Together we eat.
The words are repeated almost daily inside Karl Dunbar's meeting room, serving as a constant reminder that his players cannot win without one another.
Dunbar, in his second year as Jets defensive line coach, often steers questions about individuals back to the unit. Ask about Muhammad Wilkerson and he'll tell you about Kenrick Ellis and Sheldon Richardson. Make a comment about Damon Harrison's improved play and Dunbar will remind you that Quinton Coples is a star in the making.
Wilkerson, who already is garnering well-deserved Pro Bowl talk, demands double-teams. But during a recent sitdown with Newsday, Dunbar was quick to point out: "They can't double-team everybody."
More impressive than the unbridled passion that permeates through the line is the unit's production. The Jets boast the No. 4 overall defense in the NFL, thanks in large part to Dunbar's group. The team ranks third in the league with 24 sacks, behind only Kansas City (35) and Baltimore (25).
In 2012, the Jets were 25th with 30 sacks.
Wilkerson, who turned 24 yesterday, is one of the main reasons for the unit's success. The third-year defensive end has already eclipsed his 2012 sack total (five) with six, including one in each of the past three games. Meanwhile, rookie defensive tackle Richardson is tied for second in the NFL with 35 combined tackles -- more than Houston's J.J. Watt (34), Cincinnati's Carlos Dunlap (31) and the Giants' Justin Tuck (28).
The bold determination, brashness and athleticism of the Jets' defensive line have football people talking. After seven games, the unit has become a formidable foe in 2013 -- a lesson future Hall of Famer Tom Brady learned the hard way in Weeks 2 and 7.
"Give respect to Brady, man," said Richardson, 22, after the Jets' stunning 30-27 overtime victory over the Patriots on Sunday. "He's a great quarterback, he's everything he's hyped up to be. It's just when you put pressure on his face, man, it's a little different."
In both meetings against the Jets, Brady completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes. He also threw only one touchdown -- while throwing a pick-six this past Sunday - and was sacked five times total. Brady finished with a lower QB rating (53.5) and fewer passing yards (228) than rookie Geno Smith (71.9, 233).
Richardson, who created multiple headlines in the run-up to Sunday's rematch, said of his teammates: "They backed me up today. Everybody did. We came with it."
He later explained his weeklong comments about Brady: "I wasn't trying to be disrespectful in no type of way. I just got tired of people asking me if I'm afraid of someone - another man at that? Nah, man."
Though Richardson may be the most vocal of the bunch, each one of Dunbar's defensive linemen plays with that proverbial chip. And together, they plan on proving a point.
Dunbar still has a poem among his possessions - the collection of verses given to him in 2004 by a former player while he served on the Bears' coaching staff.
"It basically starts off: 'The strength of the wolf is the pack, and the strength of the pack is the wolf,' " Dunbar said. "And I think Mo is our wolf. When we sit in that D-line room, we talk about not one of us is going to beat you, all six of us that dress on game day are going to beat you.
"We're going to be a bunch of crazy wolves, hyenas, whatever you want to call them. And we're going to search together. 'Cause we've got a saying: Together we eat."
-- Jets linebacker Calvin Pace said he's OK with his decreased playing time this season. The 11-year veteran is playing approximately 78 percent of the defensive snaps this season, down from 94 percent last season, according to FootballOutsiders.com.
"I'm fine with it. I think the last couple of years I've been getting worn down toward the end of the season. Something me and Rex [Ryan] talked about," Pace said Wednesday. "I'm fine with it. I'm happy with it."
Pace, who will turn 33 on Monday, rarely left the field for the Jets last year, serving as an every-down linebacker and playing in all 16 games. This year, the Jets have made an effort to give him some plays off.
Sunday, Pace played a season-low 64 percent of the defensive snaps (49 of 76) in the Jets' 30-27 overtime victory over the Patriots. He had played approximately 85 percent of the snaps in four of the previous six games, while seeing the field for about 72 percent of the snaps in the other two.
The Jets released Pace in the offseason for monetary reasons before re-signing him, and with Quinton Coples' switch from defensive lineman to outside linebacker, Pace hasn't been called upon as often this year. He has 21 combined tackles and four sacks thus far, already surpassing his sacks total from 2012. He's also forced a fumble.
"As Quinton Coples likes to call me: old man Calvin," Pace said. "I'm not a spring chicken in this game anymore. I don't have to play every snap. We got enough guys to rotate to get me some plays off."
-- The first time they sat down together to discuss X's and O's, Rex Ryan and Marty Mornhinweg didn't have much privacy. They were on television.
It was January 2007, and their teams -- the Baltimore Ravens and Philadelphia Eagles, respectively -- had been eliminated from the playoffs in the divisional round. They were invited to NFL Films in Mt. Laurel, N.J., to serve as guest analysts to preview the conference championships.
"I had a chance to meet him in a different way," Ryan, the New York Jets' head coach, said Thursday of his current offensive coordinator. "I really liked him. He was funny. He was smart. That was obvious."
That TV appearance turned out to be a good test of their chemistry. Host Brian Baldinger had to leave after the first segment, leaving Ryan and Mornhinweg alone on the set. They improvised, Ryan breaking down the defensive stuff, Mornhinweg handling the offensive material.
Marty Mornhinweg and Rex Ryan are preparing the 4-3 Jets for Sunday's game in Cincinnati.
"We fed right off each other," Ryan said.
Six years later, it hasn't changed.
Hiring Mornhinweg was one of Ryan's smartest moves. One year after the Tony Sparano debacle, the Jets actually have a clue on offense. At times, they're not the prettiest, but you never get the feeling that Mornhinweg doesn't know what he's doing.
Under him, the Jets have improved in almost every offensive category, significantly in some cases. They're ranked 15th in total offense, averaging 343 yards per game (up from 299). The last time they sniffed the top 10 was 2010, when they finished 11th with Brian Schottenheimer calling the plays and a still-promising Mark Sanchez playing quarterback.
We could throw out a bunch of impressive numbers to demonstrate Mornhinweg's impact, but it's plainly obvious the Jets are running it better and throwing it better than the past two years. And -- don't underestimate this point -- they're doing it with a rookie quarterback, Geno Smith.
Plus, we're not talking about an abundance of talent here. The Jets don't have a rusher in the top 15 and they don't have a receiver in the top 50. Smith is 27th out of 33 in passer rating. Despite the lack of star power, they've played well in most of the games.
