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Long passes putting Jets' defense in deep trouble

Jets safety Ed Reed speaks to reporters after

Jets safety Ed Reed speaks to reporters after practice at Florham Park. (Nov. 21, 2013) Credit: Newsday/Kimberley A. Martin

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Ed Reed's black T-shirt said it all.

The "WANTED'' poster -- featuring a football and the words "In the air or on the ground, $20,000'' -- cleverly highlighted the biggest issues plaguing Rex Ryan's secondary. Interceptions and turnovers are nowhere to be found, plus the Jets' cornerbacks can't seem to locate the football when it's thrown over their heads.

But as telling as the message was, Reed was quick to tell reporters it shouldn't be taken literally. "No, I'm not offering 20 grand for a turnover. I like how you try to word that,'' Reed said with a dry laugh. "It's a shirt, man. I like how you did that. It's funny how you guys twist our words.''

The truth, however, is the Jets' secondary is as erratic as rookie quarterback Geno Smith. The deep ball remains its biggest issue, and unfortunately for the Jets, their next opponent loves to air it out.

"This is a vertical passing team,'' Ryan said of the Ravens, whose defense he helped coach for 10 years. "So, absolutely, we're expecting a lot of shots thrown at us.''

The Jets (5-5) have surrendered 10 passes of 40 yards or more, tying the Lions for the fourth-most in the NFL. The Ravens (4-6) have given up the most (15).

But the beatdown at Buffalo last week helped to highlight the glaring weakness in Ryan's once-heralded unit. The Jets allowed 245 passing yards to the Bills, including plays of 43, 42, 34 and 31 yards. "We didn't play as well as we could play. I mean, that's obvious,'' defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman said.

Antonio Cromartie, wearing a "Wanted'' T-shirt given to him by Reed, is one of the biggest culprits. A year after making the Pro Bowl, the cornerback has allowed completions of 43, 53 and 60 yards in the past three games. Cromartie wasn't in a very talkative mood Thursday, answering only three questions before scurrying out of the locker room.

"It's not like we're just flat-out getting beat,'' said Cromartie, whom Bills rookie Marquise Goodwin torched for a 43-yard touchdown. "It's just little things about technique and making sure that our eyes go back to the receiver, rather than to the backfield, finding where the ball is.''

Reed knows Ryan brought him here last week to improve the secondary, and the safety has accepted the challenge.

"Every secondary says the same thing: Can't give up the deep ball,'' Reed said. "That's something you have to take upon yourself as an individual to make sure that you don't give up a play.''

Ryan, who implemented the "Buddy Ryan'' drills this week, joked that the defensive backs were still going through the exercises well after practice ended. Their purpose is to test fundamentals against the deep ball, Thurman said.

"Eyes, body position, going up and playing the football when it's in the air,'' he said. "Understanding which way to turn and why and when.

"Anytime you have a weakness in this league, they're going to exploit it until you get it correct. So if balls are going over your head, you better get it corrected pretty quickly, otherwise it's due to happen again and it'll happen quickly.''

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