Amidst the underlying sense of near-miss accomplishment that has permeated through the Jets' locker room among offensive players since their 31-28 to the Colts Sunday, there is a distinct uneasiness among the defensive players.
That's because they know they failed to finish off the Colts. They know, after the offense and special teams did their respective parts, they had the chance to keep a cleat on the Colts' respective necks and they couldn't finish the job.
"The thing that bothers us the most is that the very things the coaching staff has been stressing, consistency and finishing are the things that went wrong (against the Colts),'' Jets' linebacker Matt Chatham said.
Jets' third-year linebacker Jonathan Vilma used the words "very frustrating,'' and he wasn't speaking only for Sunday's loss to the Colts. He was referring to the entire first quarter of the season to date, and perhaps beyond.
This is a trend the Jets are desperate to reverse as they play the Jaguars Sunday in Jacksonville. Coming off two tough losses, including an overtime killer to the Redskins last week, the Jaguars are an angry team playing at home. Tough combination for the Jets.
Vilma, a winner everywhere he's been, detests failure and he's seen the Jets' defense come up short too often to stomach.
"In my short career, the offense has been doing so well and we're not backing them up,'' Vilma said.
Through four games, the defensive numbers are a bit damning, certainly not indicative of a team that's 2-2 and should be 3-1.
The Jets rank 29th in the league in total defense, allowing an average of 378.3 yards per game.
They are ranked 25th against the run, allowing 140.5 yards, and 27th against the pass, allowing 237.8 yards per game. The 98 first downs they've givenup are tied for 31st in the league.
Their pass rush is anemic. Had it not been for defensive end Shaun Ellis' two sacks on Peyton Manning Sunday, the Jets would have gone four games without a sack from a defensive lineman. As it stands, their leader in sacks is a safety, Kerry Rhodes.
Manning had all day to deliver on Sunday. It was maddening watching him stand flat-footed in the pocket while surveying the field.
The Jets' struggles seem to stem from their transition from the 4-3 base alignment they use to play to the 3-4 Eric Mangini has implemented. Vilma is a natural sideline to sideline middle linebacker in a 4-3.
Though he's still a tackling machine, he hasnít been the same playmaker. He has no sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles or any other big-impact plays. Defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson, thought to be a good fit as a three-technique tackle, is supposedly undersized to play nose tackle in the 3-4. His performance this season hasnít been memorable. (13 tackles, no sacks, hurries, forced fumbles, recoveries).
"Defensively, weíre still working our way and getting better,'' Vilma insisted. "The biggest thing is we saw improvement (against the Colts). Eric Mangini saw improvement, (defensive coordinator) Bob Sutton saw improvement in the game last week. It just looks bad when you give up two touchdowns in the final two drives.''
Defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen was brought here as a prototypical 3-4 end and also had not had a great impact though four games (11 tackles, one pass deflected).
"We've got to get better,'' von Oelhoffen said. "We've had enough time. Players have got to make plays. That's the bottom line.''
Last week, it was as if the Colts came to Giants Stadium bent on working on their running game. Early on the game, they kept running and running on the Jets with little regard for their defense.
"Thatís going to happen until we stop the run,'' von Oelhoffen said. "And we can. We will. We're working on it and we will get it. (The Colts game) was a better game. This was a game of missed tackles. You can count 10 plays that went for six or more yards that should have gone for two. That shouldnít happen.''
It better not happen against Jaguars' running back Fred Taylor or the Jets will be blown out Sunday. Taylor has rushed for 359 yards and two touchdowns in his last three games against the Jets.
And, making him even more dangerous is his backup, rookie Maurice Jones-Drew, who has 118 yards on 20 carries.
As Vilma said, "The worst thing you want to see is a fresh Fred Taylor. It helps to have a guy like that spelling him. They have different running styles and different speeds, but they're both quick, elusive backs.''
The way the Jets are playing defense, quick and elusive are not good match-ups for them.
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