FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Big plays. Busted coverages. Receivers running free.
That’s the way things are going these days in the back end of the New York Jets’ defense, and opposing offenses know it.
“There’s a target on our backs in the secondary,” safety Calvin Pryor said. “We’re definitely a part of the problem that’s going on right now.”
The Jets are allowing an average of 285 yards passing per game, ranking them 26th in the NFL in that category. New York is tied for third-worst with 17 pass plays allowed of 20 or more yards, and the Jets are first — or, last, in this case — with seven pass plays of 40 or more yards given up.
That includes the 42-yard touchdown toss from Seattle’s Russell Wilson to a wide-open Tanner McEvoy last Sunday , when the Seahawks receiver caught the ball in stride and there wasn’t a New York defender within at least 15 yards of him.
“It’s really not miscommunication, so that’s probably the wrong choice of word,” coach Todd Bowles said. “You can call it ‘busts.’ Sometimes it’s not miscommunication when there’s only one guy involved. I’ve seen certain plays like that that I’ve coached the secondary. I don’t know if there’s been as many at the same time, but overall during the course of the year, you’ve seen certain plays like that.
“We’ve had way too many.”
And, no one has been immune from being beat for a big gain.
Not even Darrelle Revis.
Sure, he is banged up, dealing with a sore hamstring and uncertain to play Sunday at Pittsburgh. But he hasn’t been the same shutdown cornerback he established himself to be for much of his terrific career, as evidenced by his struggles against Cincinnati’s A.J. Green in Week 1 and Buffalo’s Marquise Goodwin in Week 2 .
Buster Skrine, the Jets’ other starter, has had his issues, too. Starting safeties Pryor and Marcus Gilchrist have also had shaky moments for a leaky secondary. Meanwhile, the defensive line has helped New York rank second in run defense.
“The front is doing a great job stopping the run,” Pryor said. “It’s our job to stop the pass and that’s what we’ve got to go out there and do.”
The Jets face a tough task Sunday in trying to get their secondary right against a pass-happy Steelers offense that routed Kansas City 43-14 last week. Ben Roethlisberger threw five touchdown passes, including two to Antonio Brown.
Sammie Coates has at least one reception of 40 yards in each of the Steelers’ first four games, while Brown’s four TD catches are tied for the NFL lead.
“If you’re struggling as a secondary, it doesn’t matter who you face,” Bowles said. “You have to fix your problems.”
So far, that has proven to be much easier said than done for the Jets.
And it’s not necessarily a case in which the scheme needs to be simplified in the secondary.
“They’re about as simple as they can be,” Bowles said. “That’s alarming.”
Many of the players point to better communication throughout the defense, talking things out and identifying what each of them needs to do on a given play.
“We’ve had a couple of breakdowns,” defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers said, “but I feel totally confident that we can get them fixed.”
The Jets (1-3) have just three takeaways through four games, two interceptions by backup cornerback Marcus Williams, and a fumble caused by Gilchrist against Kansas City that resulted in a touchback. New York was 3-1 after four games last season, helped in large part by 13 takeaways.
“If you look back to last year around this time, we had a lot of turnovers and guys making plays on the ball,” Pryor said. “This year, we’ve just happened to start off slow. Hopefully we can pick it up and see how things go.”
It remains to be seen how the Jets will decide to defend Brown, especially if Revis is unavailable. Bowles suggested that it could be a game-time decision on Revis, who hasn’t practiced this week.
Williams could slide into Revis’ spot opposite Skrine, and rookie Juston Burris could see extended action. Darryl Roberts could be active for the first time this season, and promoting Bryson Keeton from the practice squad could also be an option.
“He’s very challenging, man,” Pryor said of Brown. “He’s a very tough receiver and can do it all. He gets the ball a lot, gets the ball a ton. I think that’s what makes him one of the best. Just got to try to limit his targets. As a player, he’s definitely a tough matchup for anybody. We want to try to contain him the best we can.”