NFL Nation: Mike Westhoff

Pettine's playbook brouhaha

June, 20, 2014
Jun 20
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Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine created quite a stir when he told SI.Com reporter Greg Bedard that the New York Jets defensive playbook had found its way to the New England Patriots.

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That ruffled feathers in two NFL locales -- in New England, where Bill Belichick was his dismissive self, and in New York, where Jets coach Rex Ryan was none too pleased that he had to address the story.

It's debatable how much value there is in having a playbook. Pettine tried to downplay its importance with Pro Football Talk by saying he'd always study another team's, but it is incomplete without knowing the other team's game plans. Too, in this day and age, every team studies every other team's plays intricately. The Browns probably can predict with a great degree of accuracy what formation they are going to get from the Pittsburgh Steelers on a particular down-and-distance. The problem becomes stopping it.

That's why the Patriots videotaping signals ("SpyGate") in violation of the rules was so much more serious. Knowing a playbook is one thing, stealing signals is another. It's not unlike baseball. A hitter might be aware that a pitcher usually throws a curveball down 2-1 with two out, but the pitcher can change it up with a fastball. But if a team steals a catcher's signals, the hitter has a decided advantage. In the same way an NFL team can understand some things via a playbook, a team can cause confusion by changing what it does. The gameplan is far more important to see than the playbook. What's called and the players executing the call matter far more.

Pettine no doubt did not intend to have this one portion of a larger story blow up the way it did.

But it did, and though he probably talked casually about the playbook caper, the casual nature of the talk made it all that much more impactful in New York and New England.

Rightly or wrongly, Pettine is viewed by some as a guy who worked the system to gain better jobs and eventually become the coach of the Browns. Bedard referenced that fact when he wrote that he is "always leery of people who climb the ladder fast and seem a little too eager in the process." This doesn't mean Pettine can't win, just that the image is out there.

To have that reputation floating and then make public statements that drag the people who helped you get where you are into a mini-brouhaha breaks the code of coaches; you're not supposed to even casually cast aspersions on people who helped you. Pettine might not have meant to do so, but clearly Ryan took it that way, saying he didn't know what Pettine was trying to gain by saying what he did.

Asked about the relationship between the two, Ryan said it's "in a bad spot right now," adding: "Like, 'Really Dude? Seriously?'"

Former Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff was more blunt.

"C'mon Mike," Westhoff told ESPN New York 98.7 FM. "Take care of things in Cleveland. ... You make people angry with off-the-cuff, kind-of-stupid statements."

Westhoff went on to point out that Pettine might not have become a head coach or defensive coordinator without Ryan. And that Ryan brought Pettine to the Ravens when Pettine was a high school coach.

Pettine has talked about "Rex and I" putting together the Jets defense, a claim that some might argue since most credit Ryan. But Pettine also has been honest since joining the Browns when answering questions. Refreshingly so.

In this case his honesty had a ripple effect he no doubt did not anticipate and probably feels is unnecessary (Bedard strongly voiced that view on Boston television as well).

In this time and era, though, almost everything matters. (See: Manziel and swan.) And when a coach says it, it really matters.

Even Rex Ryan knows that lesson.
Ben Kotwica, who spent six seasons with the New York Jets as a special-teams assistant and last season as the coordinator, has left the team to become the special teams coach of the Washington Redskins.

The Redskins confirmed the move Wednesday afternoon.

Kotwica was one of at least six assistants on Rex Ryan's staff with an expiring contract. Kotwica received a contract offer from the Jets, according to a league source, so his departure is a bit puzzling. It's possible he felt there was more security with the Redskins, who will have a new staff under recently hired head coach Jay Gruden.

Kotwica, a West Point graduate, interviewed for Army’s head-coaching job in late December. That job went to Jeff Monken, formerly the Georgia Southern head coach.

Ryan's uncertain contract status could be a concern for members of his staff. He has only one year remaining on his deal and, although there has been speculation about a one-year extension, nothing has been finalized. Ryan has told friends that he'd like to keep his staff together, and it's believed that most, perhaps all of the soon-to-be-free-agent assistants have received contract offers.

Kotwica, originally hired by Eric Mangini in 2007, took over the special teams after the venerable Mike Westhoff retired after last season. The one bright spot was place-kicker Nick Folk, who enjoyed a career year. Otherwise, the special teams were fair to middling, based on league rankings. The lowpoint came in Week 15, when the Jets suffered a blocked punt that changed the momentum in a 30-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers. Kotwica used a strategic wrinkle -- three gunners instead of two -- to contain punt returner Ted Ginn Jr., but it left them vulnerable in the line, resulting in the block.

Westhoff, 66, held the job from 2001 to 2012. Now the Jets will have their second special teams coach in as many years.

What about a Westhoff comeback? He's said to be happy in retirement, working as a football analyst for local media outlets (including ESPN New York 98.7). He has received feelers from other teams, but it sounds like he'll continue his post-coaching career. Then again, he's always been a never-say-never guy, so you never know.
Rex Ryan probably didn't want to come off as a tattletale, but the New York Jets coach left little doubt Monday that he knew about the New England Patriots' previous use of the illegal pushing technique on field goal blocks, and he didn't deny blowing the whistle on them.

