New York Jets: Demario Davis

Davis, Winters leaders in performance pay

March, 24, 2014
Mar 24
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- The NFL released its performance-based pay distribution for the 2013 season. Not familiar with this deal? The league uses a formula, based on compensation and playing-time percentage, to reward players with a bonus-type payment.

Basically, it helps the players with lower salaries make extra coin if they play a lot. The downside is the players don't get the money until April 1, 2016.

On the New York Jets, a total of 63 players made $3.46 million in performance pay. The Jets' leaders are listed in the chart at right.

Here's the full list of 2013 performance-based pay distributions.

Jets' D is good, but not near Seattle's best

February, 3, 2014
Feb 3
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Good news for the New York Jets: The Seattle Seahawks delivered an emphatic reminder that great defense still matters in the offensive-minded NFL.

Bad news for the Jets: Their defense, the foundation of the team, isn’t close to that of the Seahawks.

While the Jets have the potential to be dominant on the defensive line, they don’t have enough playmakers on the second and third levels to accomplish what the Seahawks did in Super Bowl XLVIII.

[+] EnlargeDemario Davis
AP Photo/Damian StrohmeyerDemario Davis is one of the young players the Jets can build around on defense.
They can stop the run with anyone, and they have the power rushers to generate a decent-to-occasionally-strong pass rush, but there are no proven difference-makers at linebacker or in the secondary -- not yet, anyway. The Jets produced only 15 takeaways last season, continuing a trend under Rex Ryan. For all their defensive success in recent years, they've created only 130 turnovers since 2009, 15th in the league.

It’s all about the turnovers, as the Seahawks proved Sunday night -- and all season, really. They rattled the great Peyton Manning with an incredible amount of speed and intensity, relying on personnel over scheme. Their game plan was simple, but brilliant. It was them saying, “No tricks necessary; our guys are better than your guys.” They recorded only one sack (an overrated statistic), but they forced Manning to move in the pocket and they bashed his receivers when they caught the ball. The defense finished with four turnovers and a touchdown, a great day’s work.

It’s also all about pass defense in the current NFL, so you need a stable of pass-rushers and “space” players in the back seven -- exceptional athletes who can drop, cover and make plays on the ball against offenses that spread the field. The Jets finished 22nd in pass defense. The Seahawks are built for speed; it’s always been the Pete Carroll philosophy. That’s why he doesn’t carry linebackers north of 250 pounds.

In contrast, Ryan built his front seven based on strength and power, the necessary attributes of a 3-4 scheme, although he has tweaked his philosophy to adapt to the new NFL. That was apparent in 2012, when he used a third-round pick on Demario Davis, a run-and-hit linebacker. In the not-so-old days, a linebacker like Davis -- 239 pounds -- wouldn’t have been a scheme fit.

Davis didn’t wow anyone in his first season as a starter, but he’s an ascending player, one of their building blocks. He and cornerback Dee Milliner -- the December Milliner, not the early Milliner -- have the athleticism to thrive in a fast-flow defense. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie can do it, too, as long as his troublesome hip isn’t an issue.

Unlike the Seahawks, who have the best safety tandem in the league, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, the Jets are suspect at the position. Dawan Landry is a good quarterback, orchestrating the back end, but he doesn’t make plays. There’s a lot to like about Antonio Allen, who has improved considerably, but he’s still not a finished product. What does it say that graybeard Ed Reed, a midseason pickup, tied for the team lead with three interceptions?

Look, this isn’t a hatchet job on the Jets' defense. Clearly, they're better on defense than they were a year ago at this time. Their foundation is better than two-thirds of the teams, but they're still a few players away from Seattle's best. General manager John Idzik's first draft was solid, but he needs to find some of those fourth- and fifth-round gems, like his former colleagues have done in Seattle.

But, hey, it took the Seahawks four years to get to this point. Rome wasn't built in one offseason.

Wilkerson: Run D will return to No. 1

December, 11, 2013
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- If there's one thing the New York Jets have done consistently well, it's stop the run -- and now that, too, is being questioned after two shaky performances.

Wilkerson
Enough is enough, according to Muhammad Wilkerson, who vowed the Jets will return to the No. 1 ranking in run defense.

"We have to get back to No. 1," Wilkerson said Wednesday. "We were No. 1 for I don't know how many weeks. These last two weeks, we haven't been doing too good up front. I think we're going to take care of that this week, though."

The Jets face the Carolina Panthers, who leap-frogged them in the rankings. The Panthers are No. 1 against the run, allowing 79.4 yards per game. The Jets are No. 2 at 82.6 yards.

Wilkerson & Co. were knocked from their perch after surrendering 275 yards in the last two games, including 123 yards to Marcel Reece, the Oakland Raiders' fourth-string running back.

"It's important, not just being no. 1, but we want to be the toughest team in the NFL," linebacker Demario Davis said. "Being able to stop the run definitely says something about your toughness."

