Robert Saleh lays out expectations for New York Jets cornerbacks

New York Jets, Bless Austin

The lack of a proven force in the New York Jets’ cornerback group didn’t stop Robert Saleh from clearly defining his expectations.

The macabre gift of the New York Jets’ 2020 season was that things became so dire that any move they made over the offseason could’ve been viewed as an improvement. But the Jets’ offseason to-do list could stretch from one end zone to the other after a disastrous two-win season. Even with a cap space surplus, some area on the modern depth chart was going to be neglected and prevent the Jets from becoming immediate contenders.

It’s not hard to find the affected areas.

With matchups against four of the top five passing units from last season looming on their upcoming schedule (Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Houston, Atlanta), the Jets’ secondary remains undermanned and inexperienced as kickoff weekend approaches. The safeties at least have a slight safety blanket (pun intended) with Marcus Maye back on a franchise tag and Lamarcus Joyner, one of only five New Yorkers who are at least 30 years old, coming over from Las Vegas.

The Jets’ front line in the secondary, the cornerback area, leaves much to be desired. Only newcomer Justin Hardee (115 defensive snaps over the past three years) has more than two seasons of NFL experience and he was primarily brought in for his special teams expertise. Four cornerbacks have no experience at all, as the Jets spent the Saturday of draft weekend adding new names to the ranks. Michael Carter II, Jason Pinnock, and Brandin Echols arrived in the draft’s later rounds while Isaiah Dunn was added through undrafted free agency.

At the top of the depth chart, Bless Austin and Bryce Hall…a combined 23 starts between them…are set to take starring roles. Behind them lies a hodgepodge of journeymen (Corey Ballentine, Bennett Jackson) and undrafted youngsters (Javelin Guidry, Zane Lewis, Elijah Campbell, Lamar Jackson…no, not that one, obviously).

Head coach Robert Saleh isn’t worried.

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

One would perhaps expect Saleh, a defensive coach in several assistant stops throughout the NFL, to assemble a more worthy group of defenders for his first year as a head coach. When that proved to be unfeasible, Saleh worked with management to come to a relative compromise of stocking up on young secondary talent on draft weekend Saturday after spending the first two days preparing for the new franchise quarterback’s arrival. So far, he’s happy with the young clay that he gets to mold in his first season at the New York helm.

Saleh doesn’t care about where they’ve been or how they were obtained. He carries one burning question for his new young talents, one he carries with him from his days as the defensive boss in San Francisco.

“Can you win on third down? That’s pretty much it. It’s that simple,” Saleh said on Thursday, per notes from the Jets. “When you’re looking at traits, we had Richard Sherman, who’s all of 6-3, long, incredibly smart, and we’ve had Jason Verrett, who’s all of 5-9, strong and wiry.”

“So they come in all shapes and sizes but the dog mentality, the ability to win in man coverage, the fearlessness to get up there in press (coverage) and win one-on-ones. That’s what matters, because at the end of the day, when it’s crunch time and you’ve got to win in football, it comes down to your ability to win in one-on-one, whether it’s man, zone, however you want to count it.”

The current starters’ respective battles with gridiron adversity are particularly inspiring to a New York team desperate to overcome relentless vibes and reminders of the “same old Jets” concept. Austin, a Queens native, enjoyed a breakout sophomore season at Rutgers but injuries limited him to only five more games in Piscataway over his last two seasons. Hall might’ve been an opening round pick in 2019, but an injury sustained during his senior year banished him to the Saturday wilderness.

To their credit, Austin and Hall have garnered positive reviews in their early camp showings. Brian Costello of the New York Post said that Hall “looks like he is ready to make a jump” in his sophomore season while Austin has been a thorn in the side of Zach Wilson early on. Saleh has been pleased with the early returns, once bringing up the size differences in analyzing each defender.

New York Jets, Bryce Hall

“Bryce is so long and big. Bless is obviously more wiry and twitchy, but they both have an incredible mindset to get up there, get in your face, use their length, use their athleticism,” Saleh said. “What we’ve been doing defensively is we teach a little bit different of a man technique, obviously, and our zones. So try to get them the reps they need to be able to blend the two is not easy and it does take time, but these guys have gotten better every day.”

Just because Austin and Hall have the early edge, however, doesn’t mean that Saleh is going to simply hand the primary duties for them. Saleh has been proud to work the rookie defenders into the rotation, namely calling out Echols and Dunn for “(earning) the right to get a little peek at getting some run with the ones”. He’s also excited for the ongoing nickel group, which appears to consist of Campbell, Carter, and Guidry.

Saleh had a prime opportunity to add in some veteran talent. Both Sherman and Verrett, his former Bay Area proteges, were available on the free agent market, but he opted for a young revolution that can allow for the Jets’ new staff, headlined by Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich to shape their new secondary in their image. Saleh compared the feeling to a roller-coaster on the Garden State Parkway.

