BGA: Defensive Backs – Picked apart

The first half of this game (which you’ll recall I said was “where all the damage was done” despite the close scoreline) exposed the unexpected downside of the Ed Reed move (not just the decision to sign him but also to make him a full-time player right off the bat).

Dawan Landry was never going to be benched because he’s back there coordinating the secondary. Obviously this has meant that Antonio Allen, who was playing really well before Reed arrive, was the one to lose playing time. However, the under-appreciated aspect in all this is the fact that Landry’s role has changed from a deep safety to more of an in-the-box safety.

Of course, it’s never as simple as that with the Jets, whose safeties were often interchangeable before Reed’s arrival. However, Landry had been playing the deep safety role for the most part and doing a solid job. It’s the same role that Yeremiah Bell played last year and while Landry might not have the athleticism he once did (or that of his brother), his skill-set compares favorably to someone like Bell. The media suggested all off-season that Landry was an in-the-box safety who would be miscast in a free safety role, but this was based on the misconception that “free safety” equates to coverage safety, whereas in actual fact, the player closer to the line of scrimmage is the one who will be in more direct man-to-man matchups. The free safety role is much more suitable for a veteran nearing the end of their career, especially on a team that doesn’t really employ a roaming center fielder.

At this stage of his career, moving Landry back into such an in-the-box role – which of course he played alongside Reed in Baltimore – simply exposes him to more man-to-man matchups and these were exploited three times in the first half yesterday to help extend drives, the first time Landry has given up more than two catches in direct coverage all year. The younger Antonio Allen is more suited to these situations due to his superior athleticism and coverage skills, but moving him into a situational role just means that Landry (who has to be out there) can be exploited in coverage. It also hasn’t helped Allen, who has given up three first down catches and dropped an interception in 25 snaps over the three games since Reed arrived. Prior to that, he’d only given up one catch on every 19.5 snaps, many of which weren’t first downs.

Essentially, by trying to accommodate Reed’s role, Ryan seems to have weakened a couple of other positions, which was the last thing an already-struggling secondary needed.

As many people noted, the Jets employed a lot of cover-two looks yesterday, again perhaps trying to simplify things to accommodate Reed, take Landry away from being employed in direct coverage situations and give extra support to their starting corners – a struggling rookie and an injured veteran. Some had been questioning why Ryan was so reluctant to do this, but now he has and it wasn’t particularly successful. The fact is that all the reasons for going to that look are personnel or scheme weaknesses that they were trying to paper over.

Dee Milliner has been widely criticized throughout the media for yesterday’s performance, but I’m going to go against the grain a bit here, because there were some flashes that he is starting to get it. He jumped a couple of routes, did a better job of looking back for the ball and showed some good recovery speed on the fourth down incompletion in the first half. Obviously, he was overmatched against Brian Hartline and got beaten for a handful of first downs, usually because he gave the receiver too much of a cushion, which is still his biggest issue. He also had a couple of really bad missed tackles. Earlier in the year, he wasn’t really making any positive contributions, so although he’s proven that he isn’t consistent enough to play at this level yet, he is making some small progress and I am encouraged.

I’ll remind everyone that I’d been saying all offseason we could expect Milliner to struggle because that’s always the case with defensive backs transitioning from the Nick Saban system. The team should have realized this too and brought him along slowly instead of persisting with starting him when in the past they’ve always favored the guy who “gives us the best chance to win”. Milliner did make some positive contributions yesterday, but he looked distraught after the Wallace touchdown and you have to weigh up whether having him out there while he’s struggling is going to do anything to accelerate his development.

On the other side, Antonio Cromartie looked really bad by his standards. It’s obvious he’s limited physically, but his technique was all over the place on the some of the catches he gave up. The damage wasn’t that bad (59 yards, one TD, one interception on six targets) but they really took advantage of him on a couple of plays.

While I spoke about Reed’s indirect impact higher up, his individual performances haven’t been too bad. He did have a bad missed tackle on the first touchdown yesterday though.

Kyle Wilson gave up two third down conversions, but was also in good position on two other passes, one of which he broke up with a big hit. Remember that Bills game where he had five penalties (including four in consecutive plays)? Other than that game, he has ZERO penalties this season.

Ellis Lankster finally got some reps on defense down the stretch, with his 16 snaps representing more than he’s had over the rest of the season put together. On one play, he jammed the receiver at the line and closed on the ball to make an open field tackle for a gain of just three, which was exactly the type of play the Jets receivers need to be making with teams looking to exploit them on quick passes. However, on the next two plays he was playing off his man and gave up two first downs, although on the second one Landry appeared to bite on a run fake, leaving him isolated.

Jaiquawn Jarrett saw some brief action, assisting on a key run stop at the goal line and Josh Bush also got into the game at the end, making one good play in run support.

Darrin Walls saw action on just four snaps but Isaiah Trufant hasn’t played on defense since week six.

Next up…is the poor play on the special teams units being overlooked due to the offensive struggles?