AFC East: Jets Living By the Blitz

The New York Jets have managed to sneak back into a 3-way tie for lead in the AFC East. Are they doing it by gambling too much on their defense?

Blitz threat buoys Jets' defense

   Coach Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine have done a solid job this season in varying their defenses, especially in passing situations. The Jets aren't blitzing nearly as much as they did in 2009, Ryan's first season as head coach.

   Instead, they often are using the threat of the blitz to fool opposing passers. That's what happened on opening night, when the Jets used Pettine's call of "Jet Mike Mix" late in the game to bait Dallas' Tony Romo into thinking he had Darrelle Revis in single coverage on Dez Bryant. Granted, throwing at Revis in single coverage isn't the smartest move in the first place, but was even dumber when the Jets had safety Brodney Pool in the area providing deep help so that Revis could play underneath Bryant and jump the route.

   Both Ryan and Revis termed it a "trap" call afterward.

   They also fooled San Diego's Philip Rivers into thinking they were in man-to-man on the pivotal ricochet interception by Revis, who was in position to grab the carom off Vincent Jackson because he was in zone. Both of those Revis picks set up go-ahead fourth-quarter scores.

   Linebacker Calvin Pace's interception Sunday wasn't a game-breaker, but certainly was unusual. Pace got only the third pick of his nine-year career because he was in intermediate zone coverage, in the vicinity of wideout David Nelson, the intended target. Pace normally is an edge pass rusher.

   So can the Jets confuse New England's Tom Brady on Sunday? They held him in check in their January playoff victory by rarely rushing more than four, and flooding the secondary with defenders. Brady looked out of sorts at times in the Patriots' loss to the Giants. He has 10 interceptions through eight games, very un-Brady-like numbers.

   "Obviously, it's a copycat league," Jets' linebacker Aaron Maybin said when asked about what defenses are doing against Brady and the Pats. "You've seen teams playing a lot of man coverage, trying to throw the receivers off those short and intermediate routes. Keeping somebody deep, to make sure that they can't throw the deep ball, and it's rattled them a little bit."

   It could be a fascinating chess match Sunday night.

 Jets Getting Better

  --The Jets have gotten better since their first meeting with New England on Oct. 9, a 30-21 loss.

   How much? Well, as coach Rex Ryan said Monday, "we're going to see how much we've improved" when they host the Patriots in the rematch Sunday night.

   After the first meeting, New England and Buffalo were in a first-place tie atop the AFC East, two games ahead of the Jets. But both teams have gone 1-2 since then while the Jets have won three straight, meaning they're in a three-way tie for first at 5-3.

   "The big thing is we weren't worried about anyone else but ourselves," Ryan said when asked if he could have envisioned being tied for the lead four weeks ago. "Certainly we'll take it, the fact that Pittsburgh and the Giants have beaten New England, we'll definitely take that. We had to get better as a football team and I think we have gotten better."

   After their surprising loss to the Giants on Sunday, the Patriots are trying to avoid their first three-game skid since 2002, when they dropped four games in a row.

   "It happens. They're not invincible," Jets safety Jim Leonhard said of the Patriots' two-game slide. "They're a great football team, but they've got beat by some pretty good teams, as well. I don't think they're going to panic up in New England, and we're not going to feel sorry for them, either."

   "We know that they're going to be ready to play," linebacker Aaron Maybin said. "We're not expecting that they're going to come out sluggish or anything. We know that they want to win just as bad as we do, and we're going to have to come with our 'A' game."

   "You don't beat New England unless you're a heck of a football team," Ryan said of the Giants. "They won that game for themselves, without question. But I will say this, if we can, I'd like to pay them back, because that certainly helped us."

   But now it's the Jets' chance to help themselves, and perhaps take over sole possession of first place in the division, depending upon what Buffalo does at Dallas on Sunday.

NOTES

   --QB Mark Sanchez provided some inadvertent comic relief late in the Jets' victory over Buffalo, when he was whistled for a holding penalty for a takedown of Buffalo CB Drayton Florence while Sanchez was blocking on a Wildcat play for Joe McKnight.
   "That was terrible," he said, quite seriously, noting how he ruined McKnight's 18-yard run on the play.
   A laughing McKnight said, "I hope he doesn't ever do that again."
   On Monday, center Nick Mangold said Sanchez "used his hands pretty well, but you can't grab bon the edge like that. I saw the video of it and found it pretty humorous."

   --Jets RB Shonn Greene, who finished with 76 yards on 19 carries, took a hit to the head in the fourth quarter and left the game. He didn't return although he did not have a concussion.
   "I'm OK," he said after the 27-11 victory over Buffalo. "I got dinged up a little bit. As I started going toward the sideline, I started feeling weird. I had to go through (a concussion) evaluation. I could've come back, but we were ahead in the fourth quarter and it would not have made sense."

   --Much of the pregame talk centered on the possible impact former Jet Brad Smith and former Bill Aaron Maybin might have for their new teams.
   As it turned out, not much.
   Smith averaged 19 yards on four kickoff returns, and wasn't used as a Wildcat quarterback even once. Maybin was credited with one hit on Buffalo's Ryan Fitzpatrick, but the pass rusher who has resurrected his career with the Jets had no sacks or tackles.
   Smith's former teammate and close friend, Eric Smith, tackled him on his first return.
   "It was great to see Brad," Eric Smith said with a smile. "I'm mad I didn't get to hit him a little harder but it was good to see him."

   --QB Mark Sanchez was 20-for-28 for 230 yards and one touchdown with one interception in the Jets' 27-11 victory over Buffalo. He also lost a fumble by botching a perfect shotgun snap, making this his first multiple-turnover game since Oct. 2 at Baltimore. The one pick was a costly one. It came on second-and-goal from the Buffalo 7 in the second quarter and was Sanchez's first interception in the red-zone this season.
   --RB Shonn Greene had 76 rushing yards on 19 carries for a 4-yard average. He left the game in the fourth quarter after a blow to the head. Tests for a concussion were negative and he is expected to play Sunday against New England.
   --RB LaDainian Tomlinson had five carries for 18 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown plunge that was his first rushing score of the season. He also had three receptions for 30 yards.
   --TE Dustin Keller had four receptions for 64 yards, but missed a chunk of the game after getting hurt in the second quarter while trying to leap over a defender. Concussion tests were negative and he returned in the second half.
   --WR Santonio Holmes was targeted six times and had three receptions for 29 yards, including an 8-yarder that was his fourth touchdown catch this season. He also drew two pass interference calls that set up Jets' touchdowns.
   --WR Plaxico Burress had five receptions for 79 yards despite playing with an aching lower back. Coach Rex Ryan said Burress' availability was a game-time decision and that he played a majority of the offensive snaps, more than the Jets had expected him to.
   --WR-PR Jeremy Kerley had four receptions for 23 yards and two punt returns for an average of 8 yards.
   --CB Darrelle Revis had a subpar game by his incredible standards, allowing three receptions for 84 yards to Buffalo's Stevie Johnson. He also committed a defensive holding penalty.
   --LB Calvin Pace had a second-quarter interception, only the third of his NFL career.
   --OLB Aaron Maybin had no sacks or tackles in his much-ballyhooed return to Buffalo after two lackluster seasons with the Bills.
   --RB-KR Joe McKnight had a 59-yard kickoff return and averaged 41.5 yards on two kickoff returns. He also had nine rushes for 27 yards.

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