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PLAYMAKERS OR FAKERS?

By Mark Cannizzaro
Jets Insider.com Head Writer
October 17th, 2006
Underachieving QB Joey Harrington looked more like Dan Marino in the second half against the Jets last Sunday. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Underachieving QB Joey Harrington looked more like Dan Marino in the second half against the Jets last Sunday. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
At the risk of being a buzz kill to Jets fans still euphoric about the Jets' victory over the Dolphins Sunday, these questions must be posed:

-Are you confident in the Jets' defense?

-If so, how do you explain the Jets' almost-across-the-board inability to make a key stop when they absolutely have to?

-Are you confident the Jets can stop or slow the run?

-If so, then how do you explain Ronnie Brown rushing for 127 yards and a 5.8-yard average when he arrived to Giants Stadium with a paltry 3.1-yard average?

Teams that have had trouble running the ball are playing the Jets and getting fat. Remember the Colts a few weeks ago? They entered the game having had trouble running the ball and they came into Giants Stadium and ran and ran and ran.

The Dolphins, even after Sunday's strong performance against the Jets, still rank 26th in the NFL in rushing offense.

This, by the way, is not to say that the Jets' passing defense is anything special, either. The secondary has given up way too many big plays in big spots this season, too.

The Jets are ranked 30th in overall defense. They’re ranked 28th against the run and 25th against the pass.

Sure, they're 3-3 and playing above many people's expectations, but mark this down right now: Unless the Jets get better on defense, which means stopping the run with some semblance of consistency, sacking the quarterback every once in awhile and make some big stops in the passing game with the game on the line, they won’t finish anywhere near .500 by season's end.

Porous defense will catch up to you and it'll catch up quickly.

Only the Raiders (six), Titans (eight) and Colts (eight) have fewer sacks than the Jets' nine. Clearly, the Jets have created no answer for the departed defensive end John Abraham. Defensive end Shaun Ellis has been held without a sack in 12 of the last 13 games dating back to last season. Bryan Thomas has emerged as a solid football player, but he's a run stopper, not a pass rusher.

Tell the truth, most ardent of Jets fans, how did you feel about the Jets' defense while the Dolphins were cutting through it like Cool Whip Sunday evening?

Once the Dolphins got the ball back with 2:18 remaining in the fourth quarter Sunday, you were not only prepared for overtime, you were hoping for it, because Miami moved the ball so swiftly down the field it looked like a third touchdown in the quarter was about to be scored, a happenstance that could have sent the Jets' season spiraling downward.

Oddly, Eric Mangini and even linebacker Jonathan Vilma, the defensive captain, spoke positively about the defense on Monday in the wake of the Jets' near choke against the Dolphins.

"On defense, I'm really pleased with the key stops we had there on fourth-and-one, third-and-two on the 38, and the third-and-two on the four-yard line,'' Mangini said. "Those were all key plays in the game. I thought overall the run fits were better. It's still something we need to continue to improve on, but I thought we made progress from last week.''

Said Vilma: "We are making progress. Aside from four or five runs (by the Dolphins) we did a good job of stopping the run. Those four or five runs are just technique errors or a breakdown here or a breakdown there. We did a better job tackling in the running game. I thought we did a god job.''

Asked if he's alarmed by the Jets' propensity to give up leads, Vilma, referring to the Miami game, said, "The bottom line is we won. We take the victory and do the corrections after watching the film. Then we take those corrections and make sure that doesn't happen again.''

Vilma insisted that nearly blowing a 17-point fourth-quarter lead "wasn't a letdown.''

"They made plays; you've got to give them credit,'' Vilma said. "Joey Harrington as played a long time. He started for Detroit. He knows how to make plays.''

Perhaps, but the point here is that, while Harrington completed 17-of-25 passes for 197 yards in the fourth quarter, the Jets' defense didn’t make any plays to stop him.

How about some more blitzing to create a pass rush?

The Jets insisted they weren't playing soft "prevent'' defense, but it sure looked that way as Harrington gashed their defense to double-digit chunks of yardage. Eight of Harrington's 17 completions went for 10 or more yards. Four of them went for 20 or more yards.

That's bad defense in any setting, but with the game on the line _ a game the Jets had take control of at 20-3 _ that's alarming. And it's a trend _ even in wins.

The Jets built a 16-0 lead on Tennnessee only to hold on for dear life and win 23-16. The Jets were up 21—10 and 28-13 in Buffalo before hanging on to win 28-20. Then there was the Miami game.

Those are 16-point, 15-point and 17-point leads the Jets nearly let slip away in the end of victories.

In their 31-28 loss to the Colts at home, the Jets led 21-17 and 28-24 only to watch the Colts come back on their defense and crush their will.

It's a disturbing trend that needs to be addressed or it'll sabotage the Jets' season.

"There were some chances there to stop (the Dolphins' rally) shorter than we did,'' Mangini said. "We didn't do as good a job as we could have and that's something we'll keep working on.''

INSIDER EXTRA POINTS

Credit to Laveranues Coles for recognizing the Dolphins jumping the Jets' slant routes Sunday and taking that information to offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer during the game and urging that the Jets go "more vertical'' to bet the tight Miami defense.

Credit Schottenheimer for listening to his player and giving "vertical'' a go. It resulted in two second-half touchdown passes to Coles, scores that opened the game up.

On the first, Coles' fake slant to the inside faked out the Dolphins' corner Eddie Jackson so badly that it left Coles some 30 yards open downfield for Chad Pennington to connect with him.

****

Mangini this week credited three players for their unselfish efforts in the win over the Dolphins _ linebacker/defensive end Bryan Thomas, tight end Chris Baker and rookie Brad Smith.

Starting with Smith, most know him as the valuable and intriguing "slash'' type of player who plays quarterback and receiver and can run forever But it was three open-field tackles in kick and punt coverage late in the game that Smith made that had Mangini understandably ecstatic.

"Brad Smith … the guy breaks a ton of records in college football as quarterback and comes out and makes three tackles on special teams,'' Mangini marveled. "That's what I'm looking for _ selfless, play whatever role, figure out how to get to the game, figure out how to make the team win and do whatever you can do to make that happen.

"He comes in, has a short yardage third-and-one conversion, goes down a kickoff, tackles guys inside the 15, goes out and runs a route. It's just good. It's great. I love that.''

As for Thomas, who's been maligned for most of his career here because he never became the pass rusher he was supposed to be, he has found a role in this 3-4 defense and prospered. On Sunday, he led the team with 11 tackle and was all ove the field.

"I really liked Bryan's game this week,'' Mangini said. "He made good plays in the running game. He did a real nice job against the tight ends and the tackles, and just, good, solid football, playing within the scheme, being able to take advantage of his natural strength, his natural ability, and he was a big part of a lot of very important plays in the game. I was pleased with that.

"It's the same with Chris Baker. He's a guy that continues to work, continues to get a little bit better. And it's not always going to be dramatic numbers, but the overall contribution in the running game and passing game.''

Mangini, asked what happens when there are selfish players on his team, said, "Well, they wouldn't be ending their career here. We're committed to smart, tough, hardworking, competitive guys, guys that are selfless, guys that football is important to.

"That's what we're going to draft. That's when we're going to bring in free agency and that's the type of team we're going to have.''

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