“When you’re dealing with young guys, the excitement is like when you’re driving on the freeway and you’re on (empty), you’re like, ‘When’s it going to happen?’ It’s like a roller coaster, but at the same time, you see an unbelievable amount of growth happen from play-in and play-out, and day-in and day-out,” Saleh said. “I’ve seen teams win, I’ve seen teams have growth, you see everything. I’ve seen veteran teams lose, it’s a matter of gaining confidence, gelling, having the ball bounce your way and really getting confidence, and this group is a very confident group, it’s a very young, confident group.”

“They’re having a lot of success here in training camp and when they get to go against Green Bay, and Philadelphia, the Giants, and they get to test themselves against other players, I think that’s where you’ll start to see the identity of this team kind of take shape.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets offseason recap 2021: Cornerbacks

New York Jets, Bless Austin

The New York Jets opted to wait until the latter stages of the NFL Draft to address their issues at cornerback.

Following the conclusion of minicamp activities, the NFL offseason is officially over. The next time the New York Jets convene in Florham Park, they’ll be getting ready for preseason and regular season action for the 2021 campaign. 

With the offseason in the rearview mirror, ESM looks back on the green offseason that was, position-by-position. Our focus on the defense continues by looking back on the cornerback position…

Sep 20, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) throws a pass during the first quarter as New York Jets cornerback Blessuan Austin (31) defends at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

How It Started

Over the past two seasons…a pair of campaigns that could be informally referred to as the post-Trumaine Johnson era when it came to the cornerback depth chart…the Jets have tried to solve their cornerback issues in two different ways. First, they tried throwing veterans at the problem, but former Colts like Pierre Desir and Nate Hairston failed to resolve them. Both Desir and Hairston were part of the Jets’ autumn exodus of 2020, turning the primary corner slots over to younger talents.

To that end, the Jets have turned to the services of day three picks like Bless Austin and Bryce Hall. Austin was, for all intents and purposes, born to play metropolitan football as a Queens native and Rutgers alum. He’s been more than capable of playing an elite level, evidenced by the fact he was second in the Big Ten in pass breakups (14) during his sophomore season, though injuries have stunted his development. Over his first two NFL seasons, Austin has developed a reputation as a strong, aggressive hitter but he has struggled in coverage. Quarterbacks have tallied a 96.1 rating when targeting his receivers over his first two campaigns. Austin’s football story is one of the more inspiring in recent Jets memory, but he’s facing a make-or-break year in terms of on-field production.

Fellow projected starter Bryce Hall has a bit of a longer leash to work with. The Virginia alum was projected to be a top ten pick in 2019 by CBS Sports, but saw his stock fall after a season-ending ankle injury in his senior season. His personal plummet could work to the Jets’ benefit. Hall missed the first eight games of last season but provided a spark of hope for the future in the midst of a lost campaign by earning 36 tackles and an interception (a jaw-dropping one-handed takeaway in the Jets’ first win over the year against the Rams) over the second half of the year.

“He’s got length, he’s got a great brain and he’s got a thirst for the knowledge of the game,” new defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said of Hall, per notes from the Jets. “That’s where eventually he’ll set himself apart I think because he’s just so detailed and he’s a guy that’s like got the callus on his finger from taking notes in practice.”

After the departures of Desir and Hairston, the Jets also employed the services of undrafted depth options like Javelin Guidry and Lamar Jackson. The former was particularly strong in slot coverage and could well play his way into another term with the team this summer. Former New York Giants draft pick Corey Ballentine arrived in November but made a far greater impact as a returner than a defender.

Sep 8, 2018; Evanston, IL, USA; Duke Blue Devils safety Michael Carter II (26) tackles Northwestern Wildcats running back Jeremy Larkin (28) in the first half at Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

How It’s Going

One would assume a defensive-minded head coach like Robert Saleh would try to bolster the cornerback group. Saleh, if anyone, would know the benefits of acquiring veteran help in the secondary from his days in the Bay Area. For example, San Francisco foe-turned-friend Richard Sherman became a valuable mentor to Emmanuel Moseley during the 49ers’ Super Bowl run in 2019.

But the Jets’ 2021 offseason, despite several bastions of hope, was doomed from the start in the sense that so many areas needed adjusting that some position group was almost guaranteed to be neglected. The cornerback slot was made to bite the proverbial bullet.

The Jets were mostly quiet on the free agency front, re-signing journeyman Bennett Jackson and adding Justin Hardee, a former New Orleans Saint better known for his efforts as a gunner than a defender. They finally addressed the cornerback spot in earnest on the final day of last spring’s NFL Draft, adding Michael Carter II in the fifth round before picking up Jason Pinnock and Brandin Echols in the sixth. Carter (no relation to his fellow New York draft pick of the same name) could immediately contribute in the nickel and slot, while Pinnock and Echols are likely long-term projects whose immediate futures lie in special teams coverage. Each rookie, however, could be pressed into action if the top veteran names falter.

New York Jets, Brian Poole
Oct 27, 2019; Jacksonville, FL, USA; New York Jets cornerback Brian Poole (34) jogs on the field before the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Are They Better Off?

