New York Jets: David Harris

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets wrapped up minicamp -- and the offseason -- with a 90-minute practice Thursday in a light rain. A few takeaways:

Smith
1. Quarterback hiccups: One day after his coaches lavished praise upon him for a terrific offseason, Geno Smith ended on a down note, throwing two interceptions in team drills. One was an ill-advised throw, a pass into double coverage. He was looking for Eric Decker, who was covered by CB Dee Milliner, and it was picked off by rookie S Calvin Pryor. Later, Smith (2-for-6 in team drills) was intercepted by Milliner on a deep ball that went off the hands of Decker. It's important to keep this in perspective. Two turnovers on the final day of minicamp doesn't change anything. As Marty Mornhinweg indicated Wednesday, it's Smith's job to lose. Michael Vick was 2-for-7, with a couple of overthrows.

2. Young ball hawks: Turnovers are always a good news-bad news story in practice. The good news is that the secondary, which produced very few big plays last season, came up big. In addition to Pryor and Milliner, rookie CB Dexter McDougle made a big play, intercepting Vick in a 7-on-7 drill. (Vick seemed upset; there might have been a miscommunication with WR Jeremy Kerley). Afterward, Rex Ryan praised McDougle as one of the standouts in minicamp. This will be the youngest secondary of the Ryan era. The upside is the improved team speed on the back end; the downside is the lack of experience, which will inevitably lead to mental errors.

3. Another Hill to climb: WR Stephen Hill, who could be fighting for his roster spot, finished with a terrific practice. This was a positive offseason for Hill, who needed a jolt after a second straight disappointing season. He worked with the starting base offense, with David Nelson replacing him in some three-receiver packages. Nelson, too, looked sharp, hauling in two completions from Smith. Unlike past years, the Jets actually have some depth at receiver. It'll be interesting to see which players separate from the pack in training camp.

4. Dawan is da man: Veteran S Dawan Landry became the forgotten man in recent weeks, especially with Pryor and Antonio Allen working exclusively with the first team. After practice, Ryan tossed a bouquet to Landry, mentioning him as one of the standouts in minicamp. Ryan also revealed that Landry won an "Iron Jet" award for his exploits in the conditioning program, noting that he reported to the offseason program in superior condition. Funny how that works; they draft a safety in the first round and the aging incumbent shows up looking better than ever.

5. Attendance report: LB David Harris (hamstring tightness) and TE Jeff Cumberland (undisclosed) sat out. As expected, RB Chris Ivory (ankle) didn't participate. With Chris Johnson (knee) also out, Bilal Powell and Alex Green had busy days.

6. Have a nice summer: The offseason program is over. The team won't be together again until training camp. Reporting day is July 23 in Cortland, New York.

Jets' not-so-old gang is dwindling

March, 10, 2014
Mar 10
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You've heard this a thousand times: The NFL stands for Not For Long, and that theory certainly applies to the 2010 New York Jets.

With Antonio Cromartie's release Sunday, only 11 players remain from the team that lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game (we're including free agents). That total is sure to shrink in the coming days. By the time we reach Week 1, it could be only seven holdovers.

A look at the Gang of 11:

Not going anywhere:

D'Brickashaw Ferguson, left tackle

Nick Mangold, center

David Harris, linebacker

Jeff Cumberland, tight end

Nick Folk, kicker (franchise tag)

Tanner Purdum, long snapper

Kyle Wilson, cornerback

Free agents:

Calvin Pace, linebacker

Vladimir Ducasse, guard/tackle

Likely cap casualties:

Mark Sanchez, quarterback

Santonio Holmes, wide receiver

New York Jets cap breakdown: Defense

February, 14, 2014
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A breakdown of the New York Jets' salary cap, position by position on defense:

Cornerback

Total cap charge: $20.8 million

Percentage of total cap: 16.0

Players under contract: 6

Highest cap charge: Antonio Cromartie, $14.98 million

Our take: The Jets won't have Cromartie at that number. He'll either take a pay cut or get cut, perhaps re-signing later at a lower number. ... Imagine what the overall number would look like if Darrelle Revis were still on the roster.