In fact, the Jets sideline alerted the officiating crew during the game to watch out for it, a person familiar with the situation said late Monday.

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While he wouldn't answer directly on whether he was aware the Patriots had used it once the previous week against the New Orleans Saints, Ryan said, "The coaches watch every single play of every single game, so we’re aware of the opponents' tendencies and everything else."

In other words, he knew.

Ryan declined to say if that information was shared with his players ("I'll leave that in-house"), and he also avoided the question of whether he tipped off officials before Sunday's game.

"Again, you know what? My comments with the officials, I’ll just leave that way," he said.

The Jets were well-schooled on the new "push" penalty, players said Monday. In addition to the mandatory tutorital in training camp from officials, who travel the country to educate teams on new rules, the players were "reminded" as recently as early last week, said Damon Harrison, a member of the field-goal unit.

They were reminded because the Patriots got away with it last week. Chris Jones pushed teammate Will Svitek on Garrett Hartley's 39-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter. Jones and Svitek ran the same technique against the Jets, but the umpire saw it and threw a flag -- 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct. It nullified a field-goal miss by Nick Folk, who followed up by nailing one from 42 yards in overtime, lifting the Jets to a 30-27 win.

The "push" penalty, on the books this season for the first time, is designed to improve player safety. This was the first time it was enforced.

Former Jets special-teams coach Mike Westhoff, an ESPN Radio analyst, studied a tape of the play and said it was "very, very evident" that it was orchestrated. He said Jones "cheated back in his stance," allowing him to get in position to push Svitek from behind.

"I watched the tape. You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes," Westhoff told ESPNNewYork.com. "I can't prove this -- I don't know what they teach -- but those guys are pretty sharp up there [in New England]. I can't imagine them running a technique and not being aware of it. In my opinion, it was coached, taught and implemented that very way. I think they did it on purpose and got caught."

Westhoff said he "blocked a lot of kicks with that same technique," but it was legal up until this season. He said it's an unsafe practice because of "the force it generates," a big body pushing another big body into a blocker.

Demario Davis, another special-teams contributor, said he was "very aware of the rule." Patriots coach Bill Belichick admittedly wasn't, acknowledging Monday his postgame interpretation was wrong. Rule 9, Section 1, Article 3 from the rule book is pretty straight-forward: "Team B players cannot push teammates on the line of scrimmage into the offensive formation."

Willie Colon, another interior blocker on the field-goal unit, said "all coaches should have knowledge of the rules." But he admitted he didn't know what was going on until after the game.

How could a head coach make such an oversight? Ryan didn't want to go there.

"I'm not worried about that," he said, bristling after several questions about the controversy. "The focus is going to be wherever you guys want it to be, but I think we outplayed New England, and I think that’s why we won the game."

Turkey Day fiasco shaped Jets franchise

September, 10, 2013
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- They happened in a span of 52 seconds, three calamitous plays that changed the season and probably changed the franchise.

Boom! Boom!! Boom!!!

You've heard of the Minute Waltz? This was the Minute Faults, three mistakes that bordered on mind-boggling.

[+] EnlargeShane Vereen
AP Photo/Julio CortezShane Vereen's 83-yard score gave the Pats a 14-0 lead with 9:43 left in the second quarter.
It was 7-0 last Thanksgiving night, the New York Jets trailing the New England Patriots, when the madness started. Suddenly, it was 28-0, because for only the third time in modern football history, a team scored three touchdowns in a 52-second span.

"Un-[bleeping]-believable," Jets coach Rex Ryan muttered on the sideline after the third touchdown, his reaction easy to decipher for a nation of television viewers.

The Jets and Patriots meet Thursday night for the first time since the Thanksgiving debacle and, even though the Jets refused to look back -- "It's very hazy," tackle Austin Howard said with a straight face -- it's impossible not to reflect on that ill-fated night. The Jets are who they are now, in part, because of what happened in those 52 seconds.

They actually went into the game with a 4-6 record, coming off a road victory, thinking they had a chance to get back into playoff contention. The 49-19 loss, which included the infamous Butt Fumble, made them a laughingstock. Owner Woody Johnson was disgusted by the performance, according to sources, some of whom believe he made up his mind that night to fire general manager Mike Tannenbaum and start a rebuilding process with a new front office.

"It was the beginning of difficult times," retired special-teams coach Mike Westhoff said Tuesday. "In reality, was it the beginning of the end? I'm not sure if I believe that. But in the big picture, yeah, it probably was."

It's probably an eerie coincidence, but three players directly involved in the three touchdowns are out of football. Linebacker Bart Scott and guard Brandon Moore are retired, and running back Joe McKnight is looking for a job after being released in training camp. A fourth, quarterback Mark Sanchez, is injured and could be finished with the Jets.

