New York Jets: Brian Winters

Training camp preview: Offensive line

July, 17, 2014
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Breaking down the New York Jets' roster, unit by unit, in preparation for training camp, July 23:

Projected starters: D'Brickashaw Ferguson (LT), Brian Winters (LG), Nick Mangold (C), Willie Colon (RG), Breno Giacomini (RT).

Projected reserves: Oday Aboushi, Ben Ijalana, Dalton Freeman, Dakota Dozier.

Notables on the bubble: Caleb Schlauderaff, William Campbell.

Player to watch: Giacomini. The Jets took a calculated risk in free agency, letting a young, ascending right tackle (Austin Howard) walk out the door and replacing him with the unheralded Giacomini. It wasn't a small contract, either, as Giacomini signed a four-year deal for $18 million, including $7 million in guarantees. He and Howard are comparable players, although the Jets expect Giacomini to contribute more in the running game than Howard did. He comes from a run-oriented offense, the Seattle Seahawks, but Giacomini must make the transition from a zone-based blocking scheme to a gap scheme.

Top storyline: The guards. Colon underwent two surgeries in the offseason (biceps, knee), opening the door for Aboushi to get first-team work in organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp. Drafted as a tackle, Aboushi settled in at left guard, pushing Winters to right guard, where he's never played before. Colon is expected for training camp, so what we have here, folks, is an old-fashioned competition, with three players vying for two spots. Can't you just see John Idzik smiling? This could shake out a few different ways, but the prediction is they'll start the way they ended in 2013 -- Winters left, Colon right. But that won't be etched in granite.

Wild card: Aboushi. The former fifth-round pick, coming off a red-shirt rookie year (inactive 16 games), has a chance to crack the lineup. After struggling in pass protection at tackle (he was one of the players who missed a block on the Mark Sanchez injury), Aboushi was moved to guard in the spring. It's not an easy transition, as Winters proved last season. If Aboushi can succeed, it'll give the Jets more youth and athleticism at the position.

By the numbers: This may surprise some people, but the Jets finished third in pass protection, based on the percentage of plays in which the offense controlled the line of scrimmage on pass plays -- 52.7 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Information. This isn't commensurate with their high sack total (47), an indication that other factors outweighed the pass blocking -- mainly inexperience at quarterback and the inability of the receivers to get open on a consistent basis.

Eight takeaways on Jets' OTA practices

June, 13, 2014
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The New York Jets wrapped up their organized team activity practices Thursday with a team trip to a local bowling alley. Thoughts and observations on the OTA phase of the offseason, which consisted of nine practices:

1. Growing up Smith: Quarterback Geno Smith, the likely opening-day starter, drew praise from teammates on two fronts: He was decisive in the huddle, communicating plays quickly and confidently -- a far cry from last season. They also said he was more assertive than his rookie year, demonstrating more vocal leadership. These are the progressions you'd like to see from a second-year quarterback. As for his actual play, it's hard to gauge in OTAs, but there was an obvious reduction in turnovers and sacks. Clearly, it's Smith's job to lose, even if Rex Ryan is reluctant to put it in those words.

2. Strength in numbers: Ryan likes to brag about the team's backfield depth, but depth is meaningless if half the unit is hurt. Chris Johnson (knee), Daryl Richardson (toe) and Mike Goodson (knee/no-show) didn't participate in the voluntary practices, leaving plenty of work for Bilal Powell, Chris Ivory and Alex Green, who thought he was a goner at one point. Johnson and Richardson should be ready by training camp, but given the amount of durability concerns (let's not forget about Ivory, who has a history of nagging injuries), the Jets should take a better-safe-than-sorry approach when they construct the final roster. In other words, load up on running backs.

3. The battle for No. 2: Since there's no competition at quarterback (in the words of Michael Vick), the most compelling battle is unfolding at wide receiver. Who's the 2? Don't be surprised if Stephen Hill (yeah, him) emerges as the starter opposite Eric Decker. Right now, I'd say the top candidates are Hill and David Nelson, figuring Jeremy Kerley will be in the slot. Clearly, this is a make-or-break year for Hill, who has yet to transfer his elite measureables into production. Hill did fine in the OTAs. but, remember, there was no press coverage (not allowed under CBA rules). Diminutive rookie Jalen Saunders got a lot of quality reps and demonstrated impressive short-area quickness, but again ... no press coverage. The wild card is Jacoby Ford, probably the fastest player on the team. He blew away teammates with his speed, but there are durability and consistency concerns.

4. Mr. Jessie James: Decker made headlines by skipping two days of practice to attend the CMT Awards with his wife, country singer Jessie James, which overshadowed his impressive work on the field. He's learning a new offense and getting comfortable in new surroundings, but their prized free agent appeared right at home. He's big and smooth, as advertised. You could tell he puts a lot of effort into his route running. A couple of times, he was off to the side, working on his footwork with receivers coach Sanjay Lal. Cynics will say Decker looked so good because there isn't much around him. There's an element of truth to that, but you don't catch 24 touchdowns over two years by accident.

5. Youth is served: Ryan put first-round pick Calvin Pryor on the fast track, giving him plenty of first-team reps at safety with Antonio Allen. Is the handwriting on the wall for Dawan Landry? The dean of the secondary was relegated to second- and third-team duty, but that was because the coaches wanted to give Pryor and Allen as much on-the-job training as possible. They still need Landry because of his leadership and knowledge of the defense, but Ryan, who recognizes the need for playmakers in the secondary, is intrigued by the speed and athleticism of the Pryor-Allen tandem. No doubt, Pryor will be a Week 1 starter. The only question is how they divide the other spot.

6. Musical linemen: Willie Colon's injuries allowed them to try different combinations at guard, with Brian Winters and Oday Aboushi working in both spots. Ryan said Aboushi looks better at left guard, meaning Winters could slide to right guard if something happens to Colon down the road. There's nothing wrong with experimenting, especially in June, but it doesn't mask the fact that the Jets have no experienced backups on the offensive line. And we're not counting Caleb Schlauderaff, whose experience consists of 14 regular-season snaps. They need to pick up a veteran at some point before the season.

