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Jets getting exposed in their new defense

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

By RANDY LANGE

RECORD COLUMNIST

The Jets' 3-4 defense is a work in progress, and we didn't have to go longer than Week 2, in a comparison against the unit it's trying to emulate, to see the amount of work that still remains.

The Patriots gave an idea of how much by running at the Jets, throwing at them and -- in one stark late-game instance -- outsmarting them.

On the ground, they pounded the interior of the still-maturing front seven with backs Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney.

"That's a game plan I very much expected from them," said linebacker Matt Chatham, a former Patriot. "I've been on the other side where we tested opponents that way."

The big problems: Center Dan Koppen and guard Stephen Neal led the charge in neutralizing nose tackle Dewayne Robertson and linebacker Jonathan Vilma.

A quiet J-Vil performed the way many feared he would in the 3-4: Interior linemen could more easily get to the second tier and obstruct Vilma as he flew to the ball. On all four of the Pats' runs of 10-plus yards, Vilma was walled off by either Neal or Koppen.

With the running game clicking, Tom Brady was at his opponent-frustrating best. In the first half he worked over the Jets' safeties with his tight ends. In the second half he turned to Kevin Faulk, who forced penalties against Victor Hobson and Erik Coleman, then made two first-down catches against Coleman and Vilma on the Pats' final drive.

The Jets tried to rattle Brady's cage, sending five or more rushers 14 times, but their only success was Kerry Rhodes' blindside "blitz coverage" sack and forced fumble early in the fourth quarter.

The lesson culminated in a classic Bill Belichick maneuver on New England's last offensive play.

The Patriots, facing third-and-5, needed one more first down to run out the clock. Belichick showed one personnel package, then, with Hobson leaving the field, hustled in three players for the Pats' "heavy" formation.

The Jets were left with 10 men on the field, no timeouts, and a win-clinching power run about to hit them. Coleman shifted from safety to outside linebacker before the snap, then Eric Barton made a mad dash to drop Dillon inches short of a first down. When Bryan Thomas got great penetration to block Stephen Gostkowski's field goal, the Jets' slim hopes were still alive.

So the 10-man gaffe could be filed in the folder marked "No Harm, No Foul." But you know that coach Eric Mangini, who used forms of the word "communicate" 10 times in his first two day-after-game news conferences, hammered his players with this lack of communication Monday.

At least Gang Green's inconsistent showing came against the NFL's gold standard in playing and attacking the 3-4, but they need to make quick progress this week. How the defense plays Willis McGahee's inside running and J.P. Losman's passing and how it communicates in loud, hostile Ralph Wilson Stadium will have a lot to say about whether the Jets beat the Bills on Sunday.

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Pressure is off for Jets' line

By ANDREW GROSS

THE JOURNAL NEWS

(Original Publication: September 20, 2006)

Things aren't always as they seem.

So said Jets coach Eric Mangini when he was asked about the apparent lack of a pass rush in the first two games, particularly in Sunday's 24-17 loss to the New England Patriots, and specifically about nose tackle Dewayne Robertson.

Then again, statistics don't lie, and the Jets (1-1) will need to post better defensive numbers Sunday at Buffalo.

But when it comes to Robertson, who is facing constant double teams in a new position now that the Jets have switched to a 3-4 defense, Mangini cautioned others not to rely on the stat sheet.

"I thought, overall, he did a good job of playing the technique that we asked him to play," Mangini said of the Jets' first-round pick in 2003 who is playing nose tackle for the first time in his career. "Sometimes it's doing your job first, it's part of playing into the bigger scheme of things. You may not be the one getting the sacks."

Unlike the 4-3 the Jets used last year, there is more pressure on the three linemen on the field without that extra help.

So the Jets, who also traded away their top pass rusher, John Abraham, to Atlanta in the offseason, have three sacks. Nine players in the NFL have at least as many.