The Panthers (9-4) are a run-oriented team, led by DeAngelo Williams (662 yards), quarterback Cam Newton (495) and fullback Mike Tolbert (313).

Film review: Downhill from the first play

December, 3, 2013
12/03/13
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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
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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: Rex outsmarts Payton, Brees

November, 5, 2013
11/05/13
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One last look back at the New York Jets' 26-20 upset of the New Orleans Saints:

Rex outsmarts Payton: The game was billed as Ryan vs. Ryan, but it never was going to be Rex against Rob, the Saints' defensive coordinator. It was really a chess match between Rex and Saints coach Sean Payton, one of the brightest offensive minds in the game. The outcome: Checkmate, Ryan.

Drew Brees put up his fantasy numbers, throwing for 382 yards (the most against the Jets in the Ryan era), but he was rattled at key moments in the game. He was confused by the Jets' different looks, forcing him into rare mistakes -- taking two delay penalties and burning three timeouts in the first quarter. On the first timeout, he was befuddled by a 2-4-5 alignment. When he came out of the timeout, it was a 3-3-5 look by the Jets -- and a delay of game penalty.

This wasn't a blitz-heavy game plan by Ryan. In fact, the Jets sent five or more rushers on only 19 percent of Brees' 53 dropbacks, slightly below their average. They didn't have to blitz because Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples overmatched the Saints offensive line.

[+] EnlargeMuhammad Wilkerson
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsThe Jets' Muhammad Wilkerson was able to put steady pressure on Saints quarterback Drew Brees this past Sunday.
After watching the tape, I noticed a clever wrinkle: On some passing plays, the Jets used a defensive lineman in a spy-type role. Instead of rushing, a lineman peeled back and hovered around the line of scrimmage, reading Brees' eyes. Coples said afterward that the game plan was to obstruct the B gaps, meaning the guard-tackle gaps. In their scouting report, they noted how Brees -- listed generously at 6-foot -- liked to throw through the B gaps instead of the middle. I think the Jets used a defensive lineman as a roving shot blocker, hoping to deflect the ball or at least block his vision. This was a big point of emphasis in practice, as the coaches were constantly on the pass-rushers to get their arms up against the "5-foot-10 quarterback," as they referred to him.

On Brees' first of two interceptions, Coples was the rover, lurking behind a three-man rush. At the last second, he rushed, getting one of his long arms in Brees' face as he released the ball, which was intercepted by Demario Davis after an on-ball deflection by S Dawan Landry -- a great play all around. Other times, I saw NT Kenrick Ellis and DT Sheldon Richardson peeling back instead of rushing.

Two impressive sequences jumped out. In the third quarter, they sacked Brees on back-to-back plays. How often does that happen? Wilkerson split a double-team for the first sack. On the second, Brees tried a quick count, but he outsmarted himself because TE Jimmy Graham was isolated on LB Calvin Pace. Graham is a great receiver, but he doesn't do blocking. Pace beat him cleanly for a sack.

The second impressive sequence occurred at the end of the game. Brees had the ball at his 19, with 1:58 on the clock. He has made a career of game-winning drives. Not this time. He threw four straight incompletions, one uglier than the next. On first down, the Jets had one down lineman and five others standing at the line. It looked like a blitz, but it was a ruse because they rushed two and dropped nine, including Coples, who lurked in the spy role. CB Antonio Cromartie was a safety on this play, another wrinkle.

Overall, it was a brilliant game plan by Ryan.

The art of deception: Obviously, the Jets were committed to running the ball, hoping to exploit a defense that had allowed a league-high 4.8 yard per carry. Here is an amazing stat: QB Geno Smith passed for only one yard in the first quarter and none in the fourth.

Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg did a fantastic job of using the read-option to exploit the Saints' aggressive front seven, which tends to over-pursue. On Chris Ivory's 27-yard run in the first quarter, they used the read option out of the Pistol formation. OLB Parys Haralson, influenced by the option, over-ran the play, leaving a gaping hole for Ivory.

On Josh Cribbs' 25-yard pass in the second quarter, the Jets ran a triple-option type play out of the Wildcat. Cribbs took the direct snap, faked to Bilal Powell and sprinted right with a run-pass option. He threw a dart to TE Zach Sudfeld, the Jets' best pass of the day.

I loved the two touchdown runs at the end of the second quarter. It was a great set-up by Mornhinweg, who used virtual mirror-image plays to outfox the Saints. On Ivory's three-yard scoring run, they were in shotgun, with Ivory to Smith's left -- the strong side, along with the tight end (Sudfeld) and two receivers (Stephen Hill and David Nelson). They ran a weakside play, with Ivory blasting off right tackle, behind key blocks by RG Willie Colon and RT Austin Howard.

