NFL Nation: Marty Mornhinweg

Geno SmithGrant Halverson/Getty ImagesGeno Smith expects "big things" from himself in 2014, and the Jets will need that to be successful.
Geno Smith heard Michael Vick's name more than a few times last season in the New York Jets' offensive meeting room. Occasionally, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg used Vick as an example when explaining to his quarterbacks how he wanted a particular play to be run.

The name-dropping was understandable. After all, there was history between Mornhinweg and Vick. Smith soaked it up, taking copious notes as he navigated a winding rookie season.

This season, the real Vick, not the ghost, will be sitting alongside Smith in the meeting room. That can be a good thing -- Smith can learn straight from the source -- or a bad thing if he becomes unnerved by Vick's presence. If Smith is bothered by the situation, he's not letting on. He sounds like a proven veteran, not a second-year quarterback who endured one of the worst statistical seasons in recent times.

"I don't want to make any statements or put anything out there, but once the season comes, I mean, I expect big things," Smith told ESPN.com in a recent interview. "I believe fully in myself. I have the utmost confidence in myself. I know I have the ability to play in this league."

There are doubters, to be sure, but Smith's conviction was steeled by his encouraging finish last season. His teammates and coaches saw it in the offseason, with the decisiveness he showed in the huddle in spring practices and the self-confidence he demonstrated in the locker room. That was one of the biggest takeaways from the offseason: the New Geno.

It has to be a new Geno if the Jets hope to snap their three-year playoff drought. Right now, the Jets have eight-win talent, but that modest number jumps to double digits if Smith improves as much as they believe he can.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith, Michael Vick
Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY SportsWill Michael Vick's presence be a good thing or a bad thing for Geno Smith?
"We're not playing yet -- we're not in the stadium yet, people aren't in the stands -- but Geno is a strongly improved player at this point," quarterbacks coach David Lee said.

Thousands of words will be written and spoken this summer about Eric Decker and Chris Johnson, the Jets' marquee additions, but 2014 is all about Smith, whom the Jets expect to be their season-opening starter.

They say he's stronger and faster. As part of his offseason regimen, Smith trained with a speed parachute, proudly texting photos of himself to Lee.

They say his footwork now comes naturally. A year ago, he was so unfamiliar with the Jets' offense that he counted steps in his head.

They say his command of Mornhinweg's system has improved to the point where he's self-sufficient. As a rookie, Smith leaned heavily on center Nick Mangold, who did more hand-holding than a lovestruck teenager.

"It's gotten away from me telling him exactly what to do," Mangold said. "Now it's more of a two-way discussion."

They say Smith is more of a leader than last year. Let's be clear: He's not a fiery, in-your-face kind of quarterback, but there are indications that he wants to make it his team.

In March, when he learned of the Decker signing on ESPN's Bottom Line, Smith immediately texted general manager John Idzik, asking for Decker's number. He reached out to his newest receiver, welcoming him to the team, discussing places to live in New Jersey and asking Decker about his favorite pass routes.

Smith tried to do that with every newcomer, even draft picks, taking ownership in the team. A year ago, he kept to himself, trying to fit in.

"I didn't want to come in as that guy who thinks he knows it all," Smith said. "I feel like I had to earn my stripes, and I feel like I've done that to a certain extent.

"But I'm still learning, still growing. I still listen to the vets, but it's a different level of leadership from me. Last year, I was a vocal guy when I needed to be, but it wasn't as much as I'm going to show this year."

Smith threw 21 interceptions, and that was a source of frustration for coaches and players alike, but they maintained their support because they respected his work ethic and mental toughness. No matter how bad it got, he refused to fold.

"He went through everything a rookie quarterback could go through," guard Willie Colon said. "Now he's like, 'All right, it's time for me to step up.' He's embracing the challenge. We all know Geno is feisty. He's strong-minded. He has the ability to fight. We believe in him."

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsAs a rookie, Geno Smith passed for 3,046 yards with 12 touchdowns and 21 interceptions.
Former Jets quarterback Brady Quinn, a member of the team for the first half of the season, marveled at Smith's resilience. He pointed to the early-season win over the Atlanta Falcons, when Smith rallied the Jets in the final two minutes on a Monday night stage -- one week after an absolute stinker against the Tennessee Titans.

"Every time Geno felt challenged, whether it was in the press or by anyone else, he usually responded and played a great game," Quinn said. "I think he had five come-from-behind wins. Those are powerful statements."

Quinn came away impressed with Smith, who he believes has "a ton of arm talent." Unfortunately, there wasn't much talent around that arm, resulting in one of the worst offenses in the league. That should change with Johnson in the backfield and Decker on the perimeter.

It's all there for Smith in Year 2, but there still are plenty of critics. In a recent ESPN.com poll of 25 personnel executives and coaches, he was rated the worst starting quarterback in the league.

Do the Jets know something that no one else does? Maybe they do. Mornhinweg and Lee are widely respected offensive minds, so their opinions carry weight. Their jobs, along with that of Rex Ryan, could be riding on Smith. If he backslides or fails to show improvement, it'll be a costly setback for the organization.

Smith's biggest challenge is reading defenses, according to people who have studied him on tape. He was a one-read quarterback at West Virginia, so it was a difficult transition to Mornhinweg's version of the West Coast offense, which is predicated on multiple reads and exact timing.

There were long stretches last season in which Smith showed questionable instincts for the position, making poor decision after poor decision. The Jets expect that to get better with experience.

The new variable for Smith is the Vick factor. This is a different ballgame for Smith, who didn't have to worry last season about losing his job. Even though Vick claims he will embrace the mentor role, he's a direct threat to Smith. One or two bad games, and the masses will be screaming for a change.

You could certainly argue that Vick, 34, is better than Smith and deserves a fair shot at the starting job, but the powers-that-be have decided to stack the competition in Smith's favor, making it his job to lose. They won't hand it to him. He'll have to earn it, staving off a player he grew up admiring. It's a fascinating dynamic, especially with the Mornhinweg factor. Smith is battling his role model for a role.

"I don't feel any pressure at all," Smith said. "Maybe, in the outside world, people might think that way. If I do hit a rough patch, I fully expect Mike to pick me up. If it was the other way around, I'd do the same for him because that's the way we are. We're friends and we're teammates."

They're close. Soon, we'll find out if it's too close for comfort.

Redskins should say no to Jackson

March, 28, 2014
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He only needs one play to change a game -- and you never know when it will come. In 2010, it came on the first play of the game, with then-Redskins safety LaRon Landry probably still in full yapping mode.

And DeSean Jackson's 88-yard touchdown catch ignited one of the most explosive nights by an offense you’ll ever see. By the way, Jackson had just one catch after that touchdown. But no matter; he had done what the Eagles needed. Jackson did this quite often, and it’s why he’s a fantastic talent.

Now he’s free. So now comes the question: Should the Washington Redskins pursue?