"I think he's done a great job," Ryan said of Mornhinweg. "It's been impressive, without question. He has been impressive."
Philosophically, they're a football odd couple. Mornhinweg's affinity for the passing game figured to clash with Ryan's defensive-minded, ball-control style, but they've made it work.
Recognizing how the game is changing, Ryan let his hair down, so to speak, leaving Ground & Pound in the past. Mornhinweg has adjusted, too, especially the past three weeks. Without injured wide receiver Santonio Holmes, and with Smith coming off a disastrous game in Tennessee in Week 4, Mornhinweg has leaned more on the running game, featuring his inside receivers (tight end and slot) in the passing game.
A team has to throw the ball to score points, according to the Mornhinweg doctrine, but sometimes it takes some dinosaur football to win a game. As Ryan noted in his postgame speech to the team after last Sunday's upset of the New England Patriots, "Our offensive coordinator, seems to me all he wants to do is run, because we ran it 52 times."
Marty Mornhinweg is in his first season with the Jets after 10 years in the Eagles organization.
The players roared.
"That's funny," Mornhinweg said Thursday.
Ryan hired Mornhinweg because he wanted a coordinator who coached offense the same way he coaches defense -- aggressively. He showed that fearlessness last Sunday. Instead of babying Smith after his first-quarter interception was returned for a touchdown, Mornhinweg called a pass on the ensuing first down -- a 17-yard strike to Stephen Hill.
"We threw the ball a couple of more times right away on purpose, just a 'Let's go,'" Mornhinweg said. "That's just the way we operate."
If Sparano had been calling the plays, he would've had Smith in bubble wrap for the rest of the game.
Ryan is fortunate. Not many head coaches last long enough to hire a third coordinator. This was a make-or-break hire for Ryan, whose rear end is on the hot seat this season.
Mornhinweg, the first to interview for the job, was summoned to the Jets' facility last January. He met for three hours with Ryan, two assistant coaches and center Nick Mangold. It's unusual for a player to be present, but Mangold is respected for his offensive acumen.
The interview covered everything from "soup to nuts," Ryan recalled. Before they got into the heavy stuff, they enjoyed a good laugh, remembering their joint TV appearance at NFL Films. Mornhinweg aced the interview.
"He had me at hello," Ryan said, "but we were going to do our due diligence."
He interviewed a few others and offered the position to Mornhinweg. Once again, they're on TV. Their set is the sideline, and they're feeding off each other.
-- For Antonio Cromartie to lock down Cincinnati's A.J. Green on Sunday, Jets defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman believes some divine intervention is needed.
"What does he need to do? Put his hands on him and pray, pretty much," Thurman joked. "[Green]'s a talented guy. Very talented."
Cromartie will have the most pivotal defensive assignment on Sunday as he will likely shadow one of the best receivers in the game at Paul Brown Stadium. It's the first matchup between the two.
"It's a tough task. He's a great receiver for that team and he's one of the best receivers in the NFL right now," Cromartie said. "They want to try to get the ball to him."
Green, in his third year, is putting together another great season. He's caught 43 balls for 619 yards and five touchdowns, and ranks fourth in the NFL in receiving yards.
Jets coach Rex Ryan said he believes Green is probably the best receiver in the AFC, and Cromartie compared Green to Randy Moss and Calvin Johnson with his ability to be a deep-play threat, and how he gets after the ball. Green hauled in an 82-yard touchdown catch last week.
"He's an athletic guy that does a very good job of attacking the ball down the field. Can make all the catches and make the difficult catches look easy," Cromartie said. "It's a point of just being there and trying to make plays when the ball is in the air with him."
Cromartie, who has been shaky this season according to statistics, said there's no extra excitement in facing perhaps the best young receiver in the game. He approaches each assignment the same way, whether he's shadowing a future Hall of Famer or a rookie.
The Bengals line Green up in different positions, including the slot, and Cromartie said he can play all the different positions needed to follow Green on Sunday. Cromartie is your prototypical corner who sticks to outside receivers, and doesn't usually cover slot receivers.
The veteran has made it a point recently to be more physical with receivers, and Thurman said there was "no doubt" Cromartie did a better job of doing so last Sunday against New England. Being physical in coverage will be key to disrupting Green and getting him off his routes.
"[When] he plays to his height and his length, he's hard to deal with," Thurman said. "It's a matter of continual focus: 'Hey, you need to play like this, you need to play like this.' When he does that he's hard to throw at."
Cromartie said his height may give him a weapon other cornerbacks don't have when guarding Green, who stands at 6-foot-4.
"I think we're about the same height. That's the only difference it's going to be out there," Cromartie said. "Just not facing a 5-11, 6-foot DB. He's facing a 6-2, 6-2 1/2 DB. Just the matchup being two tall guys going out there and matching up against one another."
Just as Cromartie expects to have his hands full on Sunday, Green believes he's going to have just as tough of an assignment in trying to separate from the Jets' top cornerback.
"He's a great corner. Like I said, he's been around this league a long time," Green said. "Corners are going to get beat here and there but I think he’s one of the best in the league."
Did your eyes get wide when you saw Tom Brady's pass coming at you?
Allen: I don't think I had time to look at the quarterback. I think the ball was already there. As soon as I turned, it was already in my hand. [I'm like], "Appreciate it." It was a good spark for the team and we came out victorious.
What kind of reaction have you received from friends and former teammates?
Allen: A lot of people made me feel good, saying it's the greatest play they've ever seen and what a good job I did on Rob [Gronkowski]. There were a lot of things to keep me uplifted. Old high-school coaches have been calling me, former teammates. I mean, I've been getting calls from everybody. After the game, I had 40 texts. It was crazy. It was the most I've ever had.
I think fans want to know: What's it like lining up opposite Gronkowski, play after play? He's huge -- 6-foot-6, 265 pounds -- and dangerous.
Allen: (Laughs) I remember, the whole second half we were just in single-high coverage or "zero" [no safety help]. That whole second half, it was just crazy. But, I mean, lining up against a guy like that, you have to respect him because he's done a lot in this league. You have to be fearless, no mercy, just, "I'm about to get into him." He had to get me some other way because I was about to put my hands on him and secure my work.
Did he say anything to you during the game?
Allen: We didn't say one thing to each other the whole game. I was so focused in, I wasn't trying to trash talk.
You were cut twice last season by the Jets. How much did that sting?
