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Greenberg: Early Concern for the Defense

Posted Sep 20, 2012

Time hangs heavy on the Jets’ hands, waiting for Darrelle Revis’ head to clear. The defense did 36:36 of hard time on the field Sunday in Pittsburgh, including 10:13 in solitary confinement on the Steelers’ final scoring drive.

Ben Roethlisberger extended more plays than Tennessee Williams, escaping even more repeatedly than Dewayne Robertson did from the media. Or, for that matter, C.J. Spiller did from the Jets in Week 1. They may have had that game against the Bills wrapped up, but certainly not Spiller in that second half.

Mark Sanchez went 10-for-27 in Pittsburgh. Tim Tebow broke a 22-yard run, popped up like he was ready for more, and nevertheless disappeared in a New York minute, leaving Rex Ryan to answer good questions about his quarterbacks and offense.

By now, we all should know that’s not really Ryan’s department, however. He didn’t get his first NFL head coaching position because he promised to be the next Sid Gillman but because of the defenses Rex coached in Baltimore. Four years later, he is still coaching the Jets because of the ones he put together his first two years in New York, when his teams went to consecutive AFC Championship Games while Sanchez was reminding few persons of the next Dan Fouts.

Those defenses were brash extensions of their coach, who now picks his words more carefully; sort of the way his and Mike Pettine’s defense currently is playing.

The Jets gave up the 20th-fewest points in the NFL a year ago, after surrendering the sixth-fewest in 2010, after yielding the fewest in 2009. Two games this season, one-and-one-quarter played without their best defensive player, is not a trend, but three years might be. While we wait to see, the inconsistency of Sanchez and the consistent questions about it hasn’t exactly turned into a pump fake. But if it is too late for Antonio Cromartie to turn around toward Mike Wallace and make a play on the ball, it’s not too early for some concern.

Against Buffalo, Gang Green got picks by Revis, Kyle Wilson and Yeremiah Bell off heads-up plays but also bad Ryan Fitzpatrick decisions. Through two Jets games, we aren’t seeing the physicality that we once did, which even with a lot of new blood make one wonder whether some bones are starting to creak, particularly in an aging linebacking corps. Pittsburgh is a proving ground for physicality. And, after making the first two Steelers drives end with field goals, the Jets flunked the test.

Fatigue makes cowards of us all. After moving the ball briskly to a touchdown and a field goal the first two times they had the ball, the Jets suffered possessions of 1:04, 1:03. 1:37, 1:06, 0:30 and 1:07, which are even shorter than a Bill Belichick-Eric Mangini handshake.

Of course, the defense pays that toll, but at some point a Rex Ryan defense is supposed to get itself off the field, too. A ticky-tacky holding call against Bell denied the Jets’ one chance to exit during that 10:13 Drive of Shame, but otherwise the missed tackles on Ike Redman and Jonathan Dwyer continued right up until Redman ran out of Bart Scott’s grasp for the touchdown. After multiple such misses, including two by David Harris, the 2.4 rushing yards per carry by the Steelers in the game became statistics and damn lies.

LaRon Landry tried to be physical to a fault, drawing two penalties, and Garrett McIntyre was strong in the absence of Bryan Thomas. But after bringing in Landry and Bell, two veteran safeties to better handle tight ends, Miller still had a touchdown reception. In the last two drafts, the Jets have spent high picks on Muhammad Wilkerson, Quinton Coples, Kyle Wilson, Kenrick Ellis and Demario Davis, so a transition is on. Next, Reggie Bush and the Dolphins will check out the light bulb.

The Steelers’ defense distinguished itself much more in the absence of James Harrison and Troy Polamalu than did the Jets without Revis. Much changes when the Jets get him back, of course, but they also have to go to Miami on Sunday in a mood to change their mindset. They look soft. So already it is time for voices — and levels — to be raised.

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