After Cromartie's interception, the Jets got the ball back in almost an identical situation -- ball at the 3. They used the same personnel package, except they flipped the formation. Ivory went to the right of Smith, along with two receivers (Nelson and Greg Salas). The Saints probably were thinking it was a run to the left. It sure looked like as they ran Ivory to the left on a play-action. LBs David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton bit hard on the fake. Smith used the read-option. He pulled the ball out of Ivory's belly and kept it himself, putting a nice, open-field move on DE Cameron Jordan for the touchdown. Actually, Jordan read it well, but he was faked by Smith and had no back up because Hawthorne and Lofton were out of position.

The Jets finished with 198 rushing yards. Ivory got the headlines, but the coaches did a nice job of exploiting the weaknesses in the Saints' run defense.

Geno's signature moment: The play that had people buzzing at One Jets Drive was a 6-yard scramble by Smith at the start of the third quarter. It wasn't enough for a first down -- it was a third-and-10 play -- but it got them into field goal range, as Smith avoided a big loss.

DE Tom Johnson blew past LG Brian Winters and had a clean shot at Smith, who eluded him with a nifty step-back move. Smith took off and gained six valuable yards, allowing the Jets to take a 23-14 lead after the field goal.

Odds and ends: Winters made a key block in the second quarter, pulling to the right on Ivory's 52-yard yard. Winters got a piece of Lofton, who ended up missing the tackle in the hole. Sudfeld, not known for his blocking, delivered a key block as well. Hill, invisible in the passing game, made a nice downfield block. ... There was confusion on Graham's 51-yard TD reception. S Jaiquawn Jarrett raised both arms before the snap, as if to say, "What do I do?" He ended up getting torched on a double move. ... I have no idea what Ryan was thinking on the Jets' final possession. They got the ball on downs at the Saints' 9, with 1:21 to play. The Saints had one timeout left. Three kneel-downs and it was over, but the Jets ran two plays and called a timeout before having Smith take a knee. What was the point of risking a fumble? Made no sense.

Jets' defense stifles Brees, Saints

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Drew Brees was clearly uncomfortable with the New York Jets' defense Sunday. During the first quarter, the Saints' offense used up all three timeouts and was called for two delay-of-game penalties. One penalty came directly after a timeout. More telling, the veteran quarterback threw two interceptions and at least two more balls that were ripe for the picking.

“I look to the start of the game,” Brees said. “We had to use a timeout early, the delay of game, the lack of tempo and rhythm. It just took a little while.”

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsThe Jets sacked Drew Brees twice and kept him under pressure all day.
It actually never really arrived. The Jets decisively won the game 26-20, and on the Saints’ last drive -- a two-minute drill that would have won the game, and the type of moment Brees excels at mastering -- the defense clamped down.

“The guy’s sick, he makes great throws,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said. “I will say this, was I confident in our guys? Absolutely, absolutely I was confident in our guys to get it done. But a little nervous? Yes.”

The Jets' defense pushed Brees back to a fourth down at the Saints’ 10-yard line. On that last-ditch attempt, Jets linebacker Quinton Coples got to the quarterback.

“We knew he was having trouble seeing over the line,” defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson said. “It showed. It seemed like the first couple of series he was looking over the offensive line. Then [Muhammad Wilkerson], Q, those guys just kept getting back there. I got back there a few times, but we all put our work in today.”

Coples also got to Brees on another big fourth down play, an end-around attempt with 7:54 left in the fourth quarter.

“I was thinking he was going to put it away and throw the ball,” Coples said. “But when he handed it off my eyes just got big because I knew I was going to run right through him.”

To be fair, the Saints lost leading running back Darren Sproles on the first offensive series of the game to a concussion. It put a wrench into the team’s game plan.

But the Jets took advantage after a poor showing the week before in Cincinnati. DeMario Davis and Antonio Cromartie got interceptions, and the Jets converted both those takeaways into points. Wilkerson and Calvin Pace were each credited with a sack.

“We knew we had to bounce back from last week,” Wilkerson said. “Ready to get going for this game.”

Rapid Reaction: New York Jets

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few thoughts on the New York Jets' 26-20 victory over the New Orleans Saints:

What it means: The Jets (5-4) stamped themselves as one of the NFL's biggest surprises, staging a monster upset one week after a 40-point loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. How can you explain this team? They're 5-0 in odd weeks, ranging from sensational to awful on a week-to-week basis. Now it can be said: They're a legitimate wild-card contender. Why not? In the watered-down AFC, anything is possible. As for the Ryan Bowl, Rex won for the third straight time, handing his twin brother Rob, the Saints' defensive coordinator, another bitter defeat.

Stock watch: Statistically, it was a dog-ugly game for Geno Smith (8-for-19, 115 yards), but the rookie quarterback learned a valuable lesson about game management. On this day, the Jets needed him to do one thing -- protect the ball -- and he did that. He had no turnovers for only the second time in nine games. He got away with a couple of bad throws, but it was no harm, no foul. Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg got too conservative late in the game, and it nearly cost them.

