Sunday's debacle was the latest lousy performance by the secondary. After being shredded by luminaries such as Tyler Thigpen and Matt Cassel even during a five game winning streak, Jay Cutler put together a massive game against the unit. The Jets do everything well except defend the pass. They stop the run. They have a Hall of Fame quarterback, two above average running backs, and a deep receiving corps. Their stellar special teams is a byproduct of having the game's best coach in that area, Mike Westhoff. They also rank in the top half of the league in sacks. Upgrading the pass rush even further is the only way the passing defense will improve.
New York's secondary is an interesting unit. Kerry Rhodes is one of the top five safeties in football. Darrelle Revis is one of the game's top ten corners. Both are under 27 years old. Beyond that, the secondary is dangerously thin. Dwight Lowery has shown flashes of solid play and good instincts. He is still not an effective starter in 2008, although he might be in the future. Hank Poteat can do an adequate job covering the slot in short stretches but gets exposed when he spends too much time on the field. Abram Elam, Eric Smith, and David Barrett are spotty in coverage at the safety slot opposite Rhodes. The signing of Ty Law reeked of desperation after the team failed to land the guy it needed, DeAngelo Hall to start opposite Revis. There is not going to be another guy like Hall available before the end of the season. High impact players typically do not find their way to unstable franchises who let them go. It is a one in one thousand shot. The Jets may make a low impact signing for the secondary, but this patchwork group is pretty much the hand they will have to play.
The only way to improve the secondary is to cut down on the time it is exposed. That means getting more pressure to the quarterback. One only needs to look at the Giants. They rank tenth in the league against the pass. Aaron Ross and Corey Webster are nice players, but they lack the elite cover skills of Revis. The reason is their defensive line has 26.5 sacks and applies consistent pressure. Remember the Super Bowl. The same average secondary shut down the most dynamic aerial assault in NFL history because its defensive line got to the quarterback so quickly that the receivers had little time to get open and Tom Brady got rattled after taking too many hits.
The Jets may have a lot of sacks, but their pass rush has been feast or famine. When they do not sack the quarterback, they do not generate anything resembling a pass rush. Jay Cutler had all day on Sunday, and a talented Denver receiving corps had all day to get open against a subpar secondary. New York needs to protect its secondary. The only way to do this is to remember the recent past.
In the past two seasons, Eric Mangini took a more active role in the defensive gameplanning after the team's bye week because the pass rush has been so inept. In these games, the Jets showed more variety in their schemes. They came out in exotic defensive formations. The players shifted, and linemen did not put their hands on the ground until right before the snap to limit the amount of time the offensive linemen have to figure out their assignments. Players lined up in different spots, Shaun Ellis at outside linebacker being an example. Again this causes confusion on the line. Offensive linemen have a tougher time figuring out whose guy is theirs if a player only sets up across from him sometimes. The Jets blitzed liberally from every angle imaginable, bringing pressure from a different spot on every play. These schemes worked well enough to compensate for a lack of talent. New York started getting to opposing quarterbacks, and the defensive performances improved. Tom Brady's head was spinning when he faced the Jets in these games.
Mangini now needs to step in again. The Jets have to upgrade their pass rush to protect their secondary. Bob Sutton is not the guy to do it on his own. How he made it to a third year as defensive coordinator when things were going so poorly that Mangini felt the need to step in during the first two seasons is anybody's guess. The reality is that things are not working. If Mangini's aggressive gameplans worked with Victor Hobson, Dewayne Robertson, and Bryan Thomas playing in milk carton worthy form, it should be superb with Calvin Pace, Kris Jenkins, and Thomas playing reasonably effectively. There are only two drawbacks to the blitz. If the opposition picks it up, it leaves room for a big passing play and it is vulnerable to screens. The Jets are already giving up big yardage through the air, and they defended Denver's constant screen passes miserably on Sunday. A change is definitely in order. This team's weakness could otherwise be its undoing.