Linebacker

Total cap charge: $12.16 million

Percentage of total cap: 9.4

Players under contract: 6

Highest cap charge: David Harris, $7.0 million

Our take: Only three starters are under contract, which means the total will grow when they re-sign Calvin Pace or a veteran replacement. ... The front office finally got this position under control after years of bloated cap numbers.

Defensive line:

Total cap charge: $7.41

Percentage of total cap: 5.7

Players under contract: 7

Highest cap charge: Sheldon Richardson, $2.29 million

Our take: They're all young pups, but one of these days -- 2015 or 2016 -- this will be the high-rent district on the team. Maybe it will start this year if Muhammad Wilkerson gets a long-term extension.

Safety:

Total cap charge: $3.56 million

Percentage of total cap: 2.7

Players under contract: 6

Highest cap charge: Dawan Landry, $1.83 million

Our take: Welcome to the discount aisle. The Jets take the thrifty approach when it comes to building the safety position.

Roster evaluation: Player rankings, 6 to 10

February, 7, 2014
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At this stage of our rankings, we're talking about two different kinds of players -- young, building-block players and indespensable veterans. Here you go, Nos. six to 10:

6. David Harris, middle linebacker, (cap charge: $7 million): He calls the defensive signals and rarely comes off the field. Harris played well last season after a disappointing 2012, showing a marked improvement in pass coverage. He's not an elite linebacker in the NaVorro Bowman category, but he's a VIP in the Jets' world. Harris is headed into a contract year.

7. Geno Smith, quarterback, (cap charge: $1.1 million): This is based largely on positional value and potential. The Jets have a young, developing quarterback who won eight games as a rookie and, barring something unforeseen, he will be the starter again in 2014. It's too soon to say he's the real deal, but his arrow is pointed up -- and that counts for something.

8. Dee Milliner, cornerback, (cap charge: $2.9 million): He was the ninth overall pick in the 2013 draft, a lofty position that carries a lot of weight. The Jets believe Milliner, who struggled much of the year, turned the corner (no pun intended) in the final month. If he continues on that trajectory, he'll be a No. 1-caliber corner in 2014.

9. Jeremy Kerley, wide receiver, (cap charge: $1.4 million): Facts are facts: The Jets were 0-4 without Kerley, 8-4 with him. Statisically, their passing attack was more effective when he was on the field -- .6 yards per pass attempt better, to be exact. Not bad for a diminutive slot receiver.

10. Quinton Coples, outside linebacker, ($2.4 million): If you polled players on the team, asking them which player has the most potential, Coples would come up most often. With him, it comes down to want-to. He has only 10 sacks in two years, but the total should increase at a faster rate now that he's had a year to learn the "rush" linebacker position.

Previously:

11. Antonio Cromartie, cornerback

12. Austin Howard, right tackle

13. Chris Ivory, running back

14. Demario Davis, linebacker

15. Brian Winters, left guard

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

NFLN survey/respected player: Jets

January, 16, 2014
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Our NFL Nation network of team reporters polled 320 players across the league -- 10 from each team -- to produce a confidential survey that covered eight probing questions/hot topics. Next up ...

Question: Which player do you respect the most?

Winner: Peyton Manning, quarterback, Denver Broncos.

Our take: Manning was a landslide winner with 86 votes (26.8 percent), accumulating more than three times the number of votes as the second-place finishers, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (24 each). The Manning-Brady dynamic is interesting. Brady has three Super Bowl rings to Manning's one, yet it's clear which quarterback is more popular among his peers. It makes for interesting discussion fodder, especially with a Manning-Brady showdown in the AFC Championship Game.

I can tell you this: Manning received the most votes (three) among the 10 Jets players who participated in the survey. Two players voted for Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Five other players, including Peterson, received one vote apiece.

Only two Jets received votes from their peers around the league: safety Ed Reed (five) and linebacker David Harris (one). Obviously, Reed drew attention for his stellar years with the Baltimore Ravens, not his seven-game, hired-gun gig with the Jets. Players weren't allowed to vote for teammates. A total of 78 players received votes in this category.