The ex-Saint goes marching: Jets running back Chris Ivory, traded by the Saints last offseason for a fourth-round pick, delivered a loud statement to his old team. Facing the Saints' vulnerable run defense (4.8 yards per carry before Sunday), Ivory rushed for 139 yards and a touchdown on 18 attempts. He's known as a tenacious downhill runner, but he flashed impressive speed on the edge, breaking three long runs. Clearly, he's faster than people realize. The Jets attacked the Saints with a creative running scheme that featured read-option plays and the Wildcat, including a pass completion by Josh Cribbs out of the Wildcat.

Welcome back, defense: After a horrible outing last week, the Jets responded with perhaps their best defensive effort of the season. They sacked Drew Brees only twice, but they generated consistent pressure on him and intercepted him twice -- one by linebacker DeMario Davis and another by cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who allowed a big play and a touchdown. It helped that wide receiver Marques Colston (knee) didn't play, and running back Darren Sproles (concussion) left in the first quarter. Injuries notwithstanding, it was impressive defense.

The castoffs: The Jets played without their top receiver (Santonio Holmes) and their top two tight ends (Jeff Cumberland and Kellen Winslow), and they lost wide receiver Jeremy Kerley (elbow) in the second quarter, leaving a patchwork group of targets. Greg Salas. Zach Sudfeld. David Nelson. Cribbs. Who are these guys? Not one of them began the season on the Jets' roster, yet they managed to combine for seven catches for 128 yards.

What's ahead: The Jets get a bye in Week 10.

Two-minute drill: Demario Davis

October, 12, 2013
10/12/13
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Our weekly Q&A -- an offbeat conversation with a player -- is with New York Jets linebacker Demario Davis. He's a first-year starter who already has emerged as an emotional leader on defense:

The late Steve McNair, the former Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens great, was your cousin. What kind of impact did he have on your career and your life?

Demario Davis: He was a first cousin. His dad and my mom are brother and sister. Definitely, having a cousin playing in the NFL is huge. He was a generation in front of me, so it wasn't like we were hanging out every day. I saw him on holidays when I was young. We'd throw the football around, talk football in the offseason.

[+] EnlargeDemario Davis
AP Photo/David DrapkinLinebacker Demario Davis, right, said he enjoys bringing energy to his Jets teammates.
McNair was known for his toughness. Did you get that gene, too?

DD: Our family is built on toughness. Adversity is going to happen, in life and on the football field. You have to be able to shrug it off. Life isn't about how much you can dish out; it's about how much you can take.

How much did his tragic death impact you? You were 20 years old when he was murdered.

DD: Anybody's death is tough, not just because he was a significant player. I have fond memories. It was tough. You see it, and it hurts. But it was huge to see how many people respected him and how many people were at his funeral, and to see what kind of impact he had in this world.

You grew up in a small town in Mississippi. Describe what that was like.

DD: Collins (pop. 2,600) is a very small town, very family oriented. Pretty much everybody knows everybody. It's very rural, with a lot of hunting and fishing-type stuff. Brandon (pop. 22,100) is a little bit bigger, little more of a city feel. It's more of a city versus a town. It's more of an impoverished type of area. I was raised in Brandon. My mom had me when she was 16, so I stayed with my grandmother in Collins. I came to Brandon when I was in third grade.

You've been here only a year, but you're already a vocal leader on defense. We've seen clips of you firing up the defense. Have you always been that kind of leader?

DD: I think it comes with the territory. I like doing that type of stuff. I'm a high-energy guy and I try to let my team feed off that. Guys look for me and want me to do it, so I don't mind doing it.

When the Jets drafted you, Rex Ryan compared you to Ray Lewis in terms of intangibles. How'd you feel when you heard that?

DD: He said my character kind of reminds him of Ray Lewis. It's probably just our passion for the game, our love for the game, our energy. Ray is a believer, I'm a believer. We live to encourage other human beings. It's not just about us. We're very selfless. I sense all of those things out of Ray. That's why he's a role model of mine, somebody I look up to. I kind of watch how he does things. I have a lot of respect for him for the way he does those things. Life is about being selfless. It's not about you, it's about the people around you. Every day I come into this locker room, it's about my teammates. It's not about me.

Double Coverage: Steelers at Jets

October, 11, 2013
10/11/13
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Ben Roethlisberger and Geno SmithUSA TODAY SportsBen Roethlisberger and the 0-4 Steelers take on Geno Smith and the surprising Jets.

Things you didn't expect to see in the standings when the NFL released the schedule last April: The New York Jets at 3-2, the Pittsburgh Steelers at 0-4.

The rebuilding Jets were supposed to struggle under a coach who already was being called a lame duck, and the Steelers ... well, they were supposed to be the Steelers, a model of consistency.