[+] EnlargeDeSean Jackson
Drew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty ImagesDeSean Jackson is among the most explosive receivers in the NFL, but might fit best with a coach who has worked with him before.
No. The best place for Jackson to land is with a coach who has a history with him: Andy Reid, Marty Mornhinweg. Both their teams -- the Chiefs and the Jets -- are interested. And that’s telling. To best deal with Jackson, you had better really know Jackson. You can’t just sign him thinking he’d be a great fit because he has a lot of talent. You must know him, have a history with him. That is, if you want the best chance to make the investment work. This isn’t just about alleged gang ties, it’s about having the infrastructure to handle Jackson. The Redskins have not yet shown they can handle a talented but, perhaps, difficult player -- especially one they don't really know.

It would be a tough job for a first-year head coach.

Besides, if I'm his agent, I'd steer him to a coach who knows him well.

In the past 10 days, I had a brief conversation with one person in the Redskins' organization about Jackson. The question wasn't whether the Skins would have interest, but rather why the Eagles would consider releasing such a talent. It was a casual conversation, so I’m not going to repeat what he said, but I can safely say that one person in the Skins' organization would not be interested. Does that mean others would not be, or that they wouldn’t at least inquire? Can’t say that.

Nobody doubts Jackson’s ability, but can you trust him going forward? If multiple teams have called about him, as has been reported, then the price will be out of the Redskins’ range anyway.

We don’t know if Jackson indeed had gang ties, as has been alleged. He says he doesn’t. But if nothing else, the image he presents in certain pictures would likely scare some teams.

Then again, the Redskins are interested in Kenny Britt, who has been arrested at least nine times to Jackson’s one. Alas, Britt did not match Jackson’s on-field production. I wouldn't want Britt because of his knee and off-field issues. But the Redskins still would take him.

And that leads me back to: What do the Eagles really know? It’s the same question I’ve wanted to know since news of Jackson's availability first surfaced. They clearly knew a lot about him before he signed his big contract, and still kept him around. But it took only one year for the coach who knew him best to end Jackson’s time in Philly.
Many happenings around the New York Jets:

1. Waiting on DeSean: If the Jets want wide receiver DeSean Jackson, they have the resources to be a major player. They have the need, the cap space (more than $30 million) and the right recruiter (Michael Vick). The question is, do they have the desire?

[+] EnlargeDeSean Jackson
Drew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty ImagesDo the positives outweigh the negatives for a marriage between the Jets and receiver DeSean Jackson?
The sense I get from talking to league sources is the Jets have a measured interest in Jackson, which will intensify if he's released by the Philadelphia Eagles -- a distinct possibility if no one is willing to trade for his contract. He has three years, $30 million remaining on the deal. He reportedly is unwilling to renegotiate his deal, which makes a trade less likely. Jackson may not be motivated to re-work the deal because he knows it will force his release, allowing him to reunite with Vick. It's possible that Vick picked the Jets, knowing his former teammate wouldn't be far behind. Could this all be part of John Idzik's master plan?

Frankly, I think it would be out of character for Idzik. Jackson is a problem child, the ultimate risk-reward gambit. The mere fact Chip Kelly is holding a fire sale for his best receiver should tell you something about how badly he wants to rid himself of Jackson. This is Santonio Holmes revisited. The talent makes the player oh-so-tempting, but is he worth the aggravation? Even if Jackson's market dries up and he accepts a team-friendly deal, he'd be complaining next offseason about wanting a new contract. He's a headache waiting to happen, but the Jets appear willing to stock up on aspirin.

2. The Marty factor: Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg knows Jackson better than anyone in the Jets' building, having coached him in Philly, but I wonder about that relationship. In May, 2010, Jackson told the Sporting News, "Our offensive coordinator, Marty Mornhinweg, said some things, trying to question my toughness" -- a reference to a 2009 game in which he sat out with a head injury. "I was like, 'Coach, I just got a concussion. This (is) my brain. If it's something else -- my shoulder, whatever -- I'm going to play.'" Based on the quote, it doesn't sound like they're the best of buds.

By the way, Jackson suffered two concussions in 2009 and 2010, including a severe concussion that resulted in memory loss -- another factor the Jets should consider.

3. 3-21: So on the two-year anniversary of the Tim Tebow trade, Mark Sanchez gets cut, Greg McElroy announces his retirement and Vick joins the team. That has to be cosmos, right?

4. Polarizing player: Opinions on the Vick signing are sharply divided among fans and media, which isn't a surprise. I happen to think it's a good deal, but I spoke to one longtime front-office executive who believes Vick, 33, is washed up.

"The Jets already have a guy like him ," said the executive, referring to Geno Smith. "If you bring Vick in, you're not thinking. It makes no sense. He's a good kid. He's more mature, he's not a distraction and the players respect him, but he doesn't bring anything to the table anymore -- nothing. He can't win with his legs anymore, he has to win with his head. His arm is good enough, but unfortunately, the arm isn't connected to the head."

An AFC personnel scout said of the Vick-for-Sanchez move: "I don't know what to think, to be honest. You swap one out for the other. There's still no long-term solution."

5. Penalty pals, revisited: Based on their track records, the Willie Colon-Breno Giacomini tandem on the right side of the offensive line will produce a lot of penalty flags. Colon was penalized a team-high 12 times for 82 yards last season. Giacomini, playing for the Seattle Seahawks, was flagged six times for 39 yards -- in only nine games, mind you. (In addition, he had two holding calls in the postseason.) In 2011 and 2012, he combined for 21 penalties for 172 yards. Unless they change their ways, Colon and Giacomini will invite comparisons to the original Penalty Pals, Jeff Criswell and Dave Cadigan, circa 1993.

6. Keeping their own: Penalties notwithstanding, the Jets made a good move to re-sign Colon, who received a one-year, $2 million contract. Only $500,000 is guaranteed; he can also earn $1 million in base salary, plus another $500,000 in roster bonuses if he plays every game. They gave a similar deal to linebacker Calvin Pace, who can make $2.625 million in the first year of a two-year, $5 million contract.

All told, the Jets retained seven free agents for a combined total of only $5.255 million in guarantees -- Pace, Colon, Nick Folk, Jeff Cumberland, Ellis Lankster, Darrin Walls and Leger Douzable. That's what you call bargain shopping.

7. John the Rigid: The biggest criticism of Idzik, according to some agents and league insiders, is that he shows little or no flexibility in negotiations. He assigns a monetary value to a player and refuses to adjust, they say. That style may help in certain situations, but there are times when you have to examine the big picture and ask yourself, "Do we really want to lose this player over X amount of money?" Idzik's conservative approach probably cost him cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who signed with the New York Giants. So now they have a gaping hole at the position. Barring a trade, or a veteran unexpectedly shaking free, the Jets will have to rely on the draft.

8. Bad things come in threes: In a span of 12 days, Idzik jettisoned three of the cornerstone players from the last playoff team, cutting Sanchez, Holmes and Antonio Cromartie. That's a stunning player dump, considering they're all 30 or under. The downside is the amount of "dead" money on the cap. The three players are counting $12.78 million, nearly 10 percent of the entire salary cap.

9. Small-school sleeper: Remember this name -- Terrence Fede. The former Marist defensive end is trying to become the first player in his school's history to be drafted. The 6-foot-3, 276 pounder was a stud pass rusher as the Poughkeepsie, N.Y., school, recording 30.5 career sacks. He has an impressive burst on the edge. He performed for scouts recently at the University of Buffalo pro day, clocking a 4.79 in the 40. All 32 teams were in attendance, including Jets scout Cole Hufnagel. Even if he's not drafted, Fede will be a priority free agent.