Analyzing key (read: large) cap numbers

January, 13, 2014
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The league year begins in two months (March 11, to be exact), so teams have plenty of time to get their salary-cap house in order. In past years, the New York Jets had to slash salary to get under the cap, but not this year.

Right now, the Jets are projected to be about $20 million under the cap. The preliminary projection for the cap is $126.3 million and the Jets have $106 million committed to it, according to overthecap.com. By the time they get done dumping overpaid veterans, they could have close to $40 million in space.

Here's a look at some of the Jets' key cap figures for 2014:

Antonio Cromartie, cornerback, $14.98 million:

Cromartie is entering the final year of a four-year, $32 million contract. In retrospect, it was a sound investment by the Jets, one of the better big deals doled out by former general manager Mike Tannenbaum. That said, there's virtually no way Cromartie will play 2014 under the existing contract. It calls for a $5 million roster bonus in March, and the Jets don't want to pay that much for a 30-year-old corner (almost) who recently acknowledged he may need hip surgery. He'd account for 12 percent of the team's cap under the current deal.

Cromartie says he wants to retire with the Jets. To stick around for '14, he can agree to significantly reduce the $9.5 million he's due to make in total compensation. If not, he probably will be released with the chance to return. Free agency would allow him to shop around and establish his market value, weighing it against the Jets' interest in bringing him back. Despite a sub-par season, Cromartie still is a good No. 2 corner and the Jets don't have anyone on the roster capable of starting opposite Dee Milliner. It makes sense for both sides to find a compromise and strike a new deal. If they cut him, they'd save $9.5 million in cap room, but a good chunk of that would go toward signing his replacement.

Mark Sanchez, quarterback, $13.1 million

Sanchez still has three years left on his contract, thanks to the ill-advised extension he received in March 2012, but there is no security remaining in the deal -- meaning no guaranteed money. As a result, they can release their former franchise quarterback without wrecking the cap. They'd get hit with a $4.8 million charge in "dead" money, but the overall savings would be $8.3 million. That probably will be the end result, and it will happen before a $2 million roster bonus is due in March.

Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how the two sides get to that point. Conceivably, the Jets could throw Sanchez a lifeline -- after all, they need an experienced quarterback to play behind or compete with Geno Smith -- but they'd want him to take a massive, pride-crushing pay cut. Sanchez says he wants to stay with the Jets, but at what price? He probably could land a one-year deal in the $3 million neighborhood on the open market, assuming his surgically repaired throwing shoulder checks out.

D'Brickashaw Ferguson, left tackle, $11.7 million

He's not going anywhere. In fact, it would cost them more not to have Ferguson on the roster than to have him -- a $13 million hit in "dead" money. After restructuring a couple of times, he's probably un-cuttable until 2016, the next-to-last year of the contract. Fortunately for the Jets, Ferguson still is a productive, if not elite player.

Santonio Holmes, wide receiver, $10.75 million

The guaranteed money from the ridiculous five-year, $45 million contract he signed in 2011 has disappeared, meaning Holmes soon will disappear as well. Holmes took a $3 million pay cut last offseason, and he said he'd be willing to take another (how magnanimous), but he probably won't get that chance.

The Jets will save $8.25 million in cap space by dumping him before a $1 million roster bonus is due in March, and they won't let that opportunity pass by. Based on the past two seasons (43 receptions, 17 games missed), Holmes is a $1 million-to-$2 million-a-year receiver.

Nick Mangold, center, $7.2 million

This is a large cap charge for a center, but it's managable. Mangold remains a Pro Bowl-caliber player, so there's no reason to think about his ouster. But the contract may have to be addressed next year, when the cap number balloons to $10.4 million. He's signed through 2017.

David Harris, linebacker, $7.0 million

He'd be in trouble if he had the same cap number as 2013 ($13 million), but his charge drops to a managable $7 million, the final year of a four-year, $36 million contract. The Jets overpaid for Harris -- he's not an elite linebacker -- but he bounced back after a disappointing 2012, justifying the final year of the deal. He still has tremendous value to the defense; in fact, he missed only two snaps in 2013.