[+] EnlargeSteve Gregory
William Perlman/USA TODAY SportsForty-three seconds later, Steve Gregory scooped up the "Butt Fumble" and raced 32 yards for a score.
Could it be some kind of karmic justice?

Scott was supposed to cover running back Shane Vereen on a wheel route, but he didn't get to his spot on time and Vereen took a short pass and went for an 83-yard touchdown. There was 9:43 left on the second-quarter clock.

It would be Scott's final game versus the Patriots, against whom he enjoyed perhaps the highlight of his career. After the Jets' stunning win over them in the 2010 playoffs, Scott delivered his famous "Can't Wait!" rant.

Forty-three seconds after Tom Brady-to-Vereen, Sanchez aborted a running play after turning the wrong way on the handoff. He tried to run, the right move, but he ran into Moore's backside, hitting it with such force that Sanchez lost the football. It took a fortuitous bounce for the Pats' Steve Gregory, who made the scoop and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown.

The Butt Fumble was born, becoming part of the sports lexicon.

"It wears thin," Westhoff said of the seemingly endless references to the Butt Fumble. "I don't want to hear about it anymore."

On the ensuing kickoff, McKnight, a home-run threat, was blasted by Devin McCourty. The ball came flying out and hung in the air, as if being held up by an invisible string. Julian Edelman grabbed it on the run and sprinted 22 yards for another touchdown.

[+] EnlargeJulian Edelman
Rich Schultz/Getty ImagesOnly nine seconds elapsed before the Pats' next touchdown, as Julian Edelman plucked a fumble out of the air and raced to pay dirt.
There was 8:51 on the clock. Patriots 28, Jets 0. It was so embarrassing that the Jets' most famous fan, Fireman Ed, couldn't take it anymore and left the building. For good.

Sanchez later referred to his fumble disaster as a "car crash," meaning the randomness of it. There were three car crashes in 52 seconds or, as Westhoff called them, "crazy negative plays." The probability of three fluke plays occurring in rapid-fire succession is incalculable. That each unit -- offense, defense, special teams -- was responsible for giving up a touchdown was fitting, because it was a true team meltdown.

This week, the Jets have made it a point to avoid any references to last Thanksgiving. But there's some relevancy because it's another short week. Obviously, they need to be better prepared, mentally and physical, than the last time.

"We don't even think about that one," wide receiver Stephen Hill said. "We haven't even talked about it. It hasn't been brought up at all. We're just ready for 2013 and ready to get it kicked off with the Patriots."

There are 57,600 seconds in a 16-game season. For the Jets, 52 seconds of epic failure will remain timeless.

AFC East leftovers from the combine

March, 3, 2011
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Before we get too far removed from the NFL scouting combine and mired in the labor morass, it's time to empty out the notebook from Lucas Oil Stadium. Here are some AFC East-oriented tidbits from the defensive players who met with reporters there.

Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers on the NFL's greatest offensive tackle:
"If I had to pick, I’d have to say Jake Long. One of the best I have ever seen."

Bowers on being compared to Bruce Smith and Reggie White:
"It's amazing. Just to be in the same sentence as those guys is amazing. Anytime anybody can put you in a sentence with Reggie White and Bruce Smith, you must be doing something right."

Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward on being compared to Vernon Gholston:
"We're two totally different players. Vern, they had him dropping at linebacker. You've seen my dropping abilities. They're pretty good [joking]. Me, I can play all over the line. I can play 3-technique and 6-technique. We are two different players. We had the privilege of going to The Ohio State, but we're not the same player. I'm never going to compare myself to him, and I don't think he'll ever do the same."

Fresno State outside linebacker Chris Carter about working with former Patriots outside linebacker Willie McGinest:
"We've been working primarily on drops. I know how to rush the passer. That's my big thing, work on drops and perfecting that, getting the hips loose. Making sure we go over the defenses 100 percent and I know everyone's assignment. When you play DE, you pretty much only have to know the front-seven assignments. But as a backer, one thing they emphasized is making sure we know everyone's assignment."

Hampton defensive tackle Kendrick Ellis on a fellow alum with the Miami Dolphins:
"Every time when I used to be at Hampton, I'd watch Kendall Langford. He just gave us hope. Small-school guys, we're not on TV every week. Just with him doing it, it gave us hope that we could do it. Kendall was a good player. So I try to emulate what Kendall did, being strong in the weight room, working hard and trying to be just like him."

Clemson safety Marcus Gilchrist on what he learned from C.J. Spiller:
"Humbleness. A lot times you hear about these big-time, high-profile guys and a tendency to judge them with character issues because they have such a big head. But C.J. is one of the most humble guys you'll ever meet."

Florida punter Chas Henry on speaking with Jets special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff:
"I’d sure love to hear from him. It’s a great organization. They’re going to have a lot of success in the future, and I’d love to be a part of it. ... I’m definitely following their situation."

Illinois linebacker Martez Wilson on comparisons to Dolphins linebacker Karlos Dansby:
"I've heard that a lot. I could definitely see myself as a similarity to Karlos. We're both tall and got long arms. Actually our play styles are very similar. That's a great comparison. He's a great linebacker. Just to have that type of comparison, someone who was in the NFL, is just a great accomplishment."

