round pick.
-- He's learning a new position (rush linebacker) and he's coming off a fractured ankle, so it would've been unrealistic to expect Quinton Coples to have his A-game from the outset.
That said, the New York Jets need more production from the former first-round pick, considering how much he's been on the field. In three games, Coples has played in 165 defensive snaps (73 percent of the team's total), but his stats are modest: one solo tackle and five assists, seven quarterback hits, and no sacks.
That Coples came back so quickly after ankle surgery reflects his toughness, but it is time to transform that into production, especially with pass rushing specialist Antwan Barnes out for the season with a knee injury. Coples, Garrett McIntyre and maybe Calvin Pace will have to absorb Barnes' playing time, about 30 snaps per game.
Imagine the Jets' front seven when Coples gets comfortable.
ICYMI: More on Barnes' injury, which occurred Monday night in Atlanta. ... Guard Willie Colon had some interesting things to say about the Tim Tebow circus and the make-up of the Jets' locker room when he arrived last March. ... Rookie quarterback Geno Smith is a "flatliner," according to Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. He meant that as a positive. ... What does the future hold for Mark Sanchez? Rex Ryan won't say. ... The NFL standings say the Steelers stink. The Jets refuse to believe it.
11-year veteran Calvin Pace keeps up with Jets' youth movement
Calvin Pace looks on during pregame warmups in Week 3 of a game against the Buffalo Bills at MetLife Stadium. (Sept. 22, 2013)
- The youth movement was underway in Florham Park, and at 32, Calvin Pace had been left behind.
After 10 seasons in the NFL, the outside linebacker wasn't surprised when the Jets released him and his hefty contract in February, nor was Pace caught off guard when the team parted ways with three other members of its front seven and lost another, Mike DeVito, to free agency.
With the April selection of first-rounder Sheldon Richardson and the promotions of former backups Damon Harrison and Demario Davis, the average age of the Jets' front seven is 25.3, down from 29.7 in 2012. And except for Pace and David Harris, 29, the unit's other starters are 24 or younger.
Not surprisingly, the 6-4, 265-pound Pace knows he's on borrowed time. In April, he agreed to a significant pay cut and a one-year, $1.005-million deal.
"When you're sitting around jobless, you have to be real with yourself and kind of get on their level," he said after the Jets' Week 3 win over the Bills.
Pace -- a man of few words on the field and even fewer with the media -- said he has no choice but to keep up with the young bucks on the defense. And he's been doing just that, his teammates said.
He's second on the team with 21/2 sacks in four games (Muhammad Wilkerson has three), and Pace also has 14 tackles. Last season, Pace mustered only three sacks and 55 total tackles.
"Any time you're looked at as the old guy or veteran, there's always pressure for you to go out there and want to prove yourself," Harris said of Pace, who turns 33 in two weeks. "I feel like Calvin is walking around with that chip on his shoulder. He's been playing lights out for us, and you can really tell by the way he plays on Sunday -- even in practice."
Said Pace: "There's such a youth movement in the NFL, so I guess that will make you faster. A lot of these guys are 21, 22 years old. They're supposed to be fast at that age. I had to keep up with them, man."
He has, however, been criticized over the years for his lack of production since recording eight sacks in his suspension-shortened 2009 season. Since then, Pace's highest sack total was 51/2. And in Week 3 against Buffalo, his failure to wrap up Fred Jackson led to a 59-yard run.
Despite the occasional misstep this season, fellow defensive players rave about Pace's work ethic and his rare longevity in an injury-plagued profession.
"I don't see a change in his game," fellow outside linebacker Garrett McIntyre said. "The way he approaches the game, every year, is like a true professional. He comes in every day. He's seen a lot, too. There's not much the dude hasn't seen in 11 years. You can throw anything you want at him.
"I admire him because he never really panics, he's always under control, he knows what he's doing.
"I think he still comes to work the same way he's probably done the last 10 years, and that's the reason he's been playing so long -- the way he comes to work."
Richardson said of the Jackson play: "That missed tackle was the first one I've seen him miss since I've been here, from OTAs until now."
That's why the rookie lineman isn't tempted to crack old-guy jokes at Pace's expense.
"He's an O.G.," Richardson said with a smile, playfully using the acronym for "original gangster" to explain Pace's long tenure in the NFL. "Give him crap? Not at all. It's more respect. He's been in the game a long time and he's had a lot of success. And he's still in the game. And it shows."
Like Pace, Harris has an eye on Father Time.
The seven-year veteran, who signed a four-year, $36-million deal in 2011, was the highest-rated inside linebacker for the month of September on ProFootballFocus.com, a statistical website. But Harris said he's always mindful of the age factor.
"I'm old compared to most of them, too," he said with a laugh.
David Harris, as the Jets' annual 100-tackle man and leading tackler, has had more than a few double-digit games in his seven-year Jets career. But it's been a while since he was as dominant and animated as he was in the win against the Falcons on Monday.
But Harris declines to get worked up about his game-high 14-tackle outing, which included all or parts of four tackles at or behind the line.
"Nobody on this defense is about individual stats," David told me today after practice at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. "Everybody just comes out there and does his job and puts his piece into the puzzle. If everybody keeps putting in one more piece each day, we'll get closer to completion. We still have a long way to go, and hopefully we'll just keep getting better."
Quinton Coples, now a fellow linebacker partner, says Harris doesn't say a whole lot during a game, "so it's kind of like you expect him to be great." But "Q" has words of praise for the Hitman.
"I just think he's an overall great guy," Coples said. "He's the heart of our defense. He lets his work speak for itself. He's well-deserving of all the recognition he gets. The defense relies on him a lot — a lot — as far as personnel calls and stuff like that. You've got the coaches in the building but he's the coach out on the field and we appreciate it."
David Harris appreciates the praise but lets it all roll off his back. Some players mouth those platitudes about team before individual but David has lived that philosophy since before he arrived on the Jets as the second-round pick in 2007.
So it didn't mean a whole lot to him that his 14-tackle game at Atlanta was his most since he had a 15-tackle showing at New England in '09, or that his 3.0 tackles for loss/no gain were his most since a 3.5-tackle game at New Orleans earlier that season. In fact, Harris' tackle and TFLNG totals against the Falcons were both his most in a Jets victory in his career.
More important was that he and his defense and his team still aren't where they want to be.
"The defense was playing well, but we can always get better," he said. "We allowed too high a percentage on third down, we gave up way too many first downs, we didn't make the crucial stop when the team needed it. There's always room for improvement."
That's the best way for individual leaders and their teams to approach their seasons. This week it's not in any way about David Harris trying to equal or top one of the finest individual games of his career on Monday night.
"The guys in this locker room, we don't buy into all the up-and-down stories in the media," he said. "We just try to focus on this game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and what we can control."
As Eric Allen reported for us this morning, David Garrard is back on the Jets, but with a two-week roster exemption. The current Jacksonville resident and former Jaguars QB who left the Jets in the spring due to his aching knee, said that after a summer of rest and then a recent return to running, "my knee's been feeling great."