The two teams meet up Sunday at MetLife Stadium. The Steelers are off to their worst start since 1968, the year of the Jets' only Super Bowl season. If the Steelers lose this game, they're pretty much done in terms of playoff aspirations. The Jets played a similarly desperate team Monday night, and that didn't seem to faze them, as they stunned the Atlanta Falcons on the road. The Steelers should be well-rested coming off a bye week.

ESPN.com Jets team reporter Rich Cimini and Steelers reporter Scott Brown break down the matchup:

Cimini: Scott, I look down the Steelers' roster and I still see a lot of those familiar names -- Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Troy Polamalu, LaMarr Woodley, etc. It's hard to imagine how the Steelers could be this bad. I'm sure you could write 5,000 words on why they're 0-4, but how 'bout a few thoughts on what has gone wrong?

Brown: Rich, I think I have written triple that amount on everything that has gone wrong. Turnovers have been the biggest problem for the Steelers, and that is on both sides of the ball. The Steelers have committed 11 of them with six coming in the last two games by Roethlisberger alone, and they are still without a takeaway, which is unbelievable when you think about it.

Playing from behind has a lot to do with the Steelers' turnover problem, especially on defense. The defense is at its best when it puts opposing quarterbacks in obvious passing situations and forces them into the kind of mistakes that lead to turnovers. Would you believe the Steelers have had exactly two leads this season and those were 2-0 and 3-0 in the season opener against the Titans and in the second game at Cincinnati, respectively?

Rich, this defense usually confuses and frustrates rookie quarterbacks, but Geno Smith has hardly played like a first-year signal-caller. Has his play surprised you, and is it sustainable?

Cimini: I was surprised by how well he played Monday night in Atlanta because he had been a turnover machine -- 11 in his first four games. All of a sudden, something clicked. I don't know if it was a one-game thing or the start of a trend.

I know the Steelers' defense isn't what it used to be, but Dick LeBeau will have had two weeks to cook up something to confuse the kid. How Smith responds to new looks from the defense will decide this game. The Jets leaned a bit more on the running game last week, taking some pressure off Smith, and I suspect they'll take a similar approach on Sunday. Blitz pick-up will be a key, as will the receivers' ability to gain separation. I remember the Steelers were very aggressive last season in Week 2 with the Jets' wideouts. While on the subject of quarterback play, how would you assess Big Ben's play to this point?

Brown: It has been fine other than the turnovers, and I think it will get better with tight end Heath Miller back and running back Le'Veon Bell giving the Steelers a legitimate threat in the ground game. Roethlisberger is on pace to throw for almost 5,000 yards this season, which would obliterate his career-high of 4,328 yards (2009). But Roethlisberger is also averaging just over 40 pass attempts per game. That number is way too high, especially given how leaky the Steelers' offensive line has been through the first quarter of the season.

The emergence of Bell should restore balance to the Steelers' offense. My question for you is, will such balance have to wait a week? The Jets’ defensive line looks awfully physical and it is hard to envision the Steelers having much luck running the ball against it.

Cimini: You're right, Scott, the Jets have been very good against the run. They've faced some good backs -- Chris Johnson, C.J. Spiller, Doug Martin -- and they're allowing only 76.2 yards per game and 3.0 per carry. I'd be surprised if the Steelers have much success on the ground.

The Jets' front seven is much improved from last season. They added more athleticism at nose tackle (Damon Harrison), tackle (Sheldon Richardson), weak inside linebacker (DeMario Davis) and rush linebacker (Quinton Coples). They're no longer vulnerable on the perimeter, as they were last season. I think they will make the Steelers one-dimensional, which should allow the Jets to get good pressure on Roethlisberger. Speaking of pressure ... four sacks for the mighty Steelers? What happened to that defense?

Brown: Man, depends on who you ask. The easy answer is to say that age has finally collared a once fearsome defense, but that is not entirely accurate. Defensive end Brett Keisel, strong safety Polamalu and cornerback Ike Taylor are among the most tenured Steelers, and they have played well this season.

Age has caught up with the Steelers a little bit, and the defense needs to get more out of younger players such as cornerback Cortez Allen and outside linebacker Jarvis Jones. Jones, the Steelers' No. 1 pick last April, is going to be really good, but he has not made much of an impact as a pass-rusher. The Steelers desperately need Jones to emerge opposite Woodley, who has three of the team's four sacks.

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Rex to defense: Get the ball!

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets' defense was feeling pretty good about itself after its eight-sack demolition of Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, but the postgame celebration was shattered by a challenge from coach Rex Ryan.

"Rex got on the defense about creating turnovers," defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson said Wednesday.

The Jets are ranked third in total defense, doing a lot of nice things, but they've struggled with takeaways -- only two in three games, none in the past two. To be recognized as an elite defense, they need to do a better job of forcing turnovers. Sacks are great. Three-and-outs are nice. But you need game-changing plays.

