An ode to the NY Jets’ defense: This group is championship-ready

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By: Michael Nania

Let’s take a break from the doom and gloom to credit the New York Jets’ Super Bowl caliber defense

It’s a gloomy time in New York Jets land. The team just absorbed its second frustratingly-winnable loss to the despised New England Patriots in a three-game span. This latest defeat gave New England its seventh consecutive season sweep over New York. Worse, the Jets blew a chance to claim first place in the AFC East and instead dropped out of the AFC playoff picture entirely.

Everyone seems to be fixated on the dreadful offense; specifically the dreadful quarterback, Zach Wilson, who had fewer completions than Braden Mann had punts in Sunday’s loss.

Amidst all of this hysteria, what cannot get lost in the sauce (pun very much intended) is the reason why Wilson’s struggles are so frustrating: The New York Jets have a Super Bowl-ready defense. This marvelous unit is dominant enough to lead the Jets deep into the playoffs.

Let’s dig into the elite-level success of Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich‘s defense. First, we’ll focus on the unit’s gem of a performance against the Patriots in Week 11. Then we’ll take a look at the season as a whole.

The New York Jets’ defense continuously held strong in Week 11

In a game where it got no help from the offense or special teams, the defense had to carry the Jets’ hopes and dreams on its back in Week 11. If the Jets were going to have a shot at winning, the defense needed to be nearly perfect.

And it was.

Despite getting little rest due to an offense that averaged 4.2 plays per drive, the defense continued to make one stop after the next to keep New York in the game. Across 11 Patriots drives, the defense forced seven punts, three field goal attempts, and one turnover on downs. New England’s offense scored 3 points.

Patriots kicker Nick Folk did miss two of his three field goals, so the Patriots’ offense could have had 9 points (which would still be an incredible defensive performance), but the defense deserves some credit for both of those misses. Prior to each miss, the Jets recorded a sack that backed the Patriots up from a more makeable field-goal position. Those sacks proved to be fatal for Folk on a windy day.

Those big pre-kick sacks are indicative of the defense’s timely playmaking throughout the afternoon. The defense actually had some stretches where it gave up chunks of yardage, but it consistently held strong before the Patriots could do any serious damage. New York forced five stops in the mid-field area – this includes four punts that ranged from the Patriots’ 41 to 49-yard line and a turnover on downs at the Jets’ 36-yard line.

New York performed well in most areas. On the ground, the Jets held New England to 3.8 yards per carry with 99 yards on 26 carries. In the pass rush, the Jets picked up six sacks on Mac Jones after recording the same total just three weeks earlier. Six different players were responsible for those sacks.

The linebackers and safeties had some tackling woes underneath. This allowed Mac Jones to average 9.1 yards per pass attempt despite mostly dumping the ball off. However, the cornerbacks enjoyed another lockdown performance in coverage, preventing New England’s wideouts from getting any catches for more than 20 yards. Altogether, the cornerback trio of Sauce Gardner, D.J. Reed, and Michael Carter II allowed only 3 first down receptions across 14 targets in their direction.

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Despite losing both contests, the Jets’ defense had two of its best performances of the season in the two New England games. According to Pro Football Reference, the defense posted a total EPA (Expected Points Added) of +9.3 in the first Patriots game and a total EPA of +9.8 in the second Patriots game. Those totals rank as their third- and second-best marks of the season, respectively. The Green Bay victory ranks first with a +16.2.

So, you can blame those losses on the offense (and special teams). The defense did everything it could to get the Jets a pair of crucial divisional wins that would currently have them sitting atop the entire AFC playoff picture.

Speaking of total EPA, the Jets now rank third-best in the NFL with a total defensive EPA of +26.5. They trail only the Broncos (+35.5) and Patriots (+59.0).

New York is also fifth-best in defensive DVOA and fourth-best in points allowed per drive. The latter ranking is especially impressive when considering the Jets’ defense has been given the league’s fourth-worst average starting field position, starting drives at the opponent’s 30.1-yard line on average (nearly two yards worse than the league average of 28.3).

This is a legitimately elite defense. It’s ready to go compete for a title.

One great way to visualize the dominance of this unit is to look at the number of points it has allowed when excluding drives that started in Jets territory. Here are those totals in each game this year:

  • BAL: 14
  • CLE: 23
  • CIN: 17
  • PIT: 13
  • MIA: 17
  • GB: 10
  • DEN: 9
  • NE: 13
  • BUF: 17
  • NE: 3

Looking only at drives that began on the opponent’s side of the field, the Jets’ defense has allowed 17 points or fewer in 9 of its 10 games this year. On average, they’re yielding 13.6 points per game on these drives.

This defense can be the backbone of a championship team. All the Jets need is to complement it with an average offense. If they can accomplish that, they will have a real shot to make some noise in January this year.

Next Article: The overlooked reason NY Jets have missed Corey Davis so badly 

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