FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Dennis Thurman knows an interception is coming. He can feel it. It’s just a matter of when.
Four games, no picks and lots of head scratching. The New York Jets are hoping to change all that in San Diego against Philip Rivers and the Chargers.
“We just need to break the dam,” said Thurman, the Jets’ defensive coordinator. “We need to get an interception and hold onto it. We need to make a play on the football. Once you start doing those things, they seem to snowball and happen for you more rapidly.”
It’s a peculiar stretch of futility for the New York Jets’ defense, which leads the NFL with 14 sacks and ranks No. 3 overall in yardage allowed. It’s also tops in the league in run defense. Not bad, right? But Rex Ryan’s Jets are tied with his twin brother Rob’s New Orleans Saints for the fewest interceptions in the league.
They’ve had a few chances, but they slipped through some players’ hands. David Harris had one — and held onto it — against Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, but it was negated by the Jets being called for having 12 men on the field.
“It’s hard to do,” Ryan said of the Jets leading the league in sacks despite having no interceptions. “Yeah, absolutely it’s hard to do. We’ve had a couple of opportunities at them. It really is hard to explain. And I think we’ve got to start attacking the football.
“I think we’ll keep getting pressure on the quarterback, and hopefully good things are coming,” he said
Usually, consistent pressure results in hurried quarterbacks, and that will often lead to interceptions.
Rivers has thrown just one in 137 attempts through four games this season, so it won’t be easy for the Jets to get that “snowball” rolling in San Diego. The Chargers have also allowed only five sacks.
“Guys like that, you have to make them uncomfortable, get to him and get your hands in his face,” linebacker Calvin Pace said. “He’s a guy that likes to step into a lot of throws.”
The Jets had four sacks of Detroit’s Matthew Stafford last Sunday, marking three straight games in which they had four or more — the first time the defense has done that since 1985.
But all three games have been losses, and the defense — Ryan’s bread and butter — has failed to consistently come up with big stops in some crucial moments.
“We are giving up too many big plays, so we have given up some in coverages where you think we have a guy doubled, and we give up an 80-yard touchdown, a 60-yard touchdown,” Ryan said. “We have to stop doing those things, obviously. When we do that, I believe that now we are going to start becoming a much better defense.”
At Green Bay, the Jets were up 21-9 with less than two minutes before halftime, but Rodgers led the Packers on a 97-yard touchdown drive, scoring with 8 seconds left. After New York tied it at 24 in the third quarter, Rodgers delivered a knockout blow, an 80-yard TD pass to Jordy Nelson.
Against Chicago the following week, New York gave up several long scoring drives.
Last Sunday, the Jets allowed a 59-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Ross in the second quarter on a third-and-10 play. With the game still within reach with the Lions up 17-10, Stafford marched them down the field 90 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“Third down is a situation where your great pass rushers, your great cover guys have to (execute),” Thurman said. “That’s the time where you get interceptions. That’s the time where you get sacks and we just haven’t executed as well as we need to in those situations.”
The Jets’ secondary will get top cornerback Dee Milliner back this weekend after he missed two games with a quadriceps injury. But Ryan and Thurman might stick with Antonio Allen and Darrin Walls as the starters, depending on how the game is going.
New York has played a bit more zone coverage in recent weeks, mixing it in with man coverage, which has been the traditional approach Ryan’s team have taken. But with teams getting big plays through the air against them, the Jets will try anything to get that first interception.
“It’s just being opportunistic, taking a shot here or there,” Pace said. “But yeah, it is a number that we have to get better.”
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