The New York Jets defense got caught mostly by wide receiver issues at Cincinnati. But in many weeks the spotlight will be on another skill position for our D.
And it doesn't get much more difficult than trying to keep a blanket on the Saints' Jimmy Graham.
"That guy is a unique cat now," head coach Rex Ryan said today. "Graham has the speed of a wide receiver, the size of an offensive tackle, so it's a huge challenge for anybody that's asked to do that."
"It's crazy because Graham's basically a wide receiver — he just happens to be 6'7"," said LB Calvin Pace. "It's a tough matchup. It's like who do you put on him? I don't want to guard him."
Graham is New Orleans' leading pass catcher with 40 receptions for 630 yards and eight touchdowns. Among tight ends in the league, the catches are the third-most and the yardage is at the top of the list. And his 1.1 touchdowns per game mean there's a good chance he'll put one in the MetLife end zone against us on Sunday.
Ryan and coordinator Dennis Thurman are considering all their options, which Ryan cagily said might even include CB Antonio Cromartie. But likely the task will frequently fall to Antonio Allen, the second-year man who drew raves for his coverage of one of the Jets' annual TE nemeses, Rob Gronkowski, two weeks ago.
And Allen said his approach to Gronk and Graham will be similar in one regard.
"They're similar, two big bodies," Allen analyzed. "You've got to beat them up. One is a little quicker than the other, but you've got to beat them up, put your hands on them."
It's hard to say that teams have targeted what they feel is a soft spot on the Jets. After all, if the three of the four G's — Gronkowski, Graham and Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez along with San Diego's Antonio Gates — are on your schedule, they're going to go to their TEs.
But on the other hand, our first eight opponents have set a pace that would result in 116 balls being targeted for tight ends this year with 78 catches for 882 yards, an 11.3-yard average. The average is high but not as bad as the 13.1 averages in 2010 and '11. But the targets would be the most for opposing TEs in the last 17 Jets seasons and the catches would be the second-most in that span.
Of course the Jets defense had other difficulties last week, mostly with trying to keep guys named Jones out of the end zone. And Drew Brees is clearly capable of going off just as devastatingly as Andy Dalton did. But if Allen, Dawan Landry, Cro and company can get Graham off his game a little, and if that foot injury acts up ...
"And only two touchdowns," Ryan said about the foot that held Graham to 18 snaps and three catches against the Bills last Sunday and has limited him at both practices this week. "And really, coming all the way here, it's not good for him to fly. I wouldn't. I admit if it was our player, no way, and Sean [Payton] shouldn't bring him."
Something tells us not to count on that plan. Graham will be on the Saints' charter flight Saturday and on the MetLife field Sunday.
Four did not participate in our team drills at today's practice: G Willie Colon (calf), TE Jeff Cumberland (concussion), WR Santonio Holmes (hamstring) and RB Alex Green (hamstring). WR Stephen Hill (foot) was bumped up to limited, while WR David Nelson (quadriceps) was added to the list as limited. And WR Jeremy Kerley (illness) was full-go after sitting it out Wednesday.
For the Saints, G Jahri Evans (hip) and S Malcolm Jenkins (knee) did not participate in practice again. WR Marques Colston (knee), S Kenny Vaccaro (concussion/back) and DT Tyrunn Walker (knee) joined Graham (foot) and three others as limited participants.