"I've been going out just about every other morning and running three miles on concrete and I really thought that would be the real test on if my knee would swell back up and get score again. And it hasn't," he said.
After that, he said, his thinking then turned to "I don't want to turn 50 one day and look back and say, 'What if I just called somebody to say, "Hey, you know, if there's an opportunity, I'm really thinking about trying to get back." ' "
As Rex Ryan said, Garrard's roster exemption "is almost like a two-game trial. We'll see where he's at. ... Obviously with Mark [Sanchez] being out on IR, this is really more about let's see where David is, can he help our team or not."
Garrard said the help he's offering now is as an experienced mentor to Geno Smith and Matt Simms. (And maybe even Brady Quinn? But that's four QBs on the active roster again.)
"Geno has the job," he said. "If my number is ever called, I need to be ready for that. So my thing is to help these guys out and just be as much of a leader as I can in the locker room and as much of a mentor and leader as I can be in the quarterback room, because I was a rookie once and I know how it is."
The Jets' injury report flipped from Wednesday, when eight players didn't participate and three were limited. Today three players were DNPs — WR Santonio Holmes (foot/hamstring), TE Kellen Winslow (knee) and CB Dee Milliner (hamstring) — and eight were limited — T Oday Aboushi (knee), LB Quinton Coples (ankle), CB Antonio Cromartie (hip/knee), WR Clyde Gates (knee), RB Chris Ivory (hamstring), S Jaiquawn Jarrett (knee), WR David Nelson (hamstring) and CB Darrin Walls (shoulder).
Our weekly Q&A -- an offbeat conversation with a player -- is with New York Jets linebacker Demario Davis. He's a first-year starter who already has emerged as an emotional leader on defense:
The late Steve McNair, the former Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens great, was your cousin. What kind of impact did he have on your career and your life?
Demario Davis: He was a first cousin. His dad and my mom are brother and sister. Definitely, having a cousin playing in the NFL is huge. He was a generation in front of me, so it wasn't like we were hanging out every day. I saw him on holidays when I was young. We'd throw the football around, talk football in the offseason.
Linebacker Demario Davis, right, said he enjoys bringing energy to his Jets teammates.
McNair was known for his toughness. Did you get that gene, too?
DD: Our family is built on toughness. Adversity is going to happen, in life and on the football field. You have to be able to shrug it off. Life isn't about how much you can dish out; it's about how much you can take.
How much did his tragic death impact you? You were 20 years old when he was murdered.
DD: Anybody's death is tough, not just because he was a significant player. I have fond memories. It was tough. You see it, and it hurts. But it was huge to see how many people respected him and how many people were at his funeral, and to see what kind of impact he had in this world.
You grew up in a small town in Mississippi. Describe what that was like.
DD: Collins (pop. 2,600) is a very small town, very family oriented. Pretty much everybody knows everybody. It's very rural, with a lot of hunting and fishing-type stuff. Brandon (pop. 22,100) is a little bit bigger, little more of a city feel. It's more of a city versus a town. It's more of an impoverished type of area. I was raised in Brandon. My mom had me when she was 16, so I stayed with my grandmother in Collins. I came to Brandon when I was in third grade.
You've been here only a year, but you're already a vocal leader on defense. We've seen clips of you firing up the defense. Have you always been that kind of leader?
DD: I think it comes with the territory. I like doing that type of stuff. I'm a high-energy guy and I try to let my team feed off that. Guys look for me and want me to do it, so I don't mind doing it.
When the Jets drafted you, Rex Ryan compared you to Ray Lewis in terms of intangibles. How'd you feel when you heard that?
DD: He said my character kind of reminds him of Ray Lewis. It's probably just our passion for the game, our love for the game, our energy. Ray is a believer, I'm a believer. We live to encourage other human beings. It's not just about us. We're very selfless. I sense all of those things out of Ray. That's why he's a role model of mine, somebody I look up to. I kind of watch how he does things. I have a lot of respect for him for the way he does those things. Life is about being selfless. It's not about you, it's about the people around you. Every day I come into this locker room, it's about my teammates. It's not about me.
Jets Four Downs with Damon Harrison: NT says even his mother now calls him 'Snacks'
What is it about Rex Ryan’s defense that suits you?
He makes everybody feel confident but it’s just not that you have to be in a certain area and do a certain thing, he gives guys the freedom to be themselves. You’ve always got to know your job, but he allows us to be football players, not robots. That’s a good recipe.
Your coaches have been impressed by your quickness for a 350-pound guy. Have you always been quick or is it something you’ve had to train?
Yeah, I’ve only been over 300 pounds for 3 ½ years now. So I’m still trying to get used to it. But I think I have a little 185-pound guy inside of me somewhere. Yeah, I think I could play some wide receiver, but that’s entirely too much running for me at this point.
Are you surprised your nickname -- ‘Snacks’ -- has become so popular?
I thought it would just be something within the organization, but it’s gone kind of viral. I didn’t think it would be that big. Karl Dunbar gave it to me and Rex just took off with it. Coach Dunbar was encouraging me to lose weight. We had Rice Krispies Treats around the facility, so he would leave one on my desk everyday before meetings as a way of reminding me what I needed to do as a joke. After I lost weight I ate one of them, then left another on his desk.
And now your mother calls you 'Snacks.'
Yeah, that’s terrible. I thought it was just going to be here. At first, I didn’t like the name. Then here comes Snacks. Being a big guy, you get a little sensitive about your weight. It’s growing on me. I love it now.
Throughout the preseason, two mostly unknown players, Antonio Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett, competed for the Jets’ starting safety spot opposite Dawan Landry.
The Jets were going to have two new safeties this season. They knew one would be Landry, a proven, eighth-year pro who played under Jets coach Rex Ryan when Ryan coordinated Baltimore’s defense. Next to Landry would be Allen or Jarrett, in their second and third years in the NFL, though Jarrett spent almost all of last season out of the league.
Ryan said before the season that he would probably rotate Allen and Jarrett, playing them in particular packages to cater to their strengths, and that is exactly what has happened. While Landry has played all 363 snaps this season, Allen has played 192, Jarrett 139.
Monday’s win at Atlanta underscored the fluctuating nature of this “other” safety spot. Allen played just 16 of 76 snaps, Jarrett 48. In the first four games, Allen’s snap counts were 47, 42, 46 and 41 (48 percent of the total snaps). Jarrett’s were 11, 18, 41 and 21 (25 percent). In Atlanta, second-year player Josh Bush, who is Landry’s backup, got in alongside Landry for 25 snaps, after playing just three previously all season, in the opener against Tampa Bay.
The Jets’ secondary could be thin in Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh, whose quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, excels at making defensive backs have to cover downfield for a long time.
The Jets began the season with Dee Milliner and Antonio Cromartie as their starting cornerbacks. Milliner was benched in Week 2, was limited in the next game, missed the next two games with a hamstring injury and won’t play against the Steelers. A hyperextended knee has Cromartie listed as questionable for the Steelers game. If Cromartie can’t play, the Jets will start Darrin Walls and Kyle Wilson at the corner spots, with Isaiah Trufant playing the nickel role.