"That's been a big emphasis this week," rush linebacker Quinton Coples said.

It should be.

The Jets face the Tennessee Titans, who have yet to commit a turnover. Obviously, Jake Locker has done a terrific job of protecting the football -- one of three starting quarterbacks with no interceptions -- but he'll face a defense that's starting to mature.

A defense that prides itself on making life miserable for quarterbacks. The Jets have caused problems for the Bucs' Josh Freeman (benched Wednesday), the Patriots' Tom Brady and, of course, Manuel, who combined completed only 47 percent of their passes against the Jets and were sacked 12 times.

"We go into every game with the same intention -- stop the quarterback," linebacker DeMario Davis said.

If a quarterback can't solve the Jets' scheme, nose tackle Damon Harrison said, he's "like a deer in the headlights."

Quite simply, the Jets have to do a better job of getting their hands on the football. In fact, they've had only six pass break-ups. That's surprisingly low, considering the improved pass rush. In theory, the quarterbacks -- under increased pressure -- should be making bad decisions with the ball. But that hasn't happened yet.

W2W4: Jets vs. Bills

September, 20, 2013
9/20/13
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- After a 10-day break, the New York Jets (1-1) play another AFC East game, facing the Buffalo Bills (1-1) Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Kickoff is 4:25 p.m., ET. The top storylines:

1. The Rookies: This could be the first of many meetings between Geno Smith and EJ Manuel. Chances are, one team will be able to sit back at the end of Sunday and say, "We picked the right guy." After two games, Manuel has been more efficient than Smith, but he's also being used differently. At 6-foot-4, 237 pounds, Manuel is an oversized point guard, leading a fastbreak offense. (The Bills average one play every 22 seconds, the fastest offense in the league.) He's basically a dink-and-dunk passer, having completed 75 percent of his throws under 10 yards (39-for-52), according to ESPN Stats & Information. Manuel doesn't stretch the field that often.

The Jets should take that approach with Smith, who has struggled on downfield passes. In fact, three of his four interceptions have come on throws of at least 15 yards. This is a big game for Smith, who encountered his first taste of adversity last week in New England. Will that affect his confidence? He says no, but that's what they all say. We'll find out Sunday. For trivia geeks, this mark the second game in Jets history with two rookies starting at quarterback. The first occurred during the 1987 strike, when replacement players David Norrie and Kevin Sweeney (Dallas Cowboys) faced off in an forgettable battle.

[+] EnlargeMike Pettine
William Perlman/USA TODAY SportsMike Pettine spent 11 years with Rex Ryan before becoming the defensive coordinator in Buffalo.
2. Rex vs. Rex Lite: This game could be decided by which defensive play caller (Rex Ryan or former Jets coordinator Mike Pettine) does a better job of creating misery for the opposing rookie quarterback. Ryan and Pettine, who spent 11 years together, are likeminded coaches in that they like to bring pressure and create confusion at the line of scrimmage.

Manuel is a cool customer -- an 88-percent completion rate under pressure, according to ProFootballFocus -- but you can bet Ryan will hit him with something he's never seen before. The knock on Manuel coming out of Florida State was that he's a one-read quarterback. In other words, shut down his first progression, make him hold the ball and he's liable to make a mistake. Meanwhile, Smith has demonstrated poor pocket presence at times. If Pettine can muddy the pocket, it'll probably lead to bad decisions by Smith.

3. Marty's dilemma: Conventional wisdom says the Jets should protect Smith by emphasizing the ground game, hardly the strength of the Buffalo defense. But Marty Mornhinweg is infatuated with the pass (he actually thinks a pass-run ratio of 63-37 is a lot of running in his offense), and he will be tempted to attack a beat up Bills secondary. They won't have cornerback Stephon Gilmore, and there's a good chance safety Jairus Byrd will miss the game as well. This could be a breakout game for Santonio Holmes, who unlike some of his fellow receivers, can actually catch the ball.

4. Austin needs power: Right tackle Austin Howard, in his first start for the Jets, made defensive end Mario Williams look pedestrian in last season's opener. In fact, Williams was held sackless in two games against the Jets. Ah, but now he's coming off a career game (a team-record 4.5 sacks) and he'll be looking for payback. Howard needs to eat his Wheaties because this will be a power-on-power matchup.

Williams used his bull rush last week, abusing Carolina Panthers right tackle Byron Bell. Williams finished with 11 hurries, according to ProFootballFocus, but he also received help from excellent coverage. Three of the five sacks were coverage sacks, with Cam Newton holding the ball for at least five seconds on each play. Memo to Geno Smith: Don't do that or else you'll be on the ground. A lot.

