On a defense that seems to have a revolving door at the safety position due to injuries, it is Jets coordinator Mike Pettine's job to get everybody on the right track heading into the playoffs. Combined with an inconsistent pass rush, the woes demonstrated in the back end of the defense in the Jets' 38-34 shootout loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday were a glaring sign to the defensive staff that a fundamentals review session was in order.
"Because a lot of the new faces we had in there," Pettine said, "we needed to get back and do some of the teaching that we had done and rebuild the foundation. Some of the things that we realized when we went back, we always kind of summarize the mistakes and when the mistakes start to show up are from Jets Defense 101 instead of 401, that's a signal that we need to go back."
Jim Leonhard, Brodney Pool, Eric Smith, James Ihedigbo and Dwight Lowery have all played the safety position at some point during the season. The lack of continuity and the loss of Leonhard, the defensive "quarterback," have been difficult. At Solider Field, the Jets allowed three third-quarter passing touchdowns of over 25 yards, which was a wakeup call to the entire secondary, particularly cornerback Drew Coleman.
"I wouldn't say it's a failure to communicate," Coleman said, "but it has to get 10 times better towards the end of the season. In this last game and going into the playoffs, it's not something that we have to work on, it's something that has to get better and it has to start this week."
While the Jets defense has turned in great performances with a few mediocre ones tossed in, it was after the Bears scored those 21 third-quarter points that Pettine and head coach Rex Ryan realized that they may need to lock down the fundamentals. With the Jets having clinched a playoff spot and facing the 4-11 Bills, the coaching staff couldn't think of a better time to remind their players of the things they learned in training camp.
"Sometimes you think as a coach that guys know, but you have to make sure," Pettine said. "That's one of those things where we felt, this is a good week to do it. It was necessary so we took some of the time that we normally would have spent reviewing the script or going over some newer things and kind of went back to 'let's revisit our core fundamentals.' "
A player who has seen this happen before is linebacker Jason Taylor, who is in his 14th season in the NFL. The former Dolphin recognizes that last week's performance may have been a result of the late-season practice schedule, the focus on game-planning and a de-emphasis on individual drills and technique-building.
"As you get later in the season," Taylor said, "it becomes a little bit more difficult to practice those things at practice sometimes because you're not hitting. You can always do better. You can never rush the passer well enough no matter what team you are in this league. Sometimes that comes down to the simple things like getting off the football and pad level and hands and technique."
Moving forward, the Green & White will attempt to coordinate those basic drills and teaching points into their weekly routine, hoping to replicate the four games on defense this season when they held opponents to 10 points or fewer. By taking a look at what has been successful, the staff can evaluate which schemes simply won't be worth the risk to implement in the playoffs, and which ones can be effective in stopping the opposition.
"We'll kind of do a self-evaluation after the weekend and say, 'What are we doing well and what aren't we?' " Pettine said. "And then we'll lean toward the things we're doing well and hopefully correct the things we're not. And the things we're not, we'll take them out of the package because you're at the point in a playoff game where there's no margin for error."