In short, the Jets’ secondary – and the rotating safeties – are facing a less-than-ideal situation as they try to deal with the Steelers’ leading receiver, Antonio Brown (32 catches, 412 yards, two touchdowns). Still, Roethlisberger has been vulnerable this season, with five interceptions and five fumbles in four games. He had eight picks and six fumbles in 13 games last year.
Something Ryan told Bush last week, before the Atlanta game, highlights the state of the secondary and the safety rotation: “Be ready.”
Even though Allen began the season as the starter next to Landry, he figured there would be a rotation with Jarrett, based on particular packages and their strengths. Allen said he went into the Atlanta game expecting to have a limited number of snaps, and he has tried to stay on his toes despite his playing time potentially changing from week to week.
“You’ve just got to be ready for what’s coming and just don’t take plays off and try to play every play the same and do what you can do, man,” he said. “Just try to come in here and work hard at everything I do, and if I’m in the package, I’m in the package and if I’m not, I’m not. But I’m not losing any sleep over it.”
Bush said his situation is different than Allen’s and Jarrett’s. Bush said his assignments aren’t package-based. He is more of a utility man.
“They already told me just know the whole (play) book,” Bush said. “They know I’m ready to play whenever my name will be called upon. I just need to know everyone’s position (in the secondary). To be able to (play a lot) on Monday night when the entire nation is watching, there’s not really a better feeling. Every week I prepare the same way, so it wasn’t anything different. I just try to know every spot. You never know which spot you’re going to have to play.”
Bush played 17 defensive snaps all of last season and never more than 10 in any one game. He said it helped that his first major action came in a road game, because he could communicate relatively easily with Landry on the field since Atlanta’s crowd wanted to be quiet when its offense was on the field.
This week, the Jets get a team that Landry knows well, because he was with Baltimore from 2006-10. Landry has gained a significant amount of knowledge from playing the 6-5, 240-pound Roethlisberger so often over the years.
“He’s a guy who can keep plays alive by scrambling,” Landry said. “He makes a lot of guys miss. We’ve got to make sure we’re covering guys for an extra two, three seconds because he can keep plays alive. You might think you have a clean run at him and he can elude you. If you think you have him wrapped up, he can slip off you. So we just have to make sure we wrap up if we get a chance at him and take him to the ground and just keep playing. It was always fun playing Pittsburgh (during the Baltimore years). We knew it was going to be a blood bath. This week is going to be the same thing.”
Ryan, who calls the defense in games and installs it beforehand, wouldn’t get into specific details about which packages feature Allen and which feature Jarrett. Nor would defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman. They also hesitated to specifically discuss each player’s strengths. But Ryan seems to be pleased with the versatility he is getting from Allen and Jarrett. Allen has played as the nickel back, while Jarrett has appeared in the dime package, with six defensive backs.
“Each week they’ll be involved in the game plan,” Ryan said. “Maybe certain coverages, one might be a little better than the other one. Both of them are really good close to the line with their background. Jaiquawn was a tremendous hitter. That’s what I remember most about him when he came out of Temple (before the Eagles drafted him). In the game, it’s rare, a guy that can hit you in the open field and knock you on (your) back. He can really strike. Antonio Allen really was an All-American player, but he was really a (outside) linebacker in college.
“So both of them have experience close to the line of scrimmage. It’s more really further back (in coverage), we knew it would be more of a work in progress, (with) Antonio especially, but he’s really picking it up.”
Said Thurman: “When we go into our meetings we look at the other team’s personnel, how we match up, what we feel are the better matchups for us in a certain situation and that’s when we come to the decision on who’s going to play in which package. I’m not going to get into particulars, but they have different strengths. And what we try to do is we try to allow those guys to play to their strengths. If another guy’s stronger in that area, why not play the other guy?”
Unlike Jarrett, who the Jets acquired after the season, Allen was with the Jets last season, but got just 72 defensive snaps, including 48 in the final four games. Thurman believes he is better for that experience.
“He’s better than he was last year, but experience will make you a better player,” Thurman said. “Understanding the scheme, understanding what your assignments are, understanding what the offense is trying to do to you. As a safety in this defense you have to be pretty well versed. You have to be pretty intelligent. And so playing is what gives you the experience to go out to do your job a little bit better.”
Muhammad Wilkerson is already the best player on the Jets, just 37 games into his NFL career. He plays for a team a short drive from where he grew up, just like a certain salsa-dancing receiver on the Giants.
Wilkerson is a bigger, meaner version of Victor Cruz for the Jets, a cornerstone for this franchise for the next decade. So how about that move? Maybe a quick moon walk after sacks?
“Mo is a real smooth guy on the dance floor for his size,” said Desmond Wade, his old basketball teammate from Linden High, “but I doubt you’ll see him do that on the football field.”
That’s okay. Everything else that will make him a star – including, soon, his first Pro Bowl trip – is already there.
“When I watch him play and see the stuff he’s doing, I’m kind of in awe,” said Phil Colicchio, his basketball coach in Linden. “It’s almost like, ‘Where did that come from?’”
Where Wilkerson came from is certainly no debate. In Linden, his exploits on the basketball court for Colicchio – including two state titles – are probably more memorable that his high school football career.
He came from a town he calls “a proud urban community,” one where newspaper clippings from his career are still tacked at the local rec center, one where you’ll find him each summer sponsoring a summer football camp for kids who want to follow him. .
He’s still just Mo there, and his visits are not limited to speaking gigs at the high school. He’ll hang out on Monday nights at the Linden PAL hoops games, talking trash with his old hoops teammates, or he’ll blend in with the crowd on Friday nights when the Tigers are at home.
Stardom hasn’t changed him yet, and the people in Linden doubt it ever will. Just like with Cruz two years ago, the fact that Wilkerson has become a dominant NFL player in the shadow of his hometown just makes his story better. If he had ended up in New Orleans? Pittsburgh?
“I honestly couldn’t imagine,” he said in a quiet moment last week at the Jets training facility. “I’m glad I can put a show out there every weekend, not just for my family, but for my community.”
The show has been a good one, too. Most of the focus with the Jets falls on rookie quarterback Geno Smith, and that’s predictable. But this team is not 3-2 without Wilkerson and this young defensive line.
His performance against the Falcons on Monday Night Football might be the best of his young career. He had one sack, one in which he weaved through two defenders and stripped Matt Ryan of the ball. If the fans weren’t aware of him before that game, they certainly were when it ended.
“I think he’s right there with the top defensive linemen in this league right now that aren’t named J.J. Watt,” his head coach Rex Ryan said.
Rex Ryan had a dominant defense in his first two seasons as Jets head coach, but he never had a defensive lineman like this – one with the speed and power to breakthrough double teams on his home to rush the quarterback, but big enough at 6-4, 315 pounds to stuff the run, too.
“It’s funny. I don’t think he knows he’s as good as he is,” linebacker Calvin Pace said. Pace thinks he is the best defensive lineman in the league, which is a stretch at this point of the year. Still, no one will disagree with this: “It’s going to be fun to see him continue to grow.”
