Jets O-Line Has Tough Task Against Sack Happy Giants
HEMPSTEAD, NY- On draft day in April 2006, the Jets declined to trade up for a flashy skill position player in Reggie Bush or choose Matt Leinart, a highly acclaimed quarterback coming off a successful college career.
General Manager Mike Tannenbaum and head coach Eric Mangini were entering their first seasons with those job titles and made a decision they hoped would fill a key spot on the offensive line for the next decade. The front office drafted D'Brickashaw Ferguson as the potential anchor at left tackle, adding center Nick Mangold later in the first round.
But the young line that showed promise during last season's playoff run looked overwhelmed again last week. The Jets running game failed to produce much outside of Leon Washington's fourth-quarter touchdown run, during a 17-14 loss to the previously winless Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Awaiting Ferguson next week is a matchup with Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who is coming off a six-sack performance against the Eagles that could be the best defensive performance of the season. Umenyiora also forced two fumbles and fell one sack shy of tying Derrick Thomas'NFLrecord. It will be another test for Ferguson, who will try and help his team improve to 2-3 and salvage a chance to qualify for the postseason for a second-straight season.
"It lets us know as a team that they are fully capable and able to make sacks and pressure the quarterback," Ferguson said. "As a player on the line and as an offense, we will take note of that and be able to develop some type of scheme or plan to prevent that from occurring."
Pete Kendall was credited for providing veteran leadership to Ferguson and Mangold during their rookie seasons. After a contract dispute, the guard was traded before the season opener, and the line is still trying to compensate for Kendall's absence. The Jets are ranked 28th out of 32 teams in team rushing, averaging 82.5 yards-per-game.
"Schematically, there are ways that defenses can stop runs," Ferguson said. "It's not always as clean cut as, 'I will just do this'. With time, if you keep running the same things, try different things and tweak little things, it pops. When it pops and that momentum comes, you are an unstoppable force. I just feel like it is a time situation."
Time is no longer an asset for Mangini's team. A loss to the Giants at the Meadowlands this Sunday will mean a 1-4 record with games remaining against Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, New England and Dallas still remaining on the docket. To prevent a bad start that could be nearly insurmountable, running back Thomas Jones will be counted on to break out of his early season funk.
Jones was expected to solidify the tailback spot when Tannenbaum acquired him from the NFCChampion Bears. He was provided with a contract extension on arrival, yet the 29-year-old has rushed for fewer than 70 yards in three of his first four games. Part of that production comes from a struggling line, while another component is the fact that Jones received just 12 carries against the Bills, recording just 35 yards for a 2.9 yards-per-carry average. "All we can do is focus on each game individually and that is what we are working on this week not only with the running game, but the whole team in general," said Jones, who was part of an offensive that committed nine penalties against the Bills. "We are trying to be as consistent as we can be."
Not surprisingly, Jones' only 100-yard rushing game came in the team's victory over Miami. He will be facing a Giants defense featuring Pro Bowl-caliber ends in Umenyiora and Michael Strahan, as well as Mathias Kiwanuka and Justin Tuck.
Kiwanuka was registered three sacks, while Tuck added two last week, helping Big Blue win for the second-straight week to garner momentum. The Giants will be the home team for this week's contest.
"They have some great defensive players over there," Jones said about facing a unit that pounded Philadelphia for 12 sacks. The running back will be expected to prevent that pressure from engulfing Chad Pennington. That task requires a push up front against the defensive ends, while also containing linebacker Antonio Pierce and safety Gibril Wilson.
"Sometimes the situation dictates where you have to go more towards throwing the ball," Mangini said when asked about play-calling last week. "Being able to mix the runs in those situations I thought was really effective, and that's where he had some of his bigger runs where you have a softer box."Mangold and Ferguson are the face of the Jets' line, though none of the other three starters are jumping out to solid starts. Adrien Clarke, Anthony Clement and Brandon Moore were part of a unit charged with two holding penalties. Mangini would like those numbers to improve against a resurgent Giants' team.