"When we get one-on-one pass protection with the offensive line, we've just got to beat the one-on-ones," said the 6-foot-1, 317-pound Robertson, who has six tackles, no sacks and no quarterback hits. "That's what I'm going to do."

The Jets' defense is ranked 12th in the AFC, allowing an average of 343 yards per game. Worse, Jets opponents have converted 48.1 percent of their third-down opportunities. Only three teams in the league, including the Giants at 56.7 percent, are worse at getting off the field.

"Part of getting pressure on the quarterback is doing a good job on third down," Mangini said. "When you have a team that's in the lead, like New England was, there's more opportunity for them to run the ball. All those things play into slowing the pass rush down."

The Jets managed just one quarterback hit — by linebacker Victor Hobson — against the Patriots.

Robertson has started each game over center with veterans Shaun Ellis and Kimo von Oelhoffen on the left and right ends, respectively. The Jets traded for third-year pro Rashad Moore from Oakland Sept. 1 and he's spelled Robertson at nose tackle for occasional series.

But von Oelhoffen, who won a Super Bowl with the Steelers last season before signing with the Jets as a free agent, said getting more pressure on the quarterback is not a personnel issue. Like Robertson, he said the Jets needed to do better in one-on-one blocking schemes.

"You can always get more pressure," von Oelhoffen said. "But we watched the film. There was some pretty good pressure."

Mangini said the Jets actually blitzed often against the Patriots, even if it didn't look that way. Von Oelhoffen said the Jets did a much better job of "being unselfish and trusting your teammates" in the second half when the Patriots gained just 102 of their 358 total yards.

"If you talk out the things that are happening in front of you, most of the time you can solve the problems," Mangini said. "I think a lot of the breakdowns that you'll see on any given week from any given team probably come back to (communication)."

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Running in place and losing ground

September 20, 2006

The plays that best exemplify the Jets' running problems came on the opening drive of the third quarter against the Patriots.

The Jets were just starting to get some ground momentum as Kevan Barlow ran for 15 yards on four plays - almost 30 percent of the team's rushing total for the game - before coming up a head short of a first on a second-down run.

Facing third-and-1 on their 46-yard line, the Jets handed off to fullback B.J. Askew on the right side. There was a hole between right tackle Anthony Clement and tight end Chris Baker, but Clement was stood up by Patriots lineman Ty Warren and Askew ran into Clement before angling for the gap, which was quickly closed by linebacker Junior Seau. Askew picked up less than a yard, and coach Eric Mangini, already facing a 17-0 deficit, decided to go for it on fourth-and-inches.

"I thought we had a good play," Mangini said of his decision. "I felt very comfortable with six inches to go."

The Jets handed off to Barlow, but he was stuffed. With a two- tight end set, the Jets had seven players on the line of scrimmage against six Patriots, but only one Jet was able to go beyond the first-down marker. Even that player, Clement, did so face-first after whiffing on a block of Warren. Seau stopped fullback Jamar Martin, further clogging the backfield and allowing the Patriots to swarm Barlow and push him away from a first down.

Seven plays and 45 yards later, the Pats took a 24-0 lead.

"I'm not into microcosms," Jets guard Brandon Moore said. "It wasn't a good day running the ball. I don't know how that one play has a bearing on that, but we didn't run the ball."

Mangini has been steadfast in keeping the blame off the running backs. Almost all of the carries have gone to Derrick Blaylock and Barlow. Cedric Houston, the only player since Curtis Martin's injury late last season to put up decent numbers (227 yards in the final four games), has been inactive in the first two games of 2006, mostly because Blaylock and Leon Washington have larger special-teams roles than him. Mangini hinted that may change this week: "Opportunities will present themselves for all those guys this week," he said.

The offensive line, which started the season with two rookies, grew less experienced when guard Pete Kendall injured his hamstring in Week 1, to be replaced by second-year player Norm Katnik. Mangini said there are plays where the line blocks well but the back misses the hole and there are plays where the back runs to the correct spot only to have the line collapse.