Allen: At first, I was so frustrated: "What am I doing wrong?" I was taking the blame for everything. That's how it works sometimes. After a while, my whole mindset was, "Stay with it, stay strong, I'm going to have my chance." I was always looking at the roster, seeing, "Oh, they released this player, they released that player." They let [LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell] go. I'm like, "They're really trying to give me a shot. I'm going to take it and run with it."
You were drafted in the seventh round in 2012, the 242nd player overall. Was that a humbling experience?
Allen: Throughout that whole process, man ... I felt like I should've went higher. I was so hurt. I remember just crying -- literally. I remember thinking, "Man, I'm not going to get drafted." So many thoughts were running through my head, like, "What am I going to do?" It was hard, but I'm here now and making the best of my situation.
— The pregame walk from the gym, up the hill and across the street to the football field is a ritual here at Gateway Institute of Technology High School.
“You’re coming up the same trail Sheldon walked for four years,” Melvin Walls, Sheldon Richardson’s high school coach, told The Post last week.
The walk gives players time to think about what they want to accomplish. For Richardson — the Jets’ 6-foot-3, 294-pound rookie defensive end who already has made a huge impact on the team — the goal was clear from the time he was a high school freshman.
“I’ll never forget this statement,’’ Walls told me. “He told the other kids on the team, ‘Look, you all are looking at this as a game. I’m looking at this as a life.’
“That’s when I said, he’s really serious about this. I’ve put other kids into Division 1 programs, but I never had a kid like Sheldon. He’s the best athlete I ever had.”
Walls, 49, coached high school football for nearly three decades.
“When Sheldon left, I left,” Walls, who remains a P.E. teacher, said with a smile.
Gateway proved to be the perfect place for Richardson. The magnet school was an oasis, a home where he could let his athletic talents bloom as well as his personality. A few miles away is the Gateway Arch, which represents St. Louis’ role in westward expansion.
Gateway, a school of 1,300 students, is a place to expand your horizons.
“Sheldon was always at school,” Walls said. “Things didn’t always go great for him [academically], but he was always here. He never got in any trouble. He always hung out with the athletes.”
Richardson comes from an neighborhood where it is not easy to climb the ladder of success.
“Honestly, I’m from the part of St. Louis that nobody wants to be a part of,” Richardson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before the NFL Draft. “I represent what a lot of kids don’t want to represent. I’m just happy to be here. It’s a blessing and it’s a privilege, and I’m proud of myself and having my family supporting me — my father and my mother and my brothers, my cousins, aunties, everybody. They’re always coming to my football games and telling me to stay on it. They see a lot in me. And it’s finally coming together.”
Walls knows all about the challenge.
“Sheldon lived in one of those neighborhoods where a lot of kids don’t make it,’’ Walls said. “It’s not unusual to read the paper or see the news where a kid has been shot the night before or they found a body behind a Dumpster.’’
Richardson survived. Family, football and Gateway, led him to success. “His parents [Michael and Zelda] took good care of him,’’ Walls said. “Both of them have good jobs, and they put him in all the camps that he could go to, so kids all over the county knew of him.’’
“It was rough,’’ Richardson told Post colleague Brian Costello of his St. Louis neighborhood. “You had to be thick-skinned. If you’re playing sports, street ball guys wanted to get in your face and talk smack. You had to have thick skin.’’
Coach Walls used Richardson in all phases of the game, including punt return. He recognized immediately what kind of unique talent he had and put Richardson on the varsity team as a freshman.
“He told me he was a fullback when he came in as a freshman, and I said, ‘OK, if you’re a fullback, let’s see,’ ” the coach recalled. Richardson soon was moved to tackle. His sophomore year he was moved to tight end, and that’s where he started to blossom. He played both ways and special teams.
From playing basketball and football conditioning, Richardson, who came into school at about 6-foot-1, 300 pounds, began to tone up and get noticed as an athlete.
“That’s when people started saying, ‘Gateway’s got a freak,’ ” Walls explained with a laugh, noting that 54 D-1 schools came through to see Richardson.
“He just put me on the field and let me make plays,’’ Richardson said of Walls. “I returned kicks. I played linebacker, any position I needed to play for us to be effective. I played tight end, fullback, running back, slot receiver. I done played it all.
“My senior year [Coach Walls] let me control the team a little bit. He gave me leeway and we went to the championship. We finished a game short. I got a chance to see the game from every position. I actually learned the game of football back then. There’s not too much I haven’t seen.’’
Jim Greenlee, 41, teaches world history at Gateway.
“Sheldon was a lot of fun to have in class,” he said. “He had the smile that was half devil and half angel. And he was good with a bear hug. He’d like to come behind you on occasion when you were standing in the hallway and pick you up. ‘All right Sheldon, welcome to class.’ ”
The memory makes Richardson smile.
“High school was fun,’’ he said, “a bit too much fun they’d probably say.”
“He was a true athlete, but he persevered in class,” Greenlee recalled. “I also coach track and field and he threw shot put for us, he was always a leader. He never got into a fight or had any trouble. I don’t ever remember seeing him angry. The smallest, weakest guy on the team got just as much attention from him as the biggest.”
Richardson’s big personality is perfect for New York. He has 19 tackles and 2 ¹/₂ sacks. He will take on anybody, including Tom Brady as he did before the Jets beat the Patriots on Sunday.
“I remember on draft night, I heard some boos,” Walls said, “but I knew they would fall in love with him as a player and a person. He’s a special player.”
When you walk into Gateway’s front door you pass through a metal detector, manned by two security guards. Bring up Sheldon Richardson’s name and the room brightens.
“The thing that stuck out about Sheldon is that from the first day he walked through that door, he was determined,’’ explained Officer Annette O’Neal. “I guess determination pays off. He made it.”
Noted principal Dr. Elizabeth Bender, “His counselor said he walked in as a freshman the first time and said, ‘I’m going to be a professional football player.’ ”
The hallways sparkle here and the sense of Gateway pride is everywhere as you walk through the school. Up on the right-hand side is a glass case with pictures of Gateway graduates who have gone on to college football success. The first picture you see is Richardson leading out the Missouri Tigers with the notation: “First Team All-SEC.”
Perhaps NFL rookie of the year will be added to the list.
The Gateway Jaguars sported new uniforms this weekend for homecoming, and the word around school is Richardson purchased the new attire.
This is where it all started.
“I’ve been telling them for a while now,” Richardson said of his longtime plans of NFL stardom. “It’s about time it came true.”