The 2021 Jets’ cornerback endeavors are currently the definition of youth in revolt, as Hardee is the oldest representative at 27.

Much like the damage Le’Veon Bell left behind in the running back slot, the aftermath of the Johnson disaster possibly scared the Jets from bestowing big bucks on the free agent market. The 2021 class wasn’t exactly a game changer: the most notable names were either inked to expensive short-term deals (Kyle Fuller, one year for $9.5 million in Denver) or even pricier long options (Adoree Jackson to the Giants at $39 million over three years). None of the available names (William Jackson, Levi Wallace, and Shaq Griffin also among them) were going to push the Jets over the postseason threshold, so general manager Joe Douglas might deserve some kudos for not making a panic purchase.

Having said that, it’s surprising to see the Jets hold their ground with their current, unproven corner depth chart with veteran names like Sherman (one of Saleh’s most ardent supporters) and Brian Poole (a very serviceable green slot option over the last two seasons) lingering in free agency [EDIT, 11:55 a.m. ET: Sherman has been booked on charges of “Burglary Domestic Violence” in Seattle and has been denied bail]. It’s understandable that the Jets probably wish to ring in a new era with young, mostly homegrown talent, but that doesn’t mean that they should have to go about it alone.

Final Offseason Grade: C

Will the Jets regret waiting so long to address the cornerback slot? Follow @GeoffJMags on Twitter and continue the conversation

New York Jets positional preview 2021: Secondary

What does the post-Jamal Adams era look like for a New York Jets secondary riddled with free agents? ESM investigates.

The Position: Secondary
On the Roster: Bless Austin, Corey Ballentine, Javelin Guidry, Bryce Hall, Lamar Jackson, Elijah Campbell, Sauqan Hampton, Ashtyn Davis, J.T. Hassell
Free Agents: Marcus Maye, Brian Poole, Arthur Maulet, Bradley McDougald, Matthias Farley, Bennett Jackson, Kyron Brown
Reserve/Future: Zane Lewis

The Jamal Adams roller-coaster finally returned to the loading station for the last time over the summer, as the disgruntled defender was dealt to Seattle. As far as the Jets are concerned they won’t have to think about Adams again, at least for the time being, until the Seahawks visit MetLife Stadium in 2024. The Jets even netted a solid consolation prize in a pair of Seattle first-round picks.

But, a question lingered, almost forgotten in the hullabaloo Adams caused on his way out: what would become of the secondary he left behind?

Leadership duties turned over to Adams’ fellow SEC alum and 2017 draftee Marcus Maye, who took full advantage of a new year in the spotlight. Maye set new career-bests in almost every major defensive category and ensured the Jets at least appeared in the SportsCenter Top 10 with a pair of jaw-dropping interceptions. His efforts were rewarded with the 2020 Curtis Martin Team MVP Award.

But Maye is set to be a free agent this spring and the situation behind him is quite murky. Injuries prevented some of the Jets’ defensive youngsters from taking the next step in their development, though some (like fifth-round rookie cornerback Bryce Hall) managed to make the most of their opportunities.

It’s great to see the Jets managed to make something of an ugly situation, vis a vis Adams’ departure. But it’s going to mean nothing if they can’t settle their own affairs on the homefront.

Free Agents-to-be

Kyron Brown

Brown, who partook in three games (one start) in 2019, spent all of last season on the Physically Unable to Perform list. As an exclusive rights free agent, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get a camp opportunity.

Matthias Farley

Farley may be brought back for not only defensive veteran leadership, but for his work on the Jets’ special teams. He held special teams captaincy last season and led the Jets with seven tackles on kickoffs and punt returns.

Bennett Jackson 

The versatile Hazlet, NJ native has partaken in ten games over the past two seasons with the Jets and Ravens after a nearly half-decade absence from regular season action. His versatility, having played both cornerback and safety, could warrant him a new opportunity in green.

Arthur Maulet

Another defender who made his mark on special teams, Maulet possibly earned some brownie points with Jets brass when he did a serviceable job at safety over the final games. It’s possible Maulet could return on a third one-year deal.

Marcus Maye

Shortly after his hiring, new Jets head coach Robert Saleh sang of Maye’s praises.

“I know he’s got a tremendous reputation in the locker room,” Saleh said, per notes from the Jets. “From my understanding, he’s a very, very, very talented young man. And within our scheme, safeties are, obviously, they’re important to everybody, but with how we do things, it sounds like he’d be a very versatile piece.”

In terms of the Jets’ own free agents, Maye would likely be at the top of the list of terms of potential returnees. He probably isn’t worth the Eddie Jackson-numbers that Adams was seeking just yet, but the Jets’ plethora of cap space could make him an intriguing candidate for the franchise tag (circa $10-12 million).

Bradley McDougald

In 2020, McDougald became the answer to a New York sports trivia question, as he’s thus far the only yield from the Adams trade with a name. Unfortunately for McDougald, he failed to make an impact in the secondary was one of those afflicted by injuries (seven games). There’s no doubt that McDougald is talented, and the Jets could bring him back on an affordable short-term deal, though he’d probably have to battle for reps with Ashtyn Davis.

