CORTLAND, N.Y. -- You never want to put too much weight on the preseason, especially the first game, but Thursday night may have provided a glimpse of the defensive challenge that will confront the New York Jets in 2014.
The Indianpolis Colts came out passing, with the ultra-talented Andrew Luck picking apart the Jets with quick, short and accurate throws. Dink, dink, dink. Luck completed four of five for 53 yards on his first and only series, and it probably would've been five for six and a touchdown if it weren't for a bad shotgun snap at the Jets' 5-yard line.
It's no secret: The strength of the Jets' defense is the front seven, and they can stuff the run as well as any team in the NFL. To neutralize the horses up front -- Wilkerson, Richardson & Co. -- you spread them out and play pitch-and-catch, attacking their rebuilt secondary. It doesn't take a football scholar to know this.
The Jets have to figure out a way to deal with it or they will get shredded in the first two months of the season. They face some of the top quarterbacks -- Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Jay Cutler, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. These guys won't think twice about throwing it 40 or 50 times, especially if they smell blood in the water.
"It's going to be tough to run the ball against us, just because of the way our defense is built," linebacker Demario Davis said after the 13-10 win against the Colts. "We have to make sure, on the back end, we're prepared for teams to attack us through the air. That's going to come from a lot of work, a lot of film study. It's going to come from being cohesive as a unit between the linebackers and DBs, so we can turn our front guys loose."
The Jets' pass defense was uncharacteristically poor last season. They allowed 3,947 yards, 22nd in the league, their worst performance in a quarter-century. To address the problem, general manager John Idzik made two significant moves. He replaced cornerback Antonio Cromartie with journeyman Dimitri Patterson and he drafted safety Calvin Pryor in the first round. On a lesser scale, he took cornerback Dexter McDougle in the third round.
Clearly, it was a long-term approach, as they passed on (or failed to sign) several big-name cornerbacks in free agency. They left themselves short at the most important position in Rex Ryan's defense, and this isn't a second guess. We said it from the outset. The questions remain. If anything, the concern level has escalated because Patterson was shaky in the opener, allowing two receptions for 60 yards.
Ryan defended Patterson, blaming the game plan. It was a vanilla plan for the first game, with Ryan claiming he left his cornerbacks in straight "man" situations, meaning no help from the safeties. Dee Milliner held up nicely, Patterson didn't.
"Dimitri's a veteran player and he'll respond," Ryan said. "You mix a trap or two in over there and we'll see what happens."
An AFC personnel executive who has studied the Jets closely said cornerback is the team's biggest issue. The executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Patterson isn't an every-down cornerback at this stage of his career, that he is better suited to the slot in nickel situations. It was no surprise that Patterson played the slot with the second-team defense, with McDougle on the outside. McDougle ended up playing 34 defensive snaps, a nice chunk of work. It wouldn't be a surprise if he starts to see more first-team reps in practice.
McDougle needs to be on the fast track. Just in case.