Getting it together has been the tricky part.

"We don't have to tear it down," Blaylock said of the running schemes. "There are just a few things that need to be tweaked here and there. It's fixable."

After the first two performances, that may be too optimistic. The Jets gained 51 rushing yards Sunday, the fifth straight game in which they failed to reach 100. They did not make a first down running the ball against the Pats and have only four rushing first downs, fewest in the NFL. But those numbers are mere pixels on the big picture.

"Not being able to run the ball is frustrating," Moore said. "I didn't need that stat to tell me that."

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Jet 'D' paying through nose

By RICH CIMINI

DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER

In many respects, Eric Mangini is pro-active and open-minded, not afraid to think outside the box. He has installed a no-huddle attack on offense, he has given former role players a chance to excel (behold Jerricho Cotchery) and he plays a lot of cool music at practice.

So why is this progressive-thinking coach married to the 3-4 defense, a scheme ill-suited to the Jets' personnel? It's puzzling.

The Jets were supposed to be a multi-front team - that's what Mangini said throughout the offseason - but they've used the 3-4 exclusively in their base package. A good coach is supposed to play to his players' strengths, but Mangini, loyal to his beloved 3-4, is trying to stick square pegs into round holes.

Publicly, the players never will question the coach's strategy, but there's no doubt the majority of the linemen and linebackers prefer the 4-3 over the 3-4. A coach shouldn't do something to appease his players, but in this case, it would be a wise change of pace, mixing in the 4-3. If nothing else, it'll keep teams off balance.

You hate to keep comparing the Jets to the Patriots, but it applies because of Mangini's background with Bill Belichick. In his early years in New England, Belichick, a longtime proponent of the 3-4, employed a 4-3 because he didn't have the prototypical nose tackle. When massive Ted Washington came along in 2003, he changed.

These days, the Patriots remain a 3-4 defense, but they have the versatility to play both fronts. In Sunday's win over the Jets, they played the entire game in a 4-3, a nice adjustment that probably contributed to the Jets' poor start on offense.

Like Belichick's early teams, the Jets don't have a true nose tackle. Let's face it, Dewayne Robertson isn't cut out for the position. He should be a gap-shooting tackle, not a stay-at-home, two-gapping nose tackle.

Asked Monday if he prefers the 4-3, Robertson said diplomatically, "I've been playing 4-3 since I've been playing football. It was good then, but now we're doing something different. I want to help this team win, no matter what (scheme) it is."

Robertson was credited with only two tackles against New England, although Mangini claimed "he did a good job of playing the technique we asked him to play. You may not be the one getting the sacks ... but the fact that you did your job, allowed everybody else to do theirs."

Okay, we get it, the nose tackle is supposed to sacrifice stats for the good of the defense. (Bet the Jets won't mention that at the bargaining table when it's time to address Robertson's contract). But look at the potential upside of the 4-3:

Robertson and left end Shaun Ellis would be able to attack gaps instead of staying head-up on offensive linemen, which could generate more pressure on the quarterback. (In two games, the Jets have only three sacks, none by the linemen.) The 4-3 also would provide for protection for linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who could use his speed to seek and destroy.

It's time for Mangini to cut off the nose. He won't be spiting the face of his defense.

The Clipboard

HOT SEAT: The offensive line. The struggling unit faces an emerging Buffalo defense, which has 10 sacks and no rushing touchdowns allowed.

X's AND O's: Backup NT Rashad Moore is an underrated run stuffer. In 11 running plays with Moore, the Jets allowed 32 yards (2.9 average) against the Pats. In 27 plays with starter Dewayne Robertson, they yielded 115 (4.2).

