Jets Struggling to Defend the Run

The Vikings would like nothing more than to expose a Jets defense that has been vulnerable against the run. See why the Jets have struggled in that category this year, and get notes from their camp.

Eric Mangini has done many positive things in his first season with the Jets. He has improved the team's work habits and conditioning. He has motivated them by demonstrating that starting positions will be based on performance, rather than pedigree. And he has gotten the most out of some players languishing under the old regime, such as Bryan Thomas and Jerricho Cotchery.

But if there has been one glaring failure in Mangini's first season, it has been the switch to the 3-4 defense.

Despite signs of improvement at various points throughout the season, the Jets' rushing defense has backslid. And that fact was never more apparent than on the 57-yard touchdown run Sunday by longtime Jets nemesis Willis McGahee of Buffalo.

The Jets (7-6) rank 26th in rushing defense entering a must-win game at Minnesota (6-7) on Sunday, and those numbers can be traced mainly to the fact that the Jets simply don't have the right personnel to make the 3-4 work.

Nose tackle Dewayne Robertson was a prototypical three-technique tackle in Herm Edwards' Tampa Bay-style defensive system but is miscast as a two-gapping nose tackle, mainly because he's just not bulky enough to take on multiple blockers.

Plus, Kimo von Oelhoffen was imported from Pittsburgh as a free agent, because he is a prototypical 3-4 end. But he has made little impact this season.

All of that has had a ripple effect, and no one has suffered more than linebacker Jonathan Vilma.

The third-year linebacker led the NFL in the unofficial category of tackles last season, but was credited with only one against the Bills on Sunday, although a study of the game tape showed he should have been given at least one more tackle.

Still, two tackles from a linebacker with Vilma's credentials isn't good enough, and the problem is that Vilma was far better suited for the 4-3 than he is for the 3-4. As a true middle linebacker in the 4-3, Vilma had room to roam, making plays in space. In this defense, he winds up being too close to the point of attack, and the Jets' defensive front hasn't been able to control the line of scrimmage.

Mangini was somewhat evasive when asked about Vilma's performance against the Bills.

"I think that Jon did a lot of positive things," the coach said. "The way that Willis runs, where he threatens the whole defense, it's hard to flow too quickly to the ball. If you end up on the backside, a lot of times that keeps him on the front side. Even though you may not get the tackle that's a key part of the process because if you flow too quickly, with his ability to cut back, you create a huge seam."

Although Mangini didn't single him out, it appeared that backup linebacker Brad Kassell missed his assignment on McGahee's 57-yard touchdown run.

"Within our defense," linebacker Victor Hobson said, "if there is a little breakdown it leads to big plays. That's what we're talking about, little breakdowns here and there lead to big plays. It's something that we've worked hard to eliminate, especially since the bye week, and it's something we're going to have to work hard on again this week."

Obviously, the Jets aren't going back to the 4-3 anytime soon. The fact is, it would be impractical at this juncture of the season. Moreover, Mangini tried the 4-3 look at times in the 41-0 loss to Jacksonville on Oct. 8, and it was a dismal failure. So this is what the Jets are stuck with until Mangini and general manager Mike Tannenbaum can bring in more players suited to the 3-4.


  • First-year coach Eric Mangini likes to rotate players on defense, not just for situations, but for entire series. But that philosophy cost the Jets twice against Buffalo on Sunday when they allowed two game-breaking touchdowns.

    First, at least four backups were on the field for Willis McGahee's 57-yard touchdown run. Defensive linemen C.J. Mosley and Bobby Hamilton were neutralized at the line of scrimmage, and LBs Brad Kassell and Matt Chatham couldn't close the hole. Kassell, in particular, missed his assignment.

    On Lee Evans' 77-yard touchdown reception from J.P. Losman, both S Kerry Rhodes and CB David Barrett bit hard on Evans' inside fake. Barrett is a reserve these days.

  • Veteran LG Pete Kendall, who has played alongside both rookie C Nick Mangold and his predecessor Kevin Mawae, was asked to compare the two.