Clemson defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins on being coached by the Buffalo Bills at the Senior Bowl:
"It was real good, being coached by the Bills. They opened my eyes a lot. I had to improve my pass-rush a lot, and they taught me a lot about not looking in the backfield, beating my man first, and actually had a good Senior Bowl, got better each day."

Cancer survivor and Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich on his relationship with Tedy Bruschi:
"Tedy reached out to me first. I remember the date, Sept. 29th, because that's the date I was told I didn't have cancer any more. One thing he told me that night back at my dorm at Boston College was 'Mark, you're a survivor now. Be proud of being a survivor.' Those are words that have stayed with me through my whole process. To me, that meant get your story out there, raise as much money as you can, be helpful to other people."

Sal Alosi's departure inevitable, necessary

January, 31, 2011
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The long, strange trip that was Sal Alosi is over.

The New York Jets' estranged strength and conditioning coach has resigned. The Jets announced Alosi's decision in a statement Monday night.

Alosi made headlines for jutting his knee to trip Miami Dolphins gunner Nolan Carroll on a punt Dec. 12 at New Meadowlands Stadium.

The incident triggered a sequence of events that led to his indefinite suspension and a $25,000 fine. Special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff accused the New England Patriots of doing the same thing, a public declaration that played a part in the NFL fining the Jets $100,000 for the whole fiasco.

Alosi's decision, regardless of whether it came of his own volition, puts to rest an untidy affair. The split was necessary for an organization that has established itself as a winner on the field but clearly needs to improve its unhinged off-field reputation.

Jets owner Woody Johnson and general manager Mike Tannenbaum must refine the Jets into a more respectable business operation.

I think everybody knew Alosi couldn't be on the sideline ever again.

"After speaking with Sal, he decided that it is best for him to tender his resignation at this time," Tannenbaum said. "We appreciate all of Sal's contributions during his tenure with the team. He played an invaluable role in our success and established what we feel is one of the better strength and conditioning programs in the NFL."

Alosi also released a statement through the Jets. The departure must have been a heartbreaking one for him. Alosi is a native Long Islander who played football at Hofstra, where the Jets used to train. His first NFL job was as a Jets intern in 2002.

"I'm thankful to have been a part of the New York Jets," Alosi said. "I am especially grateful to Mr. Johnson, Mike Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan for allowing me the opportunity to be a head strength and conditioning coach in this league. I have many fond memories, including earning my first NFL job in 2002.

"After the events that have transpired, I feel it's best for my family and me to look for a fresh start. I wish nothing but the best for the entire organization."

Your 2010 All-AFC East team revealed

January, 26, 2011
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Vince Wilfork and Kyle WilliamsGetty Images, US PresswireThere was enough room on the All-AFC East team for nose tackles Vince Wilfork and Kyle Williams.
Reader input didn't make compiling the 2010 All-AFC East team a simple process.

Despite your tremendous response to help me assemble the quintessential roster, I had to make an executive decision, break a deadlock, defend one of my no-brainer selections and throw out some ballots because of shenanigans.

In the end, we have an All-AFC East squad everybody should be satisfied with.

We began the process a week ago, when I chose 10 players I believed were automatic. The other 17 positions were for you to vote upon. You didn't disappoint.

There were some great races, most notably at left tackle and nose tackle.

As with any voting process on the AFC East blog, I always can be convinced to move from a stance. My instructions were to vote for one nose tackle for a 3-4 scheme with emphasis that New England Patriots keystone Vince Wilfork and Buffalo Bills standout Kyle Williams must be considered nose tackles because that's how each team identifies him.

But enough readers made the case that Wilfork and Williams played elsewhere along the line so frequently that they should be eligible for some quasi position. I do appreciate the point.

The Patriots' official game-by-game player participation record says Wilfork started eight games at defensive end. Williams started every game at nose tackle (12) or defensive tackle (four).

I decided to add Wilfork and Williams as "defensive tackles" on a defensive front with New York Jets defensive end Shaun Ellis, who received an avalanche of votes. But I didn't want to slight the No. 2 defensive end, Kendall Langford of the Miami Dolphins. Langford received a healthy number of votes. Too many to dismiss.

That left me with a dilemma: How can I honor four defensive linemen and still maintain a 3-4 alignment? I took the easy way out. I added a 12th defender. I'm not thrilled with my final decision, but it's an appropriate way to give proper credit where it's due.

On the other side of scrimmage, Dolphins left tackle Jake Long and Jets left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson finished in a tie, forcing me to make the call. Each was selected to be a Pro Bowl starter. Long was voted All-Pro.

I chose Long. He played hurt for much of the season. He slipped on plays here or there, but he mostly remained dominant.

A few readers took me to task for my coronation of Dolphins punter Brandon Fields without allowing a vote because Jets punter Steve Weatherford had a great season. Weatherford tied an NFL record with 42 punts inside the 20-yard line. He was impressive.

