So far this season, a new challenge has confronted the Jets every week. Whether it has been shutting down high-powered quarterbacks, neutralizing bruising defenses or corralling speedy running backs, Eric Mangini's men have seemed to handle each different test well.
Mangini and company embark on yet another tough challenge this weekend. The first-year coach lavished praise upon the Lions special teams on Wednesday.
"It's going to be difficult in all phases of the special teams' game, and it's something that we're really going to need to be sound," Mangini said. "It's going to be a tremendous challenge for us."
The Lions' numbers since the 2002 season speak for themselves. Although the Detroit team has not reached the overall success in which they had hoped, the special teams unit under the ageless eye of coach Chuck Priefer has been tremendous. Since 2002, Priefer's group has scored 11 touchdowns on special teams – the most in the NFL in that span. Eddie Drummond, a fifth-year player from Penn State, has accounted for six of those scores on four punt returns and two kickoff returns.
"This is a group that's not just about field position; they are actually putting points on the board," Mangini said of their special teams. "Every play, they have an opportunity to score."
The Lions have excelled in the kicking game as well. Veteran place-kicker Jason Hanson has kicked in two Pro Bowls and has connected on 80.7% of his 415 career field goal attempts. Through six games, Hanson has accounted for six touchbacks on kickoffs. Punter Nick Harris is coming off his best season as a pro as he finished first in the NFL with 34 punts downed inside the 20-yard line.
Priefer has been with the Lions since 1997, and his coaching career reaches all the way back to the 1963 season, when he coached Padua Franciscan High School in his native Ohio. Throughout his seventeen seasons as an NFL special teams coach, Priefer's squads have consistently been well-oiled machines.
Correspondingly, the Jets have their own special teams guru in Mike Westhoff, who spent 15 seasons coaching the Dolphins special teams before coming to New York in 2001. Westhoff is now in his fourth decade of coaching and his experience and genius are continually evident. The Jets will present an incredible battle for the Lions this Sunday as both units are led by two of the best this league has ever seen.
"I think Mike does a really good job of understanding the players' strengths and weaknesses, the strength of the scheme, and where they fit," Mangini said of Westhoff. "He spends a lot of time not only studying our team and the opponent but he spends a lot of time studying other teams and constantly trying to build on the ideas that he has and be innovative."
The Jets special teams are highlighted by kickoff return man Justin Miller, a second-year defensive back from Clemson. Miller brought the Jets faithful to their feet in week four's thriller with the Colts when he returned a kickoff a franchise record 103 yards for a lead-grabbing touchdown. Miller currently ranks second among kick returners with an average of 27.4 yards per return. On his 22 returns, the 22-year old has accumulated 602 yards including that exhilarating score against Indianapolis. The Jets average start after kickoffs is the 27.9-yard line, which ranks seventh in the NFL.
Another player having a notable season on special teams is co-captain Ben Graham. The Australian punter has shown tremendous strides since entering the league a year ago as the oldest rookie in NFL history. Graham is fifth in the league in punting yards with 1,393 yards on 31 punts. His 44.9-yard per punt average ranks 12th and he is one of just six punters to have posted at least 10 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
Reserve defensive back Rashad Washington's nine special teams tackles lead the Jets coverage units. B.J. Askew, the Jets starting fullback, has pitched in with eight tackles and linebacker Matt Chatham has racked up seven solo coverage stops. Even Brad Smith, a versatile performer on offense, has gotten into the act and he made a couple of fantastic tackles in last Sunday's win over the Dolphins.
Some Other Notable Special Teams Stats
The Jets have do not have a punt return over 20 yards while the Lions have been able to accumulate one. Drummond took back one of his 12 punt returns for 29 yards.
Both teams have three kickoff returns that have gone for 40 yards or more. Miller's 103-yard return still ranks the best in the league, while Drummond returned a kick for 65 yards.
Out of 14 returns, the Jets punt coverage has not allowed a return of 20 yards or more while the Lions have given up just one out of 19 punt returns for 20 yards or more.
The Jets have not given up a kickoff return for 40 yards or more in 23 kicks. The Lions have give up two returns of 40 yards or more in 20 chances.
Notes: The Jets are a green secondary, full of youth most everywhere you look. Rookie Drew Coleman, a sixth round selection from Texas Christian, has assumed starting duties at cornerback the past two games. But Coleman lines up opposite an experienced corner in Andre Dyson, a sixth-year player whom the Jets acquired in free agency last spring. "In the secondary, Andre Dyson has been that guy who has been a real solid influence on the room and a steady performer," Mangini said Thursday. "He is just a good veteran presence. I have been really pleased with his progress since he first got here to where he is now and the consistency that he has shown and the help he has provided the younger guys. That room is relatively young compared to other defensive back rooms around the league."… The Jets first-year head coach also talked about the evolution of the playbook. "What is nice too is the playbook is a living, breathing thing that continually develops," he said. "As I look at my playbooks over the last six years – some things you take out and you add a few new ideas. As I look at my playbooks over the last six years – some things you take out and you add a few new ideas. The next year, you think, 'well that was pretty good back in 2000. Why don't we dial that up back up?"… Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton worked under three coordinators with the Jets before he took over the defensive controls under the new staff. Sutton started here in 2000 when Al Groh was running a 3-4 defense. "Bob is outstanding. He is incredibly detail-oriented; he is very thorough," Mangini said. "I really like the way he approaches things and he's done a good job too of incorporating different ideas. There are a lot of different ideas between the systems that was in place last year. He has worked with three different coordinators. He has got a lot of different exposure that is always good to hear."… The Jets released a statement Wednesday evening stating that the Department of Homeland Security had advised the NFL that a threat against stadiums was not credible. "I think that Homeland Security, NFL Security, Stadium Security and Steve Yarnell (Jets Senior Director of Security) all do a great job," Mangini said. "I have complete confidence in the job that they do. They are going to focus on those issues and we are going to focus on doing our job."
Thursday Injury ReportJets
Questionable: FB B.J. Askew (foot), CB David Barrett (hip), WR Laveranues Coles (calf), WR Tim Dwight (thigh), RB Cedric Houston (knee), & OL Trey Teague (ankle)
Probable:*DL Dave Ball (hand), *RB Kevan Barlow (calf), *LB Matt Chatham (foot), *OL Anthony Clement (shin), *OL Pete Kendall (thigh), *QB Chad Pennington (calf), *S Kerry Rhodes (thigh), *WR Brad Smith (thigh) & *DL Kimo von Oelhoffen (knee)
Lions Out: DT Shaun Cody (toe) & S Kenoy Kennedy (foot)
Questionable:LB Alex Lewis (knee), FB Cory Schlesinger (hamstring), OL Rex Tucker (knee) & G Ross Verba (hamstring)
Probable:*RB Kevin Jones (hip) & * DE James Hall (shoulder)
- Denotes players who participated in practice