10. The Jets' new dogma: Everybody knows about Vick's sordid history with dog fighting, a crime that resulted in him spending nearly two years in a federal prison. Well, here's something interesting and ironic: One of his new receivers is a dog lover. Eric Decker has a foundation called "Decker's Dogs," which provides service dogs to returning military vets with disabilities. Decker and his wife, Jessica, raise money to help train rescued dogs. They believe rescued dogs have the same success rate as dogs bred for service.

New York Jets should sign Michael Vick

February, 25, 2014
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Michael VickChris Humphreys/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Michael Vick could be just what the New York Jets need as a backup to Geno Smith.
It’s 1998, and the New York Jets have a young quarterback they like a lot but aren’t willing to marry. They’re intrigued by a mid-30s free agent, a former No. 1 overall pick who lost his starting job the previous year with his second franchise. They decide to sign him, ostensibly as the backup, thinking he still has enough left if he has to play.

That’s how the Jets landed Vinny Testaverde, who was 35 when he replaced Glenn Foley after a few games and led them to the AFC Championship Game. It was one of their smartest personnel moves ever.

Pardon the time travel, but the Testaverde story is relevant because the Jets are faced with a similar situation at quarterback -- not identical, but similar.

This time, the Testaverde role could be played by Michael Vick, who fits the same profile. He is a former top pick, turns 34 in June and will be looking for a third team after losing his job last season to Nick Foles, the new prince of the Philadelphia Eagles. The Jets are intrigued by Vick, and there’s already rampant speculation they will pursue him when free agency begins March 11.

Do it.

Vick would be a nice fit for the Jets, assuming they part ways with Mark Sanchez. They need a seasoned backup who can fill a two-pronged job description: still good enough to pose a threat to Geno Smith (and win games, if called upon) and willing to serve as a mentor to the young quarterback.

This isn’t to suggest that Vick will pull a Testaverde, who lasted four-plus years as the Jets’ starter and became one of the most beloved players in franchise history, but he would fill the current void. He would be a short-term answer for a team that has to start thinking short term. The full-scale rebuilding project is over.

Make no mistake, the Jets still want Smith to succeed and believe he can, but they’re still not willing to commit to him -- wisely so. Even though they have more invested in Smith than they did in Foley all those years ago, the Jets still have questions. A player like Vick would be solid insurance for 2014. If Smith regresses, if he crumbles under the pressure of having Vick over his shoulder, it’s time to move on. You start over in 2015.

It’s one of the toughest commodities to find, a quarterback willing to be a good-soldier backup but capable of becoming captain of the platoon if called upon. Vick was a model teammate last season, handling the quarterback change with aplomb, but he still wants to be a starter. There’s no telling if he would be amenable to the Jets’ situation. The Jets need to find out.

“A lot depends on the makeup of the No. 2 quarterback,” said an AFC personnel executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “If you’re grooming a young starter, there needs to be a healthy balance of competitor and mentor but also a good resource on the sideline and during game prep. I certainly think [Vick] can still start in the short term.”

Another reason this could work is Vick’s familiarity with Marty Mornhinweg’s system. They spent four years together in Philadelphia, 2009 to 2012, with Vick making the Pro Bowl in 2010 after rebooting his career in the aftermath of a 21-month prison sentence for dogfighting. In 2010, he posted a career-high 100.2 passer rating.

A healthy and rejuvenated Vick, armed with his knowledge of Mornhinweg’s offense, would pose a serious threat to Smith in training camp. General manager John Idzik always talks about competition; this would be real competition. You would have to think it would be Smith’s job to lose. And if he does, so be it.

Obviously, Vick isn’t the same player he was in 2010. Undermined by injuries and turnovers, his production has deteriorated -- with a touchdown-interception ratio of 35-27 over the past three seasons. He has played a full season only once in his career, but the beauty of the Jets’ situation is that he probably wouldn't have to.

Because of his background with Mornhinweg, Vick is a better option than any of the other free-agent quarterbacks. Josh McCown, 34, is interesting, but he did nothing noteworthy in his career until a five-start hot streak last season with the Chicago Bears. He would be a good insurance policy -- until he had to play.

The way to go is Vick -- as long as he’s cool with the conditions: Help the kid as much as you can, knowing that you’ll play if you give us the best chance to win.

If the Jets decide to chase Vick, they might want to include the Testaverde story in their recruiting pitch.

Richardson rumbles for first TD run

December, 15, 2013
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Sheldon Richardson usually uses his 6-foot-3, 294-pound frame to wreak havoc on opposing NFL offenses. But for two plays during the New York Jets' 30-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers, he turned the tables and used his body to try pounding the ball into the end zone.

Lining up in the backfield behind quarterback Geno Smith, Richardson ran the ball on consecutive plays from the Carolina 2-yard line. He gained a yard each time, which was good enough in the end for the rookie defensive lineman's first NFL touchdown.

[+] EnlargeSheldon Richardson
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneRookie D-lineman Sheldon Richardson rushed for a 1-yard TD run -- yes, you read that right -- to pull the Jets within three points late in the third.
Richardson, 23, admitted it was the first time he had touched the ball on offense or scored a touchdown since high school, when he “played everything.”

Running back? Check.

But that was a long time ago. He admitted that he wasn’t surprised to get the chance Sunday, because the Jets “practiced it a few times” last week. And when he didn’t get into the end zone on his first attempt (although both he and coach Rex Ryan thought he did), there was no question he was going to get another attempt.

Not in Richardson’s mind. Not in Ryan’s. Not in offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg’s.

“Marty wanted it in there, so I told him to give it back to me. He had already relayed the call,” Richardson said. “I thought I scored the first time. But [the officials] needed to be reassured, so I did it again.”

Ryan added: “We’ve been working on it and thinking they shouldn’t be able to deny that guy down there, and we just kept running it. We thought we scored the first time, but we were a little short. And I’m like, ‘Well, we’ll just run it again.’ And that’s what we did.”

The touchdown with 3:04 remaining in the third quarter drew the Jets to within 16-13, and cornerback Antonio Cromartie later admitted the unconventional score brought smiles to the faces of Richardson’s defensive teammates on the sideline.

“He looked good. That’s just something that we practiced,” Cromartie said. “We knew it was going to happen if we got down there to the goal line. We practiced it with him, giving him the ball. We got him his touchdown and he pulled us to within three.”

Even in the wake of the disappointing loss, Cromartie couldn’t help grinning at the thought of Richardson doing a fine William “The Refrigerator” Perry imitation. When asked if he would be able to take down a guy Richardson’s size in a similar situation, Cromartie was candidly honest.

“No, man. I don’t ever want to try to tackle a 300-pound person like that,” said Cromartie, who is 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds.

Richardson was in no jovial mood after the loss, despite his offensive heroics. He said he knew of Perry and that it “was cool” to be mentioned in the same breath as the former Chicago Bears defensive tackle who occasionally ran the football back in the day. But he admitted that none of that really mattered under Sunday’s circumstances.

“It was a touchdown. But it means nothing. We lost,” Richardson said.