7. Dee's cranky hamstring: It's probably nothing, but maybe it's something. Cornerback Dee Milliner was limited in recent practices because of what the team is calling "tightness" in his hamstring. Yeah, it's only June, but considering all the buildup surrounding Milliner -- coaches saying how much he'd benefit from his first injury-free offseason -- it was disappointing not to see him build on the momentum of last season's strong finish. This could be a moot point by training camp, but it's worth noting, especially since Milliner was beset with nagging injuries last season and played hurt throughout college with various ailments.

8. Jace not an ace -- yet: Rookie tight end Jace Amaro struggled with dropped passes, probably because his brain was overloaded with new terminology. This is a big transition for the second-round pick, who didn't play in a pro-style offense at Texas Tech. He came from a simple, no-huddle system that didn't require a lot of thinking on your feet. Clearly, he has talent, but his development will be dictated by how quickly he assimilates into Marty Mornhinweg's offense. Don't expect it to happen overnight.

In Year 2, Brian Winters hopes to dominate

June, 12, 2014
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Brian Winters struggled as a rookie -- and that's putting it kindly. He allowed a league-high 10 sacks for guards and ranked 77th out of 81 guards in the league, according to ProFootballFocus. What people forget is that Winters, a tackle in college, was new to the position and missed most of training camp with an ankle injury.

That is all in the past. Now that he has experience as an interior lineman, Winters is looking forward to big things this season. He expects "to have an oustanding year," he said Wednesday after the New York Jets' next-to-last offseason team activity practice. "I want to be a guy they can rely on, be a reliable source and just have a dominating year."

[+] EnlargeBrian Winters
Al Pereira/Getty ImagesBrian Winters, a third-round pick in 2013, expects a smooth second season at guard for the Jets.
The Jets remain high on Winters, whom they drafted in the third round. He probably would have been a Week 1 starter last season, but the injury set him back, forcing them to play Vladimir Ducasse at left guard for the first four games. Winters was the weak link in a veteran line, but much like fellow rookies Geno Smith and Dee Milliner, he improved over the final few games.

"There were some ups and downs, but it was a big learning experience for me," Winters said. "I really enjoyed it, the opportunity to play. As the season went on, I got better and better each game. It's going to continue to improve and it's going to go up from here."

It's a big change, going from tackle to guard. You see players make that transition later in their careers, when they no longer have the quickness and agility to block speed rushers on the edge. But at least those guys have experience in the pro game, allowing for a relatively seamless slide inside. Winters had no experience to fall back on, quickly learning about life in the proverbial phone booth.

"The fight is right at your face," Winters said.

Things develop quickly on the inside, and the guys you're blocking are a lot bigger than on the edge. There is a cerebral aspect to it as well. Guards must be aware of slide-protection schemes and where their help is coming from. Winters expects to be better equipped to handle the nuances than he did as a wide-eyed rookie.

On Wednesday, the media saw Winters for the first time at right guard. With starter Willie Colon (knee/biceps) sidelined until training camp, the Jets have been trying different people at the position. The first shot went to Oday Aboushi. That apparently didn't go too well. This week, he was moved to left guard, where his play has picked up, according to coach Rex Ryan.

This is contingency planning by the Jets, and that is smart. If Colon goes down again -- let's face it, his durability is an issue -- they could move Winters to right guard, with Aboushi coming off the bench at left guard. There are no experienced backups on the bench, and that is a concern. No matter how it shakes out, Winters will be in the lineup, looking for redemption.

Jets notes: McDougle makes debut

June, 11, 2014
Jun 11
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Notes and observations from Wednesday's OTA practice:

1. He-e-e-e-re's Dex: Third-round pick Dexter McDougle, who missed the final nine games of his senior year due to major shoulder surgery, made his practice debut for the New York Jets. After three weeks of wearing a red (non-contact) jersey, the rookie cornerback wore green with the rest of his defensive teammates and impressed Rex Ryan so much that the coach called him out in front of the team afterward. McDougle worked with the second-team nickel package and didn't seem tentative at all. This, of course, is good news for the Jets' revamped cornerback position.

[+] EnlargeEric Decker
AP Photo/Julio CortezThe Jets will be counting on receiver Eric Decker to produce in the red zone this season.
2. Rex comes clean: The Jets received mild criticism for taking McDougle in the third round, considering the time he missed at Maryland. Ryan admitted he, too, thought it was a risky pick, but others in the organization -- mainly defensive coordinat0r Dennis Thurman -- "eased my doubts" about McDougle. Ryan said Thurman, after watching McDougle on tape for the first time, came up to him and said, "I've got the guy right here." Ryan said they graded McDougle as one of the top "character" players in the draft. Assuming he has no setbacks, he will be able to participate in next week's minicamp.

3. Changing of the guards: 'Tis the time of year to experiment. With Willie Colon (arthroscopic knee surgery) sidelined for the remainder of the offseason, the Jets have been rotating players at right guard. On Wednesday, it was Brian Winters' turn. He traded places with Oday Aboushi, who moved to Winters' spot at left guard. No, this doesn't mean Colon is in danger of losing his starting job. Ryan acknowledged that Colon, who is expected to return for training camp, is a likely starter, but not necessarily at right guard. Interesting. Moving the players around in June creates competition and flexibility that could help in training camp.

4. Geno and Vick: There was a concentration on the two-minute offense and the red zone in practice. Both Geno Smith and Michael Vick looked sharp in the red zone, each quarterback completing four of five passes in team drills. Smith got most of the work with the starters. His best moment came when he stepped up in the pocket and found wide receiver Eric Decker in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. Decker dominated in the red zone, one of the reasons why the Jets are paying him $7 million a year. Vick displayed his old form, scrambling for a touchdown. He also made a nice scoring pass to rookie wide receiver Jalen Saunders.

5. Two-minute hiccups: Smith wasn't nearly as crisp in the hurry-up situation. He started off with a deep ball to Decker, but the drive stalled as he misfired on three of his last four passes. First-round pick Calvin Pryor came on a safety blitz to disrupt Smith on one play.

6. Rex on the QB competition/non-competition: Not surprisingly, Ryan spoke glowingly on the Smith-Vick battle -- even though it's not really a battle, if you ask Vick. "Both guys are sharp," Ryan said. "They're pushing themselves and pushing each other. That's exactly what we wanted to have happen. ... I've been really impressed with it."

