Take a rookie quarterback, add a steady rain, and have him try to solve one of the toughest defensive secondaries in the league. Chaos will ensue more often than not, as was the case in the Jets’ 27-7 drubbing of the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday night.
“The whole night played out pretty well for us,” said head coach Rex Ryan. “We said overthrows and tipped balls, you have to intercept those passes, and that’s exactly what happened. Last year we struggled with getting interceptions, so hopefully this is a sign of things to come.”
On the first play of the Bengals’ second drive from their 33, Dalton dropped back and fired a pass to fellow rookie A.J. Green. The ball careened off the wide receiver’s hands, and into the outstretched arms of Jets S Eric Smith.
“It definitely swings the momentum to our side,” said Smith. “Whenever you can take the first or second possession, get a turnover and let the offense score, it definitely swings the momentum our way.”
The interception by Smith drew a reaction from fans, and what followed was perhaps even more exciting. Smith pitched the ball to CB Darrelle Revis, who brought the ball down to the Bengals’ 16.
“When I caught it, I was stumbling,” said Smith. “I saw him out there. I figured I’d let him run with it. He had a better angle to get into the end zone.”
The lateral is not a play often used by defenses, as it provides an opportunity to give possession right back to the offense. Although there is risk involved with the maneuver, Revis believes it’s worth the potential reward.
“This year the coaches — especially our defensive coaches — are telling us to try to score on defense a lot more,” said Revis. “We haven’t been really successful in the past in getting defensive touchdowns, so you might see more of that this year.”
The interception by Smith, and his joint return with Revis, set up the Jets’ offense for a one-play touchdown drive. On the first play from scrimmage, QB Mark Sanchez found WR Santonio Holmes for a 16-yard TD to put the Jets up 7-0.
After another exchange of downs, the Bengals took over at their 27. Two quick incompletions put them at third-and-15. Dalton dropped back, looking for WR Andre Caldwell. Instead, he found Jets S Jim Leonhard, who intercepted his first pass since last Thanksgiving against the same Cincinnati squad.
The Jets’ secondary was wreaking havoc on the young QB as Dalton was 0-for-5 with two interceptions.
“That’s what we try to do,” said Leonhard. “If you’re inexperienced, or you’re struggling at QB, you don’t really want to play our defense. We put them in some tough situations. We were able to catch the ones he threw to us.”
Leonhard’s athletic return put the Jets deep into Cincinnati territory. Although the offense failed to push the ball into the end zone from the 10, K Nick Novak tacked on a 30-yard field goal to increase the lead to 10-0.
Leonhard missed the late-season stretch last year after breaking his leg in practice on Dec. 3. Having a safety of his caliber back in the lineup is a welcome sight for his fellow defensive backs.
“It’s good to see Jim back out there making plays,” said Revis. “I think it’s probably going to build some more confidence in him, knowing that he can still play this game. He’s still one of the leaders on this team.”
The defensive backfield is shaping up to be one of the most feared groups in the league. At the corners, Revis and CB Antonio Cromartie are consistent threats to make a play on the football every time it’s in the air.
With Leonhard back healthy and Smith gaining a starting role, the two will be the last line of defense for the Green & White.
“The emphasis this year was on trying to make more turnovers, playing the ball better,” said Smith. “I feel like we did that tonight. We just have to keep doing it from there. Those guys on the outside are going to do a good job, so it’s going to be on Jim and me in the middle.”
They’re off to a good start.
Tags: Andy Dalton, Antonio Cromartie, Cincinnati Bengals, Darrelle Revis, Eric Smith, Jim Leonhard
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