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Notebook | Jets HC Robert Saleh Focused on Eliminating Explosive Plays vs. Patriots

Jamison Crowder, Keelan Cole Expected to Play vs. Pats in Home Opener at MetLife Stadium; Mekhi Becton Out Minimum 4-to-8 Weeks


On Thursday, Jets DC Jeff Ulbrich said he walked into his office at 1 Jets Drive back in January with a hand-drawn, handmade sign already hanging: Eliminate Explosives, courtesy of HC Robert Saleh.

"In 2014 when I got my first linebackers job at Jacksonville with Gus [Bradley], we were talking about certain concepts and we made a decision like, 'All right, let's make the decision that's going to eliminate the explosive,' " Saleh said. "It was just one of those deals as a coach, you're frustrated like, 'Why are we here until one in the morning?' We can eliminate so much discussion if we just focus on eliminating the explosive. So, I made this little cheesy old sign that I've had with me since 2014 and passed it onto him." 

Explosive plays, per Saleh, are any plays of more than 16 yards and runs of more than 12. Last week against the Panthers, the Green & White allowed eight explosive plays.

"When offenses can generate an explosive play in a drive, their percentages of scoring are astronomical," he said. "It's almost guaranteed that they're going to get three points. Two explosives in a drive, you might as well just put seven on the board and kick the ball off. So, the objective is to make them go earn it. This game is too precise, it's too good. … But at the same time, you don't want to be so conscientious of taking away their deep ball that they do just dink and dunk for five, 10 yards a pop. We do have this thing called the kill zone. It's inside five yards and that's where we're trying to keep the ball. So, the challenge is, can you eliminate explosives while keeping the ball inside four yards or less." 

The Jets defense allowed 19 points against the Panthers -- 16 in the second quarter and 3 in the second half. While Saleh would like both sides of the ball to start faster, that isn't the only objective this week against the Patriots. 

"You always want to start fast," he said. "We talk about starting fast, finish faster, but you have to go with the punches of the game. There are going to be ebbs and flows, there's going to be adversity, high points, low points. When they come, it doesn't really matter. It's just about playing the game to the best of your ability and taking every play with what it is. Obviously we are a young team, so a little bit of confidence early doesn't hurt anybody. It wouldn't hurt a veteran team either. Starting fast would be awesome, but at the same time, starting fast can't be your sole purpose."

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DC Jeff Ulbrich Impressed by Pats' Mac Jones
Much has been made about Sunday's matchup between rookie quarterbacks -- Zach Wilson of the Jets and Mac Jones of the Patriots -- in the home opener for the Green & White. Like Wilson, Jones had his baptism by fire, in last week's loss to Miami. Still Ulbrich said he's impressed by the Alabama product who supplanted Cam Newton at New England's No. 1 QB.

"He's way better than I wanted him to be," Ulbrich said. "You anticipate seeing a young, inexperienced quarterback making young inexperienced decisions. But you didn't see a whole lot of that. I think he has real skill and poise. He comes from a school where they get NFL-caliber coaching and he's probably as NFL-ready as you can find at the quarterback position. They [the Pats] work their scheme around him giving him some clean reads and easy progressions, and have some guys to throw to."

Although the Dolphins' aggressive defense hit Jones 9 times in the 17-16 Miami victory, Jones completed 29 of 39 for 281 yards, 1 TD and a 102.6 QB rating.

ST Coach Brant Boyer Rolls With It
"Worse-case scenario," that's what special teams coach Brant Boyer called last week's injury to Braden Mann (knee; out 4-to-6 week), the Jets' punter, kickoff specialist and holder for kicker Matt Ammendola.

"I would argue that he's one of the most valuable guys on the team for all the stuff he does," Boyer said of Mann, a second-year player out of Texas A&M. "It's a big hit, that's for sure."

Although Ammendola filled in admirably at Carolina, Boyer said that he wants his placekicker to concentrate on, well, kicking. So the Green & White this week landed veteran punter and holder Thomas Morstead, 35, a member of the New Orleans Saints from 2009-20.

"He brings a veteran presence and has a natural leadership to him, too," Boyer said of Morstead (6-4, 235). "I think that he's very experienced and he's been very, very good in the past. There've been nothing but positive signs since he's been here. I think he will do a great job and we're happy to have him.

"He does a lot of stuff. He's kicked off and held for years. That was a big consideration trying to find someone to replace Braden. He's been around a long time and there's a reason he's been one of the best for a long time."

In his 12 seasons with the Saints (including the team's Super Bowl win at the end of the 2009 season), Morstead has punted 692 times with an average of 46.5 yards a kick. He has only had one kick blocked in his NFL career. His kickoff duties have been limited since 2015, but overall 48.5% of his kickoffs have been touchbacks. The Saints had released him in March.

Quick note: Since Ammendola did not attempt a field goal or an extra point against the Panthers, Mike White, the Jets' backup holder, was not called on.

See the Top Images from the Practice Field Leading Up to the Home Opener Against the Patriots

Robert Saleh expects WRs Jamison Crowder (groin) and Keelan Cole (knee) in the lineup this week. There are still hurdles to clear and a decision won't be made until Sunday. … LT Mekhi Becton will undergo surgery after dislocating his right kneecap at Carolina last Sunday. He'll be out a minimum of 4-8 weeks.

Saleh expects all the rookies to play better in Week 2, saying, "You make your biggest jump from Week 1 to Week 2. AVT (Alijah-Vera Tucker), Elijah Moore had their first game action, they didn't have preseason action. I'm really excited for them to get another shot at it and really looking forward to seeing how we respond and how we attack out of the gates."

Saleh, who wore a Passaic County Technical Institute High School t-shirt last Friday, wore a Dwight Morrow High School t-shirt this week. He said, "They lost their entire field turf to Hurricane Ida. So, we wanted to represent them and do some good things for that high school." The school's varsity team will also be invited to Sundays' game.

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