Brian Poole

One of the more pleasant surprises of the 2019 season, Poole was brought back on a second one-year deal and posted solid numbers before the injury bug cost him seven games. Through his time in Atlanta and New York, Poole has developed a strong reputation as a reliable slot defender. He’s more than earned another one-year deal, but, set to turn 29 in October, he might be seeking more long-term stability this time around.

Will They Draft?

It’s probably not a question of if, but when the Jets address their secondary on draft weekend. It also feels like these issues can be addressed as early as one of their Seattle picks at No. 23. Top prospect Patrick Surtain Jr. will likely be gone by then, but former receiver Caleb Farley out of Virginia Tech could be around, as well as more of Maye’s fellow SEC options like Jaycee Horn (South Carolina) and Tyson Campbell (Georgia).

Veteran Possibilities

Richard Sherman, San Francisco

The big difference between the hiring of Adam Gase and the modern arrival of Saleh is the difference in who was praising the moves. When Gase was brought in, it was mostly hot-take artists who felt like Gase was an outside-the-box hire. When Saleh came to town, it was the players who were responding positively to the move. No one’s praises have been louder than Sherman’s from afar, as Saleh has worked with him in their shared NFC West stops in Seattle and San Francisco. Sherman told Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer that Saleh would ” turn that entire culture around” and he personally congratulated the Jets on Twitter after the move was announced.

This, of course, raises the question…if Sherman is such a big Saleh fan, would be willing to join him in his first head coaching endeavor? Sherman would be a great fit, as the regaining of his trademark brand of smashmouth football, as well as his championship experience, would be perfect for this team to pick up.

Jason Verrett, San Francisco 

The more Niners the merrier, it would appear, as Saleh comes over from the Bay Area and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich represented the team as a player for a decade. That concept will probably only increase as players will seek to gain traction and stability in Saleh’s new schemes. Verrett would a comparable option to Sherman, though he’s younger and potentially more affordable.

Xavier Woods, Dallas

While there’s plenty of talent available in this secondary free agent class, many of them are expensive names that are either past or nearing the end of their prime. Woods is nearing the end of his rookie deal after four serviceable seasons in Dallas, but he struggled in coverage in the Cowboys’ beleaguered secondary. While the Jets truly can’t afford to help someone else pen a redemption story, as they’ve spent a decade trying to write their own to no avail, they could make an exception for Woods and his flashes of potential.

Outlook

Already in a tenuous spot, the Jets need to do something to bolster their secondary in the post-Adams age. Bringing back Maye, even if it’s through a franchise tag deal that would allow them a year of relatively consequence-free football to see if he fits in Saleh’s system, would be a vital first step in achieving that goal. Adding Maye back would also combat the issues of a free agent class relatively deep in experience while giving the youngsters whom the Jets have high hopes for (Austin, Davis, Hall, etc.) a familiar face to work with.

Signing Maye probably isn’t going to become the ultimate difference between the postseason and another trip home in January. But, if they miss out on him, the Jets better have one heck of a backup plan.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills fans come through for Lamar Jackson after Divisional battle

After a hard-fought battle with Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, Buffalo Bills fans came through in droves to support his charity.

The Buffalo Bills weren’t in a giving mood during the AFC Divisional playoffs, as they didn’t turn the ball over in their 17-3 win over the Baltimore Ravens. Their fanbase, on the other hand, was another story.

Shortly after Buffalo wrapped up their first visit to the AFC Championship Game since 1994, the base known as Bills Mafia came through in droves for Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. Bills supporters began donating to one of Jackson’s favorite charities, Louisville-based “Blessings in a Backpack”, many in increments of eight dollars, matching the number on Jackson’s Ravens jersey.

“Our donation box just started flooding with donations from Bills fans for Lamar,” Chief Marketing Officer Nikki Grizzle said in a report from Mike Reiss of ESPN. “It’s just been overwhelming, in the best possible way.”

Grizzle told Reiss that, as of Sunday afternoon, over $240,000 have come in for the charity since Saturday’s game. The collaborative gesture from Bills Mafia is an act of goodwill toward the injured Jackson, who left Saturday’s game early with a head injury. Jackson first became affiliating with the charity during his days at the University of Louisville and has remained active in its endeavors, routinely making monetary or memorabilia donations. Blessings in a Backpack’s mission statement is defined on their website as “(mobilizing) communities, individuals, and resources to provide food on the weekends for elementary school children across America who might otherwise go hungry”.

Bills Mafia, perhaps best known for their gameday antics, has become well knows for its philanthropy for both Buffalo representatives and their opponents in recent years. After the 2017 regular season finale, Bills fans donated over $415,000 to Andy Dalton’s personal foundation after the then-Cincinnati Bengals quarterback led a game-winning drive to defeat the Ravens, helping the Bills clinch their first playoff berth since the 1999-2000 season. The fans haven’t forgotten their own athletic heroes, famously coming through for quarterback Josh Allen through donations to the Oishei Children’s Hospital after the passing of his grandmother. Further information on donations to Blessings in a Backpack can be found here.

