Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine gave a candid assessment Thursday of Cromartie's up-and-down play, saying he's not sure why the veteran cornerback is so inconsistent.
"That's something we've had many discussions about behind closed doors," Pettine said.
Cromartie has three interceptions, matching Darrelle Revis for the team lead, but he also has allowed all three touchdown passes against the Jets and has committed a team-high five penalties.
"I'm not sure, it could be a horoscope thing," Pettine deadpanned. "I'm at a loss. I think we're all searching for that answer."
Cromartie wasn't the Jets' first choice to start opposite Revis. They made an offer to Nnamdi Asomugha, the jewel of the free agent class, but he spurned the Jets to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles. At that point, the Jets turned to Cromartie, also a free agent, and gave him a four-year, $32 million contract.
Cromartie came up big in Week 2, intercepting two passes in the win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. The following week, he struggled in a loss to the Oakland Raiders, committing four penalties for 46 yards and fumbling a kickoff return.
Pettine said they can usually figure out early in the game if Cromartie is going to be on or off. He said he'll call down from the press box and asked secondary coach Dennis Thurman on the headset, "Which Cro do we have today, the good Cro or the bad Cro?"
Cromartie is known to have mental lapses and, at times, he's not as physical with wide receivers as the coaches would like. In Monday night's win over the Miami Dolphins, he lost track of Brandon Marshall on a scamble play, resulting in a 46-yard completion.
Pettine said they've come to expect Cromartie's ups and downs, allowing them to prepare an alternate game plan.
"It's frustrating, but I think we also have to have the ability as a staff not to just rely on him so much that the plans are built around him, that if he's not playing well, we're not going to play well," he said. "We've learned that you almost have to have some calls in mind where if things aren't going well on his side of the field, we need to protect him a little bit more."
Cromartie should be highly motivated this week, facing the San Diego Chargers. He played for them from 2006-09, quickly emerging as one of the game's young defensive stars but eventually falling into disfavor with the organization. They traded him to the Jets after the 2009 season, fetching a second-round pick from the Jets.
"It's something I'm definitely looking forward to," Cromartie said.
Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com.