That, really, is still the allure with this team. Jets fans are hardened from years of disappointment to think the other shoe is about to kick them in the gut, and maybe that’ll happen today against the winless Steelers.
Maybe 3-2 becomes 6-10 or 7-9, which is what everyone expected when the season started. Even if it does, though, it’ll be players like Wilkerson who will give this fan base hope for the years to come.
He gets that, too. When the media swarmed his locker on Wednesday, he turned and voiced his surprise – “Whoa! What’s all this?” – but he understands that he is becoming the face of this defense.
Darrelle Revis is gone. So are the big talkers like Bart Scott. Wilkerson is just 23, but he has shifted into a leadership role out of necessity. He only has one year left on his rookie contract, and Jets would be wise to lock him up to a fat long-term contract this summer.
“The one thing about me, I’m a real laid back guy,” Wilkerson said. “But I would have no problem being the face of the defense for this organization. I feel like I have the characteristics to be that guy.”
If the Jets want to prove they are for real, if they are serious about giving New York a football season no one imagined, then Mo Wilkerson and his boys will chase Ben Roethlisberger all the way back to the Monongahela River on the day they induct Marty Lyons, one of the storied members of the New York Sack Exchange, into their Ring of Honor.
Lyons was the fiery leader who wreaked havoc and terrorized quarterbacks alongside Joe Klecko, Mark Gastineau and Abdul Salaam, and from his current perch as Jets radio color analyst, he is excited about the promise of the steely curtain the Jets have assembled and hopes they can one day earn a nickname of their own.
“I think they can be something special for years to come,” Lyons said.
The prominent names today are Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Kenrick Ellis, Damon “Snacks” Harrison and Quintin Coples. Lyons, who once accidentally put his fist through a window delivering a pregame speech before a bloody playoff game against the Raiders, knows exactly what he would tell these Jets now.
“It’s time,” Lyons said. “It’s time to take the next step.”
You can’t upset the Falcons on the road on Monday night and call yourself a contender if you lose to these 0-4 Steelers, however desperate they may be.
“We understand we can’t take nothing for granted,” Jets guard former Steeler Willie Colon said. “We just can’t have a good game Monday night and come out here and crap the bed.”
Lyons loves that mind frame.
“You can’t win one, lose one, win one, lose one — good teams don’t do that,” Lyons said.
JetLife Stadium is eager for Geno Smith to again play with a poise and precision beyond his years, and for Big Ben Roethlisberger to run for his life, as is his wont behind his reshuffled offensive line, with Rex Ryan’s young predators in hot pursuit.
“They’re not the Pittsburgh Steelers of the ’70s,” Lyons said.
Lyons, the Jets’ No. 1 pick out of Alabama in 1979, knows all about the Pittsburgh Steelers — strongmen Mike Webster, Jon Kolb — of the ’70s.
“They might have been the first ones with taped-up jerseys around their shoulder pads,” Lyons said. “Their arms were the size of legs. They were men.”
So were the men of the New York Sack Exchange.
“It wasn’t, ‘Are they gonna get to the quarterback?’ Iit was, ‘How many times will they get to the quarterback?’ ” Lyons recalled.
Klecko and Gastineau were the sackers, Lyons and Salaam the run-stuffers. Lyons was asked if he saw fear in the quarterback’s eyes.
“I don’t think I would ever use the word fear, not for a professional athlete,” he said. “I think he knew he was gonna get hit.”
What makes these current Jets all the more dangerous is the diabolical mind of Rex Ryan, who has had to compensate for the loss of Darrelle Revis. Wilkerson (four sacks) is emerging as a beast and a surefire Pro Bowl candidate.
“I think he is a combination really maybe of myself and Mark,” Lyons said.
Richardson? “Sheldon reminds me more of Klecko,” Lyons said. “He doesn’t have the size but he’s got great quickness off the ball.”
Ellis? “He’s a big kid in the middle you have to double.” Lyons said.
Snacks? “Snacks is the blue-collar worker,” Lyons said. “He does exactly what the coach asks him to do and he never complains. He’s a perfect example, if you have the determination, anything’s possible.”
Coples? “He’s got long arms, he’s got good speed,” Lyons said. “He’s just gotta learn that every play, you’ve gotta keep the motor going.”
Lyons always had the motor going. For 11 seasons.
“No question I definitely gave 100 percent every game,” he said. “I tried as hard as I could.”
Lyons chuckles at the memory of his ill-fated pregame speech during the 1982 playoffs.
“We knew the Raiders were known to try to intimidate other teams,” he said. “I was just trying to get our guys fired up.”
He got his pants stained with blood. No stitches for Marty Lyons.
“I just wrapped it up,” he said.
The Sack Exchange became so popular that there were shoe contracts, autograph sessions, posters and, of course, a trip to the New York Stock Exchange. That was then. This is now.
“Don’t put expectations on this group,” Lyons said. “Let them play. Let them have fun. I hope they get to that point where they do get a nickname.
“If they do, then they’re playing the game of football the way it’s supposed to be played.”
-- Despite a history of heartbreak against Tom Brady, the New York Jets believe they'll be ready for him Sunday.
“ Richardson He's Tom Brady; I'm Sheldon Richardson. He's a name. He's a figure, a franchise player. I'm trying to get after him, simple as that. No one really treats him like [Superman] around here. I think he's the complete opposite of that. ”
-- Sheldon Richardson
Emboldened by a strong defensive performance in the teams' Week 2 meeting, the Jets don't see the New England Patriots' star as a football superhero.
"I'm not treating him like Superman," defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson said Wednesday. "He's Tom Brady; I'm Sheldon Richardson. He's a name. He's a figure, a franchise player. I'm trying to get after him, simple as that. No one really treats him like [Superman] around here. I think he's the complete opposite of that."
Asked to name the opposite of Superman, the confident Jets rookie smiled and said, "I'd rather not say it."
As much as the Jets respect Brady, who has an 18-4 career record against them, they aren't genuflecting. They frustrated Brady last month in Foxborough, Mass., holding him to one of the worst statistical days of his career -- 19-for-39 for 185 yards and one touchdown on a busted coverage. At times, Brady was visibly upset.The Patriots held on for a 13-10 win, but the storyline from the game was how Brady and his patchwork receiving corps lacked cohesion.
The Jets find that amusing. Clearly, they feel their defense didn't get enough credit."It had nothing to do with us, I understand, we were just out there," coach Rex Ryan said with a heavy dose of sarcasm. "Certainly, that was well-reported and all that. We'll get to see. We'll get to see if some of those issues exist this week."
Added Richardson of Brady: "He was out there running plays against no one, I guess."The Jets have fielded a strong defense in Ryan's four-plus seasons as the coach -- they're currently ranked No. 2 in total defense -- but that hasn't translated into much success against their top nemesis. Ryan is 3-7 against the Patriots, having lost five in a row. Even though the Jets have frustrated Brady at times, they haven't been able to force him into costly mistakes. In fact, he has gone 163 passes without an interception against them.