Green Day: Jets' Pro Bowl possibilities

December, 25, 2013
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The Pro Bowl rosters will be announced Friday. The format has changed, meaning the teams will be chosen without regard to conference affiliation. The New York Jets' top candidates are:

Wilkerson
1. Muhammad Wilkerson, defensive end

Stats: Leads the team with a career-high 10.5 sacks.

Analysis: Wilkerson felt he deserved to make it last season, but he still lacked name recognition. That shouldn't be an issue this time, as his national profile has grown. He's the best player on the team and he deserves the Pro Bowl, but there's no guarantee because defensive end is a deep position. In reality, Wilkerson plays as much tackle as he does end, making it harder to accumulate gaudy stats, but he's listed as an end.

Folk
2. Nick Folk, kicker

Stats: Tied for second in field-goal percentage (93.9), having made 31 of 33.

Analysis: You could make an argument that Folk is the Jets' MVP even though Wilkerson won the award. He has been money from Week 1, his only misses coming from 48 yards (heavy wind) and 49 (hit the upright). The problem is that several kickers also are having career years, namely Justin Tucker of Baltimore and Matt Prater of Denver.

Pace
3. Calvin Pace, outside linebacker

Stats: A career-high 10 sacks.

Analysis: This has been a renaissance year for Pace, 33, who spent a few months on the NFL scrap heap last offseason after being dumped by the Jets. He's no longer an every-down player, but the slightly reduced role has helped his stamina. He plays the "Sam" outside-linebacker position in the defense, as opposed to the rush linebacker, so he doesn't get as many pass-rushing opportunities as Quinton Coples. But he has made the most of his chances.

Richardson
4. Sheldon Richardson, defensive tackle

Stats: 3.5 sacks, 11 tackles for loss.

Analysis: He won't make it as a rookie, but Richardson set a nice foundation. He's one of the leading candidates for NFL defensive rookie of the year. His sack production has tailed off, but he's still excellent against the run. And, oh yeah, he can run with the ball, too.

Mangold
5. Nick Mangold, center

Stats: Anchors the league's sixth-ranked rushing offense.

Analysis: It's not often a four-time Pro Bowl selection flies under the radar, but that has been the case with Mangold. Flanked by a rookie left guard and a rookie quarterback, Mangold has provided leadership and stability for an offense in transition. The Jets average 5.16 yards per attempt on runs up the middle, second-best in the league, according to the NFL.

Howard
6. Austin Howard, right tackle

Stats: Only two sacks allowed, tied for the league lead among right tackles, according to Pro Football Focus.

Analysis: Howard, in his second year as a starter, is one of the most improved players on the team. Good timing, too, because he will be an unrestricted free agent. When the Jets need yards on the ground, they run behind Howard. They have 82 rushes behind right tackle, the second-highest total in the league, per the NFL.

Harris
7. David Harris, inside linebacker

Stats: A team-high 86 solo tackles (according to coaches' tape).

Analysis: The Jets are ranked third in run defense, and that doesn't happen unless the "Mike" linebacker is having a good year. Harris dropped weight last offseason, improving his quickness and pass-coverage ability. He has seven tackles for loss, two sacks and one forced fumble.

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.

Halftime: Well, at least it's not a blowout

December, 15, 2013
12/15/13
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The New York Jets trail the Carolina Panthers at halftime, 16-6. A few thoughts:

1. Competitive Jets: Considering their recent performances on the road, the Jets had to be mildly satisfied to be down only 10 points. In their previous three away contests, they were outscored by a 4-to-1 margin. If they can keep it close, the Jets will be able to keep running the ball. Surprisingly, they ran for 93 yards against the league's top-rated rush defense, confusing the Panthers with a few nice misdirection plays.