The Bills will continue their Super Bowl trek on Sunday evening, taking on the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game (6:40 p.m. ET, CBS).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills: Greg Roman ready for snowy return to Orchard Park

Roman’s redemption could officially culminate with a playoff win over the Buffalo Bills, the team that set him on his current path in 2016.

As an Atlantic City native, Greg Roman probably knows all about rags-to-riches stories. He’s well on his way to penning his own and can gain a quantum of revenge along the way.

A spotlight will shine on both Roman and his compatriot in offensive coordination Brian Daboll on Saturday night, as the former’s Baltimore Ravens visit Western New York to battle the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Divisional playoffs (8:15 p.m. ET, NBC). The powerful offenses of both Buffalo and Baltimore will face off against not only opposing defenses but a second opponent of Mother Nature. Orchard Park’s Saturday weather forecast heralds an 80 percent chance of snow on Saturday with winds reaching 15-25 miles per hour. This could present a problem for the Bills (second in the NFL at 396.4 yards per game) and the Ravens (NFL-best 191.9 rushing yards per game) and their high voltage offenses.

Earlier this week, Roman talked about what sort of an impact the snow could have on Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. The multi-threat and most recent NFL MVP put up 315 total yards in Baltimore’s AFC Wild Card victory over Tennessee last Sunday afternoon.

“The snow will be much easier for him to deal with than some of the heavy sheets of rain, some of the torrential downpours we’ve played in the last couple of years,” Roman said, per Aaron Kasinitz of Penn Live. “Those are the games that really, really impact it. Snow? Not so much. Wind? Yes; wind can be a major factor.”

“I definitely think (the snow) can aid somebody with his skillset…as far as the footing of the people trying to corral him.”

Roman knows all about Buffalo winters. The long-tenured NFL assistant coach spent 18 games as the Bills’ offensive boss over the 2015-16 seasons under Rex Ryan. In one of the more controversial in-season firings in recent memory, Roman was dismissed from the Bills’ staff shortly after a nationally televised loss to the New York Jets in Week 2 of the 2016 campaign. The ousting came after the Bills tallied 393 yards of offense in a 37-31 defeat.

He wasn’t out of the NFL for long, as John Harbaugh came calling in the ensuing offseason, calling Roman to oversee the Ravens’ tight ends for two seasons before his promotion to offensive coordinator in 2019. Roman previously work with Harbaugh’s brother Jim for six seasons at both Stanford University and the San Francisco 49ers.

By now, there’s use in talking about revenge. There’s little leftover from the Ryan days in Buffalo and Roman already made the return to WNY last season when Baltimore took a 24-17 decision in December. Despite being held to only 257 total yards as a team, the Ravens broke through thanks to three scoring passes from Jackson.

Roman’s work with Jackson has earned acclaim and has put him on the shortlist of teams searching for new head coaches. Choosing to center the Baltimore offense around Jackson’s talents both through the air and on the ground, Roman has kept the Ravens in contention since the team moved on from franchise staple Joe Flacco during the 2018 season. Jackson has hit the height of his powers under Roman, with their magnum opus to date likely being last week’s showing in Nashville.

Buffalo is set to counter with their dynamic offensive pair of Daboll and Josh Allen, who have likewise hit new heights together in Orchard Park. Approximately 24 hours before Jackson earned his first playoff victory, Allen likewise broke his own, brief streak of postseason futility, putting up 378 yards and three total scores in the Bills’ 27-24 victory over Indianapolis. With Allen listed as one of the popular contenders to succeed Jackson as the NFL MVP, it’s safe to say that things have worked out on each respective side.

Yet, one can wonder what Roman could’ve done with the fresh clay of Allen has his Buffalo tenure not come to an early end. During his lone full campaign with the Bills, Roman helped another multi-talented threat, Tyrod Taylor, earn the best numbers of his career. It featured Taylor’s personal bests in passing yards (3,035) and total touchdowns (24) as the Bills earned a respectable ledger of 8-8, securing what was then their first pair of non-losing seasons since 1998-2000.

Current Bills radio analyst Eric Wood theorized this week that prior knowledge of Roman’s systems can help the modern incarnation neutralize Jackson. Wood played nine seasons for the Bills and went to the Pro Bowl after Roman’s only full season.

“You can’t completely abandon what you do defensively because you can’t re-learn a defensive scheme in a week,” Wood remarked through team reporter Jordan LaBarber. “You won’t understand all the different aspects of it. That’s what Greg Roman wants you to do. He wants you to get the defense and get your guys into positions that they’re not used to playing. So, you’ll probably see more base defense from the Bills this week than we’ve seen a majority of this season.”