Ryan was jokingly asked whether he'd like to treat Brady like a vampire, driving a stake through his heart. The coach laughed."I thought about doing all that stuff, but the league would fine me," he said. "I've been fined enough by the league, so I'll pass on that."There are as many questions about Brady's receiving corps as there were in Week 2. Tight end Rob Gronkowski still hasn't played. Danny Amendola suffered a head injury Sunday and didn't practice Wednesday. And rookies Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson have combined for nine dropped passes, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
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"He doesn't have his best receiver, which is his tight end," Richardson said. "And he's not throwing for 20,000 yards like he has in other years."
True, Brady's stats are modest compared to past seasons, but the Patriots are 5-1, with a chance to sweep the series and create a three-game gap with the Jets.
Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, the Jets' best defensive player, is 0-5 lifetime against Brady. Frustrated?
"It's frustrating a lot," he said. "The last two years, I've been playing these guys around my birthday [Oct. 22], and I keep having a bad birthday. Tom Brady keeps making it bad for me."
Jets' D must bring A-game vs. Pats
If Gang gives a Week 2 effort in Week 7 vs. Brady, Jets just may snap Pats' streak
New York Hot Button: Jets vs. Patriots
This week's New York Hot Button is answered by NFL Analyst Eric Allen: Could the Jets actually beat the Patriots
-- It is hard not to love the Jets during Patriots week. Something inevitably just comes over them.
This time, the twist is the 5-1 Patriots coming to town Sunday riding a five-game winning streak against the Jets. And yet, the Jets' defense began the work week by trotting out the most dog-eared trick in the playbook when asked about the Pats: New York defenders groused about feeling disrespected, overlooked, even a little irritated. They cited the grudge within this grudge match.
Did they not hold Tom Brady to 19 completions in their first showdown, in Week 2? Did not the Patriots barely escape with a 13-10 win?
The Jets plan to carry out their grudge against the Tom Brady's Patriots on Sunday afternoon.
"It had nothing to do with us, I understand -- we were just out there," Jets coach Rex Ryan sarcastically said Wednesday.
Then, Jets' rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson picked up where Ryan left off the past two days.
Richardson is a big, strong, friendly kid with mischief in his eye. He is having a terrific season. Until this year, the biggest rivalry game he ever played in was Missouri versus Kansas, with the winner earning the glorious right to keep something called the .. um ... "Indian War Drum" traveling trophy. But when asked about Brady, Richardson poked the All-Pro quarterback in the ribs with a string of remarks and critiques that included:
"The only thing I'm thinking about right now is beating Tom Brady. The way you do that is pretty much the way you do all quarterbacks. You hit him. Put pressure in his face. No quarterback likes pressure. ... He gets less accurate. ... He had a few rough spots the first time we played.
"I'm not treating him like Superman. ... No one really treats him like [Superman] around here."
Well, check that.
Some of the Jets kinda, sorta are.
The Jets' defenders know they have to approximate the results against Brady from four weeks ago for the Jets to win this division game and pull within a loss behind the Patriots in the AFC East standings. And so, as refreshing as Richardson's honesty and ambition are, he also hasn't been in New York long enough to experience the trail of tears that New England has caused for the Jets since the Gang's "Can't Wait!" victory in the 2010 playoffs.
Richardson doesn't carry the psychic scars that older Jets, like Calvin Pace and cornerback Antonio Cromartie, acknowledged a little Thursday as they smirked and brushed off questions about whom Brady won't have to throw to Sunday.
Yes, Wes Welker is gone, but "they have a Welker-like guy" in Julian Edelman, Pace said. Pats tight end Rob Gronkowski and receiver Danny Amendola are both hurt and seemingly unlikely to play again Sunday. But as Pace pointed out, though "the pieces change" for the Pats year after year, their grip on the division title hasn't loosened a bit.
Smiling a little forlornly now, Pace reminded everyone of 2008, the year Brady had season-ending ACL surgery and the Pats beat the Jets with unproven Matt Cassel, who hadn't started a game since high school.
"Different pieces, same philosophies," Pace said. "I respect what they do. They have a system, and they do a lot of things well. You look out there and they have a bunch of guys you don't know. But they find a way. They always do."
And the Jets? They want to find a way to avoid putting rookie quarterback Geno Smith in the position of having to win the sort of 30-27 shootout that Brady and Drew Brees got into last Sunday, before Brady stunned the Saints with a touchdown pass on the next-to-last play of the game. With New England missing nose tackle Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo, the Jets may try to run the ball and burn the clock more than they have in other games.
Cromartie's insistence that he feels healthier than he has all year should improve New York's spotty secondary play, too. Cromartie says if he had to grade his play this season, he'd give himself just a C so far.
The Jets know the Pats are better than they were earlier this season. And that's a concern, too. They've heard the stories of how Kenbrell Thompkins the receiver Brady hit for the game-winner against New Orleans, may notice his cell phone buzzing around 10:30 p.m. with text messages from Brady. The quarterback will ask him if he's noticed this detail or that as he's studying game film -- the presumption being that Thompkins couldn't possibly be doing anything else that late at night but working as feverishly on the next game plan as Brady.
"You can see they're all getting more comfortable with each other," Richardson allows.
So how do the Jets find a way to beat the Pats again, at last? That is, beside the "Green Out" plea Ryan sent out to Jets fans Thursday, or inventing examples of how the world is against them, or insisting their five-game losing streak against New England hasn't crawled into their heads?
"I think the challenge is not beating ourselves, as we often find a way to do," Pace said.
Then he called out the Jets defense.
"You've got to affect Tom Brady," he said. "If that doesn't happen, you don't have a chance."
The New York Jets and New England Patriots are already getting ready for their second rivalry matchup of the season here in Week 7, and we’ll see if the Jets are able to avenge a Week 2 loss and pull off an upset against the 5-1 Pats. The Patriots have suffered significant injuries through the first six weeks, so that’s definitely something on the Jets side. They are returning to full strength at cornerback, too, which will be key when going up against a quarterback as good as Tom Brady, even if his receivers have been incredibly inconsistent (Brady hasn’t been consistent either, though he was brilliant last week for most of the game).
Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reports that Jets starting cornerback Kyle Wilson has been cleared from a concussion and was able to practice fully to end the week of practices. Per Mehta, Wilson “will play” this week against the Patriots, and the New York Jets will have both Wilson and rookie CB Dee Milliner back in the fold for this week’s highly anticipated rivalry rematch in 2013.
Wilson suffered the concussion in last week’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and his return is huge for the Jets. Even with Danny Amendola set to miss this week, covering the slot is still vital with Brady throwing the ball and both Julian Edelman and Austin Collie being two worrisome presences in the slot for opponents to worry about. The Jets secondary is at full strength at the right time, and they won’t have any depth issues with Wilson and Milliner ready to play.
The focus of the Jets season has been their rookie quarterback, Geno Smith. But New York's defense, with stud defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, is keeping the Pats rival in the hunt. Here is this week's opponent preview.