2. Killer play: Really, the Jets should be down by only three points, but they suffered a major breakdown with 3:42 left in the half -- a 72-yard touchdown to DeAngelo Williams on a screen pass. The Jets were fooled badly by Cam Newton, who faked a throw to his left and threw right. The defense looked ridiculously slow as it chased Williams. David Harris trailed the entire way. Ed Reed, who bit on the fake, arrived late and took a bad angle. Dee Milliner couldn't get off a downfield block. Talk about embarrassing. The Panthers entered the game with the fewest plays of 20-plus yards in the league.

3. Bad karma: Wide receiver Santonio Holmes, who tweaked the Panthers' secondary by saying it's the "weakest link" of the defense, was forced to eat humble pie, dropping the first pass thrown to him. Hey, it's hard to catch a football with a foot in your mouth. Holmes got an earful from safety Mike Mitchell. Holmes had no catches on two targets.

4. Bad in the red zone: Neither team played well offensively in the red zone, settling for field goals until the big Williams touchdown. Geno Smith didn't commit any turnovers, but he passed for only 59 yards against the secondary that Holmes insulted.

Sunday notes: Hot air or nice draft?

December, 8, 2013
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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.

W2W4: Oakland Raiders vs. New York Jets

December, 6, 2013
12/06/13
5:00
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Contrary to what Kellen (The Greek) Winslow believes, the games still matter for the New York Jets.

Despite a three-game losing streak, the Jets (5-7) still are mathematically alive. The bigger issue, though, is the future of Rex Ryan, who has four games to convince his bosses he's the right man for the head coaching job.

Ryan can't afford a loss to the Oakland Raiders (4-8). If the slumping Jets can't defend their home field against the league's worst road team, it'll put a significant dent in Ryan's bid for a 2014 return. Under Dennis Allen, the Raiders are 2-12 on the road. They've lost 12 straight in the Eastern time zone by a combined score of 379-198. They're playing a backup quarterback, rookie Matt McGloin. They have injury concerns at running back. Their roster screams "rebuilding," as they dressed 16 undrafted players in their previous game.

And yet this game could be problematic for the Jets, who never have lost four straight under Ryan. After all, it's hard to win when you can't score.

Kickoff is 1 p.m. at MetLife Stadium. What to watch for:

1. Mettle detector: The Jets invested so much emotionally last week, in what they called a must-win game, that you have to wonder how much is left in the tank. Ryan's teams have always played hard for him, but this will be a gut check. Ryan spent the week trying to boost morale, commending the team's practice performance and lavishing praise upon his draft picks. There was a players-only meeting, with David Harris and D'Brickashaw Ferguson addressing the team. It might have been too little, too late, but we'll see. It would be a mistake to underestimate the Raiders. For all their issues, the Raiders usually come prepared. They have a plus-45 point differential in the first quarter, second in the league.

2. The Gang's all here: For the first time since Week 4, the Jets will have their regular offense intact. The return of WR Jeremy Kerley provides another option in the passing attack, especially in the short and intermediate zones. WR Santonio Holmes is healthier than last week (so they say), so he might actually play more than two snaps. We know the Jets aren't the Greatest Show on Turf, but they're rolling out the best they've got. They have no excuses. "Let's see how we close this thing out when we're healthy," Ryan said.

If they can't break the slump against the Raiders, it could last another two weeks because points will be at a premium next week at the Carolina Panthers. The Jets have gone eight quarters without a touchdown -- 114 plays, an elapsed time of 129 minutes, 36 seconds. They treat the end zone as if it's radioactive. There will be plenty of one-on-one opportunities on the outside, as the Raiders like to blitz and play man-to-man coverage. They've rushed five or more on 44 percent of the opponents' dropbacks, the third-highest rate in the league. Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg streamlined the offensive game plan, focusing on the plays they do best -- slim pickings. The Raiders have struggled against slant passes, so look for that.

3. Clock ticking for Geno: The decision to stick with QB Geno Smith, despite his historic struggles, indicates the organization is determined to get a complete evaluation of the rookie. General manager John Idzik doesn't think anything positive can be gained by sitting him. So on we go. Mornhinweg took a different approach this week, imploring Smith to play loose and let his natural instincts take over. Don't be surprised if Mornhinweg calls more designed runs for Smith, who can create a spark with his mobility. He will get blitzed -- a lot. The Raiders will test Smith's recognition skills and the Jets' pass protection.

