McGahee ran for a career-best 150 yards against the Jets in week three
When Willis McGahee spots Jets' jerseys, he seems to play with a little extra vigor. In five career meetings against the Green & White, McGahee has rushed for at least 100 yards on four occasions including a career-high 150 yard performance in September. But McGahee is ailing this week just as the Jets defense is returning to full health.
McGahee missed two games in November after suffering broken ribs in a Week 10 game against the Packers. But the 6'0", 232-pound McGahee returned to the lineup successfully, scoring two touchdowns against a stout Jacksonville defense. Last weekend, the tough Chargers' front controlled McGahee and now he sits prominently on the injury report. McGahee, who is listed as questionable with a left ankle injury, practiced Friday after missing team workouts on Wednesday and Thursday.
"Me and Jonathan Vilma got a nice little history going so I've got to keep the streak going," McGahee said earlier in the week.
McGahee wore a left boot on his ankle Wednesday but that didn't stop him from taking a few early shots at Vilma. The 25-year old McGahee and the 24-year old Vilma were teammates at the University of Miami and they exchanged plenty of verbal barbs over the past couple of days.
"Once we see each other on the field and he makes a little tackle he'll be running his mouth and that's when it all starts," McGahee said. "So he'll say things like, 'It's going to be a long game.' And I put my hard hat on and know it's time to go to work."
When Vilma was informed of McGahee's taunts by local media members, the 2005 All-Pro middle linebacker shot back.
"I can't stop him? Tell Willis that's cute, that's real cute," Vilma said Thursday. "Tell him that when he gets defensive rookie of the year, when he gets to the Pro Bowl, when he gets to the playoffs, then we can talk."
The good-natured verbal sparring between the Miami products is a sidebar to the real feature. McGahee may have tormented the Jets in the past, but if he plays Sunday – he'll play against a much improved defense.
Since the bye, the Jets have been downright stingy while allowing opponents 11.25 points a game and they have not allowed a first half touchdown over that same period. In fact, Bob Sutton's unit has not allowed a first quarter touchdown in seven games and a first quarter point in four games.
"I hope we carry this momentum on to this Buffalo game," said safety Erik Coleman of the Jets' improved play. "It's a huge game for us; they're our division rivals. We haven't played well against them, so it would be nice to have a good game against them."
The Jets are allowing 136.3 rush yards per game and Green Bay runner Ahman Green ran for 102 yards last Sunday on just 14 carries. In preparation for this week's encounter, the Jets went back to review more film of McGahee.
"He is a good runner and every time we've played him, our technique has broken down in certain places," said defensive end Bryan Thomas. "We sat down and looked at the big runs that he's hurt us on and we're trying to fix it. Each time we play him, we get better."
New York head coach Eric Mangini described McGahee as "dynamic," but his club would like to turn the tide against the powerful talented back.
"We would like to get him stopped," Coleman said. "He is a good running back; they have a good offensive line and they have had some success against us. At some point, it's got to stop."
Mangini thinks the run defense has improved, but he says there is improvement to be made. The Jets continue to work on fundamentals during practice. Being in the right spot is half the battle, but you still have to be able to complete the play.
"Each defense has a way you have to fit against each offensive scheme. It is an ongoing process of developing consistency there," Mangini said Friday. "Tackling is always a core issue. You can't let those two-yard runs where you have them stopped and have them held up, and the guy breaks through for eight. It is a little bit deceptive because schematically you should have had them stopped - you were in a position - so tackling is a fundamental we work on week in and week out."
The Jets have dominated at home in this series' recent history. In the clubs' past eight meetings at the Meadowlands, the Jets have captured seven contests including four straight. If they can control McGahee, then eight out of nine is even that much more likely.
"He is a focal point and understanding their attack is a focal point," Mangini said. "The big test is going out and executing it on Sunday."
NotesThe Jets in conjunction with A-1 First Class-Viking Moving and Storage and the U.S. Marine Reserve Corps will hold their annual Toys for Tots drive Sunday. "We are asking all the fans to bring unwrapped an unopened toys," Mangini said. "They will be collected at the gates, so you can drop them off there." After Sunday, the Jets won't play at home again until New Year's Eve when they host the Raiders. "I hope everybody gives generously during this important time of year for those kids who don't really have that much and make it a special holiday season for them," added Mangini.
Friday Injury Report Jets Questionable: FB B.J. Askew (foot), CB David Barrett (hip), LB Matt Chatham (foot), Eric Smith (foot) LB & Bryan Thomas (shoulder)
Probable: *RB Kevan Barlow (calf), *CB Andre Dyson (neck), *DE Shaun Ellis (ankle), *RB Cedric Houston (knee), DB *OL Pete Kendall (knee), *WR Justin McCareins (foot), *DL Rashad Moore (hand), *QB Chad Pennington (calf) & *WR Brad Smith (shoulder) & *S Rashad Washington (illness)
Bills Out: LB Angelo Crowell (fibula)
Questionable: LB John DiGiorgio (ankle), *RB Willis McGahee (ankle), *CB Terrence McGee & S Donte Whitner (hamstring)
*Denotes players who participated in practice