The Jets are Sheldon Richardson’s Gateway to success now.
I wonder if he’s given Rex Ryan that bear hug yet?
Quinton Coples: Jets' linebacker? Defensive end? 'Just call him a ballplayer'
During the offseason, Quinton Coples provided Jets coaches with an answer to this riddle: How do we get our best 11 defensive players on the field at once?
Coples led the Jets with 5 ½ sacks during his rookie season a year ago, playing on the defensive line. But with fellow first-round draft picks Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson also on the line, the Jets sought a creative solution to hassle offenses with all three players simultaneously.
“If you put him at end, where do you put Muhammad?” Karl Dunbar, the Jets’ defensive line coach, said. “If you put Muhammad at three-technique (lined up between the offensive guard and tackle), where do you put Sheldon? Q is probably the most athletic of the three, so he’s the guy who can fill that role at rush linebacker or rush end because he has the best God-given genes.”
Coples' physical abilities -- with a 6-6, 290-pound frame and 4.78 speed in the 40-yard dash -- have allowed a smooth transition beyond the defensive line, where he also played in college at North Carolina.
“Big men who can run are just like pretty women,” Dunbar said. “There are not a whole bunch of them and everybody wants them.”
After missing the first two games of the regular season with a fractured right ankle, Coples has spent five games at the new position. He has grown accustomed, he said, to starting each down without his hand in the dirt. He has new responsibilities -- minding running backs and tight ends -- though snap counts show his primary objective remains unchanged from last season: Pressuring the quarterback.
“It’s not like I’m a safety now,” Coples said.
Dunbar said Coples favored his right ankle after he returned in the Week 3 victory over the Buffalo Bills.
“I think the first two or three games he was a little tentative because of the leg. He didn’t want anybody to hit it. He was wearing a big pad on it. Now the pad has come off and I think he has a little more confidence.”
Against the New England Patriots last Sunday, Coples flummoxed Tom Brady, signifying a return to form.
On the first play of the second half, Coples dipped around left tackle Nate Solder and poked the ball out of Brady’s hand, his first sack of the season. The following play, Coples again bulled past Solder, forcing Brady to hurry a throw intercepted by Antonio Allen and returned for a touchdown.
The two plays highlighted Coples’ largest shift of the season. He participated in all but one of 79 plays on defense, according to stats compiled by ProFootballFocus. Nearly two thirds of those plays were spent rushing the quarterback.
Envisioning the grand plan for Coples, Jeff Weeks, who coaches the Jets’ outside linebackers, points to Terrell Suggs, a player Rex Ryan used to torture offenses when with the Baltimore Ravens.
“As time went on, (Suggs) had more drops and stuff,” Weeks said of the amount of time Suggs rushed compared to covering receivers. “With guys like that who get sacks you’re not going to drop him a lot but you will drop him enough to get a disguise.”
Coples has dropped into pass coverage on just four of the 281 snaps he has played this season, according to ProFootballFocus. By contrast, he has rushed the passer on 64 percent of those plays.
Weeks used the analogy of a baseball pitcher with an exceptional fastball to relate the Jets’ strategy. Every so often that pitcher will toss a curveball, just to put another option in hitters’ minds. The Jets will drop Coples infrequently but enough to provide quarterbacks a wrinkle to consider.
“When you talk about our defense, is it 3-4 or 4-3? It’s Rex Ryan defense,” Weeks said. “It’s a little sprinkle of it all.”
Dunbar has stressed to Coples, though, that “not every down is a pass rush.” Situations dictate different levels of restraint, an understanding that comes with experience, Dunbar said.
As Coples has collected more time on the field and his responsibilities made more clear, it begs the question. Should he be labeled a defensive end with coverage commitments or a pass-rushing linebacker?
“I think you just call him a ballplayer,” Dunbar said. “I think he’s more of a hybrid type. He can play end. He can play linebacker. But he gives us a chance to put our best 11 on the field. Whatever you want to call it, you call it.”
Sometimes being No. 1 is a time for fireworks and tickertape, sometimes only for reflection and resolve.
Today, at the end of the eighth week of the NFL season, it can be stated that the Jets have the best run defense in football. We've been No. 1 in yards per carry allowed for several weeks.
And after Monday night's game, for the first time this season — in fact, for the first time in 355 weeks, or since Week 11 of the 1991 season — we are listed as No. 1 in yards allowed per game, the category most often used to identify the NFL's "best rushing defense."
With all that said, what have we accomplished from this high perch? Not what we wanted to at Cincinnati. The Bengals were held to 79 rush yards, and the Jets defenders notched six more tackles at or behind the line, including two stonings of BenJarvus Green-Ellis at the 1½-yard line.
Yet that goal line stand delayed the Bengals' third of seven touchdowns by only about nine minutes of clock time. And the 3.2-yard per carry average by the hometeam didn't lead to the Jets being able to pin back their ears and harass Andy Dalton in the pocket.
Dalton was sacked only once, his five TD passes were the most by an opponent in almost 25 years, and the Bengals were the first team to hook up on three 40-yard-plus completions in a Jets loss since Mark Brunell and Jacksonville (and despite Wayne Chrebet) in 1996.
If anything, being the top dog against the run is not something to rejoice as much as it is to let us know that we are doing something very well but we need to do a lot more equally well if we are to prevent a similar fate against New Orleans at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.
Like the Bengals, the Saints have a bottom-half-of-the-league rushing offense. But also like the Bengals, they have a strong-armed QB in Drew Brees and a top-10 passing attack that can "flat-out embarrass you" if you're not on your game, head coach Rex Ryan said Monday.
"Really, I have no idea where we stack up," Ryan said, in response not to any No. 1 ranking but rather to our 4-4 record at the season's midpoint. "I just know that it’s pretty obvious that we have to get like a gazillion times better.
"But the thing that I’m encouraged with is I believe that we have the group that feels the same way, that we want to get better and we’re going to work that way and do whatever we can to get better. I know we will and that’s the encouraging thing from my standpoint."
That's when No. 1 really matters, when it spreads out from a small area into larger and larger areas. The Jets, run defense and all, need to feel as one to be ready to stand toe-to-toe with the Saints.
-- The New Orleans Saints have several talented skill-position players that keep defensive coaches and players awake at night.
But the biggest nightmare is Jimmy Graham.
The 6-foot-7, 265-pound tight end is among the most difficult matchups in the NFL.
