Cowart, the team's prized free agent pick up, was signed this off-season to a six-year, $31 million deal. Through five games this year, he has just 44 tackles, an average of nine tackles per game, and far fewer than expected from a former Pro Bowler.
Cowart missed almost all of last season with a torn Achilles, and had to change from middle linebacker to the week side when coming to the Jets. These factors however are not what's been the problem. Instead, it's been the clever offensive alignments of the Jets' opponents that have caused all the trouble.
Teams have been putting their tight end on Cowart's side of the ball, forcing him to step up to the line of scrimmage and cover the tight end, or slide out to cover a receiver. Cowart is most comfortable, and most effective playing off the ball where he can roam around and make plays. That's what he did so well in Buffalo, and that's what the Jets intend on letting him do now.
"Everyone knows I'm not great on the line of scrimmage, but I'm good off the ball," Cowart said. "Teams are making me walk out of the core and they run the ball and cut it back or make me line up on the tight end and run the ball and cut it back. We're just going to mix it up a little bit and give me a chance to be off the ball a little more."
The Jets are going to mix in a different defensive front called an "under front", in which the free safety will come up to cover the tight end, and Cowart can remain off the ball. The bye week enabled the Jets to work in the new scheme, which is a more difficult task than expected. With Cowart playing off the ball, the lineman have to line up differently and the free safety has to play closer to the line of scrimmage, which changes how the defensive backs play.
"We've drawn the conclusion that is what to do," said Herman Edwards. "But we still have to execute it. The defensive line has to line up in the right gap and hit the right gap and the linebackers have to fill
The Jets will test the new front this Sunday against a high-powered Minnesota offense.