But I found Fields more remarkable this year. He ranked fourth with a 46.2-yard average (3.6 yards longer than Weatherford). Fields' net average of 37.8 yards was only 0.3 yards shorter than Weatherford's, but the Dolphins were atrocious on special-teams protection and coverage. They fired their special-teams coordinator after Week 4. Fields had two punts blocked and one returned for a touchdown.

The Jets have venerable special-teams coach Mike Westhoff and sensational coverage men, as illustrated by four Jets receiving at least two votes for the special-teams position on the All-AFC East team.

And it's not often a punter is MVP of a game, but Fields certainly was against the Jets in Week 14.

There were some surprises in the balloting.

Bills receiver Steve Johnson ran away with one of the two available spots, but I didn't expect Santonio Holmes to take the other one so handily over teammate Braylon Edwards or Patriots star Wes Welker.

I assumed Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski would win, but in a close race, especially with the possibility of splitting votes with teammate Aaron Hernandez. Gronkowski crushed everyone else. He had four times as many votes as his closest competition, Dustin Keller of the Jets.

Bills linebacker Arthur Moats finished a distant second to Calvin Pace. But I found it amusing that almost every time a vote came in for him, the reader stipulated it was because Moats injured Brett Favre.

Patriots rookie Devin McCourty had six times as many votes as Dolphins cornerback Vontae Davis for the position opposite Jets star Darrelle Revis. Antonio Cromartie wasn't remotely in the race.

The most balanced voting happened at the safety positions. Patriots strong safety Brandon Meriweather edged out Jim Leonhard of the Jets, with Donte Whitner of the Bills closely behind in third.

Bills free safety Jairus Byrd, a Pro Bowler as a rookie in 2009, accumulated just 14 more votes than Patrick Chung of the Patriots.

The special-teams race was fun to track. Thirteen players received at least one vote, with Jets hitter Eric Smith barely beating teammate James Ihedigbo and Bills fullback Corey McIntyre.

Final Word: AFC Championship

January, 21, 2011
1/21/11
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Conference Championship Final Word: Jets-Steelers | Bears-Packers

Five nuggets of knowledge about Sunday's Jets-Steelers AFC Championship Game:

[+] EnlargeNew York Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson
Michael Hickey/US PresswireJets running back LaDainian Tomlinson is on the verge of his first Super Bowl appearance in his 10-year career.
For LaDainian Tomlinson to reach the Super Bowl, he'll need to do more than most. Despite a surefire Hall of Fame career, Tomlinson never has reached the Super Bowl. The onus will be on the Jets' run game. As always, the Jets' ground attack with Tomlinson and Shonn Greene will be crucial to moving the offense and making the game as manageable as possible for quarterback Mark Sanchez in a difficult environment. The Steelers led the NFL in run defense during the regular season, allowing a paltry 63 yards a game. But in a Week 15 victory at Heinz Field, the Jets rushed for 106 yards. In the postseason, however, Tomlinson averages 3.7 yards a carry and has six touchdowns in nine career games, but only four in his seven with the San Diego Chargers.

The Jets can win the game on special teams. The Steelers' special teams are mediocre. Brad Smith set a tone for the Jets by returning the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown in Week 15. In last week's divisional playoff game at Heinz Field, Baltimore Ravens punt returner Lardarius Webb had a 55-yard touchdown wiped out by a holding penalty. Webb also had a 38-yard kickoff return, and the Steelers' special teams were flagged three times. The Jets' venerable special-teams coordinator, Mike Westhoff, is as opportunistic as they come.

After two games of holding back, expect the Jets' pass rush to get aggressive. The Jets focused more on keeping defenders in coverage than sending extra pass-rushers after Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. The Steelers, however, are vulnerable on the offensive line. Even when healthy, the Steelers' pass protection makes the game an adventure for Ben Roethlisberger, and tackles Flozell Adams and Jonathan Scott are hurt. The Steelers surrendered 43 sacks in the regular season. Only seven teams allowed more. The Ravens sacked Roethlisberger six times last week. Jets outside linebackers Calvin Pace and Jason Taylor and defensive end Shaun Ellis must be excited about the possibilities.

In addition to the return of Troy Polamalu, don't underestimate the presence of Heath Miller. Much attention has been dedicated to how the Steelers' defense will be different with Polamalu at safety. He didn't face the Jets in Week 15. Neither did Miller, a dangerous weapon in the Steelers' passing game. He caught 42 passes for 512 yards and two touchdowns in 14 games. Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie can handle the Steelers' receivers, but Miller can pose a matchup problem. Here's a noteworthy stat: The Steelers are 8-1 in the postseason with Miller on the field.

The Jets have the best receiving corps left in the playoffs. The Green Bay Packers have the best quarterback. The Steelers have the most bling. But the Jets boast the best crew of receivers of the final four. That will be important if the Jets need to mount a late comeback and especially if the Steelers play prevent defense. The Steelers have a stellar duo with Mike Wallace and Hines Ward running routes. But Santonio Holmes is a former Super Bowl MVP and (mostly) has been a clutch receiver all season. Braylon Edwards has distanced himself from that butterfingers reputation. When Jerricho Cotchery is your third receiver, you know you're in good shape. Then there's tight end Dustin Keller, and Tomlinson makes catches out of the backfield. The Jets would prefer to have success on the ground, but with receiving options like those, they still have a shot to win through the air.