WHISPERS: Don't be surprised if Derrick Blaylock is dropped from the running-back "committee," with Leon Washington or Cedric Houston moving into the mix

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Mangini-Belichick rift Branches out

Bill Belichick was roundly criticized for his frosty approach toward Eric Mangini, which many media types perceived as a petty response to Mangini's decision to leave New England. But there may be more to it than what has been reported.

Some people in the know insist the rift wasn't created by the actual break-up, that the relationship started to fray after Mangini left.

That opens several possibilities; maybe Belichick is sore because Mangini tried to poach some of his assistant coaches. The belief here is Belichick's beef with Mangini stems from the Deion Branch situation. The Patriots believe the Jets tampered with Branch - New England filed a grievance with the league - and that certainly could explain Belichick's cold shoulder.

It's interesting to note that, on the day Mangini took the Jets' job, Belichick released a statement that called Mangini "an outstanding coach and an even finer individual...(This opportunity) is truly an example of good things happening to a good, hard-working person."

Does that sound like a betrayed coach?

Cotch of the day

Under Herm Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery was Mr. August. The former Jets coach always raved about Cotchery in the preseason, but he forgot about him once the season started. A year ago, he should've been the No. 3receiver, but he was forced to play behind an aging Wayne Chrebet.

Cotchery started to doubt himself.

"When a lot of people are saying how well you're doing, and it's not reflected on the field, it makes you think," said Cotchery, blossoming before our eyes under Mangini. "A lot of coaches say they want to give you an opportunity, but it never happens. Coach Mangini came in and said it was going to be an open competition. He held his word."

And Cotchery has capitalized. He has 12 catches for 186 yards, already approaching his 2005 totals (19 for 251).

Ill communication

The Jets' defense had at least two communication problems deep in its own end. It had only 10 men on the field for a four-yard run by Corey Dillon late in the game. Earlier, on Chad Jackson's 13-yard TD catch, CB Andre Dyson appeared to be expecting deep help. Problem was, both safeties were on the line of scrimmage, showing blitz. Oops....Backup fullback Jamar Martin was released yesterday, a source said, and TE Zachary Hilton was re-signed.... CBS analyst Randy Cross, who worked the Jets-Patriots game, on the Jets' defense: "They're not a very big, very physical group up front." Ouch....Jets have gone 16 straight games without a first-quarter touchdown.

Rich Cimini

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HIS OWN MANGINI

By JAY GREENBERG

jetslede09202006.jpg

September 20, 2006 -- AL GROH ran a hard training camp and had the Jets rolling at 6-1 in 2000. The coach had their eyes rolling, too, when he had them point flashlights in groups at a screen to symbolize how a team shines brightest when everybody supplies some power.

The light died with six losses in the final nine games to blow a playoff spot. When the Virginia job was offered, an obsessive, negative and paranoid coach, one perceived by the players to be Bill Parcells' puppet, Groh beat the posse out of town by probably a year.

Six years later, along comes boy wonder Eric Mangini, cutting his teeth like fangs into his players during film studies, running a full-dress camp, giving the winners of scrimmages better food than the losers, teaching the millionaires life lessons with films of avalanches. The clips he showed the Jets from "March of the Penguins" demonstrated self-deprecation, a humanizing trait. It also let them know that he is aware they mock his looks and practice-field waddle.

Nothing is going to get by Mangini, perhaps to the same fault as Groh if the players tune out and their batteries burn out in December. But, pending full disclosure of Mangini's strategical skills and his ability to pick and back the right assistants - the failings of the kinder, gentler, Herm Edwards - we don't think the kid is bound for a comeuppance. We actually think he is headed for what would be a creditable seven or eight wins.

When you look at the depth chart, count up the Jets' surefire keepers, it's scary. But the schedule, which includes rebuilding Buffalo (twice), Detroit, Cleveland, Houston, Green Bay plus Oakland, is not. To this stage, there are no blatant signs these players, the majority yet to establish themselves, aren't buying in to Mangini's obsessions. If, ultimately, they buy into his knowledge, he won't have to tone back his act much to last a while.