7. Attendance report: Players that didn't participate in the voluntary practice included wide receiver Jeremy Kerley (personal), running back Mike Goodson (undisclosed), running back Chris Johnson (knee), running back Daryl Richardson (toe), wide receiver Jacoby Ford (undisclosed), Colon (knee), rookie wide receiver Shaq Evans (school obligation) and linebacker Antwan Barnes (knee). Ryan said he expects Goodson to show up for next week's mandatory minicamp. As expected, Johnson -- six months removed from knee surgery -- isn't expected to do much, if anything, in the minicamp. Ford will be full speed by next week.

8. Dee's cranky hammy: Cornerback Dee Milliner, who sat out last week's open practice, participated on a limited basis. Officially, the team is calling it hamstring "tightness," not a pulled hamstring. Got that? Ryan said they kept him out for precautionary reasons.

9. Odds and ends: Pryor continued to work with the starters. It was Pryor and Antonio Allen at safety, with Dawan Landry practicing with the second team. Landry already knows the defense; the plan is to let Pryor and Allen get as many reps as possible. ... The Jets are continuing their penalty/push-up tradition. When a penalty is committed, the entire team drops for 10 push ups. General manager John Idzik was among the non-players that did pushups. ... Matt Simms, battling rookie Tajh Boyd for the No. 3 quarterback job, threw an interception. ... Rookie tight end Jace Amaro, coming off a three-drop day last week, had another drop but looked much better catching the ball.

W2W4: Jets begin off-season program

April, 20, 2014
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Nearly four months removed from the feel-good finish to their 8-8 season, the New York Jets return to work Monday for the official start of the offseason -- a nine-week program that gradually increases in intensity and culminates with a mandatory minicamp, June 17-19.

The offseason program is voluntary (wink, wink), although many players are required to attend to collect workout bonuses. The Jets' top storylines:

Smith
Vick
Vick
1. A new locker room culture: The Jets dumped three high-profile players, Mark Sanchez, Santonio Holmes and Antonio Cromartie, all of whom wielded considerable influence in the locker room (for better or worse). The team will experience a natural change in leadership as the new players are integrated. The most compelling dynamic will be the Geno Smith-Michael Vick relationship and how it impacts the team. Smith won the team's respect last season with his resilience; Vick will command it as soon as he walks in the door.

2. The quarterback competition: It will take four months to decide Smith vs. Vick, but you can bet every pass, every action and every word uttered by them and their teammates will be micr0-analyzed by the media. Practices (OTAs) don't start until May 27, so prepare for five weeks of rhetoric, followed by pass-by-pass analysis on Twitter. Hey, it's New York and we love a good quarterback controversy. The pre-camp favorite? All things being equal, Smith gets the job, but Vick has a lot going for him and could outplay Smith in the preseason. Presumably, the Jets won't botch the competition this time, allowing them to -- you know -- actually declare a winner.

3. Sophs under the microscope: The offseason program always is important for second-year players because ... well, it's their first full offseason in the NFL. For cornerback Dee Milliner and guard Brian Winters, it's doubly important. Milliner was forced to sit out last year's workouts because he was recovering from pre-draft shoulder surgery, putting him behind everybody -- and it showed. For Winters, who played tackle in college, this will be his first offseason to train as a guard, where he struggled for most of his rookie season.

4. Learning MartyBall: It's a new-look offense, with possibly four new starters -- Vick, running back Chris Johnson, wide receiver Eric Decker and right tackle Breno Giacomini. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg set a foundation last season in Year 1 of his system, but he may have to circle back because there are so many new pieces -- and that number will grow after the draft. Vick's familiarity with Mornhinweg's offense will help a lot because it means every quarterback in the room knows the system, an important springboard in any offseason.

5. Blissfully quiet: A year ago, the Jets and Darrelle Revis' camp were locked in a dispute over whether the star cornerback had to work out with the team to collect bonus money. It didn't last long, as Revis was sent packing. There are no such distractions this year -- yet.
Your questions, my answers:
 

Roster evaluation: Player rankings, 11 to 15

February, 6, 2014
Feb 6
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Our top 25 rankings continue. Remember, it's based on a total evaluation, not just 2013 performance. Weight is given to positional value (quarterbacks and cornerbacks rate higher than, say, guards and safeties), potential (young draft picks over-aging veterans) and contractual status (cost-effective contracts over huge cap numbers and free agents). Here are 11 to 15:

Cromartie
11. Antonio Cromartie, cornerback, (cap charge: $14.98 million): This is based, in large part, on the belief that Cromartie's disappointing year (Pro Bowl appearance notwithstanding) was an aberration due to his season-long hip problem. When healthy, Cromartie is a No. 1 corner -- and they're hard to find. His unweildy cap number clouds his future with the team.

12. Austin Howard, right tackle, (cap charge: Free agent): He's a player on the rise, a two-year starter with a chance to be good for many years. The Jets will try to lock him up before he hits the open market. It seems like he's been around for awhile, but he'll be only 27 next month.

13. Chris Ivory, running back, (cap charge: $1.75 million): There are some who wonder if Ivory will ever put it together for an entire season, but we can only go by what we see. Over the second half of the season, he rushed for 603 yards and averaged 5.6 per carry. He's still young and improving.

14. Demario Davis, linebacker, (cap charge: $764,000): Another player on the ascent. He's a run-and-hit linebacker with value because he can play in space, allowing him to stay on the field for passing downs. In time, he will be the leader of the defense.

15. Brian Winters, left guard, (cap charge: $690,000): This might seem like a head scratcher, considering Winters' rookie struggles, but he was playing a new position and should settle down in year 2. The former third-round pick was well-regarded in the draft, not just by the Jets.

Previously:

16. Dawan Landry, safety

17. Calvin Pace, outside linebacker

18. Bilal Powell, running back

19. Jeff Cumberland, tight end

20. Santonio Holmes, wide receiver

21. Mark Sanchez, quarterback

22. Antonio Allen, safety

23. Nick Folk, placekicker

24. Willie Colon, right guard

25. Stephen Hill, wide receiver

Kiper re-grades '13 draft, tweaks Jets' mark

January, 24, 2014
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We all know what Rex Ryan thinks of last year's draft for the New York Jets; he gave it an A+ grade. Our man Mel Kiper, Jr., disagrees.

Richardson
Nine months after the fact, the ESPN draft guru reviewed every team's draft and applied updated grades. Back in April, Kiper gave the Jets a B. He improved it up to a B+. That's still pretty good, although not quite up to Ryan's opinion.