Upon Further Review: Jets Week 14

December, 9, 2013
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- An examination of the four hottest issues from the New York Jets' 37-27 win over the Oakland Raiders:

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
AP Photo/Kathy WillensThe Jets are 4-0 when Geno Smith runs for a TD, as he did Sunday.
1. They ain't dead yet: Sunday could've been a really, really big day for the Jets, but the two teams they're chasing for the second AFC wild-card spot -- the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins -- squeezed out late, come-from-behind victories. That leaves the Jets (6-7) one game behind them, but it's really two games because they lost to both teams, meaning they'd lose a head-to-head tiebreaker. They still have a game with the Dolphins, in the season finale, but the Jets might be eliminated by then. But, hey, it's Week 15 and they're still alive. Hear that, Kellen Winslow?

2. Run, Geno, run: Geno Smith is "definitely known as just trying to be a gunslinger," fellow quarterback David Garrard said, but the rookie has the ability to make plays outside the pocket. He showed it against the Raiders, rushing for 50 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown on a read-option play. What took so long? Smith has been reluctant to embrace the idea of becoming a running quarterback, but he needs to understand he can spark the offense with his athleticism. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg also did a better job of calling designed runs and rollouts, allowing Smith to throw on the run. If you have a weapon, use it. The Jets are 4-0 when Smith scores a rushing touchdown.

3. Disappearing defense: Rex Ryan's defense usually gets stronger late in the season, but this particular unit is backsliding. The Jets allowed a fourth-string running back -- Marcel Reece, who actually plays fullback -- to rush for 123 yards. Are you kidding? In the past two games, their once-feared run defense has allowed 275 yards. Part of the reason is because they're playing fewer eight-man boxes -- they need a second safety to help in pass coverage -- but they're also missing far too many tackles. Frankly, the tackling has been atrocious. They got away with it against the bad team like the Raiders, but they have no shot next week against the Carolina Panthers if they allow short gains to turn into big plays.

4. Special K's: Jeremy Kerley's return to the lineup sparked the slumping offense, which scored more points than it did in the previous three games combined. Another "K" player, Kellen Winslow, also provided a boost. For a change, Winslow played a significant role in the passing game, finishing with three catches for 61 yards. In recent weeks, he had become after afterthought, partly because of his chronic knee. But it also seemed like the coaching staff had phased him out. Well, he was phased in against the Raiders. Winslow knows how to get open, a big help to a rookie quarterback. He could be a key down the stretch.
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Offensive coordinator No. 2 will be at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, watching Rex Ryan and Coordinator No. 3 attempt to figure their way out of the worst offensive slump the NFL has seen in a few years.

Statistically, the New York Jets are every bit as bad as they were last season, when Coordinator No. 2 was running Ryan's offense. The situation was so dysfunctional that No. 2 was fired after only one season, lasting three years less than No. 1 under Ryan.

Ryan is out of lifelines, so he won't get a chance to pick No. 4. He and Marty Mornhinweg have to generate some offense over the final quarter of the season -- or else. If they happen to stink it up Sunday against the Oakland Raiders, it will make Tony Sparano -- now Oakland's offensive-line coach -- appear like a wrongful scapegoat.

That wouldn't be a good look for Ryan, the one constant through the Brian Schottenheimer-Sparano-Mornhinweg years.

Ryan put himself on notice after last season, when he came out publicly and admonished himself for messing up the offense. Brutally honest, the defensive-minded Ryan said, "I've come up short, in my opinion, in that area. ... I've failed in that area."

[+] EnlargeTony Sparano
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsTony Sparano, a one-and-done offensive coordinator with the Jets, will be at MetLife Stadium on Sunday as a member of the Raiders' staff.
He tried to make it right by hiring Mornhinweg, a nice addition, but there's no tangible proof that it's any better. A year ago, the Jets finished 30th in total offense. Right now, they're 30th.

A year ago, they averaged 17.6 points per game. Right now, the average is 15.8.

We could go on and on with the numbers, but all you need to know is this: The statistics in all the major categories are close or virtually even.

Even isn't good enough. It has to be better than that. There has to be some evidence that the arrow is pointed up. There's still time to make that happen. Four games is a lot in the NFL, but you can't be too optimistic after watching eight straight quarters without a touchdown.

It's a tough situation because Ryan is stuck with an overwhelmed rookie, Geno Smith, at quarterback and a supporting cast filled with waiver-wire talent. It's the blind leading the blech. In a way, it's unfair to pin this on Ryan and his coaches, but there's nothing fair in the cut-throat world of the NFL.

"It doesn't take long for a head coach or a quarterback to find the outhouse," said a former general manager, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "The problem is when they're doing it together. It's too bad. I thought they were going to be a great story."

Despite the early signs of Smith's regression, things still looked promising at 5-4. Mornhinweg did a nice job of coaching around the rookie's weaknesses. But opponents adjusted, crowding the box, overplaying the run and daring Smith to beat them with his arm.

The Jets haven't been able to counter, resulting in an epic collapse. They've gone 114 plays without a touchdown. They're headed to their 15th straight season without a top-10 offense, the third-longest streak in the league.

Let's be honest, Smith wasn't ready for this gig. You can't take a quarterback out of a spread offense in college, throw him into a foreign system and expect immediate results. There's a reason why most of the league passed on him before the Jets stopped his draft-day fall in the second round. He needed to spend time on the bench, watching and learning. That, of course, got blown up the night Marvin Austin blew up Mark Sanchez.

An AFC personnel executive, commenting on Smith's struggles, said the Jets "have played more to his weaknesses and inexperience." He also believes Smith has been victimized by a lack of continuity at wide receiver and tight end. The defense hasn't helped, either.

"The defense has given up points in big losses, and the game falls on the shoulders of the offense -- and the offense can't respond when that happens," the executive said.

The former GM blamed Mornhinweg, saying, "He should be given a cigarette and a last meal."

That's too harsh. There are myriad reasons why Smith and the offense have gone off the cliff. Ryan said statistics don't tell the whole story. That's what coaches say when the numbers look bad.

"Clearly, we've had our ups and downs this year with our offense, there's no ifs, ands or buts about that," he said. "It's not as good as what we'd wish it would be. We haven't been as consistent. Sometimes it's been really good, and sometimes, especially as of late, it's been really bad."

Maybe Ryan can start the turnaround Sunday against Coordinator No. 2.

No one expected great this season. Good might have been a stretch, too. But bad is unacceptable. A coach can't survive two years of bad.

Two years of playing like No. 2.

W2W4: Jets at Ravens

November, 22, 2013
11/22/13
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Let's call it like it is: The New York Jets stink on the road.


They've dropped 15 of their last 21, including 1-4 this season. Their minus-12 turnover margin is by far the worst in the league. They've been outscored in the first quarter, 34-6, suggesting they're not mentally or physically ready to play. Their shortcomings were on full display last Sunday in Orchard Park, where the Jets were embarrassed by the struggling Buffalo Bills, 37-14.

Here's the crazy thing: The Jets used to be a terrific road team under Rex Ryan, going 11-5 in his first two seasons -- plus four playoff wins. Those were the days.