Players get a bad rap for wanting the easy way out. Shown something different, they'll buy into good results, like the Jets got against Tennessee, like they received vs. New England, at least in the sense of being reminded that emotion can make up some of their experience and talent deficiencies. The best coaches are not personally loved, but succeed because winning players love to be shown how. Whether Mangini loses the hokey gimmicks or not, the Jets will look past them if they see game plans working and feel themselves improving.

The negativity wears, of course. But good players will handle it if not extended publicly, which the bland Mangini does not appear of a mind to often do. Players also will not tune a coach out if the team leaders are tuned in, as it appears the most important Jets are. Jonathan Vilma is all football and winning. So is Chad Pennington, who has taken only two games to reestablish himself as the team's soul.

Smart thing Mangini and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer did, letting Pennington pick the play from among sent-in options. It takes advantage of Pennington's brain and gives him a partnership in running the team, which a bad-cop coach can put to good use whenever he risks losing his players. A trusted quarterback is happy to play the good cop, even can pick his spots to challenge the bad cop on his teammates behalf, a healthy situation if the coach is secure about himself.

It's too early to read that in Mangini, but this is a good situation for him to begin his evolution. He helped ensure that by picking players on character, the mold he knows works in New England. The running observations of Laveranues Coles aside, the receiver is happy to be back with a healthy Pennington and playing like a Patriot.

So far, he's uncensored by Mangini, no football civil libertarian. Must be that he appreciates Coles' characterization of the coach as one the Jets had better learn to live with.

jay.greenberg@nypost.com

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JETS CONFIDENTIAL

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

BY DAVE HUTCHINSON

Star-Ledger Staff

Robertson is struggling at nose tackle

Jets rookie head coach Eric Mangini has done a lot of things right so far this season, but his decision to play Dewayne Robertson at nose tackle in his new 3-4 scheme continues to be perplexing. It's obvious to anyone paying attention that Robertson is ill-suited for the position.

And that point was painfully apparent during Sunday's 24-17 loss to New England as the Patriots and center Dan Koppen had their way with Robertson. The Patriots rushed for 147 yards and repeatedly found running lanes in the middle of the Jets defense.

On many plays, Robertson, who was drafted fourth overall in 2003, wasn't even double-teamed, which is a must against any good nose tackle. He finished with just two tackles.

Robertson, 6-1, 317 pounds, is an explosive and powerful player whose best attributes are his quickness and ability to shoot gaps. Former Jets defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson understood that and Robertson seemed headed toward reaching his potential in Henderson's attacking, aggressive scheme.

Robertson, who is playing the role of the good soldier and not complaining, isn't a two-gap player who can anchor a 3-4 defense in the mold of Ted Washington (365 pounds) or Grady Jackson (360 pounds). He's a playmaker.

Under Mangini, Robertson is being asked to do things that allow others to make plays.

"I thought overall he did a good job of playing the technique that we asked him to play (against the Pats) and doing the things we asked him to do, and that's really what I want," Mangini said. "And sometimes in doing your job first, it's part of playing into the bigger scheme of things.

"You may not be the one getting the sacks, getting the interceptions, whatever the case may be, but the fact is that you did your job and allowed everybody else to do theirs. The goal at the end is to win."

That, however, isn't why the Jets traded up to draft Robertson, who had been compared to former Pro Bowler Warren Sapp. Robertson has a $4.6 million base salary and $9.2 million cap number this season.

And you want him to be a space-eater and allow others to make plays? Come on.

"Whatever role that I have, whatever play that they call, that's what I'm going to do," said Robertson, who admits that when it happens, going against double-teams has been difficult. "I have work to do. I have more stuff to learn. I'm just pretty much doing what they're asking me to do."