Explaining his new grade, Kiper says he gave it a slight bump "because they hit a huge home run" with Sheldon Richardson (first round), whom he calls one of the best run-stuffing 3-4 defensive ends in the league. No doubt, Richardson enjoyed a terrific rookie season and he's one of the leading candidates for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, which will be announced on the eve of Super Bowl XLVIII.

Kiper stopped short of giving the Jets an A because, as he explains, cornerback Dee Milliner (first round) "struggled mightily" and quarterback Geno Smith (second round) was too inconsistent. Milliner played well over the final few weeks; in fact, he was named AFC Defensive Rookie of the Month for December. Prior to December, yes, he struggled. Smith's season followed the same arc as Milliner, although he probably had more early success than Milliner. Guard Brian Winters (third round) showed promise at the end, but his season was an epic struggle. One thing to remember about Winters: It was his first time at guard. With a full offseason to train and get comfortable at the position, he should be better in 2014.

When you're thinking about the Jets' '13 draft, think about this number: 3,967.

That's the combined total of offensive, defensive and special teams snaps played by the Jets' five rookies -- impressive. It's the highest amount in the AFC East, slightly better than the Buffalo Bills (3,819) and way ahead of the New England Patriots (2,672) and Miami Dolphins (1,886).

New York Jets season wrap-up

January, 2, 2014
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Final power ranking: 19
Preseason power ranking: 32

Biggest surprise: The rookies. The New York Jets played most of the season with five rookie starters -- cornerback Dee Milliner, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, quarterback Geno Smith, guard Brian Winters and fullback Tommy Bohanon. The Jets figured to be a young team because of how the roster was purged last offseason, but you didn't think they'd be this young. The five draft picks combined for 65 starts. Their performances ranged from exceptional (Richardson) to inconsistent (Smith) to shoddy (Winters), but coach Rex Ryan -- perhaps on orders from general manager John Idzik -- stuck with them through difficult stretches. The growing pains hurt, but all five were ascending by the end of the season.

Biggest disappointment: Cornerback Antonio Cromartie was supposed to anchor the rebuilt secondary, but he regressed from a Pro Bowl year in 2012. A season-long hip injury obviously factored into his performance, but it didn't cause him to miss any games. He surrendered far too many big plays, exacerbating the absence of Darrelle Revis, who was traded last offseason. Instead of shutting down the opponents' No. 1 receiver, as he did on a consistent basis in '12, Cromartie struggled along with Milliner. Unable to rely on his corners to supply tight man-to-man coverage, Ryan was forced to adjust, taking a more passive approach with regard to blitzing.

Biggest need: Playmakers on offense. We're talking about wide receivers and tight ends, but mainly wide receivers. The Jets had only two pass plays more than 50 yards, and they came in the same game. Without a game-breaking element on the perimeter, the offense faced a steady diet of eight-man fronts and consistent blitzing. Stephen Hill didn't take that big step in Year 2, as the organization had hoped. Santonio Holmes is a goner, so now New York must find a No. 1 receiver through the draft or free agency. Actually, the Jets could pluck one from each because, yes, the need is that glaring.

Team MVP: Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson was the best player on the dominant side of the ball, so we're picking him over running back Chris Ivory, whose physical running sparked the offense late in the season. Wilkerson recorded a career-high 10.5 sacks and, although he wasn't selected to the Pro Bowl (an injustice), he established himself as one of the better defensive linemen in the league. He faced double-teams and often rushed from an interior position, hurting his ability to produce gaudy stats. His steady, blue-collar approach set a tone for the run defense, which dominated for most of the season. Wilkerson was voted MVP by his teammates, which says something. The Jets will try to lock him up to a long-term deal before next season.

Green Day: Film review of Sunday's win

December, 24, 2013
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One last look back at the New York Jets' 24-13 win over the Cleveland Browns:

Geno Smith delivered his best performance in two months -- easily. What impressed me the most was the poise he demonstrated on third down. As expected, the Browns came after him, rushing five or more on eight of his 12 dropbacks. They sent a couple of corner blitzes, probably going to school on the Jets-Panthers tape from the previous week. But Smith, afforded terrific pass protection, was unflappable.

He completed 9 of 12 passes on third down, including three conversions on third-and-10 or greater. To me, Smith's best play came on a third-and-12 to Jeremy Kerley. It came against a Cover 2 look, with Kerley beating linebacker D'Qwell Jackson into the soft middle for 22 yards. It was significant because, in a similar situation four weeks ago against the Miami Dolphins, Smith was intercepted by linebacker Dannell Ellerbe on a throw to the slot receiver.

Progress? Yes, but keep in mind the Browns were ranked 27th in third-down defense.

Other takeaways from the game:

1. The Marty Bunch: Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg did a nice job of using bunch formations to create separation for the receivers. A good example was Smith's 6-yard touchdown pass to David Nelson. They had three tight ends on the field -- unusual for third-and-6 -- with Nelson lined up in a bunch to the right. He got a free release and ran a post route through bracket coverage. Smith anticipated Nelson's break, winding up before Nelson turned for the ball -- just like you draw it up. Later, Nelson had a 15-yard reception out of another bunch formation.

2. Welcome back, wideouts: This may have been the best game for the wide-receiving corps, which produced 11 catches, 123 yards and two touchdowns. It had better numbers against the Cincinnati Bengals (15 for 130), but that was a blowout loss. The Browns used a lot of "off" coverage, playing into the Jets' hands. Everybody knows you have to play aggressive press coverage against the Jets' wideouts.

3. Tone's time almost up: It was a disappointing day for Santonio Holmes, who had as many drops (two) as receptions. On the positive side, he did a nice job of shielding cornerback Buster Skrine in the end zone on Smith's 17-yard touchdown scramble. Curiously, Holmes didn't partake in the celebration. Smith was mobbed by seven teammates, but Holmes, nearby, didn't join in, looking like he was sulking.

4. Reed responds in backup role: Safety Ed Reed, replaced by Antonio Allen in the base defense, played his best game as a Jet. In fact, the much-maligned safety group allowed only one completion in five targets, recorded an interception (Reed) and broke up two passes -- a solid performance. Then again, what do we writers know about football, right, Ed?

