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Jets' Bowles challenges D-line to step it up this week

September 13, 2017
Associated Press

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Todd Bowles wants to see a lot more from his defensive line.

The New York Jets coach knows the big men up front have the potential to be dominant. He also made it clear that they played below their expected standards in the season opener at Buffalo last Sunday.

"Myself, our room, we take a lot of pressure," defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson said Wednesday. "Coach even called us out. We take full pride in ourselves and our work and we definitely accepted the challenge and know we've got to play better this week."

New York will be at Oakland on Sunday, facing a high-powered offense led by quarterback Derek Carr and re-energized and unretired running back Marshawn Lynch.

That comes after LeSean McCoy and the Bills ran all over the Jets, piling up 190 yards on the ground — including 110 in the first half.

"We didn't stop the run," Bowles said. "So the coaches and players alike, me included with everything else, we didn't play well."

On Monday, defensive end Leonard Williams said he noticed small details that were a bit off that needed to be corrected. Wilkerson echoed his defensive linemate's sentiments.

"We definitely need to do a better job of staying in our gaps up front," Wilkerson said. "Last week, myself and the rest of the guys, some players weren't in our gaps, so we have to make sure we stay fundamental with that."

The Jets have lots of inexperience all over their roster, but the defensive line is one area that is being counted on to be consistently good with Wilkerson, Williams and nose tackle Steve McLendon leading the way.

"We're men," Wilkerson said. "I feel like as a man, you should definitely want to accept that challenge. We know what we have to do this week and we have to come out and accept the challenge from Coach."

There's also the issue of trying to handle Lynch, who is back in full Beast Mode after year in retirement.

"We've got our hands full," Wilkerson said. "We've got to make sure we gang-tackle him."

The Raiders running back rushed for 76 yards on 18 carries in Oakland's 26-16 season-opening win at Tennessee.

Now that the rust has been shaken loose and the Oakland-born Lynch is playing close to home, the Jets could be in for some real fits.

"He looks better than ever," Bowles said. "He actually looks quicker. Laterally, he looks just as good as he always has."

And, Bowles isn't surprised in the least.

"No, he looks good," the coach said. "He always looked good. He looked good when he left."

Jets wide receiver Jermaine Kearse played four seasons with Lynch in Seattle, winning a Super Bowl together in 2014. The two have remained friends and Kearse wasn't necessarily surprised Lynch returned to football.

"He's one of the best running backs I've gotten to see, personally, with my own two eyes," he said. "It's going to be good to see him out there back in the black and silver, playing for his hometown. That's something that I got to experience playing for my hometown and I knew that was something that was important for him.

"So, it'll be a good battle, but I think our defense can handle it."

Lynch is far from the only concern for New York, though. Carr's progress really elevated last season, his third in the NFL, and was an MVP candidate. The Raiders quarterback is fully recovered from a broken leg that ended his season in Week 16, and opened this year with two TD tosses in the win at Tennessee.

Wide receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree combined for 11 catches in that game, and will be a handful for the Jets' revamped secondary.

"You can't pinpoint one area with these guys," Bowles said. "They have a lot of weapons. They are very well-balanced and they are very well-coached. You have to play sound across the board. You can't just pinpoint areas and say, I want to take away this,' and then they'll do that. They'll take what you give them, and they are pretty good at everything (and) mixing it up, so we just have to play sound football."

And, for the Jets' defense, that starts up front.

"We watched the film, so everyone saw what they did wrong," Wilkerson said. "Everybody in the back end knows what the D-line did wrong on a play, and everybody on the D-line knows what a DB might've done wrong. We all held each other accountable. That's one thing we're doing.

"We've just got to make sure we get this thing corrected this week."

NOTES: TE Jordan Leggett (knee), LB Bruce Carter (ankle), TE Eric Tomlinson (wrist) and S Rontez Miles (eye) did not practice. CB Morris Claiborne (sore ankle) and LB Edmond Robinson (sore groin) were limited. Bowles said it was too early to rule anyone out for Sunday. ... Bowles said he hasn't decided on whether Christian Hackenberg or Bryce Petty would serve as the backup to Josh McCown this week. At Buffalo, Hackenberg was the No. 2 while Petty was inactive as he continues to recover from a sprained ligament in his left knee.

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