HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) -Kellen Clemens can't seem to catch a break.
The New York Jets quarterback is making his fourth NFL start Thursday at Dallas, and each has come against defenses ranked in the top half of the league.
``It's been a great challenge for us each week, especially offensively,'' Clemens said Tuesday. ``There are a lot of good defenses that we have on the schedule. We always embrace that challenge.''
Clemens' first start came in Week 2, when he replaced the injured Chad Pennington against the always tough Baltimore Ravens. Since being given the starting job three weeks ago, Clemens has faced Washington, top-ranked Pittsburgh and now Dallas.
``They have a lot of talented people on their defense,'' Clemens said.
That's putting it lightly. The Cowboys are ranked ninth overall and fourth against the run. They like to go after the quarterback, too. DeMarcus Ware is tied for third in the league with nine sacks, while Greg Ellis has 6 1/2. Dallas is also tied for second in the NFL with 15 interceptions, including five by Anthony Henry and four by Ken Hamlin.
``Defensively, they're able to generate a lot of turnovers,'' coach Eric Mangini said. ``They're very opportunistic back there. They generate a lot of pass rush with their outside linebackers and stop the run. Those things combined always make it challenging.''
The Jets fared well against Pittsburgh's stout defense Sunday, using Thomas Jones and the running game to stun the Steelers 19-16 in overtime. It might be a bit much to ask the offense to do it again four days later.
``We're just focusing on this game,'' tight end Chris Baker said. ``We can't worry about what we did two days ago. We have to worry about this game, go out and execute and hopefully come out with another big win.''
New York might be without one of its top weapons at Dallas. Wide receiver Laveranues Coles was limited in practice Tuesday with an ankle injury after he was injured early in the game against the Steelers.
``I'm healthy. I'm standing here,'' Coles said when asked how he felt. ``As far as anything else, that's about as far as I can go with it.''
If Coles can't play Thursday, it would be the second time in three games that he's been sidelined. He missed the Jets' game against Washington on Nov. 4 with a concussion. That ended an impressive streak of durability in which Coles had started in 104 games and played in 107 straight. Coles avoided a question about whether he'll be able to play.
``You have to talk to the staff about that,'' he said. ``I'm not at liberty to talk about that. We'll see how it goes.''
Justin McCareins and Brad Smith would see increased playing time if Coles doesn't play, as they did Sunday when he missed a chunk of time nursing the injury. Smith is third on the team with 21 catches, but the former college quarterback is still learning to be an NFL receiver.
``It's been different for me,'' Smith said. ``It's been definitely a good challenge and I'm learning everyday and every game and every situation how to be the best I can be. As the year goes on and I'm progressing and getting better at whatever, I'm happy.''
He had a few big drops against the Steelers, though, including a pass from Clemens that he couldn't handle in the back of the end zone that would've won it in regulation.
``There are going to be growing pains whenever you learn a new position,'' Mangini said. ``Brad is a guy that will continue to improve. The mistakes that he makes or the things that happen, he's going to learn from. Throwing the ball to Brad Smith is a plus decision at any point. I feel that he's a guy that we can consistently count on.''
Clemens is hoping his teammates will be able to say the same about him as a team leader. While his numbers aren't eye-popping - 50.2 quarterback rating, 50 percent completion rate, three touchdowns and five interceptions - he's been able to give the Jets a chance late in each game he's started. He's particularly thrived in two-minute, hurry-up situations, as he did on the tying drive Sunday.
``When live bullets have flown, he has done a great job of being prepared and knowing what to expect,'' Baker said.

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