On Sunday, the Jets (5-5) visit the Baltimore Ravens (4-6) at M&T Bank Stadium for a 1 p.m. kickoff, and this game has a scary look to it. The Ravens are 36-8 at home under John Harbaugh, whose defense tends to dominate on its own turf. They've allowed only 12.8 points per game in four home games.

This has the makings of a rough day for the Jets. What to watch for:

Smith
1. The Geno-scope: Geno Smith is one bad performance away from being involved in a full-blown quarterback controversy. He was pulled in the fourth quarter of the previous two losses, both blowouts, and he'll end up on the bench again, perhaps permanently, if he doesn't stop committing turnovers. The turnover count is up to 20, including 13 in five road games. The Jets want to make it work with Smith, especially with no viable veteran on the bench, but there comes a point where you have to say, "Enough is enough."

Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has to do something to get Smith -- and the entire offense -- out of this funk. Naturally, he will try to feature the running game to take some pressure off Smith, perhaps incorporating wrinkles in the Wildcat and read-option packages. Unfortunately for the Jets, the Ravens allow only 3.7 yards per rush, No. 6 in the league. Mornhinweg should impress upon Smith the importance of looking for his check-down options. He too often stays locked on his No. 1 read, forcing the ball into coverage. Against the Bills, he targeted his backs only four times.

Holmes
2. Someone help the kid: Naturally, Smith took the brunt of the criticism for last week's mess, but he got no help from his receivers, who struggled against man-to-man coverage. That was a point of emphasis in practice; let's see if it works. Stephen Hill, branded a disappointment by Rex Ryan, received the good cop, bad cop treatment from Mornhinweg and Ryan, respectively. His starting job was threatened, but he'll still end up playing a lot. Santonio Holmes' hamstring still is an issue, so who knows how much he can contribute? Mornhinweg should feature his tight ends, as the Ravens' safeties are suspect in coverage, especially ex-Jet James Ihedigbo.

3. Secure the edges: This is a big game for the Jets' tackles, D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Austin Howard. The Ravens bring plenty of heat on the edges, with rush linebacker Terrell Suggs (nine sacks) and situational rusher Elvis Dumervil (8.5 sacks). Smith took a beating last week, starting from the very first series, and he's at a vulnerable stage in his development. If he gets hit hard and early, he's liable to turn skittish. The Ravens pounded Mark Sanchez in 2011, and there are some who believe he wasn't the same after that beating. The Ravens' pass rush is particularly effective at home. Since 2011, they've record 67 sacks, tied for second in the league.

Reed
4. Homecoming, Part Deaux: This should be a special day for Ravens icon Ed Reed, except he already did the homecoming thing in Week 3 as a member of the Houston Texans. That didn't go particularly well. His team lost, 30-9, and his performance was non-descript. That, too, was the case last week in his Jets debut. Now, more than ever, the Jets need Reed to turn back the clock. A big play by the future Hall of Famer, especially in his old house, would be an enormous spark for the Jets, who have allowed an alarming number of long completions.

Joe Flacco likes to throw deep, especially to Torrey Smith, whose vertical speed could cause problems for struggling CB Antonio Cromartie. The good news for the Jets is that Flacco, he of the Super Bowl MVP and $120 million contract, is having a subpar season -- especially on deep balls. In fact, he has only two touchdowns and five interceptions on throws of longer than 15 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

5. Rising Sons: The Jets' defensive line -- a.k.a. Sons of Anarchy -- should dominate the line of scrimmage. The Ravens' offensive line is really struggling, especially C Gino Gradkowski. Their running game showed signs of life last week against the Chicago Bears, but it has been a major disappointment, especially Ray Rice, averaging only 3.0 yards per carry. It would be an absolute shock if the Jets, with the best run defense in the league, allow more than 75 yards. In theory, they should turn the Ravens into a one-dimensional offense, allowing them to devour Flacco, who already has 33 sacks. But, as we've seen a few times, it doesn't work out that way because of the problems in coverage.
Thoughts and observations on the New York Jets:

1. The Re-X factor: The top storyline for the second half of the season, which begins Sunday, will be the future of head coach Rex Ryan. Owner Woody Johnson and general manager John Idzik have to make a decision: Extend his contract or fire him. Naturally, the No. 1 factor will be the team's record, but there's another factor that should (and will) loom large in the evaluation -- the development of rookie quarterback Geno Smith.

If Smith makes strides and finishes with his arrow pointing up, it would be a huge boost for Ryan and his coaching staff. It would mean he's developing under Marty Mornhinweg & Co., and what sense would it make to start over next year with a new staff? My sense is that a 7-9 record, with an ascending Smith, would be good enough to earn Ryan another year. Statistically, Smith's second quarter was slightly better than the first, but he'll need more than baby steps over the final eight games to nail down the job for 2014. If he regresses, it won't bode well for Ryan.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesWill the Jets use another early draft pick to select a QB if rookie Geno Smith continues to struggle the rest of the season?
"If I put on my GM hat, I would tie Rex, Marty and Geno together," said ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer, one of the smart people around football. "The Marty-Geno mix is really good, and I think Marty is good for Rex. The Jets' ceiling, if they acquire more talent, is higher because of Marty's aggressive approach. I wouldn't want to start over with a new guy next year. They should maintain continuity. They're wildly inconsistent, but it looks better and has a better feel than last year. It's a better product."

I agree. But Smith needs to keep going in the right direction.

2. Quarterbacking 101: Dilfer said Smith is operating an offensive system more complex than what the Jets used in Mark Sanchez's rookie year in 2009. In '09, they scaled it back to help Sanchez. It was heavy play-action and they moved the pocket, halving the field and cutting down his reads. With Smith, "It's pure dropback, with complex read progressions," Dilfer said. "Marty is throwing a lot of good stuff at him. It's baptism by fire. Talking to great coaches and great quarterbacks, and knowing my own experience, that's the best way to get the best out of a young quarterback. It speeds them up to the graduate level."

I get it, but I think there should be times when Mornhinweg dials it back a little to help Smith through rough patches.

3. Where the Hill is Stephen? Second-year WR Stephen Hill has become an afterthought in the Jets' offense, raising questions about him. Consider the last five games: 23 targets and only 10 receptions, including five when the team was in an obvious catch-up/passing mode. Save for two big games against the Buffalo Bills, Hill has been a disappointment in his first two seasons. In fact, one-third of his career yardage total (and three of his four TDs) has come in the two Buffalo games.

I asked Mornhinweg about Hill's lack of production, and all he said was, "That's my responsibility. I have to do a better job there." Meaning? "Get him the ball a little bit."

Here's the part that stings the Jets: They drafted Hill in the second round (43rd overall) after trading up, passing up WR Alshon Jeffery, who has become a solid receiver with the Chicago Bears. Jeffery has 57 catches, 928 yards and five touchdowns in two seasons; Hill has 44, 592 and four. The Jets knew Hill would be a project when they drafted him, but it has to be troubling that a receiver off the street -- David Nelson -- has produced better numbers over the past month.

4. Re-visiting Revis Island: Some in the media (including me) have fallen into the trap of trying to imagine the Jets' defense if they had kept CB Darrelle Revis, perhaps conveniently forgetting that he's coming back from major knee surgery. He's still not the Revis of old, and he admitted it the other day on his weekly radio spot in Tampa. Revis, explaining why the Buccaneers haven't used him in the press-man style that made him famous, said his surgically repaired knee has been the main factor.

