<
>

Jets assistant challenges players by posting ugly number -- 29

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers put it up on the board in his meeting room, a not-so-subtle message to his players:

29th in run defense.

"That's not up to our standards," said New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, who perceived Rodgers' message as a challenge to the defensive line.

At the quarter mark of the season, the Jets are allowing 144 rushing yards per game. That stings because, for all their issues in recent years, they've always been able to stop the run. From 2009 to present, they've surrendered the third-fewest rushing yards in the NFL.

"It's not just the standards of the Jets, it's the standards of our manhood," nose tackle Steve McLendon said. "We know what kind of team we want to be and, in order to be that kind of team, we have to stop the run."

The Jets have allowed 190, 180, 30 and 175 yards in the first four games, respectively. In last week's overtime win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, they played an eight-man front on 16 running plays -- a league high for Week 4, per ESPN Stats & Information -- and still struggled against Leonard Fournette and Chris Ivory.

They figure to take a similar approach Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. Facing a rookie quarterback and little talent on the perimeter, the Jets should overplay the run, daring DeShone Kizer to beat them through the air. If they're not careful, he could beat them on the ground. The former Notre Dame quarterback has rushed for 97 yards and two touchdowns, which makes him the second-leading rusher on the team. (Isaiah Crowell has 134 yards and a 2.9 average.)

The defense has allowed only two touchdowns in the last two games, but it's walking a tightrope if the run defense remains porous.

Rodgers definitely got the attention of his players.

"It's up there right now -- 29th," McLendon said. "We've got to handle it. It's something we've got to take care of, and I think we will."