"He's a unique cat," Jets coach Rex Ryan said Thursday. "He's got the speed of a receiver, the size of an offensive tackle. So it's a huge challenge."
Last season, his third in the NFL, Graham was tied for 13th in the league with 85 receptions, for 982 yards and nine touchdowns. The year before he was even better -- 99 receptions, 1,310 yards, 11 touchdowns.The Patriots put top cornerback Aqib Talib on Jimmy Graham and held him without a catch.In seven games this season, he already has 40 receptions for 630 yards and eight touchdowns -- putting him on pace to finish with 91 for 1,440 and 18.
Graham is playing through a foot injury -- he only played 18 snaps in the Saints' victory over the Buffalo Bills last Sunday. But he still made a big impact -- targeted three times, catching three balls, two of them for scores.
He's been limited in practice the past two days, but you can bet he'll be on the field Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
The question is, how will the Jets try to stop him? More specifically, who will they turn to?
Two weeks ago, the Jets faced a similar challenge in New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski did have eight catches for 114 yards in the game, but he was targeted 17 times.
Safety Antonio Allen was the man primarily responsible for guarding Gronk. "He did a good job," Ryan said. "From a body type, he's long and all that. So I think he did a good job."
But Graham -- listed as an inch taller than Gronkowski, and the same weight -- is even faster, multiple Jets players said Thursday.
Two weeks ago, when the Saints played the Patriots, the Pats put star cornerback Aqib Talib on Graham, as opposed to a safety or linebacker.
The result? Graham was held without a single catch for the first time in 46 games, since the middle of his rookie year.
So, would Ryan think about putting his No. 1 cornerback, Antonio Cromartie, on Graham this coming Sunday?
"It's a thought," Ryan said wryly, when asked the question Thursday.
Cromartie, like Talib, is a big cornerback -- 6-foot-2, 210 pounds. He hasn't had a good season thus far, but Ryan expressed confidence that Cromartie could do the job if asked.
"I think from a size (standpoint) and skill-wise, yeah I think he could handle him," Ryan said.
Cromartie did not speak with reporters Thursday. But linebacker Calvin Pace did.
"It's crazy, because Graham basically is a wide receiver, he just happens to be 6-7. It's a tough matchup, whoever you put on him. I don't want to guard him," Pace said, laughing.
"You put a safety on him, they've got a height advantage. It’s tough," Pace continued. "They do a good job of getting him in space so it's gonna be a person that's gotta get hands on him and just know where he is."
Cromartie will probably be that person Sunday, at least some of the time. Yes, Drew Brees has other weapons at his disposal -- wide receiver Marques Colston has 27 receptions for 342 yards, and fellow wideout Kenny Stills has 13 for 327, averaging 25.2 yards per catch. Plus don't forget about running backs Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas.
But Graham is the man that must be stopped, or at least slowed down. If that means putting your best cornerback on him, so be it.
The one-on-one matchup that could determine whether the Jets win or lose Sunday involves Saints All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham against a guy named Antonio. The only question is whether the Antonio is Cromartie or Allen.
Will it be Cromartie, the Jets' best cornerback, who regularly covers the best receiver but rarely a tight end? Or will it be Allen, who did a bang-up job against the Patriots' big-time tight end, Rob Gronkowski, in the Jets' 30-27 overtime win in Week 7?
Either way, whoever shadows the Saints' extraordinary tight end has his work cut out. Graham might be the biggest matchup conundrum for a defensive backfield this side of Calvin Johnson.
The 6-7, 260-pound Graham may be listed as a tight end, but he has the speed of a wide receiver and rarely is used in the traditional blocking role of an NFL tight end. The man has been a touchdown machine, with eight in seven games. He had two in a 35-17 win over the Bills last week despite playing sparingly because of a foot problem -- described as a partially torn plantar fascia -- that has limited his mobility (although you might not be able to tell).
I asked Allen if he's noticed any drop-off in Graham's speed or effectiveness. "No,'' he said. "As athletes, we're trained to play through injuries, and I guess he's playing through it well, because I don't see it in the film.''
Rex Ryan suggested the Saints ought to be conservative with Graham's injury and not let him on the team flight. Ryan should only be so lucky. Despite being limited in practice, Graham is expected to play.
"Hopefully, [Graham] doesn't play a lot,'' said Ryan, who referred to him as "a unique cat. He has the size, he has speed, phenomenal at adjusting to the football and he has a great rapport with Brees. It just seems like, where do they grow these dudes? They're all 6-7, 6-8 and they're fast. We've played them all, it seems like.''
Ryan hinted it could be Cromartie who shadows Graham. Why? Well, the only game this season in which Graham didn't catch a pass was against the Patriots, who had cornerback Aqib Talib cover him. Perhaps not coincidentally, that was the Saints' only loss.
If Ryan likes the way Allen covered Gronkowski (eight catches, but no TDs), he might be tempted to put the former linebacker on Graham. The one hesitation Ryan may have is that Graham is faster than Gronkowski.
"Graham is basically a wide receiver who just happens to be 6-7,'' linebacker Calvin Pace said. "It's a tough matchup. It's like, who do you put on him?
"I don't want to guard him,'' he said jokingly . . . sort of. "And they do a good job of getting him in space, so it's going to be a person that's got to get hands on him, just know where he is.''
Cromartie, who said last week he has been disappointed in his play this season, declined to talk to reporters this week.
If it's Allen on Graham, he's ready for the challenge. The Jets played a variety of coverages on Gronkowski before having Allen go one-on-one the entire second half. And it paid off in a big way, as Allen picked off Tom Brady's third-quarter pass to Gronkowski and returned it for a momentum-swinging touchdown.
Gronkowski did get behind Allen on one pass that would have been a touchdown, but he dropped it. "I was definitely frustrated with that play,'' Allen said. "I misjudged [the ball] and he almost came down with it. He didn't, and it was a relief.''
The key to playing against big, athletic tight ends like Gronkowski and Graham: be physical. "They're both tall, big-type guys. Just got to beat 'em up and be physical with them,'' Allen said. "Just get your hands on him any way you could. Be a tick to him, annoy him.''
And keep everything in front of you whenever possible.
"Don't let him get that big play,'' Allen said. "Catching 5-yard routes is not going to beat you. It's going to irritate you, but it's not going to beat us. We just try to stay on top and not let the ball get thrown over our head.''