Antonio Cromartie has provided plenty of bulletin-board material for Patriots Week, once famously telling Tom Brady what he thought of him by using some unprintable words and other times expressing his enmity toward the Jets' AFC East rivals with some similarly colorful language.
Not this time. Not when he's playing like this. If Cromartie has some choice words for anyone, it's for himself.
The veteran cornerback, who's being counted on to be the team's top cover corner -- especially now that Darrelle Revis is gone -- admits he hasn't gotten the job done so far. Even if coach Rex Ryan contends that Cromartie is playing at a Pro Bowl level.
"I don't think I am," Cromartie said Thursday. "I think I can play a whole lot better."
What grade would Cromartie give himself? "I give myself a 'C,' " he said. "I haven't been playing up to the level that I expect myself to be at."
If there's one statistic that underscores his frustration, it's this: Cromartie has given up three passes of at least 50 yards this season. That includes a 55-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Emmanuel Sanders in last Sunday's loss to the Steelers. Cromartie was fooled on the play, thinking it was going to be a run. He was beaten badly on the coverage, and Sanders rubbed it in by somersaulting into the end zone.
"That's something I've taken a lot of pride in, and that's something that can't happen on the back end of this defense," Cromartie said of the long passes he has surrendered. "I feel like I need to step up my game a lot more. It starts with critiquing myself and it starts in practice."
How many long passes should he give up in a season? "Zero," he said, adding that he has, in fact, gone through a season without giving up a pass that long.
Injuries may have something to do with it. He suffered a hip injury near the end of training camp and a hyperextended knee in practice last week.
Cromartie said he initially thought he tore his ACL when he went down in practice, but it turned out to be far less serious. He said he aggravated the injury late in the Pittsburgh game.
Even so, no excuses.
"I'm never going to involve injuries in making an excuse for my play," he said. "If I'm out on the football field, my teammates expect to get my best and I expect to give it my best."
His best can't come soon enough, especially with the Pats next. And no nasty talk about Brady this time, just respect.
"Me going against Tom Brady, a future Hall of Fame quarterback, that's something you thrive on," he said. "You've got to go out and play your best, make sure you're on your 'A' game, because you know he's going to be on his 'A' game and his young receivers are, too."
Cromartie and the secondary continually frustrated Brady in their first meeting this season, a 13-10 Jets loss in Week 2. But Brady, who has an almost entirely new set of skill-position players this season, seems to be adjusting to his new teammates. The Patriots are coming off a thrilling 30-27 comeback win over the Saints on Sunday.
"We created some things, and I thought we got to the quarterback pretty well," Cromartie said. "We gave them different looks, and his young receivers dropping deep passes can get you frustrated. But I think his young receivers are understanding what they need to do. We're going to get their best, and that's what we expect."
Cromartie said he needs to give his best, too, and he thinks he knows how: by being more physical. While watching tape, he has noticed a tendency to use finesse against opposing receivers, especially close to the line of scrimmage.
"I try to be physical with receivers, but that's something I haven't been doing," he said. "When I'm up in press coverage, I need to be more physical with receivers, getting my hands on them."
No better time than now to put the change in technique to work. It's Patriots Week, and it's time for Cromartie to make a big statement.
With his play, not his words.
Jets secondary coach Tim McDonald wants more picks, production from his players
Nearly 20 years have passed since Tim McDonald played in one of the greatest defensive backfields in NFL history.
In 1994, the San Francisco 49ers played 19 games in the regular season and playoffs. They won 16 of them, including the Super Bowl, largely because their secondary composed of McDonald at strong safety, Merton Hanks at free safety and Eric Davis and Deion Sanders at cornerback.
Davis was the only one not to make the Pro Bowl that year.
Those 49ers tied for the league lead with 23 interceptions — seven by Hanks, six by Sanders, two by McDonald and one by Davis. Sanders returned three interceptions for touchdowns. McDonald returned one, and also ran back a fumble for a touchdown.
McDonald is new to high-level coaching, in his first season as the Jets’ defensive backs coach after occupying that role last season at Fresno State. Before that, he coached high school football.
Despite his coaching inexperience, he is not naïve enough to think every secondary he mentors will mirror the 1994 49ers. Yet he still maintains high standards.
On Friday afternoon, he stood in the hallway outside the Jets’ locker room, between planning sessions for today’s game against New England and its future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady.
McDonald listened, for a beat, as he was told the Jets’ passing defensive numbers weren’t all that bad this season — 12th in the NFL with 228.2 yards allowed per game. Then he cut in, like he would have jumped in front of a pass two decades ago.
"Not good enough," he said. "Not where we want to be."
What gnaws at McDonald more than anything is the Jets’ baffling lack of interceptions. Safety Dawan Landry had one in the season-opening victory over Tampa Bay. In the next five games, the Jets picked off zero of the 188 passes thrown by opposing quarterbacks.
The Jets did a solid job against Brady in a Week 2 loss, though he was clearly not yet comfortable with his rookie wide receivers, Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins. The Jets held Brady to a 48.7-percent completion rate. In Week 3, they limited Buffalo rookie EJ Manuel to 45.2. The next three starting quarterbacks they faced — Tennessee’s Jake Locker, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger — combined to complete 77.8 percent of their passes. Ryan threw for 319 yards, Roethlisberger 264.
Though the Steelers leaned on screen passes, Roethlisberger did hit Emmanuel Sanders for a 55-yard touchdown pass that helped send the Jets to a 19-6 loss. The play came on a deep ball against the Jets’ best cornerback, Antonio Cromartie. All told, Roethlisberger threw at Cromartie nine times, for five completions totaling 92 yards.
In the past three games, Cromartie has been thrown at 22 times for 11 completions. He allowed 65 yards against Atlanta, with a long gain of 46. He surrendered 99 yards against Tennessee, with the long gain coming on a 77-yard touchdown — one of two scores against him that day.
The Jets’ defensive scheme relies on man-to-man coverage and demands a lot from its top cornerback. While Cromartie gave himself a grade of C through six games, coach Rex Ryan said he has "played really well" under challenging circumstances.
"Unlike a lot of teams, we put him in some tough situations, put him in coverages where he has no help (from a safety)," Ryan said. "But I’ve done that because I believe he’ll make the play. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t."
SEARCHING FOR TURNOVERS
The Jets rebuilt their secondary in the offseason. They traded their best overall player, cornerback Darrelle Revis. They signed Landry, after both of their safeties, LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell, left in free agency. There were going to be hiccups for a position group that began the season starting second-year safety Antonio Allen and rookie cornerback Dee Milliner alongside Cromartie and Landry.
Yet the Jets, like their defensive backs, still have a chance to make something out of this season. They are 3-3, having alternated win and loss every other game — a larger trend underscored by the spotty play of their secondary. It is too soon to opine that Revis’ departure portended disaster for this group.
But with Brady today, and New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees — another future Hall of Famer — coming to town in two weeks, McDonald will see his defensive backs’ mettle tested. For now, he is not pleased.