Woody Johnson fully supports Rex Ryan

December, 23, 2010
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New York Jets owner Woody Johnson held a news conference Thursday to reaffirm his support for Rex Ryan in light of recent incidents that have ensnared the head coach and the organization.

"He's still the coach of the New York Jets," Johnson said. "I have a lot of respect for Rex and his family.

"My respect has not diminished one iota."

Ryan has declined to discuss a recent Deadspin.com report he and his wife produced foot fetish videos that were posted on YouTube. Ryan repeatedly called them "a personal matter." The Jets and the NFL agree.

The allegations came a week after the Jets had drawn NFL scrutiny for strength coach Sal Alosi's trip of Miami Dolphins gunner Nolan Carroll.

Johnson also addressed that investigation. He said he has apologized to Dolphins owner Stephen Ross for the trip and to New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft after Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff accused the Patriots of forming the same phalanx Alosi organized along the sideline to inhibit gunners.

"We're going to make mistakes," Johnson said of the organizations repeated problems, which also included an NFL investigation for treatment of female reporter Ines Sainz and receiver Braylon Edwards' DUI arrest. "We're not perfect, but we are pretty good -- once we’ve made a mistake -- at trying to make remedies, trying to cure, trying to correct what we're doing.

"We're trying to get better every year. We're going to work on things like our culture. We're going to work on trying to make ourselves an organization that doesn't have, preferably, any incidents."

Jets answer fraud alert in Pittsburgh

December, 19, 2010
12/19/10
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Mark SanchezKarl Walter/Getty ImagesMark Sanchez scrambled for the Jets' first offensive touchdown in 12 quarters and helped key a much-needed win.
PITTSBURGH -- There's a faint line between counterfeits and contenders.

For the past two weeks, the New York Jets appeared to be posers. No team had a better record at the end of November. Then a pair of unsettling defeats and a sideline controversy knocked the Jets catawampus.

Faster than you could say "Rich Kotite," the Jets went from cruising along to crisis time.

"People thought we were falling off and we were frauds," Jets defensive end Shaun Ellis said. "In the end, we just put it behind us amid everything that was going on."

The Jets returned to the contender ranks Sunday with a gritty 22-17 triumph over the Pittsburgh Steelers at snow-blown Heinz Field. The Jets are all but in the playoffs with their 10th victory and two games left.

So much went well for the Jets (10-4), their performance practically was a mind-eraser of the past two weeks.

Beleaguered offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer called an effective game against the NFL's fourth-rated defense. The Jets' struggling ground attack frequently came through. Tormented quarterback Mark Sanchez was sharp and efficient, leading the Jets to their first offensive touchdown in 12 quarters. Their scandalous special teams produced a touchdown on the first play. Their defense denied Ben Roethlisberger on the final drive.

"You guys get tired of [hearing] it, and I don't care," Jets head coach Rex Ryan said. "This football team is resilient. We had some adversity, obviously, that we were dealing with. But our team responded.

"Same old Jets came down to Pittsburgh and got a win."

Ryan's snarky comment was a swipe at the familiar refrain crestfallen Jets fans have heard and recited over the years. Just when you think they're about to do something special ...

Obviously, these weren't those same old Jets, who never had won a game in the state of Pennsylvania -- let alone at Pittsburgh (10-4) -- in franchise history.

Had the Jets lost in Pittsburgh, however, the mad descent would have gained exponential velocity. The Jets would've taken a three-game skid into next week's game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. They would have been dreading the possibility of needing to beat the Buffalo Bills in the regular-season finale to get into the playoffs.

Athletes aren't supposed to think in those terms. They're trained to compartmentalize -- forget the last result, concentrate on the upcoming game, don't think beyond that.

But they're human beings. The Jets' minds were drifting into dark places.

"It's natural," Ellis said. "We don't want to go down that road."

Instead, the Jets pulled a U-turn.

They were reeling after a pair of appalling defeats to division opponents. The New England Patriots plastered them 45-3 in Week 14. The Miami Dolphins beat them 10-6 at the Meadowlands in Week 15 -- the Jets' third game without a touchdown in their new $1.6 billion stadium.

Then there was the spectacle created by strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi's sideline scandal. The Jets were visited by NFL officials for the third time this season, perhaps a league-leading stat, because Alosi formed a cordon and tripped Dolphins gunner Nolan Carroll. But how much did special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff know? And when did he know it?

"There were so many reasons," said Jets outside linebacker Jason Taylor, "why we needed to get back to winning."

Brad Smith gave the Jets a jolt when he returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. That certainly helped ease the tension.

In retrospect, maybe the Alosi headlines took some of the pressure off Sanchez and Schottenheimer.