Easier said than done. Especially with another gargantuan wide receiver in a tight end's body coming to town.
The New York Jets defense got caught mostly by wide receiver issues at Cincinnati. But in many weeks the spotlight will be on another skill position for our D.
And it doesn't get much more difficult than trying to keep a blanket on the Saints' Jimmy Graham.
"That guy is a unique cat now," head coach Rex Ryan said today. "Graham has the speed of a wide receiver, the size of an offensive tackle, so it's a huge challenge for anybody that's asked to do that."
"It’s crazy because Graham’s basically a wide receiver — he just happens to be 6’7”," said LB Calvin Pace. "It’s a tough matchup. It’s like who do you put on him? I don’t want to guard him."
Graham is New Orleans' leading pass catcher with 40 receptions for 630 yards and eight touchdowns. Among tight ends in the league, the catches are the third-most and the yardage is at the top of the list. And his 1.1 touchdowns per game mean there's a good chance he'll put one in the MetLife end zone against us on Sunday.
Ryan and coordinator Dennis Thurman are considering all their options, which Ryan cagily said might even include CB Antonio Cromartie. But likely the task will frequently fall to Antonio Allen, the second-year man who drew raves for his coverage of one of the Jets' annual TE nemeses, Rob Gronkowski, two weeks ago.
And Allen said his approach to Gronk and Graham will be similar in one regard.
"They're similar, two big bodies," Allen analyzed. "You've got to beat them up. One is a little quicker than the other, but you've got to beat them up, put your hands on them."
It's hard to say that teams have targeted what they feel is a soft spot on the Jets. After all, if the three of the four G's — Gronkowski, Graham and Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez along with San Diego's Antonio Gates — are on your schedule, they're going to go to their TEs.
But on the other hand, our first eight opponents have set a pace that would result in 116 balls being targeted for tight ends this year with 78 catches for 882 yards, an 11.3-yard average. The average is high but not as bad as the 13.1 averages in 2010 and '11. But the targets would be the most for opposing TEs in the last 17 Jets seasons and the catches would be the second-most in that span.
Of course the Jets defense had other difficulties last week, mostly with trying to keep guys named Jones out of the end zone. And Drew Brees is clearly capable of going off just as devastatingly as Andy Dalton did. But if Allen, Dawan Landry, Cro and company can get Graham off his game a little, and if that foot injury acts up ...
"And only two touchdowns," Ryan said about the foot that held Graham to 18 snaps and three catches against the Bills last Sunday and has limited him at both practices this week. "And really, coming all the way here, it’s not good for him to fly. I wouldn’t. I admit if it was our player, no way, and Sean [Payton] shouldn’t bring him."
Something tells us not to count on that plan. Graham will be on the Saints' charter flight Saturday and on the MetLife field Sunday.
Four did not participate in our team drills at today's practice: G Willie Colon (calf), TE Jeff Cumberland (concussion), WR Santonio Holmes (hamstring) and RB Alex Green (hamstring). WR Stephen Hill (foot) was bumped up to limited, while WR David Nelson (quadriceps) was added to the list as limited. And WR Jeremy Kerley (illness) was full-go after sitting it out Wednesday.
For the Saints, G Jahri Evans (hip) and S Malcolm Jenkins (knee) did not participate in practice again. WR Marques Colston (knee), S Kenny Vaccaro (concussion/back) and DT Tyrunn Walker (knee) joined Graham (foot) and three others as limited participants.
— If there is any consolation from last Sunday’s debacle against Cincinnati, Calvin Pace said, it is that the Jets get to play again before their bye week.
“It would not have been a good situation to walk into a bye week after losing like that,” said Pace, the Jets’ veteran linebacker.
So the Jets have tried to regroup and refocus, knowing that what stands between them and a welcome respite happens to be one of the most explosive offenses in the N.F.L., run by the New Orleans Saints.
The Jets feel they have a blueprint, maybe even two, for stopping a juggernaut. Their 30-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 7 helped them prepare for a diversified offensive threat. Then they beat the New England Patriots and Rob Gronkowski two weeks later, 30-27, giving them confidence against a playmaking tight end.
On Sunday at MetLife Stadium, their top priority appears to be stopping Jimmy Graham, the Saints’ imposing tight end.
“I’m not saying it’s impossible to cover them,” Coach Rex Ryan said, referring to Graham and Gronkowski, “but sometimes it looks like that.”
The Jets did not really stop Gronkowski, who was making his season debut after injuries, but they limited his effectiveness, particularly in the red zone. Gronkowski caught eight passes for 114 yards but no touchdowns. Graham, who is battling a foot injury, still managed to catch two touchdowns passes last week against the Buffalo Bills despite being targeted only three times.
“It’s crazy because Graham basically is a wide receiver,” Pace said. “Who do you put on him? I don’t want to guard him.”
Graham, who is 6 feet 7 inches, was not playing for the Saints in 2009, the last time they faced the Jets. He was playing forward for the University of Miami basketball team. This season he is leading the league in receiving yards at tight end (630).
Against the Patriots, safety Antonio Allen handled the bulk of the coverage on Gronkowski, and the Jets refused to indicate if they would do the same against Graham. Allen said Graham might be even quicker than Gronkowski.
“They’re similar,” Allen said. “Two big bodies; just got to beat them up.”
The Saints are fifth in the N.F.L. in scoring average (28 points per game), slightly down from last season, when they finished third. They have struggled this season in the red zone, but they remain among the best at maintaining possession and converting on third downs.
“Other than the Falcons, I don’t know if we’re going to see a better, more skilled act on offense,” Pace said.
The Jets received a rudimentary template for at least withstanding the Saints in last month’s win over Atlanta — another downfield-oriented offense, though without the same type of athlete at tight end. If they can execute it, while avoiding the pitfalls of last Sunday’s meltdown, they can move into the bye week with confidence.
“We have the right people; we’re not always doing the right things at the right times,” the Jets’ defensive coordinator, Dennis Thurman, said. “Unfortunately for us, they’ve hit us at times when we’ve been vulnerable.”
Thurman added, “Last Sunday, I hope, was an aberration.”
NO COVERAGE CONCERNS When Cincinnati’s Brandon Tate returned a kickoff 71 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter last week, it was the first time the Jets’ coverage unit had allowed a return of more than 40 yards this season.
“We let one out of the gate there,” said Ben Kotwica, the Jets’ special teams coach. “But I still have a lot of confidence in our guys.”