"We’ve got to get turnovers," said McDonald, who was a six-time All-Pro and Pro Bowler. "We’ve had our chances. When you get those opportunities, you’ve got to make those plays. Those plays are huge in the game. It’s pretty surprising (that the Jets have just one interception). What’s surprising is that we work on: You touch it, you catch it. And we’ve had our hands on quite a few balls. We haven’t come down with them — and that’s got to change."
The Jets’ defensive coordinator, former nine-year NFL cornerback Dennis Thurman, is taking the long view with turnovers. His defense, which ranks fourth in the NFL in yards allowed per game, has recovered just one fumble.
"Usually, when they come, they come in bunches," Thurman said.
Ryan, who calls the defensive plays during games, said he is shocked the Jets have just one pick. He said a defense that does not take the ball away cannot be considered elite.
"I’d be shocked if we only had one (interception) a game," Ryan said. "Quite honestly, yes, it’s very disappointing. Right now, that’s probably what’s keeping us from taking that (next) step."
BACK TO BASICS
Cromartie has been the Jets’ most prominent defensive back since last season’s fourth game, after Revis was sidelined for the year with a knee injury. He played like a No. 1 corner, and earned a Pro Bowl spot for the second time in his career. But he believes his eighth season hasn’t even sniffed last year’s success.
"This year has been a tough year for me," he said. "I don’t consider this (is) me playing at a Pro Bowl-caliber at all."
Cromartie said he feels healthy now, after dealing with hip pain and playing through a hyperextended knee against the Steelers. He believes he is physically capable of correcting his recent technique problems — microcosms of a bigger issue for the secondary, whether with attacking deep jump balls, or being assertive at the line.
"We’re not playing at the level we need to be playing at when it comes to being technically and fundamentally sound," said Thurman, who coached the Jets’ defensive backs for the past four seasons.
In particular, Cromartie is displeased with his passivity in defending wide receivers immediately after the snap. He is a large cornerback — 6-2 and 210 pounds — and has long arms that make it "tough to throw the ball over him," McDonald said. Yet too often this season, Cromartie’s arms and hands have remained too inactive.
"Use your hands," is an edict McDonald frequently repeats to his players. As Cromartie’s body has healed, he regained confidence that he can pop a receiver after the snap, without worrying about getting beat down the field. Now, Cromartie believes, his press coverage can actually provide more physical pressure. This could, in turn, relieve whatever anxiety McDonald might feel about his secondary’s less-than-legendary performance so far.
"I’m letting receivers get too many free releases, even when I’m in press," Cromartie said. "I think last year, I was doing a better job of making sure I got my hands on the receiver at the line, to try to disrupt the timing of the route. That’s something I haven’t been doing in the first six games, and that’s something that I’ve got to get back to."
Just how difficult is it to stop TE Rob Gronkowski?
“When he’s covered, he’s open,” head coach Rex Ryan said of the Patriots' 6’6”, 260-pound tight end who made his season debut during our 30-27 overtime thriller today.
That being said, the Jets decided to go ahead and try their best to cover him anyway, and Ryan and coordinator Dennis Thurman decided on second-year S Antonio Allen as the man for the job.
“He’s a guy that’s a long body,” Rex said of his own 6’1”, 210-pound safety. “He has playmaking skills. I know he was a Sam linebacker at South Carolina. But he’s a baller. The guy’s a football player.
"We thought about [5’8” Isaiah] Trufant,” Rex joked, “but we were like, ‘Oh, maybe not.’ We had to go with some length on him and that’s really why we made the move.”
Allen was up for the task, though he conceded it was his most difficult assignment of the year.
“You’ve just got to be physical with him at the line of scrimmage,” Allen said, “just play with your feet, make sure your eyes are in the right spot and just play. He’s a big physical guy. I knew he’d be getting a lot of balls so I knew I’d have an opportunity to make a couple big plays.”
The precise number on “a lot” turned out to be 17 targets, more than twice the amount of the next-highest New England receiver.
“A couple of big plays” turned out to be a pair of first-half pass defenses along with what ended up being perhaps the biggest play of the game, a 23-yard pick-six of QB Tom Brady not even one minute into the second half.
“It’s always in my mindset to come out with a big play,” said Allen, who added he was “sort of, kind of” baiting Brady on the play. “Every game I’m trying to get a pick somewhere, but coming out of halftime, we just knew we needed to do something to shift the momentum. I came out and made a play and it was pretty big for us.”
It was more than pretty big.
“It was huge,” QB Geno Smith said, “to put points on the board, to cut the deficit to four. The defense came out that second half and played a phenomenal game. My hat goes off to them because they really sparked us.”
Gronkowski finished with eight receptions and topped the century mark with 114 yards, but Allen and the defense made the stops in the crucial moments as the Pats ended the game 1-for-12 on third-down conversions.
For just the second time in the last 55 weeks, QB Tom Brady was held without a touchdown pass, and for only the third time in the last eight years, a defender returned one of his rare interceptions for six points.
“I guess I’m feeling pretty good about how I played at the end of the day,” the 25-year-old safety said.
And so is the rest of the team.
Be there when the Jets host the Saints on 11/3. Get your tickets today.
“Double-A, man, I'm proud of him,” LB Calvin Pace said. “He's young, he's finally getting his shot and he's making the most of it."
“He’s a physical specimen,” CB Antonio Cromartie said of Gronkowski. “He’s a guy who can go out over the top and catch the ball. He knows how to use his body to try to catch the balls underneath. But Antonio did a heck of a job just playing him the way we needed to play him.”
Of course, Brady almost pulled a Brady.
Starting from his own 8-yard line down three with 2:10 left in regulation and all three timeouts remaining, the future Hall of Fame quarterback marched his team down the field into Jets territory, setting up 1st-and-10 from the 26 with just over 30 seconds remaining.
Gronkowski sneaked past Allen on a seam route up the middle toward the goalpost. Brady’s throw hit him in the right hand, but it was overthrown just a bit as he couldn’t bring his surgically repaired left arm around quickly enough to reel it in, and MetLife Stadium exhaled in a temporary sigh of relief.
“I’m mad at myself,” Gronkowski said of what would have been a spectacular stick-to-the-mitt, one-handed grab. “I had it, I brought it in, then I dropped it.”
Allen’s status as one of the game’s many heroes was preserved, the Pats had to settle for a field goal, and the rest is history.
Jets stop Patriots short of record winning streak by excelling in third down defense
The Jets barely prevented New England from achieving a bit of history on Sunday, when they won 30-27 on a 42-yard field goal in overtime.
The Patriots had won 12 straight games over AFC East opponents dating to a Week 3 defeat at Buffalo in 2011. Since divisional realignment in 2002, no team had won 13 straight over divisional opponents. Three other teams had won 12 straight – Baltimore and Green Bay from 2010-12 and Indianapolis from 2004-06.
New England might have made it 13 in a row if tight end Rob Gronkowski had been able to hold onto Tom Brady’s short pass over the middle on first-and-10 from the Jets’ 26-yard line with 36 seconds remaining in a game the Jets led 27-24.