Jets receiver Jerricho Cotchery marveled at the offense Sunday. He said he and right guard Brandon Moore at one point locked eyes in the huddle, amazed at the calls Schottenheimer was making and the personnel packages he was inserting. There was a palpable rhythm to the offense, Cotchery noted.

"It was the 'Six and Schotty Show,' " Cotchery said. Sanchez wears No. 6.

Sanchez completed 19 of his 29 attempts for 170 yards -- modest numbers. But he ran a bootleg into the end zone from 7 yards out and oversaw an offense that didn't commit a turnover.

Sanchez connected with Braylon Edwards eight times for 100 yards, including a 38-yard strike up the right sideline to set up a Nick Folk field goal in the second quarter.

LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene combined for 89 yards on 23 carries, which was enough to keep the Steelers' top-rated run defense honest. The Steelers had allowed a measly 60.1 rushing yards a game entering Sunday.

Sanchez completed six of his seven play-action passes for 84 yards.

"That's about as gutsy a performance as you'll find," Ryan said of Sanchez. "He was absolutely outstanding. I knew he would respond. He's tougher than nails."

The Jets boarded their charter flight back to New Jersey in a much better mood than they've gone home the past two weeks. Their burden has eased considerably. That prized ticket to the AFC tournament is within their reach.

The Jets, for this week, are contenders again.

"It was damn near a must win for us," Ellis said. "It's great to pull this game out.

"But who knows what happens next?"

Halftime thoughts from Jets at Steelers

December, 19, 2010
12/19/10
5:45
PM ET
PITTSBURGH -- Some halftime thoughts from Heinz Field, where the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers are tied at 10:
  • Jets gadget man Brad Smith has 115 kickoff return yards, with 97 coming on the first play of the game. The Jets' offense, which hasn't scored a touchdown in 11 quarters and counting, has 124 yards.
  • Smith's touchdown return had to be a relief to special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff, who experienced a long week with the Sal Alosi wall/trip fallout.
  • So much for The Weather Channel forecast that there was just a 10 percent chance of precipitation. Snowflakes have been flying since kickoff. Looks quite nice, actually.
  • On the Steelers' 96-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter, the Jets gave up third-down conversions of 10 and 18 yards. The touchdown came on a third-and-4 from the Jets' 9-yard line. But the Steelers might have picked up a gift on the 18-yard gain. According to the TV line, Hines Ward appeared to come up short, but the linesmen were late in catching up to the play and spotted the ball beyond the marker. I wonder if Rex Ryan was too afraid to challenge because of what happened in New England.
  • Jets fans must be thrilled to see the run game produce a little. Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson have been ineffective for a few weeks, but Tomlinson has six carries for 31 yards. That doesn't sound like much, but it is for them.
  • I have no clue what the Jets were thinking at the end of the first half. They started a possession at their own 37-yard line with 29 seconds left and two timeouts. Mark Sanchez completed a 6-yard pass to Braylon Edwards and let the clock run down to nine seconds before snapping on second down. A 6-yard completion to Tomlinson left them with three seconds.
  • Sanchez has played a tidy game. He has completed nine of 13 passes for 82 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions.

Esiason: Jets hung Sal Alosi out to dry

December, 19, 2010
12/19/10
3:48
PM ET
On Sunday's edition of "The NFL Today," CBS Sports analysts Dan Marino and Boomer Esiason discussed the controversy swirling around the New York Jets after Sal Alosi's villainous trip brought attention to the sideline wall they constructed to inhibit gunners on punt coverage.

Esiason said the Jets made Alosi the fall guy, suspending him indefinitely without pay and fining him $25,000 while head coach Rex Ryan and special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff denied they knew anything about it.

Marino: "Yeah, he is ultimately responsible. So is Mike Westhoff. But at the same time, I talked to Mike Westhoff. They say they did not teach this at any time. They did not know this was going on with the team, especially him and Rex Ryan both. I played on the Dolphins for 17 years. Mike Westhoff, 16 of those years was the special teams coach. He wouldn't lie to me. He said he doesn't teach it. He doesn't know anything about it."

Esiason: "It's all semantics here. What doesn't he teach? He doesn't teach to stick the knee out. That's what he's not teaching. But he does teach to line them up on the sideline. And I will tell you this: Sal Alosi is not a rat. He will not throw the coaches under the bus. Although I do think that Mike Westhoff did throw Sal Alosi under the bus this week by playing semantics with his language."

Westhoff: Patriots line up in a wall, too

December, 15, 2010
12/15/10
6:56
PM ET
New York Jets special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff shrugged off the seriousness of the punt coverage phalanx strength coach Sal Alosi and some inactive players formed in Sunday's game.

Even with Jets tight end Jeff Cumberland revealing Alosi had instructed them to do it all season, Westhoff downplayed any outrage by noting other teams, including the New England Patriots, also do it.

"If you watch [the Patriots], if you watch their defense when the other opponents' punt team's out there, they're up there pretty close in that line," Westhoff said on ESPN 1000 in Chicago. "So, yeah, it certainly looks like they're trying to do it.