The challenge does not get any easier against the Saints and their veteran returner, Darren Sproles, who set an N.F.L. record for all-purpose yards two years ago.
“He’s got an exceptional burst, exceptional change of direction,” Kotwica said. “Especially in the punt return game, he’s really good. We’re aware of it.”
Tight end Jeff Cumberland (concussion), wide receiver Santonio Holmes (hamstring) and guard Willie Colon did not practice Thursday. Colon said his calf was stepped on by an opposing player last week. Wide receivers Stephen Hill (foot) and Jeremy Kerley (illness) returned to practice, although Hill was limited.
Skeptics had a field day last spring when the Jets moved Quinton Coples to rush outside linebacker.
Six games into his second season, the former first-round pick still isn’t doing much to quiet them.
Coples has been invisible far too often going into Sunday’s important home matchup with the Saints at MetLife Stadium, to the point at which even coach Rex Ryan is dialing back the praise he usually showers on his young players.
Asked about Coples’ play in six games since recovering from an ankle injury that sidelined him the first two contests, Ryan struggled to come up with a compliment.
“It’s a very bright future [for him], but that future has to be right now,” Ryan said. “So far, I think [Coples has] done a decent job there. But we think we can get better.”
The 4-4 Jets would prefer Coples get dramatically better as soon as Sunday, because matching up with the red-hot Drew Brees and New Orleans’ second-ranked passing attack looks like a nightmare on paper.
Ryan’s team certainly needs much more than Coples has provided so far.
Coples had just one sack and was credited by the coaches with a mere 15 tackles in the first half of the season, which marked a big dropoff in sacks even from the modest numbers (5¹/₂ sacks, 22 tackles) Coples posted in 16 games as the 16th overall pick out of North Carolina in 2012.
That lone sack this season was a big one, coming against Tom Brady two weeks ago as the Jets rallied for a 30-27 overtime win at home against the Patriots, but the Jets were expecting a lot more.
Coples is a reluctant interview, but he grudgingly admitted Friday that his second season “could be better.”
“It’s pretty good, though,” Coples said. “Slow and steady. I think it’s going well, overall.”
The Jets haven’t used Coples strictly as a linebacker this season, moving him back to the defensive line on occasion to mix things up. But he wasn’t helped by the season-ending knee injury suffered by reliable backup linebacker Antwan Barnes in the Week 5 victory at Atlanta.
Without Barnes’ playmaking, which enabled Coples to move around, Coples is now having to carry out more of the linebacker responsibilities instead of just attacking the backfield as an end.
To be fair to Coples, there was skepticism about the position switch for a reason.
Moving to rush linebacker from defensive end isn’t easy in a 3-4 because ends in that system are built more like defensive tackles in the more common 4-3 alignment — and that was certainly the case with the 6-foot-6, 284-pound Coples.
Coples isn’t exactly light on his feet, and it wasn’t as if he had erased the pre-draft knock on him as a rookie that he lacked intensity, gave up on too many plays and disappeared for unacceptably long stretches.
But if he’s unhappy with the move, Coples won’t admit it.
“Whatever it takes to help this team get better, I’m all for it,” he said. “I’m happy with my role, and my role is to help this team. It’s different [playing linebacker], but it’s capable of getting done.”
Nor does Coples appear concerned about skeptics already whispering “bust” now that he keeps being thoroughly upstaged in the Jets’ defense each week by sensational rookie end Sheldon Richardson.
Richardson is a serious candidate for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, while Coples’ name is rarely heard.
“I’m not going to say the best is yet to come,” Coples said. “I take the game for what it is. You can judge me by whatever expectations you have, but I play football to have fun. If [underperforming] is how it’s been seen, that’s how it’s been seen. I haven’t paid any attention to what people think of me.”
A position-by-position breakdown of the New York Jets' playing time on defense (based on 552 snaps):
Muhammad Wilkerson -- 518 snaps/94 percent
Sheldon Richardson -- 433 snaps/78 percent
Damon Harrison -- 242 snaps/44 percent
Leger Douzable -- 95 snaps/17 percent
Kenrick Ellis -- 87 snaps/16 percent
Analysis: They rely on only three linemen, which is pretty remarkable -- although it should be noted they have outside linebackers that fill defensive-line roles. Wilkerson is logging a lot of plays. It's tough to take your best player off the field, but an occasional rest might help his stamina for later in the season. Harrison and Ellis are two-down players. Richardson is providing more than expected.
David Harris -- 550 snaps/99 percent
DeMario Davis -- 539 snaps/98 percent
Calvin Pace -- 429 snaps/78 percent
Quinton Coples -- 320 snaps/58 percent
Garrett McIntyre -- 211 snaps/38 percent
Antwan Barnes -- 145 snaps/26 percent
Ricky Sapp -- 8 snaps/1 percent
Nick Bellore -- 2 snaps/.4 percent
Troy Davis -- 1 snap/.2 percent
Analysis: The Jets have an unusual situation in that Harris and Davis almost never come off the field. They're included in the dime package because they use only three down linemen in that package. Pace is down about 15 percent from last season, but that's a smart move by the coaching staff. He's fresher and more productive in a scaled-down role. Coples missed two games with a fractured ankle. He has played 75 percent in the game he's been active. They miss Barnes, who is done for the season.
Dawan Landry -- 546 snaps/99 percent
Antonio Cromartie -- 545 snaps/99 percent
Antonio Allen -- 360 snaps/65 percent
Kyle Wilson -- 285 snaps/52 percent
Darrin Walls -- 272 snaps/49 percent
Dee Milliner -- 215 snaps/39 percent
Jaiquawn Jarrett -- 191 snaps/35 percent
Josh Bush -- 43 snaps/8 percent
Isaiah Trufant -- 31 snaps/6 percent
Ellis Lankster -- 14 snaps/3 percent
Analysis: Who could've predicted that Walls, a former undrafted free agent, would have more snaps than Milliner, the ninth pick in the draft? Milliner missed three games with a hamstring injury and was benched in parts of two others. Landry and Cromartie have combined for nearly 1,100 snaps, yet they have only one interception between them. That's not terribly productive. Wilson has been used almost exclusively in the nickel, and there are times when they don't use their nickel defense against three-receiver packages.
Dennis Thurman, your defensive coordinator, said you’re more a five-year veteran than a rookie. What has been the key to your quick adjustment from college to the pros?
