Communication. We know how important that is in relationships, in the workplace, in education. Yet even while players and coaches mention the C-word quite a bit, it is not generally the first thing fans think of when they chat up their favorite team. It's talent, opponent, fundamentals, teamwork, playcalls...and, oh yeah, communication.
As in communication, or lack of it, hit the Jets defense hard in their Sunday home loss to the Bengals.
"We're having an overemphasis on our communication," LB C.J. Mosley said after Thursday's practice. "We felt we were doing a good job in practice. For some reason, it just didn't carry over into the game in some spots, third down."
The issue came up after the game when CB D.J. Reed talked to reporters, "I would say we have to communicate more."
Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich agreed.
"We will get it right," Ulbrich said. "You have coaches committed to it, you have players committed to it. I think really all D.J. is saying is we'll do everything imaginable to get this thing right. Do mistakes, communication errors happen? Sometimes, especially early in a season, they do. Are they OK? Absolutely not. So we've got to continue to work on communication, execution and third down for sure."
The communication angle made itself known in the first quarter and on crunch downs. Ulbrich said the Jets went into the game with more of a man-coverage approach to Joe Burrow and company but shifted to more zone after the Bengals converted all four of their third-down situations in the opening quarter, two of them going for touchdowns.
A prime example of miscommunication occurred on Cincinnati's third TD. WR Ja'Marr Chase was split wide right, RB Joe Mixon was in the right slot. Mixon angled right and both LB Quincy Williams and rookie CB Sauce Gardner went to him. Chase, uncovered, cut inside into the end zone and gathered in Burrow's quick 5-yard toss.
"It was a communication breakdown," Ulbrich said. "It can't happen. And I put that on myself. Too much defense, obviously, and they're speaking to me through that. So I will adapt and make sure we are better in that way."
The process is well under way this week, according to Mosley and Carl Lawson, two old AFC North defenders who are now Jets and going up against their former home-and-home opponents.
"I think all three levels, we've done a good job of getting what the coaches wanted and what the players wanted and have that communication. That's definitely improved. We came together after the game to do that."
"For this week," Mosley said, "we've been emphasizing just talking to each other on the field, more hand signals, meeting after practice, just focusing on our jobs and what we have to do in order for our team to be great."
The Jets have an opportunity to make that communication pay. The Steelers, with Mitch Trubisky at QB in the post-Big Ben era, have scuffled to get their offense on track. They're 31st in the NFL in total yards/game, 28th in pass yards/game, tied for 24th in third-down conversions, 32nd in possession time, 32nd in punt drive percentage (50.0%), 32nd in 3-and-out drive rate (32.4%).
Pittsburgh also has great coaching in Mike Tomlin and his staff, a Terrible Towel-twirling fan base, and a superb tradition that includes beating the Jets 10 times in their 11 visits since 1970. So new and improved Green & White communication will be invaluable but it won't be enough. What could carry the day for the Jets is that they have new and improved personnel to do that communicating.
"Fortunately, we have a group of players that is the best collective unit I've been around from the standpoint that they're not OK with this and we're not OK with this as a coaching staff," Ulbrich said. "We're both putting in every single imaginable resource to fix it and get it right and get it better. And I really believe that's going to come to fruition this week, I do."
See the top photos from Thursday's practice leading up to the road game against the Steelers.