Though Roman got the last laugh in the teams’ meeting last season, the Bills’ defense did manage to hold Jackson in check by allowing only 185 yards out of him. It was the only time that Jackson was held below 200 personal yards during the 2019 season. Baltimore’s offense has undergone little turnover since, with the only major addition being second-round rookie rusher J.K. Dobbins.

While several BIlls defenders have vowed to study the film from that game, Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott believes that Roman is well-capable of adjusting despite the relatively same personnel.

“I’m sure they’ll be looking at that tape,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said of his defense, per Sal Maiorana of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. “They’ve got a lot of new stuff this year that we’ve been looking at that they’ve added to their offense. So, I think it’s a frame of reference, or a reference point, but not a be all end all.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills to welcome in Baltimore for AFC Divisional battle

An offensive showcase is expected in Orchard Park next weekend, as the Buffalo Bills battle Baltimore for an AFC title game ticket.

The last time Bills Stadium hosted an AFC Divisional playoff game, the Baltimore Ravens didn’t even exist.

That streak will finally end on Saturday night, as the Ravens will descend upon Western New York to battle the Bills in the second round of the NFL’s 2021 postseason tournament. The Bills have earned the prime time slot, as the game will kick off at 8:15 p.m. ET and be broadcast nationally on NBC.

Buffalo (14-3) earned the AFC’s second overall seed but missed out on the lone bye under the new playoff format. The Bills nonetheless took care of business in this weekend’s Wild Card proceedings, topping Indianapolis 27-24 in their first home playoff game since December 1996. Meanwhile, No. 5 Baltimore (12-5) earned entry into the Divisional round with a 20-13 win over Tennessee.

This will be the first postseason meetings between the Bills and Ravens but Baltimore leads the all-time series 6-3, having won the last three matchups. The most recent meeting came in December 2019 in Orchard Park, with the Bills falling 24-17. Lamar Jackson threw three touchdown passes for Baltimore while Josh Allen threw one to Cole Beasley. Buffalo’s last win in the matchup came in September 2013, when they won 23-20 at home

There’s potential for offensive fireworks when the Ravens come to town next weekend. The Ravens aren’t as explosive as they were during their AFC standings-topping campaign last season, but they rediscovered some of their lost prowess on Sunday in Nashville. Baltimore earned 401 yards in their upset victory, with Jackson putting up 315 total yards en route to his first career postseason victory. The Ravens led the league with 191.9 rushing yards per game during the regular season, paced by 1,005 from Jackson. J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards also eclipsed 700 yards and united for 15 touchdowns. Meanwhile, Buffalo, energized by the emergence of Josh Allen and the arrival of Stefon Diggs, was second in the league in total offense at just over 396 yards per game, behind only Kansas City.

Elsewhere on the AFC playoff bracket, the top-seeded Chiefs will take on the Cleveland Browns on Sunday afternoon (3:05 p.m. ET, CBS). On the NFC side, No. 1 Green Bay will take on the sixth-ranked Los Angeles Rams in Saturday’s late afternoon window (4:35 p.m. ET, Fox) while a divisional battle between No. 2 New Orleans and No. 5 Tampa Bay rounds things off at night (6:40 p.m. ET, Fox).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Giants defense had no answers for Baltimore Ravens rushing attack in Week 16

The New York Giants suffered a brutal loss to the Baltimore Ravens today. This was largely considered to be a must-win game as the Giants are pushing to narrowly win their division and make the playoffs.

Unfortunately, the Giants were not able to pull out this win and lost to the Ravens by a score of 27-13. The Giants were playing from behind for the entirety of this game as Baltimore cruised ahead to their tenth win of the season.

The Ravens have the best rushing attack in the NFL. Heading into this game, Baltimore had run for 100 yards in every single game this season. They had totaled 200 or more rushing yards in four games this season. With a dominant performance on the ground on Sunday, the Ravens pushed the total to five 200 yard rushing games in 2020.

The Ravens ran all over the Giants

The New York Giants could not stop the Baltimore Ravens’ rushing attack on Sunday. Granted, every team has failed to shut down the Ravens’ run game. But New York’s defense was dominated by the Ravens’ offense on the ground.

The Ravens had numerous runners thrash the Giants in Week 16. The Baltimore Ravens averaged 6.2 yards per rushing attempt. Their leading rusher, Gus Edwards, had 15 carries for a total of 85 yards. Edwards was not the only rusher to reach 80 yards on the ground, though. Quarterback Lamar Jackson totaled 80 rushing yards on 13 carries. On top of that, the Ravens had a third rusher near in on 80 yards. Rookie running back J.K. Dobbins ran the ball 11 times for 77 yards.

The Baltimore Ravens’ offense racked up 249 rushing yards against the Giants. This is Baltimore’s third-highest rushing total in a single game this season.

The Giants’ defense had no answers for the Ravens’ rushing attack. Baltimore was able to score two touchdowns through the air today, but they were set up by the running game. The Ravens totaled only 183 passing yards against the Giants. Lamar Jackson took what the defense gave him in the passing game, but Baltimore did nearly all of their damage in the running game.