5. Flawless protection: Kudos to the offensive line -- no sacks, no quarterback hits. I've been critical of rookie left guard Brian Winters, but this was one of his better games. He had a key block on Bilal Powell's 39-yard run.

6. Defensive hiccup: The Jets were gashed on Edwin Baker's 5-yard touchdown run. It happened with defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (shoulder) temporarily out of the game. His replacement, Leger Douzable, was double-teamed. Outside linebacker Quinton Coples fell victim to a trap block, creating a crease for Baker. Afterward, Rex Ryan took responsibility, saying he should've used the goal-line defense instead of the base.

7. Not so special: Special-teams mistakes have cost the Jets 10 points in the last two games. There was the blocked punt in Carolina, and the failed fake punt against the Browns. Josh Bush, a safety, took the direct snap and uncorked a Tebow-esque pass into the ground, missing a wide-open Isaiah Trufant. They will say it should've worked because he was open, but I didn't see the point in resorting to trickeration against a hapless team like the Browns. The Jets also allowed a 50-yard kickoff return at a critical point in the game, but it was a treat to see Saalim Hakim turn on the jets and track down Fozzy Whittaker. Dude can fly.

Film Review: Jets get skunked by Panthers

December, 17, 2013
12/17/13
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One last look back at the New York Jets' 30-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers:

I heard this expression a long time ago (I think it came from Bill Parcells), and it applies to one element of the game: How many times do you need to get hit in the face with a skunk before you realize it stinks?

The Jets got hit with a cornerback blitz on their sixth play from scrimmage, but they did little to stop it -- so the Panthers used it over and over. The Panthers aren't known for exotic blitzes, but they kept sending Captain Munnerlyn off the corner. Why not?

[+] EnlargeCaptain Munnerlyn and Geno Smith
Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/MCTCaptain Munnerlyn and the Panthers used cornerback blitzes to get at Jets QB Geno Smith.
On the Panthers' first sack, Munnerlyn was unblocked on a front-side blitz and tackled Geno Smith. On their third sack, Munnerlyn came on a back-side blitz. Running back Bilal Powell picked him up, but it allowed linebacker Luke Kuechly to loop around left tackle -- unblocked -- for the sack out of a six-man rush. On the fourth sack, Munnerlyn came from the back side again. The Jets emptied the backfield, so there was no one to block him.

If Munnerlyn had a few more chances, he might have finished with three or four sacks. It wasn't a well-coordinated effort by the Jets, but a lot of those problems can be attributed to Smith's inexperience. He simply needs to do a better job of recognizing pressure and finding his hot reads.

The Panthers sent extra pressure twice as often as they usually do, surprising the Jets. Against five or more rushers, Smith was only 6-for-12, plus four sacks. He averaged only 2.9 yards per dropback, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Panthers did a nice job with their game plan, attacking a Jets weakness.

Other takeaways:

1. Another Geno hiccup: Smith, explaining his interception, admitted he should've checked down to another receiver instead of forcing the ball into a tight window to Santonio Holmes. The tape reveals that Smith had three wide-open check-down options --Jeremy Kerley, Jeff Cumberland and Powell. This was another example of poor field vision by the rookie. He also got caught up in the moment. The Panthers had just converted a blocked punt into a touchdown, and Smith wanted to reclaim the momentum by taking a risk on third down. Sometimes the quarterback has to know when to fold and wait for the next hand. Instead, he turned Munnerlyn into a hero. It was Smith's fifth pick-six of the season, tying Joe Namath for the team's single-season mark.

2. Bad Geno, good Geno: Earlier, Smith provided a glimpse of good and bad on back-to-back plays. Throwing on the run, he misfired badly on a deep ball to a wide-open Saalim Hakim, sailing a pass about 4 yards out of bounds -- a blown opportunity. On the next play, Smith did a great job of moving in the pocket against a five-man rush, throwing a strike to Cumberland for a 35-yard gain. Such is life with a rookie quarterback.

3. The nightmare screen: This was on linebacker David Harris. The Jets were in man-to-man coverage and Harris got caught peeking into the backfield, biting on Cam Newton's fake screen to the left. That drew him out of position just enough to allow DeAngelo Williams to catch the screen-right and get around the corner. Incredibly, he turned a routine play into a 72-yard touchdown. Safety Ed Reed also fell for the fake and arrived late, taking a bad angle. Cornerback Dee Milliner, who strikes me as a finesse tackler, couldn't get off the block of receiver Brandon LaFell. Milliner looked like he wanted to slow-dance with LaFell.

4. Another cold Winters: Left guard Brian Winters might be a good player some day, but he's having a nightmare of a rookie season. He surrendered one sack, allowed a pressure that contributed to another sack and committed a costly holding penalty in the fourth quarter. Vladimir Ducasse is John Hannah compared to this.

5. Odds and ends: Rex Ryan took the blame on Mike Tolbert's 1-yard touchdown run. Anticipating a run up the middle, he used what he called a "sell-the-farm" defense. He used six linemen, including four between the inside shoulders of the two offensive tackles. That left a gap on the outside shoulder of the two tackles. The Panthers ran directly into that gap on the left side. Quinton Coples slanted in and was buried. Linebacker DeMario Davis was blocked by a pulling guard, allowing Tolbert to walk into the end zone. ... The Jets' blitz didn't bother Newton at all. Against five or more rushers, he was 7-for-10, averaging 11.9 yards per dropback. He was sacked only once. ... Cornerback Darrin Walls played only one defensive snap and missed a key tackle.

Film review: No Mojo for Mo Wilkerson

December, 10, 2013
12/10/13
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One last look at the New York Jets' 37-27 win over the Oakland Raiders:

This was an unusually quiet game for DE Muhammad Wilkerson, who was credited with only two tackles. He wasn't disruptive in the pass rush, appearing at times as if he were less than 100 percent. You can't help but wonder if his wrist injury is affecting his ability to shed blockers.

Wilkerson showed up on the injury report two weeks ago, meaning he probably hurt it against the Baltimore Ravens -- his last impact performance. He has been limited in practice, but he continues to downplay the injury, insisting it's no big deal. But could it be a coincidence that the Jets' run defense has slipped since Wilkerson hurt his wrist? The Jets have allowed 275 rushing yards in the last two games.

It's almost unfair to pick on Wilkerson because he's such a good player, undoubtedly the team MVP. That, of course, is why we take notice when he's not his usual dominant self.

