Last week, Bart Scott commented on the Jets new-look safety spot. Scott lauded Jim Leonhard, but then said “we’ve got grown men back there now.” That was an obvious problem for the Jets this offseason and they knew they had to make some changes.
According to Football Outsiders, the Jets ranked 1st against #1 WRs, 5th against #2 WRs, 18th against #3+ WRs and a lowly 27th against TEs in 2011. Covering tight ends wasn’t always a problem, but very much became one last season. Tight ends and slot receivers are generally more the domain of slot corners and safeties, and the slot corner is dependent on the safeties help to play his spot. So while the Jets defense was still one of the best in the league, the easiest way to beat it was to keep Revis and Cro distracted with other targets, then use capable slot receivers and tight ends to act as safety valves to depressurize the Jets pass defense.
Gronkowski and Hernandez had a big hand in the Jets struggles, but they weren’t the only tight ends to shine. So too did Jason Witten, Fred Davis, and Brent Celek. The Jets were serious about addressing the spot, but with a light draft class and free agent class at the safety spot they had their work cut out for them. To compensate, at the start of free agency the Jets aggressively pursued LaRon Landry, Brandon Meriweather and Reggie Nelson. While Nelson might have been the priority due to his versatility, the Jets were pleased in getting Landry on a one year highly incented deal. Then after the Jets drafted some promising prospects in Bush & Allen, and Rex Ryan went to Florida to recruit Yeremiah Bell to round out the group.
The veteran safeties know why they were brought in and are going to do everything in their power to make the middle of the Jets secondary a frightening place for opposing pass catchers. ”We’re just not going to let guys run down the field,” Bell told ESPN New York. ”That’s one thing we’re not going to do. We’re going to get our hands on them early and beat them up a little bit and make them earn that catch [...] When you come over the middle, and you have me and LaRon sitting there, that’s something to think about.”
Brian Bassett, theJetsBlog.comI think the physical nature of what Bell and Landry will add to the unit will be one of the big stories as the season begins. Their physical play, bumping of tight ends or slot receivers at the line along with a defensive front that should be able to get to the quarterback more quickly will help slow down the ability of teams to pick on the middle of their defense. Bell is durable and shouldn’t have problems making it through the season, although he is 34, but he’s 34 with two years work experience after high school – not college football then the pros – he’s kind of like Sione in that way. Then when the team needs more coverage help, Pettine will mix in Kyle Wilson and Josh Bush to augment with some more coverage skills in the secondary on passing downs.