Jets S Reggie Tongue has been a disappointment so far this season. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Following last season’s 6-10 debacle, the New York Jets’ front office deemed it necessary to upgrade a secondary with more playmakers. The likes of CB Aaron Beasley, S Tyrone Carter and S Sam Garnes were deemed slow, aging and not athletic enough and the Jets needed better. So, Gang Green made a handful of roster moves during the offseason to solidify with the intention of upgrading their defensive backfield. Former Arizona Cardinals CB David Barrett and S Reggie Tongue, formerly of the Seattle Seahawks, were inked to free agent deals. Additionally, the Jets invested three of their draft choices to bolster the unit with CB Derrick Strait, S Erik Coleman and S Rashad Washington. Nine games into the season, the results are in. Verdict please.
With new coordinator Donnie Henderson implementing a new, more aggressive scheme this season there have been dazzling improvements on the line and in the linebacking corps. However, the secondary has easily been the defense’s weakest link. The Jets have improved in the turnover category and fallen short elsewhere. The Jets are easily on pace to shatter last season’s putrid interception total (11), recording nine in as many games this year. In addition, they have tightened up their pass defense as opposing QBs have completed just 56.8 percent of their passes compared to 61.8 percent last season. However, the Jets secondary has also had their shortcomings, surrendering 12 passing touchdowns this season compared to 14 all of last year. Also, the Jets are yielding an average of 17 yards more per game this year than in 2003. In adjusting to a new system, the players feel it is a work in progress and are optimistic that they will improve down the stretch of the season.
We’re performing pretty good lately,” Barrett said. We’ve really come along (since the start of the season). We can always improve on some things, watch more film, but I think we’ve done pretty well.”
At this point, Jets’ fans must be scratching their heads, curious if Barrett has observed the same performance they have over the past two weeks especially since long time veteran Terrell Buckley has outplayed him while in the game. During the team’s first losing streak of the season, the Jets have suffered heartbreaking losses, falling short in crunch time to the Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens, respectively. One particular play versus the Bills must stand out in the minds of Jets’ fans. Just under three minutes to go, with the score 22-17, the Jets defense had forced a third and long for Bledsoe and the Bills.
The end result?
Bledsoe completed a 27-yard pass to rookie WR Lee Evans to drain the clock and the hopes of a Jet comeback.
The secondary was exposed again the following week versus the Ravens. Uncharacteristically, the Jets defense allowed second-year Ravens QB Kyle Boller to look like a star, as his passed for 213 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions. It was Boller’s first two-touchdown performance of the season. While many will argue that the play-calling and clock management were solely to blame for the Jets overtime loss, their pass defense failed to cash in on a golden opportunity in playing Boller, who has been turnover prone during his brief career.
Veteran CB Donnie Abraham admitted the young unit has some work to do.
“We need to straighten up on some things,” CB Donnie Abraham said. “It’s our first year in the system. We can get a lot better. But each week, we’re coming out and playing hard.”
Indeed, the Jets defense deserves an ‘A’ for effort, especially with a rookie, S Erik Coleman, starting at strong safety. Coleman discussed how it has been the coaching staff that has made the biggest difference this year.
“We have some great coaches around us to keep us focused on what we need to get done,” Coleman said.
Coleman has seemingly cooled off after a hot start in which the promising Washington State product was involved in three turnovers in the first two games and was named the NFL’s rookie of the month in September. Coleman disagrees with the assessment that his play has leveled off at the midway point this year.
“I’ve been grading out better than I have any other week,” Coleman said. “I’ve been playing my best football these last few games. (I just) haven’t gotten any turnovers.”
Coleman admitted that the team’s third-down defense has been suspect and in need of improvement this year.
“We have to get off field (on third downs),” Coleman said. “That is something we have emphasized.”
The reason Coleman was jettisoned into the starting lineup so early is due to the ongoing injury problems with veteran S Jon McGraw. McGraw, who when healthy has been compared in style and brashness to John Lynch, has been plagued this year with nagging groin and abdomen strains. After missing a large portion of last season with an injured shoulder, the team was banking on McGraw being in the lineup every week this year and so far he’s been extremely inconsistent. Tongue, who may be the most disappointing of all the Jets’ off-season acquisitions by being the kingpin of several blown coverages, may be delegated to the bench if his play does not improve.
Earlier this month, Henderson disclosed his plan to spend additional time with the secondary, to shore up a unit that has fallen under bad habits in recent weeks.
“(Donnie) cleared up a lot of stuff,” Barrett said. It (helps that its) coming straight from the source. (Our communication) has been very good, we communicate like brothers. We’re comfortable with the defense, (but there) are always things to change.”
Buckley, another veteran newcomer to the secondary, concurred with Barrett that Henderson has assisted in their acclimation to the new scheme.
“It certainly helps,” Buckley said of the extra attention. “When it’s new to everybody and you’re trying to tell someone else, it can kind of get distorted. It’s his defense. He knows what he wants and he tells us.”
Despite a new scheme, the members of the Jets secondary are proud of their communication skills and the progress they’ve made up to this point.
”Our communication is very good,” Buckley added. “We do a great job of making adjustments.”
Sitting at 6-3, the Jets are in the thick of a playoff run. The Jets need Barrett, Tongue and the rest of the backfield mates to step up and perform during a critical final stretch of the season. If not, the unit would likely be exposed during the postseason and their hopes will be dashed for a World Championship.