Jets' Secondary Showing Improvement
By Neil Cohen
It’s hard to believe that a game where Drew Brees had nearly 400 yards passing could be considered the Jet secondary’s best effort of the season.
But that was the assessment of coach Rex Ryan after Sunday’s 26-20 win over the New Orleans Saints at MetLife Stadium. The victory sent the Jets into their bye week with a 5-4 record.
“Well, it was outstanding,” Ryan said. “if you can say it was outstanding after a guy throws for 382 yard against you. ... Really it was, we made some plays.”
In Ryan’s first four seasons with the Jets, the secondary was the defensive foundation, anchored by all-world cornerback Darrelle Revis. Even after Revis went down for the year in the third game of the 2012 season, the secondary held up, with Antonio Cromartie earning all-pro honors.
This season, the front line has finally developed into a force to be reckoned with, but the secondary has been inconsistent. Revis and his contract demands were sent to Tampa Bay before the season. Cromartie has been hurt and not played as well. Kyle Wilson hasn’t developed. Dee Milliner, drafted to replace Revis. has played like he wasn’t ready for prime time.
Early Sunday, it looked as if it would be another struggle against the Saints, who were without Marques Colston and lost Darren Sproles after the first series.
Historically the Jets have had troubles with tight ends, and Jimmy Graham is one of the best. Graham helped the Saints gain a 14-3 lead, scoring on a 51-yard pass where he not only beat Jaiquawn Jarrett but dragged him the last 5 yards into the end zone.
Then he outmuscled Cromartie on a 10-yard score. Earlier on the drive, Cromartie fell down as Robert Meacham gained 60 yards.
Cromartie didn’t let that linger, intercepting Brees to set up the Jets’ go-ahead touchdown, the second time the team had picked off the Saints’ star quarterback. A third pick was called back by a holding penalty.
“The touchdown I gave up, I should’ve stayed outside leverage, but he made a great catch on it,” Cromartie said. “You just have to forget about those and get going.”
Graham had four catches for 72 yards and the two scores in the first half, but whatever adjustments Ryan made worked. The Saints didn’t get a touchdown in the second half, and while Graham added five more catches, they totaled 44 yards.
Safety Antonio Allen, who had limited Rob Gronkowski two weeks earlier, played well again, and Milliner had a good pass breakup in the first half. Brees threw for 230 yards in the first half, and was limited to 152 after intermission.
Milliner could be key to how the Jets do when they come back from this week’s bye. The rookie out of Alabama had been benched twice so far this season, but he played nearly every defensive play against New Orleans.
“The kid played his butt off,” Ryan said. “Like I said, he’s going to be there.”
And the Jets are right there to be in the playoff chase, somewhere few expected coming into the season.
“You have to understand you’re going to have the ups and downs, but at the end of the day, it’s about going out and just playing fundamentally sound football,” Cromartie said. “If everyone is going, doing their job and trusting in the next guy beside him that he’s going to do his job to the best of his ability, then that’s what it’s really all about.”
Players such as Mo Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson have been able to put pressure on the quarterback. It’s up to the secondary to keep getting more consistent to provide backup.