By Steve Lichtenstein
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In the past, when the Jets have gotten blown out like they did in Cincinnati yesterday, my natural tendency was to overreact. The loss may have only counted once, but, as Jets coach Rex Ryan said in his postgame press conference, these type of games feel worse than that as you watch it.
But after I calmed down and got past the consequences of this debacle regarding the Jets’ chances of sneaking into playing some meaningful games in late December, I remembered something.
This is not, nor was it expected to be, a playoff team.
The Bengals, a true AFC contender, proved that from the first snap. They are bigger and faster. In short, they are much, much better.
And for those who cling to the belief that the Jets defense is worthy enough to keep them competitive in every game, think again.
Yes, the Jets have accumulated better talent in their front seven through recent drafts. Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson is having an outstanding season. The Jets are stout against the run (the Bengals averaged just 3.2 yards per rush yesterday).
However, yesterday was another disappointing example of what happens when the Jets can’t get to the quarterback. It gets ugly back there in the secondary.
The Jets were credited with ONE QB hit all day, when Andy Dalton scrambled and was taken down for a 2-yard loss by Wilkerson. Dalton toyed with the Jets using short drops and getting the ball out of his hand quickly to seven different receivers. Even the deep throws over the top of the Jets defense were on the money.
Blitzes, zones—nothing worked in the first half as the Bengals piled up almost 300 yards in total offense and, more importantly, 28 points (If not for a goal line stand early in the second quarter, it could have been more).
The Jets defensive backs were exposed for their shortcomings. Antonio Cromartie, who in fairness has been playing through injuries, has been beaten like a rented mule so often this season that no one should be labeling him “a shutdown corner.”
A.J. Green, the Bengals gifted receiver, was the latest to abuse Cromartie on fly patterns. Not even Cromartie’s sly holding techniques helped him keep up with the much swifter Green, who caught a pair of 53-yard bombs and dropped another couple of potential long-gainers.
The Jets’ coverage on the Bengals’ other weapons, particularly Marvin Jones, was even more discouraging. Jones beat four different defensive backs on his four touchdown receptions.
Ryan benched rookie first-round draft pick Dee Milliner for a second time this season after having seen enough of Milliner’s poor technique. Milliner’s size puts him at a disadvantage, so he has to learn how to better cling to receivers and look back at the ball to break up plays or else one day he’ll join fellow first-rounder Kyle Wilson on the Jets’ bust list.
No one in the back really distinguished themselves yesterday. Safety Dawan Landry was credited with two passes defended, but I’d bet he was among the responsible parties when Ryan let the press know that the Jets corners were expecting help on some of those open Bengal receivers downfield. Strong safety Antonio Allen, who has had the unenviable chore of trying to shut down opposing tight ends, at least can tackle after his man makes the catch. Darrin Walls, who was beaten on one of Jones’ touchdowns after supplanting Milliner, seems to have the skill-set to be more productive than he’s been.
Which bears the question: Why can’t the Jets develop depth back there like other teams, who seem to have much fewer problems when a key player at that position goes down? What does Dennis Thurman, the Jets defensive coordinator and former defensive backs coach, do exactly, since Rex evidently calls the plays? And is Isaiah the only Trufant brother who couldn’t cover a bed?
The quick response from many is that this is karma for the Jets trading Darrelle Revis over the summer. Well, that deal sending the perennial Pro Bowler to Tampa Bay hasn’t worked out for either team, has it? The Bucs are now going out through the pains from what life is like in the NFL when one of your cornerbacks is your highest-paid player (and is never satisfied with how much he makes).
The continued malfunctions in the back have been one of Ryan’s greatest failures this season. He can scheme with the best of them, but if it’s not executed, we only see the end result of open receivers running away from Jets defenders.
Yesterday’s nightmare wasn’t just an isolated event. Since the Titans pounded the Jets in a similar manner five weeks ago, opposing QBs have averaged 24-for-36 for 276 yards and a 106 QB rating. Those numbers don’t get you to a Super Bowl, especially when your offense is also a work-in-progress.
This time rookie quarterback Geno Smith couldn’t keep pace against the vaunted Bengal defense and his two pick-sixes in the second half further distorted the score. After the second interception, Smith gave way to backup Matt Simms.
Still, those (like my friend John who continues to plea for the Jets to re-open the competition to give Simms a shot) who call for Smith’s benching are way off base — Smith has already displayed enough evidence to show that he deserves to keep the job for this season.
The Jets defensive backs, on the other hand, have little on their resumes for 2013. They have a grand total of two interceptions (Wilkerson recorded the Jets’ third pick of the season with a terrific grab after deflecting a Dalton screen pass off teammate Sheldon Richardson) in eight games.
And now the Jets face Drew Brees’ Saints next week. Another highly accurate passer who can get the ball out before pressure arrives. Ryan’s comment that Brees could “break every record known to man against us” if the Jets don’t improve was mostly in jest, but the point was made.
The Jets talent upgrade from a year ago still has a ways to go, with the secondary the most vital area of concern.
No sense wasting any more time getting upset over it.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1
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