It’s about making the NFL what it is: It’s football. It’s top-notch, cream-of-the-crop guys. There may be a few guys who a little better than you, a little more experienced but what are you going to do when you line up against them every play? At my position, you either eat or be eaten, simple as that. And I refuse to be eaten.
You went to the Knicks’ season opener, was it your first time at Madison Square Garden?
Nah, the second time. The first time since it got redone. Right before the NFL Draft they had us out there.
Like you, Howard Stern was a celebrity guest of honor. Did you get to meet him?
I didn’t meet Howard Stern, didn’t get a chance to meet him. I don’t try to meet to many people. I try to stay to myself. I had to ‘Blue Carpet’ treatment, though. I was in one of the suites up top. I’m actually a Bulls fan, though.
That figures coming from St. Louis. Sorry about what happened to the Cardinals Wednesday night, by the way.
Don’t even bring it up, bro. If there are any Boston fans in here they better get ready to fight.
-- Drew Brees was clearly uncomfortable with the New York Jets' defense Sunday. During the first quarter, the Saints' offense used up all three timeouts and was called for two delay-of-game penalties. One penalty came directly after a timeout. More telling, the veteran quarterback threw two interceptions and at least two more balls that were ripe for the picking.
“I look to the start of the game,” Brees said. “We had to use a timeout early, the delay of game, the lack of tempo and rhythm. It just took a little while.”
The Jets sacked Drew Brees twice and kept him under pressure all day.
It actually never really arrived. The Jets decisively won the game 26-20, and on the Saints’ last drive -- a two-minute drill that would have won the game, and the type of moment Brees excels at mastering -- the defense clamped down.
“The guy’s sick, he makes great throws,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said. “I will say this, was I confident in our guys? Absolutely, absolutely I was confident in our guys to get it done. But a little nervous? Yes.”
The Jets' defense pushed Brees back to a fourth down at the Saints’ 10-yard line. On that last-ditch attempt, Jets linebacker Quinton Coples got to the quarterback.
“We knew he was having trouble seeing over the line,” defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson said. “It showed. It seemed like the first couple of series he was looking over the offensive line. Then [Muhammad Wilkerson], Q, those guys just kept getting back there. I got back there a few times, but we all put our work in today.”
Coples also got to Brees on another big fourth down play, an end-around attempt with 7:54 left in the fourth quarter.
“I was thinking he was going to put it away and throw the ball,” Coples said. “But when he handed it off my eyes just got big because I knew I was going to run right through him.”
To be fair, the Saints lost leading running back Darren Sproles on the first offensive series of the game to a concussion. It put a wrench into the team’s game plan.
But the Jets took advantage after a poor showing the week before in Cincinnati. DeMario Davis and Antonio Cromartie got interceptions, and the Jets converted both those takeaways into points. Wilkerson and Calvin Pace were each credited with a sack.
“We knew we had to bounce back from last week,” Wilkerson said. “Ready to get going for this game.”
The Jets were clinging to a tenuous nine-point lead on the high-powered Saints, and they were trying to bleed away the fourth quarter to preserve an upset victory when a defensive play had to be made.
The Saints, with quarterback Drew Brees and an offense capable of scoring a lot of points in a little time, had a fourth-and-1 from the Jets 36-yard line and a play had to be made.
It came from maligned linebacker Quinton Coples, the 2012 first-round draft pick who the Jets have been waiting patiently to fulfill his potential.
The Saints dialed up a curious end-around play for their lumbering 6-foot-5, 229-pound rookie tight end Josh Hill and Coples, who did not bite on a fake, was there to stuff Hill for an 8-yard loss to give the Jets the ball back with 7:49 remaining in their 26-20 win at MetLife Stadium.
“I was thinking [Brees] was going to pull it down and throw the ball and when he handed it off my eyes got big, because I knew I was going to run right into him,’’ Coples said.
“Just a great play,’’ Jets coach Rex Ryan said. “We’re always on him because he has all the ability in the world. When you see the play, the vision he had on the play, to pick up on the reverse coming around. … It was a huge play. That’s a turnover on downs. I’m just proud of the play he made down there.’’
Coples, who was slowed by an ankle injury earlier this season and has struggled to be the impact player he has been expected to become, had his best game as a pro, with three quarterback hurries, a batted pass and that huge tackle on fourth down, called it “one of my best games.’’
“ ‘Q’ has the ability to be dominant; it’s just up to him,’’ linebacker Calvin Pace said.
“He definitely had a breakout game. We expect that from him every week,’’ defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson said. “We know what type of player ‘Q’ is. He’s going to keep getting better.’’
The fourth-down stop was Coples at his best.
“It was fourth down, everyone was playing power left and ‘Q’ did his job as the back-side cut-back guy,’’ Jets linebacker David Harris said. “He didn’t get fooled. He stayed at home and had a huge stop for us. That was huge for us. He had a great game.’’
Fittingly, it was Coples’ fourth-and-19 pressure on Brees that ended the Saints’ final, desperate offensive possession with 1:21 remaining.
“He’s finally hitting his groove,’’ rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson said. “First you have to shake the rust off and then you get something called your groove.’’
Despite a tough matchup facing Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, the Jets were able to bounce back after a loss for the fourth time this season and now head into the bye with their heads held high, one game over .500 at 5-4.“You can’t keep a team like that to nothing,” LB Calvin Pace said of playing the Saints, but the Jets defense found a way to limit the damage and held New Orleans to its second-lowest point total of the season.
The key to the victory, according to LB Quinton Coples ? Giving the offense different looks and getting penetration on their O-line to get after QB Drew Brees.And, while the box score shows just two sacks for the Green & White, anyone who watched the game can attest that our D-line was providing pressure from start to finish.
Brees may have thrown for 382 yards, including four plays of 25 yards or more through the air and two plays of 50-plus yards, but our D-line brought the heat, our linebackers held their run game to a meager 41 yards on 13 carries, and our secondary did their part in creating two turnovers en route to our 26-20 victory.
Facing the league’s worst run defense as far as yards per carry, “We knew that there were plays to be had in the running game,” WR David Nelson said.
So we released the beast that is Chris Ivory, and he responded with one of the best games of his career, punishing his former team with 139 yards and a touchdown.
“Every time he’s getting the keys to the car he’s driven it right through defenses,” G Willie Colon said, “so I’m proud of him.”
Ivory’s efforts have earned him his second FedEx Ground NFL Player of the Week nomination honors in the last three weeks.