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Jets In Search Of The Much-Talked About Defense

Unit 4th In NFL, But Has Not Lived Up To The Hype
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The Jets’ Shaun Ellis sacks the Bears’ Jay Cutler during the teams’ meeting in Chicago on Dec. 26, 2010. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — The New York Jets have spent the last few days getting back to basics on defense.

Good thing it’s only Week 17.

With the playoffs coming up, better late than never. Especially for a unit that needs to improve in a hurry.

“We better, or we’ll be out quick,” coach Rex Ryan said Friday. “I believe we’ll play well. I really do.”

Aggressive, punishing defenses are Ryan’s bread and butter, and the Jets have been far from dominant. Sure, they’re ranked fourth in overall defense — not bad at face value. But, New York has had several disappointing lapses, particularly in the last few weeks.

That prompted Ryan to stand in front of his players and hold an hour-long meeting on the base defense. A refresher course, of sorts.

“It was good,” defensive end Shaun Ellis said. “It was one of those meetings where he was going through every little detail that we kind of forgot about, things we can do and get accomplished within the defense and why it’s called. Guys kind of got away from that.”

The Jets have allowed 14 offensive touchdowns in the last four games, and given up over 300 total yards in three games in December. Granted, one of their best performances came in a 10-6 loss to Miami three weeks ago, but the inconsistency has frustrated Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.

“We summarized some of the mistakes and when the mistakes start to show up as things that are from ‘Jets Defense: 101′ as opposed to 401, that’s when you need to go back and make sure,” Pettine said. “Sometimes as a coach, when you think guys know, you have to make sure. That’s one of those things where we thought this week was a good week to do it.”

The Jets (10-5) have already clinched a playoff berth, and take on a Buffalo Bills (4-11) team that is trying to end its season on a positive note. While some starters might be rested in the game, Ryan used the week of practice to get everyone back on the same page.

“You assume that you know it,” linebacker Bart Scott said. “I wouldn’t call it a sophomore slump, but whenever you’ve been in something for two years, then you become comfortable and sometimes relaxed and you assume that you know more than you know. What happens is that you forget those small, minute details that are important.”

Ryan started with having more individual practice periods, where techniques — pad levels, footwork, separating off blocks, pursuing the football and taking proper tackling angles — were all stressed. Just like back in training camp.

“Through the course of the season, with our style of play and with new things going in every week, you kind of get away from the base stuff,” Ellis said. “We’re just trying to get back to our base core and things we do good, and just bring that out in the game, penetration in the run game and just causing havoc. Instead of waiting on blockers, go attack them.”

Ryan said all season that the Jets would finish with the league’s top-ranked defense, as they did a year ago. But their play hasn’t matched their coach’s bold expectations.

“We became more of a read defense instead of attacking aggressively,” Ellis said. “Everybody realized that, and that’s why we were playing a little slow. So, now it’s like, ‘OK, guys, we’ve got to attack. Don’t wait for it to come to you. Force it.’ That’s what we did all last year, we were attacking the whole time.”

In the last two weeks, the Jets have allowed Chicago’s Matt Forte to run for 113 yards and Pittsburgh’s Rashard Mendenhall to rush for 99. Having players in consecutive weeks roll up that many yards on the ground is almost unheard of against a Ryan-led defense. Before Forte’s performance, New York hadn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher since Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew in Week 10 last season.

“For us, it’s all about stopping the run,” Ellis said. “We can’t allow teams to run the ball on us. That’s the main thing. We stop the run and get them into third-and-long situations, I think we win that every time.”

The pass rush has also been a glaring issue, with the Jets unable to generate consistent pressure on the quarterback. New York ranks 10th in the league with 37 sacks, but it’s not all about taking the quarterback down. Making them rush their throws and make faster decisions throughout games is the difference between being good and dominant.

“We’re not happy with it and we’re obviously not comfortable with it, but concerned? No,” said linebacker Jason Taylor, who has four sacks. “When you start getting concerned, you end up pressing and doing things outside of what you need to do. So, you just stick with it.”

Ryan said earlier in the week that he wanted his defense to get its swagger back, starting this week. That’s something Scott hasn’t worried about, even through the struggles.

“Do I seem unconfident to you?” Scott said. “We’ll be fine. Just watch and see.”

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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