Despite this disappointing loss, the Giants are still alive in the playoff hunt. But in order for them to secure the NFC East, New York needs to be better on both sides of the ball. The Giants will play the Dallas Cowboys next week in another must-win matchup. Dallas ran the ball for 151 yards today and has eclipsed 100 rushing yards in nine of their fifteen games this season. If the Giants want to go to the playoffs, they need to improve their run defense immediately.

New York Giants to face another strong rushing attack against the Ravens in Week 16

The New York Giants lost their Week 15 matchup with the Cleveland Browns last Sunday night. The Browns possess one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL this season, but the Giants kept them mostly in check on the ground. It was through the air that Baker Mayfield, Kevin Stefanski, and the Browns offense did the majority of their damage.

The Giants held the Browns’ offense to only 106 rushing yards, which is far below their season average of 152.6 yards per game. This week, the Giants will be facing another AFC North team. This team, the Baltimore Ravens, also has one of the best rushing offenses in the NFL. The Ravens are averaging a league-high 172.7 rushing yards per game in 2020. The Giants need to contain speedy quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Ravens’ running backs to pick up a necessary Week 16 victory.

The Ravens’ rushing attack

Not only has quarterback Lamar Jackson thrown for 2,461 passing yards this season, but he has also run for 828 rushing yards. Jackson is the Ravens’ leading rusher in a backfield that has multiple talented running backs. Gus ‘the bus’ Edwards has totaled 578 rushing yards this season and rookie J.K. Dobbins has totaled 568 rushing yards this season. This trio of Jackson, Edwards, and Dobbins has rushed for nearly 2,000 yards this season.

The Baltimore Ravens have rushed for over 100 yards in every single game so far this season. Furthermore, the Ravens have rushed for over 200 yards in four games this season. They have been absolutely dominant running the football in 2020, playing a style of football contrarian to the pass-heavy offenses taking over the league this year.

Of course, the Ravens’ offense is built around Lamar Jackson, the 2019 NFL MVP. Jackson is the fastest quarterback in the NFL and is absolutely electric with the ball in his hands. The Louisville product is averaging a league-high 6.1 yards per rushing attempt and has already matched his career-high with 7 rushing touchdowns this season.

The Ravens have scored 7 rushing touchdowns in the last two weeks alone. They have totaled 21 rushing touchdowns this season. The number one priority for Patrick Graham and the New York Giants’ defense this week will be to stop the run.

New York Jets defense reacts to last-minute loss vs. Las Vegas

New York Jets

The New York Jets seemed on their way to their first win of the season, but a brutal defensive lapse brought them back to a winless reality.

Coming out on the wrong side of a Sunday scoreboard probably shouldn’t phase New York Jets fans at this point. After all, their team is the only winless squad left in the NFL and seems destined for 16-game imperfect infamy.

The Jets seemed ready to avoid such a fate with a narrow lead against the playoff-contending Las Vegas Raiders. New York had erased a 24-13 lead in the fourth quarter to the tune of rushing touchdowns from Sam Darnold and Ty Johnson. Their 28-24 lead seemed safe, even when Las Vegas got the ball back with 35 seconds to go. The Jets failed to pick up a first down after a potential go-ahead score was stopped, but they still figured to be sitting pretty at MetLife Stadium.

Braden Mann’s 47-yard punt situated the Raiders at their own 39 before a 15-yard Derek Carr pass to Darren Waller got them to the Jets’ 46. Victory still appeared imminent after Carr’s throw to Nelson Agholor was overthrown after a clock-stopping spike. But Las Vegas’ incoming redemption was a painful reminder that the team made to personify the year 2020 is still trapped in this cycle of distress.

Opting for a Cover Zero setting and an emphasized blitz on a ten-yard third down, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams apparently sought to use pressure to get the Raiders to fold. With the linebackers blitzing and the secondary engaged in man coverage, the Jets put all their hope in a sack to run the clock out and depart East Rutherford with their first win of the year. The plan backfired, with Henry Ruggs breaking free from Lamar Jackson and catching Carr’s deep ball. It led to the game-winning 46-yard score that sent the Raiders into hysterics. Five seconds remained on the clock, but all they produced was a desperation heave from Darnold that resigned the Jets to a 31-28 defeat.

The Jets (0-12) advanced one step closer to joining the 2008 Lions and 2017 Browns in winless 16-game seasons, though most of their fanbase seemed nonplussed by such news, taking solace in the fact that the team appears to be closing in on the top overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Conversely, Las Vegas (7-5) averted disaster and remained alive and well in the AFC wild card hunt. They currently sit one game behind fellow Sunday winners Miami and Indianapolis for the final playoff slots in the conference.

On the other side of MetLife Stadium, postgame comments took on a somber tone. Johnson, fresh off a career-best 104 yards (the Jets’ first such rusher since October 2018), couldn’t fully enjoy the best afternoon of his young NFL tenure.