NEXT OPPONENT

The Bills (1-1) are coming off an impressive 16-6 victory at Miami in which they notched seven sacks (five in the first 15 snaps), an interception and a blocked punt. Buffalo, under new head coach Dick Jauron, played the Patriots tough in its opener, a 19-17 loss in Foxboro, Mass.

Defense and special teams is the name of the game in Buffalo. Left DE Ryan Denney, a fifth-year pro who entered the season with just 10 1/2 career sacks, had three against the Dolphins. Despite three rookie starters, including both safeties, the Bills kept Dolphins QB Dante Culpepper in check.

Special teams had a punt block and a key 26-yard return. Each play set up field goals. Also, veteran P Brian Moorman placed five of his six punts inside the 20-yard line.

QB J.P. Losman (11-of-18, 83 yards, one TD and no INTs against Miami) has been a game manager while RB Willis McGahee (25 carries for 91 yards last week) has carried the offense. McGahee has three consecutive 100-yard games against the Jets.

GAME PLAN

Look for the Jets to be determined to establish the run after two embarrassing showings. The Jets have rushed for just 142 yards on 58 attempts (2.4-yard average) in their first two games. Should the Jets be able to establish the run, the Bills' young safeties may bite on the play-action passes and Jets QB Chad Pennington can go deep.

UNDER THE MICROSCOPE

The running backs remain on the hot seat. Neither Derrick Blaylock or Kevan Barlow has done the job thus far and Mangini may give second-year pro Cedric Houston a chance. Houston has been inactive for the first two games.

INJURIES

Jets: WR Tim Dwight (leg), OL Trey Teague (ankle) and G Pete Kendall (hamstring) are nursing injuries.

Bills: LB Takeo Spikes (hamstring) and S Matt Bowen (leg) sat out last week. Veteran S Troy Vincent is on IR.

KEY MATCHUP

Jets QB Chad Pennington vs. Bills rookie safeties

Pennington, who has back-to-back 300-yard passing games, might look to take advantage of rookie safeties Donte Whitner and Ko Simpson as Jets WRs Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery are each coming off 100-yard receiving games. Dolphins QB Dante Culpepper was unable to make plays because of poor pass protection.

BY THE NUMBERS

Bills RB Willis McGahee, who was a college teammate and remains good friends with Jets MLB Jonathan Vilma, has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of his last three games against the Jets.

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WHISPERS: Don't be surprised if Derrick Blaylock is dropped from the running-back "committee," with Leon Washington or Cedric Houston moving into the mix

this is the most encouraging thing I read-Blaylock clearly,is not the answer-maybe Herm'll want him back

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the thing I liked was this:

Cotch of the day

Under Herm Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery was Mr. August. The former Jets coach always raved about Cotchery in the preseason, but he forgot about him once the season started. A year ago, he should've been the No. 3receiver, but he was forced to play behind an aging Wayne Chrebet.

Cotchery started to doubt himself.

"When a lot of people are saying how well you're doing, and it's not reflected on the field, it makes you think," said Cotchery, blossoming before our eyes under Mangini. "A lot of coaches say they want to give you an opportunity, but it never happens. Coach Mangini came in and said it was going to be an open competition. He held his word."

That players think if they work hard they'll have a REAL chance. No wonder we had so few rookies step up in the past. Not one of them believed they had any shot of starting opening day. All they cared about was being just good enough to make the roster. I mean if a player with a torn knee ligament (or in the past, two sprained ankles) is given 97% of the snaps, why bother trying? These guys are only human.

Then if/when the incumbent DOES get injured & we throw the young guy in, what you get is an underachiever who looks like a bust. Domino effect.

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Enuff of this RBC bullcrap.

Barlow is far and away our best back. Give him 25 carries, and see how he does. You cannot give him 3 carries in 1 drive, take him out, then totally skip him and give him zero carries the next drive, and 1 or 2 more the drive after that. Houston will never be a good starting NFL back, and this is coming for a Houston supporter in myself. Barlow is better than him, by alot.

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