"Now are they doing something illegal? Are they tripping anybody? Heck no and I'm not saying that at all. That's not the point. But, yeah, they're lined up there. Does it make a difference? I don't know. I really don't know. It's hard to say because to tell you the truth until this occurred I never really looked at anybody's sideline in all my years."

Westhoff insisted he didn't instruct the Jets to form a wall to limit the space gunners have to operate on their sideline. Westhoff's disavowal reiterated previous claims from Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum and head coach Rex Ryan.

Alosi brought attention to the practice by tripping Miami Dolphins gunner Nolan Carroll. The Jets have suspended Alosi indefinitely without pay and have fined him $25,000.

Cumberland, who has been deactivated every game this year, explained the practice was in place all season.

"We've been doing that since the beginning of the year, standing right there," Cumberland said. "Sunday was not the first time that we'd been doing that. ... [Alosi] never really just gave a reason. He just said during punt return 'You just stand right here by this line, everybody just stand right here.' There wasn't really a reason why. But we kind of figured just in case somebody ran over here."

That this wall had been formed all year and neither Ryan nor Westhoff noticed would be pretty incredible.

To be fair, their attention would be on the field during the game. The coach's film they use to review games is shot from the end zones and wouldn't reveal what's transpiring on a team's sideline.

But really ...

"The fact that those guys were lined up, you can't deny it," Westhoff said. "Yeah, they did do it. Apparently, he lined him up just to say 'Hey, let's line up and make it a little narrower corridor.' It's not like it's an illegal thing to do. But it was something that really shouldn't occur now that I see it."

Jets claim Sal Alosi ordered the wall

December, 15, 2010
12/15/10
3:09
PM ET
The New York Jets have expanded their sanctions on strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi after learning more information about the infamous incident that led to Miami Dolphins gunner Nolan Carroll getting tripped in Sunday's game.

The Jets announced their internal investigation found the Alosi Wall was ordered by him.

Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum said Alosi's suspension has been extended indefinitely. The Jets previously suspended Alosi without pay for the remainder of the season, including the playoffs, and fined him $25,000.

"Over the last day as we continued our investigation we discovered some new information," Tannenbaum said. "The players at the Miami game were instructed by Sal to stand where they were forcing the gunner in the game to run around them. Based on that new information we've suspended Sal indefinitely, pending further review."

Tannenbaum claimed Alosi instructed five inactive Jets players to stand next to him along the sideline to prevent Carroll from using the area to cover a punt. Tannenbaum stressed Alosi acted alone without knowledge or consent of head coach Rex Ryan or special-teams coordinator Mike Westhoff.

The Jets' announcement will further sully Alosi's reputation and make it difficult for him to remain employed by the NFL.

A background check on Alosi turned up a 1999 arrest for third-degree assault while he was a linebacker at Hofstra.

Alosi and seven other Hofstra students, including two football teammates, were arrested in March 1999 for storming into a dorm room and assaulting three students.

A Newsday report at the time attributed information to Nassau County Police that Alosi had confessed to participating. Alosi pleaded down to a harassment violation in August 1999.

Jets deliver strong statement on Sal Alosi

December, 13, 2010
12/13/10
9:28
PM ET
The New York Jets acted swiftly, decisively and justly in punishing strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi.

As shameful as Alosi's trip of Miami Dolphins gunner Nolan Carroll was, the Jets at least should be proud of how they responded. The Jets suspended Alosi without pay for the rest of the season, including the playoffs, and fined him $25,000. Alosi will not be allowed to have any contact with the players while he is suspended.

The NFL will not add to the sanctions, but ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported the league is looking into the incident to determine if Alosi and the Jets' inactive players were instructed to station themselves on the extreme edges of the sideline to inhibit Carroll from using that area to cover a punt.

As you can see in the still shot of the video below, Alosi and some inactive Jets players stood in a military-style phalanx, foot to foot, with their toes right up against the boundary. Alosi is stationed as close to the corner of the sideline box as allowable. That doesn't look like a coincidence.

Two punts before Alosi's trip, Dolphins safety Reshad Jones was flagged 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct for running out of bounds for about 30 yards. Players often get knocked out of bounds by defenders, but they must get back into the field of play as quickly as possible.

One of Alosi's game responsibilities is to make sure the Jets' sideline is clear, that their own players don't creep too close to the field. That person is called the get-back coach because he's often yelling at his players to do just that.

But Jets head coach Rex Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum denied they or special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff had instructed Alosi or anybody else to defend the sideline.

"We don't coach that," Tannenbaum said. "Coach Westhoff does not coach that. Coach Ryan does not coach that. We try to follow those rules as closely as possible, the player safety rules. I had a discussion with the league about that as well. Sal is in charge as the get-back coach, but that's not something we try to coach at all."

Ryan said he informs his coaches and players to back up when they're going to double-press a gunner because collisions can occur as they get driven out of bounds.

"I know one thing: I've never made that instruction," Ryan said of the cordon. "I always do the opposite. I always alert that there is a double press; get away from it."

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