    "They're different types of players," Kendall said. "I'm sure if (Mangold) had some glaring breakdowns, that would have been the story, but he hasn't had those glaring breakdowns. He's a different player than Kevin, but I don't want to say that they're polar opposites. Kevin runs about as well as any center in the league, and with our scheme right now we don't really ask the center to run as much.

    "Nick hasn't had the opportunity to develop or show those things. Kevin will forever be known as turning the corner and leading some sort of outside play with Curtis Martin right there at his hip. A lot of people think of a center as someone who can only go from A-gap to A-gap and that certainly wasn't Kevin's M.O."

  • The Jets likely will alter some of their signals on offense this week, because former Jet Brooks Bollinger, now a Viking, went through the entire training camp with the Jets.

    "I'm sure he can" help the Vikings, Chad Pennington said. "I'm aware of that. But at the end of the day, it still boils down to execution. A lot of times in the no-huddle, they have to get their calls made, their game plan executed as well. You don't want to think too much about that because they've got a lot of things to do well."

    Bollinger was traded to the Vikings just before the final preseason game for DT C.J. Mosley and a late-round draft choice. Mosley, who has only been activated for three games, saw his most extensive action against Buffalo and had five tackles. Bollinger is nursing a sprained left shoulder, suffered against Chicago on Dec. 3. He was the Vikings' third quarterback last week.

    The Jets "are about as thorough as they come and I know what kind of job they do and I know how they operate," said Bollinger, who downplayed his ability to help the Vikings with inside information. "I don't really know if there's anything I can tell them. I mean obviously I've been around the personnel, but they just do so much on both sides of the ball and they do so such a good job of scouting themselves and changing things up, not showing the same look twice. What we were doing in training camp and what they're doing now, I'm not sure that they're even close."

    On that same conference call with Jets' writers, Bollinger said, "I don't really have (a timetable to return) and I'm being completely honest with you. I was kind of chuckling when I made that last statement because I know you've heard it a few times. I really don't know. I'm showing up every day and doing my rehab, trying to progress.

    "It's just disappointing the way that it happened, because my comfort level was growing and I had a chance to get in the game a little bit. But that's part of the game. I just have to take it from what I can and move forward.

  • As the starting running back turns: Kevan Barlow has been inactive the last two weeks and has been getting a crash course in special teams. But he said this week his left knee still isn't 100 percent after arthroscopic surgery during the off-season. Leon Washington got the start against Buffalo a week after Cedric Houston started at Green Bay, but Houston had the most carries in both games.

    The right cornerback situation may be getting settled, as Hank Poteat now has started three consecutive games. But the Jets are still rotating most of their defensive personnel, and it was backup CB David Barrett who was burned for Lee Evans' 77-yard touchdown.

  • WR-RB Brad Smith (right shoulder) practiced Wednesday and is listed as probable, although he has been wearing a heavy wrap on the shoulder.

  • DL C.J. Mosley got his most extensive action of the season against Buffalo, and had a season-high five tackles.

  • DL Rashad Moore (hand) practiced and is listed as probable, although he was inactive against Buffalo after being ineffective the week before playing against Green Bay with a club on the injured hand.

  • T Adrian Jones has been active the last two games, yet hasn't seen any action. Jones was inactive the week before against Houston after a DWI arrest, and his days as a Jet are probably numbered.

  • S Andre Maddox was signed by the Jets to the practice squad. He was a fifth-round draft choice of theirs in 2005, but missed the entire season with a knee injury and was waived in Sept. 2006. If he eventually makes it to the active roster, he could be a special-teams contributor.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 7 — That's the amount of 100-yard individual rushers the Jets have permitted this season. They are Willis McGahee (Buffalo), who did it twice, Fred Taylor (Jacksonville), Ronnie Brown (Miami), Reuben Droughns (Cleveland), Thomas Jones (Chicago) and Ahman Green (Green Bay).

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Yes, we will be. I like being outside though. I'm more of an outdoor guy." — Coach Eric Mangini when asked if the Jets would practice in their bubble to simulate playing in a dome

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