A few days before the Jets game at Pittsburgh, defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson was talking to reporters and was asked about nickel back Terrell Buckley.
"I tell him every day he's stealin (laughs)," said Henderson.
It's clear watching Buckley that he's at the end of the line. After 13 years in the league, he doesn't have the recovering speed he used to. He also doesn't change directions as fluently as he did in the past. So because of these limitations, he gambles.
"The one thing [veteran cornerbacks] are going to do is jump routes," said Henderson. "[Buckley] is going to jump a route. He might be right and he might be wrong, but in his mind he is going to jump a couple of routes, and if he's right, he's fine."
He wasn't right against Pittsburgh, and that hurt the Jets against the Steelers.
Buckley was beat by wide receiver Hines Ward for 26-yard gain in the third quarter. Buckley overran the play, because he jumped the route, and this led to a lot of yards after the catch. Buckley also bit on a play-fake and wide receiver Lee Mays beat him for 46 yards in the fourth quarter.
Buckley also was whistled for two penalties. Buckley interfered with Ward on the Steelers second drive, and then did the same thing again in the second quarter.
The Jets are asking too much of Buckley at this stage of his career, having him cover Ward, one of the league's best receivers. Buckley is best suited to be the team's dime (fourth) cornerback. The loss of Ray Mickens has turned out to be a devastating blow to the Jets secondary. He is one of the best nickel backs in football, and has better speed and quickness than Buckley. When Mickens blew out his knee in training camp, the Jets planned on having 2004 third round pick Derrick Strait handle the nickel back role. But Strait hurt his foot early in the season, and missed a month. He's been back for about a month now, but hasn't had much of a role on defense since his return. Strait was actually inactive against the Steelers. It had nothing to do with his foot.
"It was a coach's decision," Strait told Jets Confidential after the game.
The nickel back role is very complicated, and the time Strait spent on the sidelines hurt his maturation process. But now it's quite obvious the Jets need him back in the action. The Jets could get by with Buckley against struggling offenses like Baltimore, Cleveland and Arizona. But with high-powered passing attacks on the schedule the last three weeks (Seattle, New England and St. Louis), expect the faster and more athletic Strait to have a bigger role down the stretch . . .
Defensive end Bryan Thomas might not ever turn into the dominant pass rusher the Jets envisioned, but he's clearly a much better run defender than the Jets thought he would be.
"He was a number one draft pick for one reason I promise you," said Henderson. "Coming out of college, he could rush the passer. I can promise you that he wasn't big enough to stop the run."
But that has changed over this three years with the Jets. He has added 20 pounds of muscle, going from 250 to 270 pounds. While the extra 20 pounds has taken away some of the 4.5 speed he displayed at the combine, it's made him a lot more stout against the run. Thomas is a big reason why the Jets held Steelers tailback Duce Staley to 51 yards on 16 carries.
Thomas drew a holding call on left tackle Marvel Smith on the Steelers first drive. Then he made a tackle on Staley for a minimal gain on the next play. Thomas stopped Staley on the line on the first drive of the second half. Thomas beat right tackle Oliver Ross to stop Staley for a loss of two in the third quarter . . .
Thomas hurt his groin against the Steelers, but it doesn't seem to be serious.
The Jets got a little of their own medicine in Pittsburgh. The last thing defenses want to see in the fourth quarter is a big back taking over the bulk in the carries late in the game when the defenders are tired. The Jets 234-pound Lamont Jordan has been too much for defenses to handle in several games in the fourth quarter this year, and this has led to a lot of missed tackles. When Staley left the game with an injury in the second half, the worn out Jets defense had a lot of trouble with 252-pound Jerome Bettis who finished the game with 10 carries for 57 yards. The Jets missed a number of tackles on Bettis. Defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson missed a tackle on a Bettis carry of 12 yards up the middle in the fourth quarter. On a Bettis 12-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, safety Reggie Tongue missed a tackle.
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