Jets try to cure NFC North blues against Lions

( – Rex Ryan’s got 99 problems, but run-stopping ain’t one.

But unfortunately for his New York Jets, run-stopping won’t be what serves
them best this weekend.

The Jets host the visiting Detroit Lions – and perennial All-Pro receiver
Calvin Johnson – on Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium, where a defensive
secondary held together with duct tape and bubble gum will face the latest in
a series of early-season challenges it has thus far not fared so well against.

New York has not managed an interception through its first three games and has
permitted a 100-yard wide receiver – first Jordy Nelson, then Alshon Jeffery –
in consecutive losses to Green Bay and Chicago.

Last time the Jets faced the Lions, in a 23-20 overtime win in 2010, Johnson
caught one pass for 13 yards while being blanketed by Darrelle Revis – now a
shutdown cornerback for the New England Patriots.

These days, No. 1 corner Dee Milliner has appeared in just one of the Jets’
initial three games and did not participate in Wednesday’s practice thanks to
a quadriceps injury. It’s not a good precursor for a matchup with the Lions’
Johnson, who’s got 19 catches for 329 yards and three touchdowns thus far.

Opening things up in the early going for the former Georgia Tech star has been
the presence of No. 2 target Golden Tate, who came over from Super Bowl
champion Seattle in the offseason and has made 16 receptions for 201 yards
while being thrown to just 21 times by quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Johnson and Tate have caught 18 balls in 23 third-down tries, which have
yielded 316 yards and 16 first downs. Still, with Detroit scoring just 26
points in two games since erupting for 35 in Week 1 against the New York
Giants, progress is both needed and expected, especially against a non-
conference foe.

Johnson has compiled more than 1,500 yards and 13 touchdowns on 84 catches in
his last dozen games against AFC opposition. He enters the game with 591
career receptions, and a nine-catch effort against the Jets – in his 110th NFL
appearance – would be the seventh-fastest ascension to 600 in history.

On defense, the Lions held Green Bay to 223 total yards in a 19-7 last week,
seven days after the Packers had racked up 310 passing yards in a come-from-
behind defeat of the Jets at Lambeau Field.

Middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch, however, is gone for the season with a knee
injury suffered against Green Bay, which leaves holdovers DeAndre Levy and
Tahir Whitehead to take up the slack.

Detroit has allowed 244.3 yards per game through three weeks, and just 2.8
yards per rush attempt.

“To the team in general it’s a great loss because (Tulloch) is the leader of
the defense,” Whitehead said. “I consider Tully a brother to me, and when I
heard the news I was really hurt because I was praying that it wasn’t as
serious as they were saying initially. And then I came in (Monday) and it was
just heartbreaking.”

Whitehead and his role-shifting teammates will line up against embattled New
York quarterback Geno Smith, who’s endured another week of scrutiny after a
Monday night loss to Chicago in which a screen pass was picked off and
returned for a touchdown, and the Jets scored one TD in six red-zone trips.

Smith would up with 316 pass yards in the 27-19 loss, but got a post-game
endorsement from Ryan.

“Everybody’s behind Geno,” Ryan said. “He’s our quarterback and our football
team believes in him, so that’s it. Here’s why I believe so much that Geno
will improve: I’ve seen him improve. I’ve seen him make huge improvements,
from where he was last year and from how he progressed through the
season, where he’s at. But I’ll say this: I think he’s going to continue to
improve. I truly believe that.”

Smith has been intercepted four times and sacked twice on first downs, and
he’s the only quarterback other than long-time Dallas whipping boy Tony Romo
with more than two first-down picks.

Alongside, New York’s rushing game is second-best in the league with 472
overall yards, but it’s been limited to two or fewer yards on 14 of 32 second-
down carries. Chris Ivory went for 44 yards against the Bears and averaged 5.7
yards per carry, putting himself in position to take over the feature back
role in a crowded backfield that also includes Bilal Powell and offseason
arrival Chris Johnson.

“Maybe Chris Ivory will get more time because he’s certainly running hard,”
Ryan said. “He’s doing a great job out of the backfield and there’s not a
whole lot of guys that want to tackle him.”


A Bush-League Run Game

Though their problems against high-octane quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Jay
Cutler are well-documented, the Jets have suffocated runners to the tune of
2.8 yards per carry and a league-best 55 yards per game through two weeks. If
Ryan can come up with a way to hold the aforementioned Johnson and Tate to a
dull roar, it’ll be up to Reggie Bush to make headway on the ground.

Patching the Defensive Holes

The Lions have been equally proficient in stopping opposition runners through
three games, but the absence of Tulloch could open some things up if the Jets
settle on a primary runner, or if they continue the rush-by-committee
approach. Either way, though, they’ll need a more consistent Smith – not the
version who’s already been responsible for five turnovers. If not, perhaps
Michael Vick takes a bow.


Even in the days of Revis Island, the Jets had consistent problems with teams
that had viable No. 2 options at wide receiver, and the sorts of dynamic
running backs who could create matchup problems for safeties and linebackers
in coverage.

The Lions, with Johnson, Tate and Bush in the fold, have precisely the
personnel to make migraines for a Gang Green not nearly on that level these

Sports Network predicted outcome: Lions 24, Jets 20