5. Here comes Spiller: The Jets' run defense, a problem last season, has improved considerably. In the first two games, they held Doug Martin and Stevan Ridley -- both 1,200-yard rushers in 2012 -- to a combined 105 yards and 2.6 per carry. Bills running back C.J. Spiller presents a different challenge because ... well, he's so damn fast. The Jets know all about Spiller, who produced 325 yards from scrimmage against them last season. He will test their perimeter run defense and he could be a major headache when he's split out as a receiver.

Speedy linebacker Demario Davis could play a huge role in their plans to contain Spiller, who has only two rushing touchdowns in his last 12 games -- a curious slump. The Jets can't forget about running back Fred Jackson. The Bills are gashing defenses (7.6 yards per rush) when running Jackson out of a one-back, three-receiver spread formation. In those situations, Davis and fellow linebacker David Harris will have to excel in space.

Green Day: A great rivalry continues

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
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On Thursday night, the New York Jets and New England Patriots go at it again, the 106th game in the rivalry. For the record, the Patriots lead 53-51-1. I did a quick check, determining that I've covered no fewer than 52 games between these two teams. That's pretty much three full seasons of Jets-Patriots, not to mention a lot of off-the-field news between them.

There have been so many memorable contests over the years, but I think the most memorable occurred Jan. 16, 2011, when the Jets stunned the Patriots in the AFC divisional playoffs, 28-21. It was defintely the highlight of the Rex Ryan era, and it probably was the franchise's most significant win since Super Bowl III in 1969.

Some folks thought the Jets had overtaken the Patriots with that playoff victory, but look what's happened to the teams since that fateful day in Foxborough: The Jets have declined sharply, going 15-18 in the regular season. The Patriots? All they've done is go 26-7, proving once again the Jets are only wannabes.

Once again, the Jets are a heavy underdog, facing a depleted New England offense that includes Tom Brady and a lot of no-names. Even so, not many people are giving New York a shot.

"We're going to hear that every week," guard Willie Colon said. "Nobody gives us a chance. We'll just have to quiet the naysayers."

News of the day: It's game day. To get you ready for kickoff, here's the latest on Geno Smith and the challenges he faces in this game. This will be a great test for the rookie quarterback. ... The Jets have to find a way to make due without one of their most versatile players, Jeremy Kerley. He plays wide receiver, returns punts and can run the Wildcat. And here's something not many people know: He's their emergency quarterback. They dressed two quarterbacks last week, Smith and Matt Simms, knowing Kerley could step in as the disaster quarterback. Without him, do the Jets dress a third quarterback, Brady Quinn? ... The previous meeting was last Thanksgiving, when one fateful minute changed the Jets' franchise. Surely, you remember. The Jets tried to block out the nightmare as they prepared for this game. "If you look behind, you can't see what's in front of you," linebacker DeMario Davis said. "What I see in front of us is a great opportunity to be off to a very fast start this season."

Upon Further Review: Jets Week 1

September, 9, 2013
9/09/13
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An examination of four hot issues from the Jets' 18-17 win over the Bucs:

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Rich Schultz /Getty ImagesGeno Smith helped lead the Jets to a victory in his first NFL start.
1. Geno wins quarterback competition: Rex Ryan might not say it publicly, but rookie Geno Smith has locked up the charade that was billed as a quarterback competition. Smith's winning performance, coupled with media reports that Mark Sanchez's shoulder injury is worse than the team was letting on (gee, what a shock), makes this a no-brainer. They will ride Smith indefinitely, hoping the rest of the team can play well enough to overcome his growing pains. He got off to a shaky start, committing two turnovers and taking an unnecessary sack in the first half, but the kid kept it together and played well in the fourth quarter. In fact, he completed 7 of 11 passes for 83 yards in the fourth, plus his 10-yard scramble that ended with a late-hit penalty on the Bucs, which set up the Jets' game-winning field goal. Smith became the first quarterback drafted in the second round or later to throw for 250-plus yards in a Week 1 victory since the 1970 merger.

2. Running on empty: If the Jets don't rediscover their once-formidable ground game, Smith doesn't stand a chance. Smith was the leading rusher (47 yards), and that should tell you everything you need to know. But we'll tell you more, of course. Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory combined for 44 yards on 22 carries, a 2.0-yard average. The Bucs owned the league's top-ranked rush defense last season, but that's no excuse for a 2.0 average. The Jets tried to mix it up, using their Wildcat package. That was a bust, too, as they managed only 13 yards on five Wildcat plays -- shades of last season with Tim Tebow. Ivory looked positively ordinary in his Jets debut, although he didn't get much help from the line. Clearly, they need Mike Goodson (suspended), who has the speed to threaten the perimeter. Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg actually ran a toss sweep to WR Jeremy Kerley on a third-and-1, showing a lack of confidence in his backs.

