Last Monday night, Jets head coach Rex Ryan was not pleased with the effort of his second string defenders in his team's 31-16 loss to the Giants. Letting up three receiving touchdowns to rookie wide receiver Victor Cruz was among the causes of concern for Ryan, and this week and even during the game Ryan verbally challenged his players to step up.
"Go for it," Ryan said to a sideline reporter. "Go for the ball, attack the ball when it's in the air. Want the ball to be thrown to you? Play that way. Play with that passion and intensity. If you get beat, you get beat, but let's come right back, line up again with confidence, get right in the guy's face and get after it. That's how we play."
On Saturday night, Ryan got his wish as the Jets only allowed one field goal in their 9-3 victory over the Carolina Panthers. Their second preseason game was a defensive slugfest, thanks in part to the effort of the reserves. With three of their four sacks, Drew Coleman's late interception, and a flurry of pressures and defended passes, the Jets' twos and threes heeded their coach's wishes.
"I really liked the way the second group responded to challenge we gave them," Ryan said. "We were trying to make plays instead of doing just the opposite, waiting for someone else to make them. Our guys were competing and challenging and making plays out there."
Was it important for the "twos" to redeem themselves? At least two corners said it was "very important."
"A lot of secondary play is confidence," said Dwight Lowery. "The only way you can gain that is by preparing, working hard, playing games and being successful."
"I don't think I played good last week," said Coleman. "The coaches challenged me to play a lot better this week. I took it very personal to play a lot more aggressive."
One playmaker trying to turn the corner in his development is Vernon Gholston. The former linebacker, now at end, led the Jets with five tackles, including a run stuff of Carolina RB Tyrell Sutton, and had a nice open-field hit after a screen pass. On the run, Gholston stood up the offensive tackle, pushed him into the backfield, shed the block and made the stop for a loss.
"Vernon did great," Ryan said. "You saw a couple of hustle plays he made. He had a couple good rushes. I thought he did a lot of good things, and that's what we've been seeing, so no surprises."
Gholston was also seen chasing Panthers rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen around the backfield after getting loose on some rushes. While Clausen remained calm for the most part by throwing the ball away and scrambling when necessary, the pressure eventually got to him. He was sacked by Jamaal Westerman, Mike DeVito and Matt Kroul. Then after he had moved the Panthers to the Jets 37, he was intercepted by Coleman with 1:38 to play.
The Panthers fumbled five times and lost three of those fumbles on returns, with Lance Laury, David Clowney and Danny Woodhead recovering. Defensively, the Jets were seen flying to the ball on every possession. James "Dig" Ihedigbo made the type of bone-crunching tackle for which he's becoming known, while Lowery made a number of nice plays in the passing game.
The first defense wasn't shabby, either, helping to give the Jets their 6-0 lead at halftime. Corner Antonio Cromartie racked up four solo tackles and safety Jim Leonhard had an interception and a sack.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Jets' second team sub defense returned to the field. As Ryan said, "At the end of the game, I'd just as soon win the game. So I put the two-sub team back out there and was going with the three-man rush to see if we could get a little heat on the quarterback with just three. That's what we did."
"Rex called us back and we said, 'OK, let's make a play,' " Coleman said. "This is our time, this is our moment. It was the whole defense, not just the secondary -- Kenwin, Lance, Big Vernon."
The Panthers offense ended up 15-of-39 passing for 129 yards and two interceptions and finished with 82 yards rushing on 21 attempts. Linebacker Bart Scott, who made a tough tackle in the game's opening minutes, was pleased with what he saw from all parts of his unit.
"All in all I think we played well," Scott said. "There are some things we have to clean up, but it's only the second preseason game. Once we get our sea legs underneath us, I think we will be fine."