The New York Jets have become known as a defensive football team ever since Rex Ryan arrived as head coach back in 2009. The team that took the field against the Cincinnati Bengals starters on Saturday, however, was a far cry from the dominant units of the past.
While there were some flashes of promise from the Jets defense in the 25-17 victory, there were also a lot of signs this could be a unit that struggles early in the 2014 regular season.
The Jets' pass defense was an area of particular concern.
Starting Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton absolutely had his way with the starting New York secondary, going 8-of-8 for 144 yards and a touchdown on three drives. All three of Dalton's opportunities resulted in Bengals scores.
These numbers would be cause for concern were they posted by a Peyton Manning or a Drew Brees. The fact the Jets allowed Cincinnati's starter to hit 100 percent of his passes should be especially troubling because Dalton is not yet an elite passer.
While Dalton has led a very good Bengals team the past three seasons, he has yet to enter the upper echelon of quarterbacks. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Dalton ranked just 16th overall among quarterbacks in 2013.
This suggests Dalton is a more formidable foe than what the secondary might face from other teams. However, he still ranks below guys like Matt Ryan, Ryan Tannehill and Tony Romo.
New York fared much better against the pass once Dalton exited the game. Tyler Wilson completed seven of 13 pass attempts for a mere 39 yards, while Matt Scott was a disastrous 8-of-22 for 54 yards with an interception. The Bengals did not score following Dalton's exit.
Unfortunately, New York's performance against the Cincinnati backups is not a likely indicator of what to expect during the regular season. The fact the Jets couldn't defend a single Dalton pass—or even cover long enough to force a sack—should raise serious red flags in New York.
Injuries, of course, played a major role in the secondary's struggles. Cornerbacks Dee Milliner, Dimitri Patterson and Dexter McDougle all missed the game with injuries.
According to Darryl Slater of NJ.com, rookie McDougle is done for the season with a knee injury while Milliner is suffering from a sprained ankle, and Patterson has a variety of leg issues.
Seth Walder of the New York Daily News has reported Milliner's injury could sideline him for the start of the regular season.
While New York may be in a better position once the secondary gets healthier, the team may have made a mistake by not chasing a premier pass defender in free agency. The team allowed starter Antonio Cromartie to walk this past offseason, while idly watching guys like Aqib Talib, Alterraun Verner and Brandon Browner sign with other teams.
According to the team's official website, Milliner and Patterson are currently listed as the primary starters at cornerback. Patterson only appeared in six games for the Miami Dolphins last season, with four starts. Milliner ranked just 68th overall among cornerbacks, according to Pro Football Focus.
This is not a starting duo that should inspire a ton of confidence.
There are still some glimpses of hope, of course. Rookie safety Calvin Pryor has the potential to become a future superstar, and Ryan's creative blitz schemes should help take some of the pressure off the back end of the defense.
However, the Jets defense currently looks like a unit that could struggle to defend the pass at times in the coming season—even with everyone healthy.
Unfortunately for New York fans, Dalton showed just how bad the Jets secondary might look if injuries carry over into the regular season.
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