3. Special K: GM John Idzik took some heat for letting TE Dustin Keller bolt as a free agent. Come to think of it, he let pretty much everyone bolt. For now, anyway, the Jets can feel good about the tight end position, thanks to a strong debut by Kellen Winslow. He's 30 years old and playing on a bad knee, but he looked frisky against one of his former teams, leading the Jets with seven catches for 79 yards. Clearly, he and Smith already have developed some chemistry. They connected seven times on eight targets, and that's important because a young quarterback's best friend is a crafty tight end who can get open in the middle of the field. Winslow ran a nice pivot route on his 7-yard touchdown catch, outfoxing the Bucs' secondary. The question with Winslow is durability. He played 63 percent of the offensive snaps, so it'll be interesting to see how his body responds on a short week.

4. Sharpening the edges: The Bucs' Doug Martin is the kind of running back who has caused problems for the Jets in recent years, especially as their defense grew older in 2011 and 2012. He's the type of dual threat who can wreak havoc in space, but he was held to 67 yards from scrimmage. The Jets made changes in the front seven, integrating LB DeMario Davis and drafting DT Sheldon Richardson -- two players with above-average speed for their positions. The improved athleticism was evident Sunday, as the Jets swarmed the line of scrimmage. DE Muhammad Wilkerson, fast becoming one of the top defensive linemen in the league, also played well. They were helped by the Bucs' coaching staff, whose play calling showed no creativity whatsoever.

W2W4: Jets vs. Buccaneers

September, 6, 2013
9/06/13
2:00
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets open the fifth season of the Rex Ryan era Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at MetLife Stadium (1 p.m. ET). A look at the top storylines:

1. There they go again: For the second time in five years, the Jets will start a season with a rookie quarterback -- this time Geno Smith. (If you can't name the other, you'd best move on.) The last time a team trotted out two rookie quarterbacks in a five-year span was 1977-78, when the Bucs started Randy Hedberg and Doug Williams in back-to-back years, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

This is a tough spot for Smith, who hasn't played in two weeks and took only 69 preseason snaps. He will face a rebuilt pass defense (ranked No. 32 last year) that includes cornerback Darrelle Revis and safety Dashon Goldson. The weak links in the secondary are cornerbacks Johnthan Banks, a rookie, and Leonard Johnson, who covers the slot in nickel situations. There will be hiccups for Smith, no doubt. How he handles them will determine success or failure. He can expect to see some exotic looks from the Bucs, so he'll have to think on his feet. Smith doesn't have to be great. The Jets can win if he's average, but they have no chance if he duplicates his performance of the preseason loss to the Giants.

[+] EnlargeMarty Mornhinweg
AP Photo/Bill KostrounMarty Mornhinweg
2. Trick it up: The Jets have to protect Smith with a strong running game. Unfortunately for them, they'll be facing the top-ranked run defense from last season. The Bucs are led by defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who could be a nightmare for left guard Vladimir Ducasse. Look for offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to use deception in an attempt to run the ball. Unlike predecessor Tony Sparano, Mornhinweg won't be shy about breaking out the Wildcat, using Bilal Powell and Jeremy Kerley.

You also could see the Pistol formation, a version of the shotgun in which a running back lines up directly behind the quarterback. That creates more play-action opportunities. The screen pass will be huge because it will allow the Jets to slow down the Bucs' aggressive front seven, which will be salivating at the prospect of devouring Smith.

3. Club Dread, an island adventure: Head coach Rex Ryan says the Jets won't make a concerted effort to attack Revis even though he's playing for the first time after major knee surgery. Do we believe him? Revis might not be Revis -- not yet, anyway -- but you get the impression the Jets still are deathly afraid of their former star. The receivers were told to place an extra emphasis on not tipping routes. If there's a tell, Revis will jump the route, and then you're looking at a potential interception.

What the Jets should do is test Revis against the run. Unlike many cornerbacks, he's always been aggressive in run support. Will he be tentative because of his surgically repaired knee? Don't be surprised if they call a power sweep on the first series.

4. Here comes the blitz: You might have heard, but Ryan is running the defense again and he's promising to bring back that 2009 mentality, meaning an array of pressure schemes. He felt the Jets got too vanilla and too passive last season, and he wants to restore the attacking style. Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman is an inviting first target. He's interception-prone (39 over the last two seasons), and he starts hearing footsteps if you get to him early. To play that way, New York needs solid cornerback play from Dee Milliner, one of four rookies in the starting lineup. He missed time with an Achilles' injury and could be in for a rough debut.

5. Their least-favorite Martin: The top priority is containing running Doug Martin, who has the ability to wreck the game. The Jets see him as another Ray Rice, a double threat (1,926 yards from scrimmage last season) that can exploit them on the perimeter as a runner and receiver. Covering backs is an issue. In the preseason, linebackers David Harris and DeMario Davis allowed nine receptions for 92 yards, according to ProFootballFocus. This could be a big problem. Look for the Bucs to attack the edges, especially when outside linebacker Garrett McIntyre is in the base.

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