New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis watched as Eric Smith caught the tipped ball, and he stopped his backpedal and started forward to the end zone alongside the safety. Here was the secondary’s chance to put the Jets new defensive philosophy in action.
“When I saw him stumbling, I just said ‘Eric pitch it back,’ but I didn’t know he was going to pitch it back until he actually made the look,” Revis said. “And I was like ‘Oh I’m getting the ball.’ It was a good moment right there.”
“I ran the option in high school, it’s like riding a bike,” Smith said.
Smith intercepted an Andy Dalton pass intended for A.J. Green on the Cincinnati Bengals’ second series of the game. The defensive backs set up the offense on Cincinnati’s 16-yard line, leading to the Jets’ first touchdown. It was one of two Jets interceptions in the first quarter. With only 12 interceptions last season, the defensive backs want to be more impactful this season.
“It is a huge emphasis,” safety Jim Leonhard said. “We didn’t get enough last year and we felt like we could have changed some games if we caught some of them.”
Leonhard picked off the a third-and-15 pass intended for Andre Caldwell with 7:29 left in the first quarter. His said he didn’t even think about his leg, which needed surgery last season after being broken in a December practice.
“We said overthrows and tipped balls, you got to intercept those passes, and that’s exactly what happened,” Ryan said. “The first one was tipped and the second was an overthrow. And last year we struggled getting interceptions, so hopefully this is a sign of things to come.”
Last season the Jets offense had two more interceptions, 14, than the defense recovered. Quarterback Mark Sanchez has seen those stats and knows that if he can do a better job protecting the ball and the defense does a better job of taking possession of poorly thrown balls, the Jets have better odds of getting a home playoff game this season.
“It’s huge -- just turnovers in general,” Sanchez said. “That’s why the Patriots have been successful. You look at games when they don’t give it up and win the turnover battle. It’s unbelievable, they win like 85 percent of the games, it’s sick.”
Last season the New England Patriots gave up five interceptions but hauled in 25 as a team.
Against the Bengals, those two interceptions set the Jets offense up at the 16- and 10-yard lines. Sanchez appreciated the field position, and it’s something the team is focused on this season.
“We haven’t really been successful in the past of getting defensive touchdowns,” Revis said, “so you might see more of that.”