Other takeaways after breaking down the tape:

1. Glitches for Geno: Rookie QB Geno Smith, perhaps playing for his job, took some nice strides in this game. No doubt, it was a winning performance. But, for the sake of evaluation, we can't ignore the entire picture. He got away with some poor throws. There were two near-interceptions and a blown touchdown opportunity on the first drive, when he missed TE Kellen Winslow in the end zone. Winslow beat a linebacker in man-to-man coverage, but the pass was thrown over the wrong shoulder.

[+] EnlargeJets
AP Photo/Bill KostrounJeremy Kerley bailed Geno Smith out on a touchdown pass against the Raiders.
Smith's 25-yard touchdown to Jeremy Kerley was off the mark as well, underthrown, but Kerley bailed him out with a terrific "jump-ball" effort in the end zone. You can get away with questionable throws against a bad team like the Raiders -- "Bad News Bears," as Charles Woodson said -- but Smith won't have the same success against the Carolina Panthers if he doesn't sharpen up.

2. A run of beauty: Chris Ivory's 15-yard touchdown was one of the best plays of the season. In a span of 15 yards, he broke five tackles, demonstrating an impressive combination of power and agility. Let me break it down by missed tackles:

A. Ivory, cutting back on a misdirection run, slipped an arm tackle by DE Lamarr Houston at the 15.

B. Ivory plowed through S Charles Woodson, who squared up with him at the 13.

C. Showing quick feet, Ivory used a stutter-step move to get around S Brandian Ross at the 11.

D. Ivory confronted LB Sio Moore, who earlier was flattened and dazed by an Ivory block while rushing the passer. That unpleasant encounter may have stuck in Moore's head because, instead of throwing his full weight into Ivory, he avoided a head-on collision by lowering only one shoulder and trying to rip out the ball. It didn't work.

E. Ivory spun out of Moore's tackle attempt and rammed into CB Tracy Porter at the 3. Ivory drove him back and into the end zone for the touchdown. It was the best 15-yard run in a long, long time.

3. Making Sparano look good: Former Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, the Raiders' offensive-line coach, must have been giddy after Marcel Reece's 63-yard touchdown run. It was vintage Sparano, a power run with the right guard pulling. The Raiders blocked it beautifully.

Rex Ryan used a "46" front (think '85 Chicago Bears), meaning eight in the box and linemen over the center and two guards. In theory, it should've been the ideal front to stop a power running play. Ryan didn't name names, but he said the 3-technique lined up a bit wide (it looked like Wilkerson), allowing a double team. Reece had a huge hole. NT Damon Harrison missed a tackle at the point of attack, and that was all she wrote. Reece, unusually fast for a fullback, split S Dawan Landry and CB Antonio Cromartie and was gone.

4. The other lousy defensive play: Eight minutes after Reece's touchdown, the Jets suffered another breakdown, when Cromartie and S Ed Reed collided while defending a slant route. This was a weird play because the Raiders had two receivers in the same area, TE Jeron Mastrud and WR Rod Streater. It looked like QB Matt McGloin was throwing for Mastrud, covered by DB Kyle Wilson.

Reed came flying downhill, looking for his second interception. He ran into Cromartie, who was on Streater. Somehow, the ball got through Mastrud and the collision, finding Streater, who ran 48 yards for the touchdown. You can call it a fluke play, but it also showed a lack of familiarity between Reed and Cromartie.

5. Dee-licious: Embattled rookie CB Dee Milliner played perhaps his best game of the season. He was targeted three times and didn't allow a single completion. Interesingly, the Raiders seemed to be picking on Cromartie, who was targeted seven times. He allowed four completions for 97 yards, including a touchdown.

6. Solid pass pro: The Jets did a nice job of handling the Raiders' blitz. They came into the game as one of the heaviest blitzing teams in the league, and they didn't disappoint. Unofficially, they sent five or more rushers on 23 of 29 dropbacks. Smith was sacked only once (Ivory missed a block in blitz-pick up), although he was hit six times.

For the most part, Smith kept his poise, completing 12 of 21 for 132 yards, one interception and one sack against added pressure.

7. Odds and ends: Two of Smith's best completions (30 and 16 yards) came with three tight ends on the field. On the 30-yarder to Winslow, Smith rolled to the right after a heavy run-action to the left. The entire offensive line pulled left, but the Raiders didn't bite on the fake, leaving the five linemen standing by themselves on the opposite side of the field. Kind of funny on the all-22 tape. ... Rookie LG Brian Winters struggled with his run blocking, allowing two tackles behind the line for minus-8 yards. ... Santonio Holmes should've made that catch in the end zone. ... Credit LB Quinton Coples with some outside pressure on Reed's interception. ... Blocks of the day: As I mentioned earlier, Ivory crushed Moore on a blitz. Later, on a well-executed screen pass, RG Willie Colon blew up DT Vance Walker with an open-field block. Ryan highlighted both plays in his "Play Like a Jet" film session Monday.

Sunday notes: Hot air or nice draft?

December, 8, 2013
12/08/13
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Thoughts and observations on the New York Jets:

1. Rex being Rex: Rex Ryan went overboard by claiming the Jets' draft was the best in the NFL, giving it an A+ grade. Mind you, this is the same coach who once called Wayne Hunter the best backup tackle in the league. He should've said it has the potential to be the best draft, because it does. It has produced five starters, which is rare. In fact, no other team can say it has five draft picks that have started at least seven games, based on stats from ProFootball-Reference.com. No team has four picks that meet that criterion, and only five teams have three.

Judging on quantity, yes, it's a grade-A draft for the Jets, but the problem is that only one player -- defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson -- has proven he can play at a high level in the NFL. Cornerback Dee Milliner, quarterback Geno Smith and left guard Brian Winters are question marks, and fullback Tommy Bohanon is a serviceable player at best.

Obviously, there may have been ulterior motives for Ryan's gush fest -- praising his new boss, general manager John Idzik, and trying to infuse confidence in a couple of his embattled rookies, Milliner and Smith. I solicited an objective viewpoint. Here's an AFC personnel director, speaking on the condition of anonymity, assessing the Jets' draft:

"It's one thing to say five starters, but it's another thing to say they're playing well or with a winning performance. [Richardson] is a real good player, but the quarterback is struggling, [Milliner] is struggling and [Winters] has had his struggles, too. Two offensive linemen [Oday Aboushi and Will Campbell] don't even get a jersey, and [Bohanon] is an ordinary talent.