4. The In-and-Out Corner: Rookie CB Dee Milliner needs a big play in the worst way. He will remain in the starting lineup despite being pulled last week in the third quarter, his third in-game benching. If the coaches continue to yank him, he'll show up on the injury report with a case of whiplash. Milliner, drafted ninth overall, is a key part of the Jets' future. He needs to finish the season on the upswing, providing some evidence to the organization that it didn't swing and miss. You can bet the Raiders will go after him, but their receiving corps is thin. Their top playmaker in the last game was Andre Holmes, who surpassed his career totals in one afternoon. McGloin is fairly effective when throwing deep. Hear that, Ed Reed?

5. Replacing Josh Cribbs: Cibbs, placed on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle, wore a lot of hats and it will take more than one player to replace him. Newly-signed Darius Reynaud will return kickoffs and punts, with Bilal Powell and Kerley expected to handle the Wildcat role on offense. Reynaud has dealt with ball-security issues in the past, especially on punt returns.

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.

New York Jets defense on historical run

November, 28, 2013
11/28/13
6:00
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The New York Jets lead the league in run defense. You probably already knew that. What you may not know is the Jets own one of the top run defenses in recent memory.

They're allowing 2.85 yards per rush. Some perspective: Since 2000, only three teams have allowed fewer yards per carry: The 2000 Baltimore Ravens (2.69), the 2006 Minnesota Vikings (2.83) and the 2007 Ravens (2.84).

As a side note, Rex Ryan was an assistant coach in Baltimore in '00 and '07; defensive-line coach Karl Dunbar served in the same position for the '06 Vikings. Is it a coincidence they're both heavily involved in another great run defense? No way. It would be a tremendous accomplishment if the Jets could somehow lower their average below the '00 Ravens, widely regarded as one of the top defensive outfits in history.

"I think right now, if you look at our team, we’re a dominant run defense," Ryan said. "There’s nobody close to us in this league and when you look at it, saying from a statistical standpoint, I think we give up 2.8 or 2.9 a rush, when the next closest team is maybe 3.5 or 3.4 per rush. I think that’s a separation that you don’t see very often in this league."

Ryan's numbers are accurate. The Cleveland Browns are second at 3.43.

In one year, the Jets managed to turn a weakness into a strength. They dropped to 21st last season (4.32), an embarrassing low for a Ryan-coached defense. How'd they improve so much so fast? Four reasons:

An immovable nose tackle: First-year starter Damon Harrison is a significant upgrade over Sione Po'uha, who was rendered ineffective last season because of a back injury that has forced him out of football. The Jets allow a paltry 2.5 yards per rush when Harrison is on the field, 2.9 when he's not. Enough said.

The Sheldon Factor: Mike DeVito was a solid, blue-collar run stuffer for the Jets, but they let him walk in free agency and replaced him with rookie Sheldon Richardson, who wasn't regarded as a superior run defender in college. Richardson has altered that reputation. He leads all rookies with 10.5 backfield stops -- 7.5 tackles behind the line and three sacks. He brings athleticism to the position, allowing Ryan to play an attacking style. The Jets aren't your typical 3-4, read-and-react scheme.

Mo better: Muhammad Wilkerson was a good player last season. Now he's a very good player, having improved his quickness and stamina. He can wreck any blocking scheme.

Faster linebackers: Last year's linebacking corps was dinosaurish. Graybeards Bart Scott and Bryan Thomas were too slow, one of the reasons why the defense allowed so many long runs. They were replaced by Demario Davis and Quinton Coples, who often plays in a three-point stance as the "rush" linebacker. Nothing helps a front seven like youth and speed. "Mike" linebacker David Harris dropped weight in the offseason, improving his lateral quickness. As a result, the Jets have allowed only 16 runs of 10+ yards, the fewest in the league.

