Head coach Rex Ryan said before the Jets' preseason finale Thursday night that he was going to play a base defense without the usual blitzing schemes. The result was seven sacks of three Eagles quarterbacks, including four of Michael Vick, playing in only his second preseason game back since his conditional reinstatement by the NFL.
"The biggest thing for us was trying to work together on him, keeping him in the pocket," said linebacker Vernon Gholston. "He got out a couple times but for the most part we were able to contain him."
Gholston finally got a sack — officially his first as a pro — on the Eagles' Kevin Kolb in the first quarter. The second-year LB, set to fill Calvin Pace's spot for the first four weeks of the regular season, is beginning to come on, getting pressure on the quarterback more often than at the beginning of this year's preseason.
"I guess you could say it was owed to me," said Gholston, referring to last week's sack vs. the Giants, which he lost due to his helmet-to-helmet contact with David Carr on the play. "It's the first of hopefully many to come."
On the next play, a third-and-17 for the Eagles, veteran defensive tackle Howard Green sacked Kolb back past midfield to force a punt.
"We played hard-nose football, nothing fancy, just go out there and beat your guy," said Green, who also had a fumble recovery after Vick was strip-sacked by Marques Murrell early in the fourth quarter. "That's the approach we took from the beginning of the week and that's what we stuck to."
Ryan didn't particularly like the performance of the first defense, which allowed a touchdown on the 65-yard opening drive, its only series of the game, or the twos after that. The Jets went into the locker room at halftime down, 24-17, sparking Ryan to voice his concerns.
"I think the defense really responded in the second half," said Ryan. "We got after them pretty good in the locker room. I thought our guys responded."
"We were just making some mistakes," said LB Kenwin Cummings. "We came in here at halftime and he said we've got to step it up, we've got to go out there and make some big hits, we've got to run out and just be aggressive. There's going to be mistakes but there is no reason for a lack of aggressiveness."
The Eagles were held to only three points in the second half as the Jets accumulated five sacks, including all four of Vick, who played most of the second half and was pressured almost every time he touched the ball.
No. 7, still trying to shake off the rust of a two-year hiatus, went 7-for-11 for only 26 passing yards, one interception by Dwight Lowery in the end zone and two fumbles, while adding seven rushes for 35 yards and one TD.
"That defense did a great job," the Eagles QB said about Mike Pettine's group. "I commend them for that."
On one play in the third quarter, Vick scrambled away from a tackle attempt by LB Jason Trusnik and eluded Gholston, only to find LB Jamaal Westerman in his face. Westerman credited his speed for his second sack of this preseason, a 22-yarder back to Philadelphia's 4-yard line.
"I felt a little faster today. I don't know," he said. "I'm going to have to run my 40 again see what I run."
The undrafted rookie 'backer from Rutgers was mentioned by Ryan earlier in the week as someone who's played his way onto the team. He didn't use that as an excuse to take it easy this week but rather as motivation to keep up the good work.
"That's the biggest thing," Westerman said after the game. "You don't want to think of being penciled in on the team or anything like that because we all know cuts are tomorrow. I'm just trying to go out there and work hard and be consistent for this team and just keep at it."
Cummings continued his solid play as well, grabbing seven total tackles and his second sack of the preseason in the fourth quarter while Vick was still playing QB. It was a big one, coming on third-and-goal at the Jets 7 to force the Eagles to settle for a field goal instead of a tying or go-ahead touchdown.
"That was one of my goals was to bring Vick down for a sack," Cummings said. "I accomplished it just when we needed it."
Murrell, DT Matt Kroul, and LB Jason Trusnik also recorded sacks, and Murrell added a forced fumble. The seven total sacks on the night gave the Jets 18 sacks this preseason — the most in a four-game NFL preseason since the Patriots recorded 19 in 2003.
"This was a game that everyone was hungry," said Trusnik. "Whether it's guys trying to make the 45, or the 53 or the practice squad, guys were out there just competing."
The final roster cuts are expected to be announced Saturday. Many of the Jets' backup defenders are hoping to make the cut and be eligible to compete for a spot on the opening-day roster when the Jets take on the Texans a week from Sunday.