"With that said, they're young players and they all may develop in time, but they've taken some rookie lumps. I don't know yet about the cornerback and the quarterback. I think the guard has a chance, but this is probably too much, too fast for him. The offensive linemen are future developmentals and the fullback is what he is."

In my book, it's a B draft.

2. The big man speaks: On Wednesday morning, left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson received a standing ovation from his teammates. It came in response to an announcement by Ryan, who told a team meeting that Ferguson was about to become the first player in team history to start the first 125 games of his career.

Wednesday was an eventful day for Ferguson, who joined linebacker David Harris in addressing a players-only meeting, as first reported by the New York Post. That two of the most reserved players on the team became the point men illustrates two things: The situation is dire. The team lacks fiery leaders.

Harris didn't want to discuss what he told the team, and Ferguson wasn't around to comment. Ferguson is a man of few words, so a speech by him evokes memories of the old EF Hutton commercials. One player told me Ferguson's message stressed the importance of team over individuals, adding of the meeting: "Two guys stepped up to the plate, commanded the stage, said their piece and took on leadership roles, just to make sure that, 'Hey, this is where our mindset should be. We're in a rough spot right now, but we're not going to die. We're not going to throw in the towel, we're going to keep fighting.' "

3. Tribute to Brick: A 125-game streak is impressive. As a side note, Ferguson has missed only one snap in seven-plus years. He began in 2006 as a gangly rookie and developed into a Pro Bowl-caliber player. Former left guard Pete Kendall, who played alongside him in 2006, offered this recollection:

"We could tell he'd likely be successful, and it turns out we were right. It wasn't necessarily natural for him. He had to work at it. I think he struggled with his weight his rookie season, and there was an adjustment, learning to play in the Sunday league. But you could always see the ease with which he was able to move. You knew that with a tweak here and there, getting to understand how the pieces fit together, he'd turn out to be a very good player."

4. Special K: Don't get me wrong, I like Jeremy Kerley as a player, but it's not like Victor Cruz or Wes Welker is returning to the lineup, which is how it sounded all week in Florham Park. Kerley isn't a savior; he's a good role player on an offense desperate for something positive.

5. Welcome home, Chad: Former Jets quarterback Chad Pennington will lead the player-walk through the parking lot Sunday at MetLife Stadium. It's good to see that Pennington has reconnected with his old team, which kicked him to the curb when Brett Favre arrived in 2008. A lot of players would've carried a grudge forever. Pennington made an appearance two summers ago in training camp, but that was a favor to then-coordinator Tony Sparano, his former Miami Dolphins head coach.

6. Belichick and the Jets: Patriots coach Bill Belichick tweaked them last week, saying he habors nostalgic feelings for all his former teams -- except the Jets. No surprise there. We all know he hates the Jets, but he apparently hasn't shared that part of his past with his players. I mentioned Belichick's tweak to recently signed linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, who played with the Patriots from 2010 through last summer. Cunningham's response: "He coached with the Jets? I never knew that."

7. A tale of the rookie QBs: Smith and EJ Manuel commanded most of the attention before, during and after the draft, but the most impressive rookie quarterback is Mike Glennon of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was chosen in the third round, 34 spots after Smith. Playing in a dysfunctional environment for most of the year, Glennon has 13 touchdown passes, only five interceptions and a 90.3 passer rating. He's growing into the job; Smith is growing out of the job. The Jets spent a lot of time with Glennon before the draft (he was tutored by former Jets quarterback Ken O'Brien), but they obviously didn't like him as much as Smith.

8. What a tweet: When the Jets inform Kellen Winslow they have no intention of re-signing him for 2014, they should do it via Twitter. That would be poetic symmetry.

9. Rex-speak: This is what Ryan said the other day about offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg: "I think Marty is doing a terrific job. The numbers sometimes can be a little misleading. I think the job he's done and this staff, with some of the challenges we’ve faced, I think guys have done a great job."

This is what Ryan said 13 months ago about Sparano: "I’m happy with the job he’s done. I’m not happy with our results, but to say I’m going to pin that on Tony, there’s no way." A few weeks later, he fired Sparano.

This time, Ryan won't fire Mornhinweg. They'll either leave together or stay together.

10. Central castoffs: The Raiders opened some eyes last week by dressing 16 players who entered the league as undrafted free agents. The Jets weren't far behind with 13.

Green Day: Chilly start for rookie Winters

December, 4, 2013
12/04/13
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The New York Jets have a Geno Smith situation unfolding at left guard.

If you haven't noticed, rookie Brian Winters is struggling, really struggling. Even though he has started only eight games, Winters tops all guards in the NFL with nine sacks allowed, according to ProFootballFocus.com. For an interior lineman, nine sacks is the equivalent of 19 interceptions for a quarterback, but at least Smith can say he's played every game.

If Rex Ryan wants to do what's in the best interest of the team, as he always says, he'd bench Winters -- if, in fact, he has that power. Look, we know Vladimir Ducasse isn't the second coming of Larry Allen, but he would be an upgrade at the position. For those keeping track, he allowed two sacks in four games before being benched in favor of Winters.

We know why Ducasse isn't playing: He's in the final year of his contract and he'll be playing elsewhere next season. Winters was John Idzik's third-round pick, and the first-year general manager is calling the shots here, folks. Winters is part of the future, so Idzik wants him on the field even if he's hurting the present. Similar politics are playing out at the quarterback position, where Smith has done nothing over the last few weeks to justify his starting role.

Idzik preaches competition, but the playing field isn't always level.

ICYMI: As expected, the Jets placed KR Josh Cribbs (shoulder) on season-ending injured reserve. To replace him, the Jets signed return specialist Darius Reynaud, most recently of the Tennessee Titans. They killed two birds with one signing, as Reynaud can return punts and kickoffs. ... The Jets worked out several players Tuesday, including Reynaud and CB DeQuan Menzie (Detroit Lions, Kansas City Chiefs). ... The Jets dropped only one spot in the ESPN.com Power Rankings, slipping to No. 23. ... Our film review of the Jets' nightmare loss to the Miami Dolphins. Warning: Contains graphic descriptions of botched plays; for mature audiences only.