Film Review: Dissecting Geno's mistakes

October, 1, 2013
10/01/13
7:20
PM ET
One last look back at the New York Jets' 38-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans:

Good Geno, Bad Geno: Glimpses of both showed up in the first 13 minutes of the game. Let's start with the bad since it reared its head on the second play, Geno Smith's interception on the throw to Stephen Hill. It seemed fairly straight forward, just an underthrown pass, but there was more to it than that. Smith's first read, I'm told, was Santonio Holmes on a front-side post route. Holmes broke into the clear over the middle, but it was too late. Smith moved off Holmes too quickly, setting his sights on Hill, 27 yards downfield. Smith threw it to the wrong guy. Bad read, bad throw, bad everything. It set a bad tone for the game.

Later in the first quarter, with 2:22 remaining, Smith made one of those plays that makes you think he can be The Guy. On a third-and-10, he hung tough in the pocket and got blasted as he delivered a 25-yard strike to Holmes, who made a diving catch. Late in the game, Smith showed terrific ball placement on a crossing route to Jeff Cumberland, who made the catch and ran most of the way for a 37-yard touchdown. Unfortunately for Smith, the bad plays far outweighed the good ones.

[+] EnlargeKarl Klug, Geno Smith
Jim Brown/USA TODAY SportsKarl Klug and the Tennessee defense made operating tough for Geno Smith this past Sunday.
Interception No. 2: This was another bad decision by Smith. He received nice pass protection on a five-man rush, but he stared down Holmes the entire time, failing to see Kellen Winslow open over the middle. He forced the ball to Holmes, who was blanketed by Alterraun Verner, an emerging talent at cornerback. Verner made his second interception of the day.

Let's not forget the sacks: I'd attribute two of the five sacks to Smith's indecision in the pocket. A quarterback should not be sacked on a screen pass, but Smith let it happen twice, resulting in losses of 14 yards (a near safety) and 14 yards (the Behind-the-Butt Fumble/strip sack/touchdown). On the first one, he was supposed to throw a middle screen to Bilal Powell, but Powell got caught up in the traffic. Smith saw it, but instead of dirting the ball, he retreated.

On the touchdown, the timing of the play was out of sync from the outset, as DT Karl Klug got into Smith's face immediately. Powell was open in the left flat. The play reminded me of the Ziggy Ansah pick-six in the preseason. Unlike Mark Sanchez, Smith ate the ball, trying the ill-advised, behind-the-back maneuver. Bad idea. The result was the same as the Sanchez play -- six points the other way.

Dealing with the blitz: The Jets shouldn't have been surprised by anything they saw from the Titans defense. In the first three games, the Titans sent five or more rushers on 45 percent of the pass plays. Unofficially, they sent extra rushers on 44 percent of the plays against the Jets, who struggled against the five-man rushes in particular -- two interceptions, two sacks. The damning statistic? The Jets allowed four sacks on first down. Not good.

Here's a breakdown of how Smith fared versus the different rushes:

Three man: 3-for-3, 48 yards.

Four-man: 13-for-16, 104 yards, two sacks, two scrambles for 19 yards.

Five-man: 5-for-11, 77 yards, two interceptions, two sacks.

Six-man: 2-for-3, 70 yards, 1 sack.

Eight-man: 0-for-1. (This occurred with the ball at the Jets' 2-yard line. It was a classic jailbreak and, by the whistle, 17 of the 22 players on the field were in the end zone.)

Vlad's Waterloo?: This was the second straight poor performance by LG Vladimir Ducasse, who is on the verge of being replaced by rookie Brian Winters. That change likely will occur this week, according to a source. It might have happened in the preseason, but Winters missed time with an ankle injury. Ducasse played well in Week 2 against the New England Patriots, but he followed with a four-penalty game against the Buffalo Bills. In Nashville, his pass protection was terrible.

Ducasse didn't allow any sacks, per se, but he surrendered pressures that contributed to the Titans' first two sacks. On the first sack, he got caught leaning to his left and was beaten with an inside move by DT Jurrell Casey. On the second sack, Ducasse got turned around -- his back was literally facing the line of scrimmage -- and was beaten by DT Antonio Johnson, who flushed Smith out of the pocket.