Instead, Gronkowski couldn’t make a one-handed grab, and the Jets held Brady to incomplete passes on the next two plays, forcing the Patriots to settle for a field goal that sent the game to overtime.
New England got the ball first in overtime, and if the Patriots scored a touchdown, the game would have been over. But New England never even sniffed the end zone. Its overtime drive went four plays and 16 yards, and the Patriots punted, allowing the Jets to get their game-winning field goal, with the help of a 15-yard New England penalty.
The Patriots were left to wonder “what if?” about Gronkowski’s near-catch on first-and-10 from the 26. If he caught the ball, he probably would have scored the game-winning touchdown, since the field was open in front of him.
“He ran a great route and we gave him an opportunity,” Brady said. “He makes that (catch) 99 out of 100 (times).”
But the Jets’ defense had a darn fine showing on Sunday as well, and the fact that Gronkowski couldn’t hold onto that pass shouldn’t detract from what the Jets accomplished. They held the Patriots to 295 yards, including 150 after halftime.
“Phenomenal,” said quarterback Geno Smith, of his team’s defensive performance.
Consider that the Patriots were held below 300 yards just once in 2011 (by the Steelers) and not at all last season. Their personnel is different, and younger, this season. But this was the third time the Patriots have gained 300 or fewer in 2013.
The Jets held them to a season-low 232 in a Week 2 New England win. The Bengals – who the Jets visit next week – held the Patriots to 248 in beating them. And then there was Sunday’s 295-yard showing.
Three times this season, the Jets have held an opponent under 300 yards. There were the two games against New England and the 250 yards the Jets limited Tampa Bay to.
The Jets are now 2-1 in this tough, five-game stretch leading into their off week. They have won at Atlanta. And now they have stopped the Patriots’ AFC East winning streak, but don’t get a respite in the near future, since they have to travel to AFC North-leading Cincinnati (5-2) and then host NFC South-leading New Orleans (5-1), on the heels of beating the Patriots, who still lead the AFC East.
So it won’t be easy for the Jets to win back-to-back games for the first time since they won three straight in their 11th through 13th contests of 2011.
A big reason the Jets were able to move to 4-3 on Sunday and continue their alternating win-loss trend this season was that they held the Patriots to 1 of 12 on third down. What was the reason for that stingy showing?
“Just (being) better on first and second down,” said linebacker Calvin Pace. “When you can do that, it’s easy because third-and-4 or less with a team like that, I’m not going to say it’s automatic for them to get a first down, but it’s easy. So I just think our challenge was to be better on first and second down and we were able to do that.”
Star-Ledger's Darryl Slater, Steve Politi & Mike Fensom recap Jets dramatic OT win over Patriots
The Star-Ledger's Darryl Slater, Steve Politi & Mike Fensom recap Jets dramatic OT win over Patriots. The Jets Nick Folk hit a 42 yard field goal to win the game 30-27 at Metlife Stadium. (Video by Saed Hindash &William Perlman/The Star-Ledger
To Pace’s point, let’s consider the Jets’ 11 stops of the Patriots on third down. The Patriots’ only third-down conversion was on a third-and-5, when they passed for a first down. The Patriots failed to pass for a first down on third downs of 10, 10, 10, 13, 15 and 17. Those are tough third downs to pick up. But Jets also stopped the Patriots and two third-and-1 runs and two third-and-3 passes. The Jets sacked Brady on third-and-2.
So while there were those six third-and-10s or longer among the Jets’ 11 third-down stops, there were also five third-and-3s or shorter.
The Jets’ defense also played well on third down against the Patriots in the first meeting this season, a 13-10 New England win in which the Patriots converted just 4 of 18 third downs. So now the Patriots are 5 of 30 on third downs against the Jets this season. Jets coach Rex Ryan, who calls the defense, will certainly take that.
Of course, the Patriots got a 39-yard touchdown pass in the first game on third-and-2 – the only touchdown of the game. It happened on a blown coverage. The Jets remembered that play as they entered Sunday’s game, well aware that they played very well for almost all of the first game, with the exception of that touchdown.
“We gave them a touchdown in that first game,” said safety Dawan Landry. “That was pretty much the difference in that game. This game, we knew we weren’t going to give them anything cheap.”
And so it was that the Jets – and their impressive defense – got yet another dramatic win Sunday. The Jets have now won by one point over Tampa Bay on a last-second field goal, by seven over Buffalo on a 69-yard touchdown pass with 9:23 left, by two at Atlanta on a last-second field goal, and by three over New England on a last-second field goal.
Two Jets rookies had differing opinions on whether this win over New England meant more than any others this season, or on a whole.
“I think every single win is graded out about equal, but I think this one means a little bit more to us,” said quarterback Geno Smith.
Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson said it’s just another win, and said it isn’t hard to downplay the importance of this victory, as it compares to others.
“It really isn’t,” he said. “It truly isn’t. If you’re trying to be a winning organization, a win shouldn’t matter (more than other wins), no matter who it is.”
Ryan tried to fill his players with confidence the night before the game. He delivered a speech to the team, as he always does. Richardson’s interpretation of Ryan’s comments: “We’ve got every opportunity to win the game. We feel like we’re better than the Patriots. We just had to go out and prove it.”
Three second half sacks of Brady helped the Jets assert their superiority on Sunday. The first play of the half was a strip sack of Brady by Quinton Coples, who was playing in his fifth game of the season and didn’t have any sacks before Sunday, after leading the Jets with 5½ last season.
The second play of the half was a pick six by safety Antonio Allen that set the tone for a dominant third quarter for the Jets in which they out-scored the Patriots 17-0 after trailing 21-10 at halftime. Or, as Landry said of the impact of Allen’s pick six, “We were hunting from there on in.”
Brady, like most pocket passers, isn’t as good under pressure. Nor is he used to throwing pick sixes. The last time he did it was in 2011 against the Bills, which was also the last time the Patriots lost to an AFC East team.
“We knew the goal was to get (Brady) off his mark,” said defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, who had one sack in the game, increasing his season total to a team-best six, one more than he had all of last year. “You get him off his mark and that makes him uncomfortable. I think we did that.”
Cornerback Antonio Cromartie called the win “a stepping stone for us,” but added, “We’ve got to go out and win the next game.”
Many players were asked in the locker room after Sunday’s big win about what it does to change the public perception of the Jets as they try to finally win consecutive games. The general response was summarized perfectly by linebacker David Harris.
The New York Jets will come into Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday with a 4-3 record due in large part to their dominant defensive line. Between defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, they boast the best 3-4 d-line in the NFL, and those two have 8.5 sacks between them.
They’ve been pivotal in anchoring the league’s fifth-best rush defense, and Pro Football Focus grades those two among the best lineman against the run:
Ironically enough, DeVito played six seasons in New York before he signed a three-year deal worth $12.6 million with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan knows how to develop Pro Bowl-caliber defensive lineman. The Bengals offensive line will have to bring their A+ game Sunday if they want to be 6-2 at the midpoint of the season.