Film review: Downhill from the first play

December, 3, 2013
12/03/13
5:30
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One last look back at the New York Jets' 23-3 loss to the Miami Dolphins:

The Jets ran 54 plays in the game, and the vast majority were pretty lousy. It would take too long to list all the breakdowns, so we'll start by focusing on one play -- the first one. It ended with a sack, a demoralizing way for a slumping offense to begin a game. Talk about a bad omen. We picked this play because it illustrates many of the ongoing problems on offense.

For a change, coordinator Marty Mornhinweg went into the game with an aggressive approach, looking to throw deep out of the box. Have to like that, right? Unfortunately for the Jets, it all crumbled in less than four seconds, a concern on many levels. Here's what went wrong:

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
AP Photo/Bill KostrounThe Jets beefed up their pass protection Sunday against the Dolphins, and still allowed four sacks.
A. Poor pass protection: QB Geno Smith had three pass rushers in his face -- DE Olivier Vernon (he beat LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson), DT Randy Starks (beat LG Brian Winters) and LB Philip Wheeler (unblocked).

B. Miscommunication: FB Tommy Bohanon chipped Wheeler before running a pass route into the left flat. After absorbing the block, Wheeler proceeded on his merry way, straight up the middle. No one picked him up. With a six-man protection, that shouldn't have been an issue, especially against a five-man rush. RB Bilal Powell, too, leaked out of the backfield. It's possible he was supposed to stay home to block.

C. Wrong receiver: The coaches knew Santonio Holmes wasn't 100 percent because of a balky hamstring, which he aggravated last week in practice, yet they sent him on an 18-yard vertical route on the first play. Clearly, he lacked his usual burst. It would be his final pass route of the day.

D. Bad field vision: Smith looked at Holmes the entire time, never looking to Bohanon, who was wide open in the flat. He didn't have enough time to get the ball to Holmes (3.7 seconds from snap to sack), but he could've thrown it to Bohanon. Instead, he succumbed to the pressure, ducking into the pass rush. Wheeler and Vernon combined for the sack.

One play, so many problems. Welcome to the Jets' offense.

Other takeaways after reviewing the tape ...

1. Geno's second-quarter interception. The Dolphins did a nice job of disguising, and it fooled the rookie quarterback. They put seven at the line of scrimmage, with linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Wheeler lined up in the A gaps. It looked like a double A-gap blitz, but Ellerbe and Wheeler never rushed. The Dolphins rushed five others, including a safety. The Jets blocked it nicely, giving Smith time in the pocket.

In his pre-snap read, Smith noticed Greg Salas uncovered in the slot and a two-deep safety look. He probably thought the Dolphins were in Cover 2, meaning there would be a soft spot in the middle for Salas on a deep seam. Just before the snap, Ellerbe glanced quickly toward Salas, a barely discernible tipping of his intentions. On the snap, the Dolphins rotated out of the Cover 2 look, leaving Ellerbe in man-to-man coverage with Salas, with a safety over the top. The 245-pound linebacker ran stride-for-stride with Salas, giving Smith no window for a pass. He threw it anyway -- his last pass of the day, as it turned out.

This was a well-executed play by the Miami defense, a great individual effort by Ellerbe and a poor decision by Smith.

2. Live and die by the blitz: The Jets' best defensive play came on a blitz. Their worst play came on a blitz.

In the second quarter, they rushed six, including safeties Ed Reed and Dawan Landry. DE Muhammad Wilkerson beat his man and clobbered QB Ryan Tannehill as he released the ball, forcing a bloop pass in the direction of Mike Wallace. CB Antonio Cromartie boxed him out, basketball-style, and made a nice interception.

In the third quarter, Rex Ryan decided to get aggressive on a second-and-8 on the Jets' 28-yard line, sending seven rushers. That included linebackers David Harris and Demario Davis, who came on a double A-gap blitz. The Jets played zero coverage, meaning no deep safety. It was man-to-man coverage across the board. This time, the Dolphins blocked it and Tannehill calmly tossed a short pass to Wallace, who broke a feeble tackle attempt by cornerback Dee Milliner and raced to the end zone.

3. Serious problem at left guard: Winters continued to struggle in pass protection; the rookie was involved in three of the four sacks. He didn't surrender the sack on the Jets' first play, but he allowed pressure that factored into the play. Later, he was responsible for two sacks by Vernon. Clearly, the Dolphins targeted Winters, lining up Vernon over him on some occasions.

4. Looking for Ed: Reed has received a lot of criticism for his performance, and deservedly so. The play that drew the most attention was his missed tackle on Brian Hartline's 31-yard touchdown -- one of the few plays in which Reed was near the ball. For the most part, Reed appeared reluctant to engage in contact. Look, we all know he's not going to the Hall of Fame because of his tackling ability -- he's no Ronnie Lott -- but at least make an effort. I watched every play on the All-22 tape, and I noticed only two plays in which he was involved in hard contact, both on runs by Lamar Miller.

5. Added security: Trying to beef up the pass protection, the Jets used more six-, seven- and eight-man protections than usual -- and they still allowed four sacks, which is alarming. The downside to the strategy is that, even when the quarterback has time, he has fewer options. When a receiver gets open, you have to hit him. Smith wasted a great opportunity on the first series, overthrowing a wide-open David Nelson. It was a seven-man protection, affording Smith all the time he needed to make at least a 30-yard play.

6. Rex tweaks defense: Burned by too many long balls, Ryan took a more conservative approach in the secondary, using more two-deep looks than usual. Tannehill wasn't able to throw any balls over the top, but he found soft spots with passes over the short middle. It also probably explains why the Dolphins ran for 125 yards.

7. Odds and ends: It was a rough day for Davis, who missed a tackle on Hartline's touchdown and allowed six completions (seven targets) for 83 yards, according to ProFootballFocus.com ... RT Austin Howard played well against DE Cameron Wake, who was held to no sacks and one solo tackle. ... It went unnoticed because it happened on a sack play, but RB Chris Ivory rag-dolled Wake while pass-blocking. ... The Jets' best chance to score a touchdown turned into a disaster. On a third down from the 2, Ivory had no chance against a nine-man box. Next, Ryan made a bad decision, opting for a field goal. Down 13-0 late in the third quarter, they needed seven points, not three.

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