When the New York Jets traded superstar cornerback Darrelle Revis, they thought they had replacements ready. Antonio Cromartie was outstanding when Revis was injured last season, and former 1st round pick Kyle Wilson had improved steadily. When the draft came, the team grabbed Alabama corner Dee Milliner with the 9th overall pick, making him an immediate starter.
Cornerback was supposed to be a strength for the team, but it was perhaps the Jets’ biggest weakness in Sunday’s win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tampa Bay receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams made mincemeat of Cromartie and Milliner, and their performance raised quite a few concerns going forward.
Cromartie started the game on Williams while Milliner began by covering Jackson, but they switched after each gave up a quick reception. Milliner then covered Williams for most of the game, and Williams posted 4 catches for 52 yards and touchdown. Three of those catches came after beating Milliner, including a touchdown where the rookie learned a hard lesson about how good NFL receivers are.
Milliner was decent overall, but he certainly looked like a rookie. However, there is nothing wrong with that, and he will get better as the season goes on. Milliner missed much of the preseason with a shoulder injury, and he simply needs more reps.
Cromartie, on the other hand, has no such excuse. Jackson ripped Cromartie apart, totaling 7 catches for 154 yards. Five of those catches were the direct result of beating Cromartie, and Jackson routinely found ways to get open against the Jets’ premier cover man. This was in stark contrast to Revis, who essentially removed Santonio Holmes from the game.
No one thought Cromartie could be quite as good as Revis, but everyone expected a far better performance than this. Rex Ryan’s defense is hugely predicated on cornerbacks being able to handle one-on-one coverage, which Cromartie had excelled with in the past. Of course, this is just one game, but the Jets cannot afford any more games with such a low level of performance from their star corner.
Both Cromartie and Milliner have very little time to get things figured out, as the Jets play Tom Brady and the New England Patriots Thursday night. The Pats are going to be without Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola, which helps, but Brady is still more than capable of slicing up a defense.
Improved coverage is absolutely essential for the Jets going forward. They are going to rely on their defense heavily, and in today’s passing NFL, cornerbacks have a huge impact on games. The Jets’ pair have the potential to be an elite tandem, and they need to play like it the rest of the season.