“Earlier in the year, I didn’t have the explosion to play press; the receiver would just run the [vertical] 9-route on me and I didn’t have the stamina to do that play in and play out, especially playing press," Revis said.

If he were with the Jets, this would be a significant issue, considering their system is predicated on man-to-man coverage.

5. Ivory's payback: Chris Ivory downplayed Sunday's matchup against the New Orleans Saints, his former team, but I suspect he will be highly motivated to prove a point. Back in training camp, Ivory admitted to me that his three-year run in New Orleans was difficult at times because of their crowded backfield.

"I never felt lost, but I didn't like the situation at times," Ivory said. "At the same time, you have to understand there are phases you have to go through, being undrafted. They had guys they drafted, guys they had confidence in. Me, just coming in, I had to build their confidence and it took a little more time."

The Jets traded a fourth-round pick for Ivory, one of only six player trades last offseason involving a fourth-round pick or higher, according to ESPN's John Clayton. The Jets had two of the six -- the Ivory and Revis trades.

6. Revolving door: Because of injuries, it has been difficult to build continuity on offense. In fact, the Jets have used 28 different players, tied with the Bucs for most in the league.

7. Go wide, young man: The Jets aren't known as a perimeter running team, but maybe they should think about it more often. When they run around left end, they average 6.78 yards per carry, the fifth-best mark in the league, according to NFL stats. When they go right end, it's 5.59 yards. Imagine if they had a real perimeter threat.

8. McElroy's intel: Dan Pompei of Bleacher Report spent a week with Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, who allowed behind-the-scenes access as he prepared for last week's game against the Jets. The story reveals that former Jets QB Greg McElroy, a member of the Bengals' practice squad, was a big help. McElroy typed up a tip sheet and gave it to QB Andy Dalton. Gruden also picked his brain on the Jets in a meeting.

"His insight is very helpful," Gruden told Pompei in the middle of the week. "He has a pulse on their defense, what hurts them."

I'd say the Bengals hurt them, all right.

9. Good news/bad news: The Jets are one of only 11 teams since 2001 to have a minus-12 turnover margin or worse through eight games. That's bad. Of those 11 teams, they're the only one to have a .500 record. That's good. It indicates what they could be if Smith stops giving it away.

10. Feeling old: The first time I saw Nick Toon was Nov. 27, 1992, the day his dad, Al, retired from the NFL at the too-young age of 29. Nick was only 4, but he was at the news conference, and I remember seeing him afterward in the parking lot at the Jets' old Hofstra training facility. He hopped into a mini-van, and the family drove off. It always struck me that Al's wife, Jane, was behind the wheel. Al, still suffering from post-concussion syndrome, wasn't fit to drive. Now, Nick is a grown-up wide receiver, and he'll be playing Sunday for the Saints at MetLife Stadium. I'll be in the press box, wondering how 21 years flew by in a minute.

Ryan-Mornhinweg pairing perfect for Jets

October, 24, 2013
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The first time they sat down together to discuss X's and O's, Rex Ryan and Marty Mornhinweg didn't have much privacy. They were on television.

It was January 2007, and their teams -- the Baltimore Ravens and Philadelphia Eagles, respectively -- had been eliminated from the playoffs in the divisional round. They were invited to NFL Films in Mt. Laurel, N.J., to serve as guest analysts to preview the conference championships.

"I had a chance to meet him in a different way," Ryan, the New York Jets' head coach, said Thursday of his current offensive coordinator. "I really liked him. He was funny. He was smart. That was obvious."

That TV appearance turned out to be a good test of their chemistry. Host Brian Baldinger had to leave after the first segment, leaving Ryan and Mornhinweg alone on the set. They improvised, Ryan breaking down the defensive stuff, Mornhinweg handling the offensive material.

[+] EnlargeMarty Mornhinweg, Rex Ryan
Rich Kane/Icon SMIMarty Mornhinweg and Rex Ryan are preparing the 4-3 Jets for Sunday's game in Cincinnati.
"We fed right off each other," Ryan said.

Six years later, it hasn't changed.

Hiring Mornhinweg was one of Ryan's smartest moves. One year after the Tony Sparano debacle, the Jets actually have a clue on offense. At times, they're not the prettiest, but you never get the feeling that Mornhinweg doesn't know what he's doing.

Under him, the Jets have improved in almost every offensive category, significantly in some cases. They're ranked 15th in total offense, averaging 343 yards per game (up from 299). The last time they sniffed the top 10 was 2010, when they finished 11th with Brian Schottenheimer calling the plays and a still-promising Mark Sanchez playing quarterback.

We could throw out a bunch of impressive numbers to demonstrate Mornhinweg's impact, but it's plainly obvious the Jets are running it better and throwing it better than the past two years. And -- don't underestimate this point -- they're doing it with a rookie quarterback, Geno Smith.

Plus, we're not talking about an abundance of talent here. The Jets don't have a rusher in the top 15 and they don't have a receiver in the top 50. Smith is 27th out of 33 in passer rating. Despite the lack of star power, they've played well in most of the games.

"I think he's done a great job," Ryan said of Mornhinweg. "It's been impressive, without question. He has been impressive."

Philosophically, they're a football odd couple. Mornhinweg's affinity for the passing game figured to clash with Ryan's defensive-minded, ball-control style, but they've made it work.

Recognizing how the game is changing, Ryan let his hair down, so to speak, leaving Ground & Pound in the past. Mornhinweg has adjusted, too, especially the past three weeks. Without injured wide receiver Santonio Holmes, and with Smith coming off a disastrous game in Tennessee in Week 4, Mornhinweg has leaned more on the running game, featuring his inside receivers (tight end and slot) in the passing game.

A team has to throw the ball to score points, according to the Mornhinweg doctrine, but sometimes it takes some dinosaur football to win a game. As Ryan noted in his postgame speech to the team after last Sunday's upset of the New England Patriots, "Our offensive coordinator, seems to me all he wants to do is run, because we ran it 52 times."

[+] EnlargeMarty Mornhinweg
Al Pereira/New York Jets/Getty ImagesMarty Mornhinweg is in his first season with the Jets after 10 years in the Eagles organization.
The players roared.

"That's funny," Mornhinweg said Thursday.

Ryan hired Mornhinweg because he wanted a coordinator who coached offense the same way he coaches defense -- aggressively. He showed that fearlessness last Sunday. Instead of babying Smith after his first-quarter interception was returned for a touchdown, Mornhinweg called a pass on the ensuing first down -- a 17-yard strike to Stephen Hill.

"We threw the ball a couple of more times right away on purpose, just a 'Let's go,'" Mornhinweg said. "That's just the way we operate."

If Sparano had been calling the plays, he would've had Smith in bubble wrap for the rest of the game.

Ryan is fortunate. Not many head coaches last long enough to hire a third coordinator. This was a make-or-break hire for Ryan, whose rear end is on the hot seat this season.

Mornhinweg, the first to interview for the job, was summoned to the Jets' facility last January. He met for three hours with Ryan, two assistant coaches and center Nick Mangold. It's unusual for a player to be present, but Mangold is respected for his offensive acumen.

