By Jeff Capellini, WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — Antonio Cromartie is not Darrelle Revis. Let’s just make that perfectly clear. But for the first time in his two-plus-year tenure with the Jets he appears to want to be.
I’m often very hard on Cromartie. I get tired of his mouth. While I understand Cro just needs to be Cro, his voice and words in print inevitably become like nails on a chalkboard. I also get annoyed by his riverboat gambler style of play. I realize that having Revis on the other side often gives Cromartie license to be overly aggressive against opponents’ No. 2 receivers. That said, though, there have been plenty of times he’s been abused by those very same receivers.
But you have to be fair. If you choose to kill Cromartie when he stinks up the joint, you have to laud him when he plays absolutely out of his mind.
As he did Monday night against Houston.
With Revis and Santonio Holmes out for the season, quarterback Mark Sanchez being what he is and nothing more, the running game an absolute joke and this defense struggling to stop the run and get to opposing quarterbacks on a weekly basis, the Jets are without question piecing this thing together as they go. They have little choice in the matter. General manager Mike Tannenbaum likely isn’t going to help all that much.
You can make the argument that the Jets would have been 2-3 regardless of all that has befallen them. Not to make excuses, but the Jets’ style of offense — if it even has a style — lends itself to close games. Nobody was anticipating the defense going south as it has, but even if everything had clicked into place and nobody ended up on IR so early, the Jets likely still would have been hard-pressed to beat Pittsburgh on the road and San Francisco and Houston back-to-back at home. Maybe they could have been 3-2 if the gods looked favorably in weeks 4 and 5, but really, issues aside, they seem to be right where they are supposed to be, at least record-wise.
Of course, there are still a million things to worry about, but Cromartie does not appear to be one of them, anymore.
The seventh-year corner out of Florida State was an animal on Monday night. Not because he broke up a bunch of passes or took balls to the house, but because his positioning and anticipation was as good as they have ever been. And, no, Cromartie wasn’t at fault for Owen Daniels’ long opening touchdown. The entire Jets defense, including both safeties, bit hard on a ridiculous play fake and Cromartie was forced to try to compensate. Daniels wasn’t his responsibility.
Andre Johnson, on the other hand, most certainly was. He is arguably one of the top three or four receivers in all the land, but was rendered completely useless by Cromartie. The Texans’ star caught one ball for 15 yards early and then didn’t get a sniff. He was targeted just six times total, including Cromartie’s first-quarter interception that came as a result of utterly perfect coverage.
Now you could say Johnson’s targets were low because the Jets couldn’t stop Arian Foster if he had one leg or Daniels in a phone booth, but to me it seemed that Houston quarterback Matt Schaub basically gave up looking Johnson’s way because Cromartie was human Stickum. He was that good.
And that is precisely what he’ll need to be the rest of the way.
Because the Jets do not get to the quarterback — they did not sack Schaub on Monday night and have just five in five games — their corners sans Revis are going to continue to be under the gun. They passed their latest test with flying colors. Schaub came in completing 65.4 percent of his passes, but was only good for 50 percent (14-of-28) against the Jets. A lot of that was due to schemes, but in one-on-one scenarios Kevin Walter went 4-46 and the rest of the balls were caught by either tight end Daniels or running backs.
Cromartie set a tone the Jets must rally around. If you are looking for some sign of this defense becoming what it once was, the secondary by and large can still be relied upon. If the Jets ever figure out a way to register some sacks this defense could perhaps be decent enough to keep them in every game going forward. That’s because one advantage the Jets have on paper going forward is of their next nine games no quarterback short of Tom Brady twice should have a run of the place.
That includes rookie sensation Andrew Luck, whom the Jets will see next.
Luck has been everything he was rumored to be as the No. 1 overall pick, but his weapons are few and the Colts really don’t have a running game. That’s not to say Donald Brown won’t carve up the Jets’ once-fearsome line, but odds are Luck will try his luck against what many figure to be a suspect Jets secondary.
I, for one, am totally looking forward to Cromartie matching up against ageless wonder Reggie Wayne, the Colts’ one true skill position star. Many figured Wayne would never be the same player without Peyton Manning, but here he is pushing 34 with 36 receptions and 506 yards in four games. Incredible.
Wayne went wild against Charles Woodson, the same guy who once beat out Revis for Defensive Player of the Year, on Sunday, ripping the Packers to pieces with 13 grabs for 212 yards and a TD in Indy’s stunning 30-27 win. Cromartie will certainly be up against it Sunday, but if plays with the same intensity, mental acuity and physical wherewithal that he showed against Johnson and the Texans on Monday night he could go a long way toward lessening an already overwhelming burden on his defensive teammates and a Jets offense that, frankly, doesn’t scare anyone.
Cromartie may not be your prototypical leader type, but he has a real opportunity to be one here. The Jets sorely need individuals to take on the responsibility of pointing this team in the right direction, because they have been left with no choice but to sell their souls for the team concept. Cromartie can and should lead by example the rest of the way. The Jets need him to do just that. You look around this secondary and it’s screaming for a rock. Cromartie is now in a position to be that rock.
The Jets cannot under any circumstances be worried about style points the rest of the way. They have to try to win any way they can, be it ugly, grotesque, Hunchback of Notre Dame or Elephant Man. If playing like he did Monday means we all have to put up with a little more of Cro being Cro off the field, you live with it, because Cro being Cro on the field is starting to take on a new dimension.
The Jets right now have but few stars on defense, something we never expected, but Cromartie is indeed one of them.
Now it’s on him to live up to what he has become.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet
Do you think Cromartie’s great game Monday was an aberration? Or do you expect him to continue to lock down on opposing receivers the rest of the way? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below. …