Q-and-A with JC Publisher Dan Leberfeld

Q: How different are the Jets from the team that beat the Dolphins back in October?

Leberfeld: I wouldn't say it's that much different. Their success still hinges on the performance of Chad Pennington. As he goes, so goes the team. He's been a little inconsistent over the last month or so. He was great against Minnesota last week, but struggled a week earlier in a loss to Buffalo. One difference of note is that Kevan Barlow is out of the running back rotation. It's now mainly a combination of Leon Washington and Cedric Houston.

Q: How much credit do you give to Eric Mangini for the Jets being in playoff contention?

Leberfeld: He's done a solid job, and deserves credit, but I would give Pennington a little more credit. If he wasn't able to make an amazing recovery from yet another shoulder operation, this team would probably be competing for the first pick in the draft. Nick Saban is one of the smartest coaches around, but without a quarterback in this league, you are toast. Mangini has an answer at quarterback, and Saban doesn't.

Q: 3. Is there any reason to expect the Jets to do anything other than come out in four- or five-wideout formations?

Leberfeld: The Jets will run a lot of spread offense, but they will also try to establish the run. Cedric Houston had a nice game against Miami late last season, and is the type of power back who could have some success against Miami's physical front seven. But do expect a lot of the spread passing game so the Jets can create mismatches in the passing game.

Q: Is there any reason for the Dolphins to worry about the Jets' running game?

Leberfeld: The Jets running game has improved over the last month. The offensive line had three new starters, including two rookies, at the beginning of the year. Now that group has much better chemistry, and this has had a positive impact on the running game. Cedric Houston and Leon Washington form a nice one-two punch. Houston is a rugged power back and Washington a nifty scatback.

Q: How healthy is Laveranues Coles?

Leberfeld: Coles has suffered a lot of injuries this year, but hasn't missed any time. He took a major hit to the back last week in Minnesota from linebacker Ben Leber, and was down for several minutes. He either has a back or rib injury. Jets coach Eric Mangini isn't very forthright with injury information. But he should play with whatever is wrong with him.

Q: Why have the Jets gotten so much better at stopping the run in recent weeks?

Leberfeld: They really haven't. Minnesota didn't have a chance to run much because they fell way behind. Willis McGahee ran all over them the week before. And even in the blowout win over Green Bay, Ahman Green went over 100 yards. You could say they have improved a little, but not much. They just don't have all the right pieces in the front seven for the 3-4. They could really use a nose tackle who looks like Keith Traylor.

Q: What kind of impact do you think Bryan Cox has made on the Jets defensive line in his first season as an NFL assistant coach?

Leberfeld: It's really hard to tell because he's the assistant defensive line coach. Denny Marcin is the defensive line coach. This is Bryan's first year of coaching, so he is still acclimating himself. Marcin is on the field during the game, and Cox is in the press box. But you can't see Bryan's fiery personality in practice motivating the guys. He looks like he has a bright future in coaching.

Q: Who is the one player having the best season on the Jets defense?

Leberfeld: Safety Kerry Rhodes. He should have made the Pro Bowl this season. He's a classic center fielder with great size (6-3, 217) and speed (4.5). He covers a lot of ground in coverage, and has improved a great deal against the run this year. One wrap on him coming out of Louisville was that he wasn't a great tackler, but he's worked on that by improving his technique and getting bigger and stronger. Not only is he an excellent coverage safety, but a terrific blitzer. He has had several big plays this year blitzing quarterbacks from their blind side, causing a couple of fumbles. He has turned into a fourth-round steal for the Jets, and has been their most effective player on defense this year.

Q: Why has former first-round pick Bryan Thomas suddenly developed into a solid player after four non-productive seasons?

Leberfeld: Thomas is a very good fit for outside linebacker in the team's 3-4 defense at 6-4, 255 pounds with terrific speed for this size. He was a little undersized playing 4-3 end. This system is a better fit for him. He's always been good against the run, but this year rushing from the linebacker position, his pass rush skills have improved.

Q: Just how big of a threat is Pro Bowl kick returner Justin Miller?

Leberfeld: He seemed to be a bigger threat earlier in the year. Now teams are kicking away from him with regularity. He's an amazing kick returner. He combines 4.4 speed with great strength and toughness. He consistently breaks two or three tackles during returns. So he can run away from people and over them. The Jets wish his cornerback skills would catch up to this kick return skills.

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