The interview covered everything from "soup to nuts," Ryan recalled. Before they got into the heavy stuff, they enjoyed a good laugh, remembering their joint TV appearance at NFL Films. Mornhinweg aced the interview.

"He had me at hello," Ryan said, "but we were going to do our due diligence."

He interviewed a few others and offered the position to Mornhinweg. Once again, they're on TV. Their set is the sideline, and they're feeding off each other.

This time, without makeup.

Upon Further Review: Jets Week 7

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
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A review of four hot issues from the New York Jets' 30-27 overtime win against the New England Patriots.

The "push" heard 'round the world: There's no doubt that Chris Jones pushed teammate Will Svitek into blocker Damon Harrison on Nick Folk's 56-yard field goal miss, violating a new rule on the NFL books. On Monday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick came clean, admitting his postgame interpretation of the rule -- that it's illegal only if the push comes from a second-level defender -- was wr ... wr ... wr ... wrong. Yes, he actually said the word. Asked why he had the notion that second-level pushing was illegal but pushing at the line was within the rules, Belichick replied, "Because obviously we are wrong. What else is there to say? We’re wrong." Jets fans might want to tape that quote to the refrigerator.

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan
AP Photo/Peter MorganDespite having to employ a trio of new coordinators, Rex Ryan has the Jets contending in the AFC East.
Now there's a new wrinkle: I checked the tape of the Patriots-New Orleans Saints game from the previous week, and the Patriots ran the exact same technique on the Saints' 39-yard field goal late in the game. Same technique, same two players, Jones pushing Svitek. There was no penalty flag.

But wait, there's more to this story: The Jets might have been guilty, too. On Stephen Gostkowski's 44-yard field goal at the end of regulation, the Jets' Quinton Coples appears to shove a teammate into the Patriots' formation. It's hard to get a clear view from the TV tape. The coaches' tape, which should be released later Monday, will have a better angle.

Yep, another chapter in the Jets-Patriots rivalry.

Ground & Pound & Pound: Did Rex Ryan call the plays in this game? I say that jokingly, but there's no denying the game plan had Ryan's fingerprints on it. The Jets ran 52 times, their most rushing attempts since a 57-attempt day against the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2009 season finale. This was a radical departure for coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who averaged 26 rushes per game last season with the Philadelphia Eagles. The game-winning drive was way out of character for Mornhinweg, who ran on 11 of 12 plays. He got conservative at the end, calling an inside handoff on a third-and-5 from the Patriots' 36. The message was clear: Mornhinweg/Ryan had more faith in Folk from around 50 yards than they did in Geno Smith dropping back to pass. They almost got burned. The "push" play saved them from heavy criticism.

Crazy Legs Geno: Smith has rushed for 146 yards, already surpassing Mark Sanchez's career season high by 40 yards. Smith was at his best against the Patriots, with six runs for 32 yards. His 8-yard touchdown run was a thing of beauty, as he cut and slashed his way through three defenders. He made former Jets cornerback Marquice Cole look silly with an open-field move. Smith should run more often. If the Jets continue to see a lot of man-to-man coverage, meaning the defenders' backs are turned to the quarterback, it makes sense for Smith to take off if no one is open.

Defense rocks: Ryan called off the blitz, sending five or more rushers on only six of 49 dropbacks by Tom Brady, according to ESPN Stats & Information. It was a highly unusual approach by the aggressive coach, but it worked. Confident in the front four's ability to generate pressure, Ryan emphasized coverage. Part of the reason was because the secondary was healthier than it had been in several weeks, with the return of rookie cornerback Dee Milliner. It turned out to be one of the most impressive defensive days of the Ryan era. It's hard to believe, but the Jets held the Patriots to only two field goals on their final 10 possessions.

Locker room buzz: New York Jets

October, 20, 2013
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Observed in the locker room after the New York Jets' 30-27 overtime win over the New England Patriots:

Ryan
Beaming Rex: Rex Ryan approached the podium in the interview room and declared, "That's what I'm talking about." This had to be his most satisfying victory in a long time. Yeah, the Monday night win in Atlanta was exhilirating, but this was the Patriots. And Tom Brady. And Bill Belichick. The Jets snapped a five-losing streak to the Patriots, who had won 12 straight in the AFC East. That the Jets rallied from an 11-point deficit made it sweeter for Ryan, who probably would've talked all day about the game if time permitted.

What happened to MartyBall?: As he left the locker room, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg stopped to chat with general manager John Idzik. It appeared to be a pleasant conversation, and why not? Winning makes everything feel better, but you have to wonder if Mornhinweg's play calling in overtime came up. The usually aggressive Mornhinweg turned ultra-conservative on the game-winning drive, calling eight straight running plays to set up a 56-yard field-goal attempt that missed. The Jets caught a major break because of the Patriots' unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty, allowing Nick Folk to eventually win it from 42 yards. If the Jets had lost, Mornhinweg would've received heavy criticism for his late-game decisions.

Mark Sanchez appearance: Sanchez was spotted in the locker room after the game. He tried to slip out the side door, but he was seen by reporters. Sanchez, who underwent recent shoulder surgery, had his right arm in a sling. He wasn't on the sideline during the game, so he probably watched from a club suite. This has to be a bittersweet time for Sanchez, whose season is over. No doubt, he's happy for the Jets, but it must be weird seeing someone else -- Geno Smith -- lead the team he once called his own.

W2W4: Patriots vs. Jets

October, 18, 2013
10/18/13
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Rex Ryan wanted his players so focused and well-rested for the New England Patriots that he told them to skip household chores for a week. On Sunday, we'll find out if the couch-potato approach worked.

It would help if they could hold on to the ball.

That has been the biggest difference between the New York Jets and Patriots over the last few years -- ball security. During their current five-game losing streak to the Patriots, the Jets are minus-11 in turnover margin. They give it away easier than day-old cheesecake at a bake sale. Can they reverse the trend? Kickoff is at 1 p.m. at MetLife Stadium, where the Patriots (5-1) will try to win their 13th straight AFC East game. The Jets (3-3) need a win to stay in the thick of the division race.

What to watch for:

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY SportsGeno Smith had a rough first game against the Patriots, going 15-for-35 passing with three picks.
1. A second look for Geno: Rookie QB Geno Smith should fare better this time around. Then again, it can't get worse than the first meeting in Week 2, when he threw three interceptions in the final 11 plays. His familiarity with the Patriots, coupled with a full week to prepare (Round 1 was on a Thursday), is bound to help. It's all about game management. Smith won't see a lot of pressure schemes from Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who will test the kid's patience by forcing him to dink and dunk. The Patriots may take a more conservative approach than usual if CB Aqib Talib (hip) doesn't play. Statistically, there's a big drop-off when he's off the field. Talib intercepted Smith twice in the first game.

2. Hey, Marty: Run!: Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg tried to establish a ground game last week, but he gave up after a quarter. This time, he needs to stick with it. The Patriots have gaping -- repeat, gaping -- holes in their front seven with DT Vince Wilfork and LB Jerod Mayo done for the season. DT Tommy Kelly also could miss the game, meaning they will start two unheralded rookies at defensive tackle -- Joe Vellano, an undrafted free agent, and Chris Jones, cut by two other teams. If C Nick Mangold and RG Willie Colon don't control the point of attack, something is wrong. Of course, this will require a commitment from the pass-happy Mornhinweg. The Jets will miss Mike Goodson's outside speed, but they won't need it if Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory can hammer away inside the tackles.