By my count, Ducasse allowed three pressures and four QB hits. And, oh yes, he was flagged for a false start and holding (declined).

Odds and ends: The Jets' standing as the No. 1 red zone defense took a hit, as they allowed three touchdowns in four red zone chances. On Delanie Walker's 1-yard touchdown catch, LB David Harris bit hard on a play fake and couldn't get back in time. On Justin Hunter's 16-yard scoring reception at the end of the first half, an absolute killer, the Jets had the perfect call. They used quarters coverage, with a defender on every receiver in the end zone. Problem was, CB Darrin Walls let the rookie beat him in a jump-ball situation.

Bad defensive day turns into slapstick

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
11:26
PM ET
NASHVILLE -- Can we please postpone the coronation of the New York Jets' defense?

Full of confidence after last week's eight-sack beat down of the Buffalo Bills, the Jets were sliced and diced by Jake Locker and Ryan Fitzpatrick, who combined for four touchdown passes in the Tennessee Titans' 38-13 victory at LP Field.

The final indignity occurred with 7:06 remaining in the fourth quarter, when cornerback Antonio Cromartie, Nate Washington and back judge Billy Smith collided on a 77-yard touchdown pass -- another Jets blooper.

Cromartie said he asked the official, "What the hell are you doing back here?" He said Smith apologized.

[+] EnlargeTennessee's Nate Washington
P Photo/Wade PayneJets cornerback Antonio Cromartie, back judge Billy Smith and Titans receiver Nate Washington collide. The result was a 77-yard score for Washington.
That pretty much captured the disastrous day for the Jets.

Truth is, Cromartie was beaten cleanly by Washington, who had to slow down because Fitzpatrick's throw hung in the air like a punt. Once Washington made the catch, the collision occurred with Cromartie and Smith.

"No, he didn't interfere with the play," Cromartie said. "That's on me fully. Me being the number one corner on this team, I need to make sure that I go up and intercept that ball or bat it down."

It was a tough day for the Jets' corners. Earlier, Cromartie slipped on the wet grass and allowed a 4-yard scoring pass to Washington. Darrin Walls, who started in the Dee Milliner-Kyle Wilson slot, allowed a 16-yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver Justin Hunter. It was a terrific catch by Hunter, but Walls could've played it better. The Titans use Hunter almost exclusively in the red zone, so it shouldn't have been a surprise that he got the ball -- especially in the final seconds of the first half.

"That's a killer," Rex Ryan said. "There's only one play they can run and that's the shot in the end zone. You know it's coming and everybody in the ballpark knows it's coming. The only time they put that kid in the game is to throw the jump ball, and there's a reason he came down with it."

The cornerback spot opposite Cromartie has turned into musical chairs. Walls started for Kyle Wilson, who last week started for Milliner, the struggling rookie who pulled a hamstring in practice. Ryan is running out of competent corners and, frankly, Cromartie was off his game as well.

Give credit to the Titans; they had a masterful game plan. Recognizing the Jets were focusing on running back Chris Johnson, the Titans put the ball in Locker's hands, letting him throw from the pocket. That's what the Jets wanted, but they got more than they expected from Locker, who completed 18 of 24 passes for 149 yards and three touchdowns. The Jets underestimated Locker, not known for his passing exploits.

"Maybe that's why it surprised us," rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson said.

The Jets were held to two sacks and produced no takeaways for the third straight game. That's simply not acceptable. By the way, the Titans have yet to commit a turnover. In fairness to the defense, it had to play on a short field throughout the game because of Geno Smith's turnovers. The Titans' first three touchdown drives were 18, 26 and 46 yards.

No matter. Linebacker David Harris was visibly irked by the performance.

"Just say we lost," he said. "We got our butts kicked by a better team today. Simple as that."

Asked if the Titans might simply be a better team, Harris snapped, "We lost. Did you see the score?"

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