My family’s happy and a lot of people were messaging me this and that. But at the end of the day, we didn’t get the win,” Johnson said, per Randy Lange of NewYorkJets.com. “I wanted to get the win, that’s point-blank. It’s a blessing. I appreciate the guys giving me the opportunity, the guys on the line, out on the perimeter. I appreciate the hell out of them. I just wish at the end of that we came out with that W.”

Safety Marcus Maye was on the field for the fateful score. Covering Hunter Renfrow in man coverage, Maye was forced to watch helplessly as the ball landed in Ruggs’ waiting arms.

With eight men blitzing, Maye and his fellow men of the secondary were forced to deal with Las Vegas receivers one-on-one. The safety appeared to take a jab at Williams’ defensive playcall in his postgame comments.

“That situation, (there) just has to be a better call. We gotta execute, but you gotta help us out at the same time,” Maye said, per Brian Costello of the New York Post. “We fought hard to put ourselves in the position to win. That’s the point in the game we’ve just got to be in a better call.”

For his part, Jackson accepted responsibility for what happened with the Ruggs situation. The undrafted rookie has been pressed into a full-time role on defense due to both medical and transactional departures.

“I didn’t execute it to the best of my ability or how I wanted to. It’s tough, but at the same time, I also know that call is not going to define me or my career,” Jackson said in another Post report from Greg Joyce. “It’s tough. It’s definitely tough. I wasn’t looking for help, but I definitely was probably hoping it wasn’t on me. All I could think was, ‘Not me.’ I don’t want to be the reason. But I was. Gotta live with it. Gotta get better.”

Even Carr himself was shocked by the turn of events on the New York defense, telling SportsMax that he “couldn’t believe” that the Jets opted for an all-out blitz.

The call itself goes to Williams’ corner. Though the defensive coordinator did not speak after the game, head coach Adam Gase remarked that the team was trying to put pressure on Carr, which had worked to their benefit earlier in the game. New York was credited with six quarterback hits on Carr throughout the game, while Neville Hewitt and Quinnen Williams each earned a sack.

Nonetheless, the impulsive plan backfired at the worst possible time. The Jets’ appeared to ease up the pressure on the previous play, sending only four to the backfield on Carr’s final in completion of the afternoon.

“(The defense had) done well with (pressure) all game. That’s what happened. We had a couple of free runners, but we didn’t get there,” Gase said, per Rich Cimini of ESPN. “You’re in this league long enough, you see games like this. You don’t want to be part of them, I know that.”

The Jets return to action next Sunday, hitting the road to take on the Seattle Seahawks (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Who should replace Gregg Williams at defensive coordinator?

New York Jets, Gregg Williams

The New York Jets defense currently looks lifeless for a number of reasons. The biggest two, though, are coaching and lack of talented personnel. The primary excuse to this point has been, “the defense cannot get off the field” when in actuality, the Jets’ time of possession is only on average of five minutes or so less than their opponents. They fail to control the ball, which is true, but the team is so poorly coached; it is laughable.

With budding turmoil between head coach Adam Gase and Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams, it is not a long shot to think that Williams could be axed soon, with Gase following eventually. Williams has regressed mightily this year, likely due to the talent drop-off and the poor leadership from Gase, Still, as the rift widens between the two, I decided to pinpoint one guy who makes sense to replace Williams as soon as possible.

Dennard Wilson Deserves A Shot

Dennard Wilson had a fairly impressive college football career at the University of Maryland. Wilson was a dynamic piece of the Terrapins secondary, playing in 42 games with 30 starts. In his senior year, he played well enough to earn an honorable All-ACC Mention and eventually a contract from the Washington Football Team. Unfortunately, a season-ending injury wrecked his pro career, but he quickly found his niche as a coach.

Fast forward to 2017, Wilson was brought on to be the defensive backs coach under Todd Bowles and the Jets. Wilson impressed so highly in his first year that he kept a job despite the coaching turnover. As of this season as well, Wilson even earned a promotion to Passing Game Coordinator/ DBs Coach. Wilson has quickly ascended the coaching ranks, and at 38, has made a name for himself in the NFL.

Despite having one of the least talented secondaries in the league, last season, the secondary was able to display potential with pieces like Brian Poole and Bless Austin earning long-term roles. Then this season, the team has improved its amount of turnovers and rotated in young corners to see what they are made of. The success of guys like Austin, UDFA Lamar Jackson, and Brian Poole can be attributed to the hands-on approach used by Wilson.

His coaching has led him to keep his job, and he evidently deserves a shot to prove himself as a coordinator. To put it frankly, Williams deserves a shot to go work under a competent young head coach, a la, Wade Phillips in LA. As for Wilson, the potential coaching ascension possibilities for him would be plentiful if he had success. He could remain on the staff as the coordinator if another head coach didn’t want to bring in his own guy or if the coach/organization sees potential in him. Not only that, but he could earn a potentially better opportunity as a coordinator elsewhere, or even as a head coach in New York if he does THAT good. The opportunities are endless, and the Jets should seize the opportunity to lessen the organizational dissension by axing Williams and giving Wilson a shot as the Defensive Coordinator.