Since flunking first test, Jets ‘D’ has gotten A’s
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - The film showed all the blemishes on the Jets defense, in high-definition. The last drive of the Patriots’ 30-21 win over them last month stretched 13 plays over 6 minutes and 12 seconds. And when the Jets defenders saw themselves, they had a hard time believing it.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis carried the ball 10 times for 59 yards, busting through the defensive line as if it were a curtain. He ran for 136 yards that afternoon. The only other running back to go for 100-plus on the Jets this season was Oakland lawnmower Darren McFadden.
It was embarrassingly uncharacteristic.
“The guys, especially up front, those guys looked at it and said, ‘Who is that impostor wearing my jersey?’ ’’ said defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. “There were a bunch of guys that I think felt that way.’’
The Jets were down just 27-21, but their defense - the one that was showered with praise coming into the season - was unable to keep the Patriots from driving for a game-icing field goal.
“Those are the times where you have to be zoned in the most, those pivotal moments,’’ said linebacker Bart Scott. “We didn’t get the job done, it’s as simple as that.’’
If someone told Jets coach Rex Ryan that on the drive to decide the game, Tom Brady would throw the ball only once, he would take his chances.
“Game on the line, I’d rather put it in Green-Ellis’s hands than in Tom Brady’s hands,’’ Ryan said. “It backfired on us.’’
At that point, after giving up 383 total yards to the Raiders and 267 to the Ravens, the Jets defense had bottomed out and was trying to find itself again.
“You look back at that game and it was hit-or-miss,’’ said safety Jim Leonhard. “Certain drives we did a great job, and we were really clean on what we did. Then there were certain drives where it was kind of a comedy of errors where it was one guy this play, then somebody else the next play and then somebody else the next play.’’
The loss in Foxborough was indeed a disappointment defensively (the Jets didn’t force the Patriots into a three-and-out until the third quarter), but the Jets say it was the first step in the right direction.
Going into the game, they had talked all week about how sharp they felt in practice, about how things were starting to come together. After that loss, they held the lowly Dolphins to a pair of field goals, then came from behind to beat the Chargers the next week thanks to a defense that pitched a shutout in the second half, forcing two turnovers in the fourth quarter.
So the Jets believe they have reason to feel confident as a unit going into tonight’s matchup.
“That’s not us and that’s not where we are now,’’ Pettine said. “I think that’s why, one of the reasons, that we feel good about this week. We feel we’re a different team. We’re much improved over that performance the last time.’’
One of the buzz-terms this week in Jetsville was “self-inflicted.’’ Looking back on their loss in Gillette Stadium, five of New York’s eight penalties were on defense, to the tune of 63 yards. New England was 7 for 14 on third downs, breathing life into near-dead drives.
“That’s the main thing, it was a lot of self-inflicted things,’’ said Jets safety Eric Smith. “We kind of hurt ourselves on things here and there, and if we fix those, we get off the field on third down. We don’t have penalties. We’re off the field and we get our offense the ball.’’
Last week, the Jets held the Bills to 3 of 11 on third downs, forced three turnovers, and held Buffalo to 287 total yards.
The penalties have been few and far between, too.
“We just had to clean up some things and make sure that everybody was doing their job and their job only,’’ said cornerback Antonio Cromartie.
“It’s all about executing, playing better football,’’ said Scott. “When we looked at that film, we see we didn’t execute. We didn’t tackle well. That was kind of the beginning of us trying to make our way back to playing at a high level. I think it says that every week we’ve gotten better.’’
Pressure is the key
While the Jets are confident, the Patriots are reeling. Brady is coming off a game in which he turned the ball over three times. The Steelers and Giants both sent defenders racing at him. At one point against the Giants, Brady was taken down by two defenders and looked punch-drunk as he picked himself up, dazed at seeing so much pressure.
“Sometimes it’s just guys around him, guys around his legs - not anything malicious, but hits - I think over time that stuff adds up to the point where sometimes he may be feeling pressure and there’s not that much pressure,’’ said Jets linebacker Calvin Pace.
“You’ve got to figure, man, the Patriots from the first Super Bowl to pretty much now, they’ve been good for a long time and they’ve had guys in place for a long time to where to a certain degree I think he is surprised to get hit.
“I would be if I had been clean for 10 years and I’m picking myself up like, ‘Man, I ain’t been hit this much.’ ’’
With the Patriots offense based on timing and Brady finding Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Wes Welker in dead areas in zones, Pace said pressuring Brady might make him second-guess whether he has time to step into a throw. It could be the difference between Brady throwing a laser and throwing a pick.
The Steelers and Giants have adopted some of the same strategies in terms of hitting Brady. But when the Jets have been able to put the brakes on the Patriots offense, they’ve done it by playing well on first and second down and forcing New England to make a play on third down.
“They want it to be third and 5 or less,’’ Pace said. “That’s easy for them. We want to keep it to where it’s third and 8-plus, where they have to get some real yardage and we have to make them earn a first down.’’
The Jets believe the defense they roll out tonight will be a drastically improved version of the one the Patriots saw a month ago.
“I think we’ve had great energy, we’ve tackled well and guys have done their jobs,’’ said Leonhard. “We haven’t tried to do too much.
“A lot of times when you have a good understanding of the defense, you try to do your job and then maybe get a little nosy and try to help somebody else out that you know has a tough job. And it was getting us in trouble.
“We just got back to being aggressive and doing your job. You take care of your job, and we’ll have a lot of success.’’
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.