- understanding that Cromartie is a doubtful game-time decision this Sunday. This is written to the longer view of the season.
It is very likely that while we have arguably one of the best Defensive lines in football and that our football rises and falls with their play, we also have one of the worst pass defenders in the league, starting with our cornerbacks. Personally I imagine that Cromartie has been hurt for a long time, for much of the season - you don't see this much of a performance fall without it - but the bottom line is that if indeed we need to win 4 of the next 5 games, and IF this season is about making that run, the fastest likely way to getting better quickly - other than maybe better/different play calls on offense - is a change at corner. People have seems to be saying some things like "I'm seeing growth from Milliner now!" because he defended a sideline pass the last game and seemed to be run off the coverage of another deep TD, but these kinds of optimisms for a rookie are misplaced. Isn't the question right now: Who should be playing CB? And the answer seems to be: Not Milliner.
I charted our 4 CBs against the rest of the league CBs in what I think are the 3 best comprehensive stats when judging play: QB rating against, Completion percentage against and yards per target allowed. In the chart "100" means you are leading the league. 99 means you are in the 99th percentile, and 25 means the 25th percentile. The much reviled Kyle Wilson has statistically been our best CB:
PFF 25% of snaps data
All 4 are pretty good at completion percentage allowed, and this is the lone category where Cromartie is among the league leaders. We all know what Cromartie's issue has been. The problem is that it has been Milliner's issue as well. Perhaps Bell covered all sorts of gaping holes in the defense last year, but Kyle Wilson had a yards per target of 6.4, significantly less than Milliner's 9.18 of this year, playing the same position. And Walls - in his limited time - has a yards per target allowed in the over the 90 percentile for the league, under 5.
Wilson seems to have become a very complicated jack-of-all-trades guy on the defense. They are using him as a kind of safety up near the line, someone as part of the run defense, and most certainly as a slot defender. Incidentally as far as slot defenders go he has the 4th best completion % allowed in the slot (out of 26), and the 2nd best yards per target allowed in the slot (out of 26).
I'm not quite sure why Rex pulled a better than average corner from last year off the corner this year (maybe he as a bad attitude there, maybe he stresses the defense for how much safety help he needs), but he gave the 2nd corner job to Milliner faster than fast. And while Wilson has found a successful niche in the Defense it is hard to believe that the Defense can pull off 4 wins out of 5 as presently lined up. Rex may be saying as bomb after bomb lands in WR hands "gee, that was lucky!" but it isn't. It's just good football. And when the Jet pressure doesn't get to the QB - and sometimes even when it does - that's what happens. It is a huge hole in the defense.
A Small Aside - Milliner
I've heard people put 100% of the blame of the late TD that opened up the insurmountable Raven lead on Reed. From the TV feed it looked like Milliner was there in coverage and suddenly Reed unaccountably veered off into him producing a free catch. Immediately the "he's a bum, he's washed ups" came in, and Milliner was given a complete pass. Yet, when you look at the play the only thing that Reed spared Milliner was from it becoming obvious that he was beaten once again by speed. He was already beaten when Reed came into he play:
Perhaps Milliner makes a tackle after catch, but that was him. Even if he expects safety help he should not be beaten by speed there. As to Reed, the TV feed was strange. It looked like Reed inexplicable veers right into Milliner, as in turns right, at least it did to me. But looking at it on film this isn't what happened. The receiver splits Milliner and Reed and Reed turns upfield and runs straight back and surprisingly makes up ground on the play, catching up...but the play is to the corner, the receiver is cutting hard to the left and this is what puts Reed in Milliner's path. From the endzone:
Reed is actually in good position here if the pass is in the seam, he took a gamble. He has a clock in his head. Flacco gets a super clean pocket and almost a full 3 and a half blissful seconds to set up and throw this ball like a practice ball right where he wants to.
If we want to keep Wilson where he is in the Defense, despite his decent performance last year at the position then it really turns to Walls. At this point in the season you can't just be waiting on someone blooming even though that seems to be Rex's modus operandi and he loves to make certain promises about players. Personally I think if they aren't going to use Wilson as a replacement they should mix up the protections and use Wilson there some, Walls some (he was in coverage on only 5 plays against the Ravens) and Milliner some. By putting your same two proven-to-be-weak corners out there, predictably, where they have failed it allows teams to game plan precisely for that weakness, to set it up. If indeed the Jets are going for broke this year the corner back situation can't be played in the same way in these final games - it is just asking for failure. Perhaps with Cromartie doubtful this week this will open the door for more creative corner assignments?