September 24, 2014

For now, the New York Jets are still confident Geno Smith can be their franchise quarterback.

The greater concern, though, may be their banged-up secondary slowing down a potentially gimpy Calvin Johnson on Sunday when the Detroit Lions visit MetLife Stadium.

The scrutiny on the second-year quarterback intensified following Monday night's 27-19 home loss to Chicago. Smith's first pass was an ill-advised screen that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown, and despite his 316 passing yards, the offense sputtered in key moments as New York (1-2) had one touchdown in six trips inside the red zone.

Smith has committed five turnovers, but coach Rex Ryan quickly defused any potential controversy with a firm vote of confidence Tuesday.

''I think everybody's behind Geno,'' Ryan said. ''He's our quarterback and our football team believes in him, so that's it.

''Here's why I believe so much that Geno will improve: I've seen him improve,'' he added. ''I've seen him make huge improvements, from where he was last year and from how he progressed through the season, where he's at. But I'll say this: I think he's going to continue to improve. I truly believe that.''

Ryan would like to see improvement throwing the ball on first down. Smith is 19 for 34 for 145 yards with a league-high four interceptions - Tony Romo is the only other quarterback with more than two - and also has been sacked twice.

Despite New York being second in the NFL with 472 rushing yards, Smith's inability to consistently produce manageable distances for second down has contributed to the Jets being held to two or fewer rushing yards on 14 of 32 such play-calls. Ryan hinted Chris Ivory may become the featured back of a trio that includes Bilal Powell and Chris Johnson after a team-high 44 yards Monday and an overall average of 5.7 yards per carry.

''Maybe Chris Ivory will get more time because he's certainly running hard, he's doing a great job out of the backfield and there's not a whole lot of guys that want to tackle him,'' Ryan said.

Smith is expected to have Eric Decker at wide receiver after he re-aggravated a hamstring injury Monday.

The Jets have been stout against the run, allowing 2.8 yards per carry and a league-best 55.0 yards per game, but their patchwork secondary has been suspect. New York is one of six teams without an interception and has allowed a 100-yard receiver each of the last two games.

With top cornerback Dee Milliner still nursing quad and ankle injuries, containing Johnson - leading the Lions (2-1) with 19 receptions, 329 yards and two TDs - will be a challenge. And he finally has a legitimate No. 2 receiver opposite him in Golden Tate, who has 16 catches for 201 yards despite being targeted only 21 times.

The two have given defenses fits on third down, combining to make 18 catches on 23 pass attempts for 316 yards and 16 first downs. The end results the last two weeks, though - totaling 26 points - does leave room for improvement.

"We're close," quarterback Matthew Stafford told the team's official website. "We've just had some missed opportunities. Little plays here and there."

Johnson's 165 receiving yards the last two games are only one more than he had in Week 1 against the Giants, but he may be primed for a breakout game - assuming he plays. Johnson didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday and was a limited participant Friday due to an ankle issue, and he's officially listed as questionable.

In his last 12 interconference games, Johnson has 84 receptions for 1,531 yards and 13 touchdowns. He's also nine catches shy of 600 and would be the seventh-fastest in league history if he reaches the milestone in his 110th game.

Detroit's defense deserved most of the praise in a 19-7 victory last Sunday over Green Bay, limiting a Packers team that torched the Jets for 310 passing yards and 390 overall in Week 2 to 223 total yards.

The win came at a high price, though, as starting middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch suffered a season-ending knee injury. DeAndre Levy, who has a team-best 27 tackles, and Tahir Whitehead are now charged with filling that void and leading a defense that has yielded an NFL-best 244.3 yards per game and 2.8 yards per rush.

''To the team in general it's a great loss because (Tulloch) is the leader of the defense,'' said Whitehead, who will play middle linebacker. ''Personally I consider Tully a brother to me, and when I heard the news I was really hurt because I was praying that it wasn't as serious as they were saying initially. And then I came in (Monday) and it was just heartbreaking.''

New York won 23-20 in overtime at Detroit on Nov. 7, 2010, as Darrelle Revis helped limit Johnson to one catch for 13 yards.

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