To say the Jets have been poor in their coverage of tight ends would be an understatement. So head coach Rex Ryan is trying a different tactic this weekend.
“I’ll be honest, [Marcedes Lewis] should probably lay this one out, because when you think about it, it’s a long season,” Ryan joked. “I don’t think he needs to be playing this week. It’s not even a divisional game.”
Lewis is banged up, but he is still expected to play Sunday, regardless of what Ryan would prefer.
One week ago, Cowboys tight end Jason Witten helped spark the Dallas offense with six catches and 110 yards. Now the Jets face Lewis in one of Sunday’s key matchups.
“There are so many tight ends out there who are like wide receivers anymore — they are big but they have good hands and run good routes,” linebacker Bryan Thomas said. “Sometimes, it is just tough to defend against them, no matter what you do.”
It has been a consistent struggle for the team as Jets fans have grown tired of seeing massive tight ends getting gang-tackled by their secondary following big gains.
“Some of it is what you’re playing coverage-wise. Sometimes they can get to when it’s man-on-man. Maybe there’s some protection on top, but there’s vulnerabilities in certain calls we made and [then] they called the right play at the right time, would they get a favorable matchup?” head coach Rex Ryan said. “There’s a lot of things that go into it. We’re not just playing a standard four-across secondary, which a lot of teams play.”
The Jets’ 3-4 scheme, which often calls for the outside linebackers to blitz, might be partially to blame. With the linebackers in the backfield, the Jets are exposed in terms of covering the tight ends, who can then turn short gains into big plays.
But it might also be nothing schematically with the Jets as much as it is bad execution.
“I don’t think it is necessarily anything with the scheme as much as it is about our technique and what we’re not doing right out there,” outside linebacker Jamaal Westerman told Metro. “It’s not staying on assignments and not using our leverage the right way. If you don’t play your leverage right, you’re giving a tight end or any receiver for that matter way too much space to operate. If a quarterback gets the ball in there with a tight pass, there’s nothing you can do and sometimes, it is just the fact that no one got their hands on him as he began his route, to slow him down or to stay with him. It’s little things like that.”
Thomas has been reviewing film of the Jaguars on his iPad since Monday and has begun to break down all of their tendencies. He said Lewis is a tremendous player and is the prototypical tight end in today’s NFL offense.
“He’s a huge guy, a huge presence out there with really good hands, so that makes him dangerous,” Thomas said. “He’s also a real good blocker so even if he’s not out there, making plays with the ball, he’s making plays for their running backs too.”
The match-up issue with Lewis poses a problem Sunday afternoon for the Jets if the responsibility of picking up the tight end in coverage falls to a cornerback or a safety. That can be a tall order for anyone.
“You just have to use your quickness sometimes, get in that position where a pass is impossible,” said 5-foot-10 cornerback Donald Strickland. “Cut down the lane, get physical, make it tough on them. That’s the only way when you’re forced into that situation, to use your natural advantage against them.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer for team news and live coverage from practice everyday.