3. Frustrating Brady isn't enough: Can anybody remember the last time the Jets intercepted Tom Brady? It was Oct. 9, 2011: CB Antonio Cromartie picked Brady on the final play of the first half. Since then, he has gone 163 passes against the Jets without an interception. That's ridiculous. In Week 2, the Jets proved a dominant effort versus Brady doesn't mean much without turnovers. They held the Patriots to nine first downs, yet they couldn't create any takeaways and lost, 13-10. The Jets need a big day from their corners, especially Cromartie, who admitted he's having only a "C year." Cro & Co. need to be ready for a lot of quick screens, which puts a premium on tackling. Brady's receiving corps has 16 drops, the third-highest total in the league.

4. Dealing with Gronk: This changes things. Assuming TE Rob Gronkowski plays -- he was cleared Friday by doctors -- the Patriots now have a major weapon at their disposal, especially in the red zone. Their red zone efficiency sagged without the 6-foot-7 Gronk, Brady's favorite target. Since 2010, his completion percentage to Gronkowski is 72.2, about 10 percent higher than to other receivers, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In his last two games against the Jets, Gronkowski caught 14 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns. If the Jets show as much respect to him as they did to Tony Gonzalez two weeks ago, you can expect double-vice coverage in the red zone. S Jaiquawn Jarrett also was heavily involved in the Gonzalez plan. Would the Jets put Cromartie on Gronk in certain situations? Just a thought.

5. Feed the green beast: The Jets, trying to establish a true home-field advantage, want their fans to be loud and green. Ryan asked fans to wear green, creating a "Green Out" effect. OK, fine, but it would help to grab the attention of the wine-sipping, shrimp-eating masses if they jumped to an early lead. The Jets have led for only 52 minutes in six games, half of which came in the win over the Buffalo Bills. A dynamic, game-changing play in the first quarter would help immensely. Maybe this is where Josh Cribbs becomes a factor. Maybe he can add some sizzle to the special teams. A big play on defense would help, too, but the Jets are allergic to takeaways. In fact, they've gone 207 passes without an interception. They can't be taken seriously as a top-tier defense unless they make some plays.

Upon Further Review: Jets Week 6

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
12:30
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A review of four hot issues from the New York Jets' 19-6 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers:
[+] EnlargeAntonio Cromartie
Seth Wenig/AP PhotoSteelers WR Emmanuel Sanders flips into the end zone for a touchdown as Jets CB Antonio Cromartie chases him in the second half.

A tale of two throws: This might be an oversimplification, but you could say the game came down to two wide-open passes. Ben Roethlisberger made his, Geno Smith didn't. In the second quarter, Smith wasted a great opportunity, overthrowing Stephen Hill (51 air yards) on what should've been a 77-yard touchdown. Hill, showing his vertical speed, blew past CB Ike Taylor and S Troy Polamalu, the only time the Steelers' aging secondary looked embarrassingly slow. A touchdown in that spot would've given the Jets a 10-6 lead, changing the complexion of the game. The misfire was emblematic of the type of day it was for the rookie, who completed only 2 of 10 passes of 15 yards or longer. Meanwhile, Big Ben capitalized on his chance, hitting a wide-open Emmanuel Sanders (35 air yards) for a 55-yard touchdown to make it 16-6 in the third quarter. Roethlisberger showed why he's a two-time Super Bowl champion. Smith showed his inexperience.

What's up with Cro?: This was another subpar performance for CB Antonio Cromartie, who allowed the long touchdown pass and was called for a 25-yard pass interference. This has to concern the Jets because they assumed Cromartie, coming off a Pro Bowl season, would be able to hold down the No. 1 corner job for the second straight year. It's one of the reasons why they felt good about trading Darrelle Revis. According to the Pro Football Focus ratings, Cromartie is ranked 101st among 103 cornerbacks. He has been targeted 41 times, tied for the fifth-highest total, and has surrendered three touchdowns. Interestingly, Roethlisberger went after Cromartie more than anyone else in the Jets' secondary. In case you're wondering, who is PFF's No. 1-rated corner? It's Revis.

Open the screen door: Opponents have discovered the Achilles' heel of the Jets' defense -- short, quick passes, neutralizing their pass rush. The Steelers staged a clinic on screen passes, throwing no fewer than 10, mostly bubble screens to wide receivers. The Jets should've expected this, as the Steelers used 10 screens in their previous game against the Minnesota Vikings. Rex Ryan and Dennis Thurman have to figure out a way to stop the trend, because the defense is getting sliced and diced. In the past three games, Jake Locker, Matt Ryan and Roethlisberger have completed 77 of 99 attempts for 732 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. That's a 117.7 passer rating. For a defense, that stinks.

What happened to MartyBall? Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, widely praised for his aggressive play calling in the first five games, got conservative. In the first half, he called 12 runs and 14 pass plays -- and the pass plays were of the dink-and-dunk variety. Ryan acknowledged the Jets tried to run the ball, perhaps thinking they could exploit the Steelers' 25th-rated run defense. Actually, their run defense is a lot better than the ranking, as the Jets discovered. Clearly, Mornhinweg has become more cautious with Smith over the past two games, perhaps because of a directive from Ryan in the aftermath of the Tennessee debacle. It worked against the Atlanta Falcons, but Smith struggled against a Pittsburgh defense that was determined to eliminate the deep strike.

Locker Room Buzz: New York Jets

October, 8, 2013
10/08/13
1:05
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ATLANTA -- Observed in the locker room after the New York Jets' 30-28 victory over the Atlanta Falcons:

Smith
Rex's speech: Describing the emotion of the win, Rex Ryan said "the key word is 'fearless.'" In fact, that was the theme of Ryan's speech to the team Sunday night at the hotel. Several players mentioned Ryan's speech, saying it was a source of inspiration. Said guard Willie Colon: "Rex gave a hell of a speech. It woke us all up. ... Basically, it was, 'Be fearless, let it loose, don't be uptight.'"

Colon noted how pundits had predicted the struggling Falcons would right their season by beating the Jets, adding that Ryan's response to that was, "Damn with that, we have just as much of a right to be on this stage as they do."

Even-keeled Geno: One thing you have to like about Geno Smith: He doesn't get too high or too low -- at least not publicly. The rookie quarterback acknowledged it was a childhood dream to pull out a game in the final seconds, but there was no self-congratulations. He deflected the praise to his teammates, commending his receivers, blockers and runners. And he also dropped a few compliments for offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who called a marvelous game.

Quiet Kellen: It's not often a player in the winning locker room declines to comment, but tight end Kellen Winslow opted for that approach. "It wouldn't be a good choice," he said, muzzling himself instead of saying something inflammatory. Clearly, he was upset about something. Smith shed some light, noting that Winslow was "frustrated" throughout the game. In fact, Winslow, who entered the game with a team-high 16 receptions, was targeted only once. It was a big one, though, a one-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter. Winslow's status was iffy before the game, as he was listed as questionable due to chronic pain in his knee.

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