Last season, the New York Jets under defensive coordinator Gregg Williams earned praise for going above and beyond expectations. This year, they are struggling as much if not more than an offense that has sputtered through the season’s first three games.
While the numbers aren’t terrible, the Jets are tied at fifth for the most points allowed in the NFL, really the only statistic that matters. A unit that a season ago was No. 16 in total defense is now struggling to get off the field and keep teams out of the end zone.
In 2019, the Jets defense overachieved. Despite injuries and being a talent-deficient group, the defense still was overall solid and outperformed expectations in the second half of last season.
This year, they’re giving up first down penalties at an alarming rate. They’re not getting off the field on third downs.
And they simply are struggling in nearly every phase of their viability as a unit.
“Well the thing is, that we got to continue to take the ball away and we got to score some on defense too, we’ve done that,” Williams said on Tuesday in his virtual press conference.
“Last year, we had some really good success at that, we’ve have to do have some more success of that. And then again, regardless of wherever we take over, wherever we’re on the field is and we got to force people to three and outs. We’ve got to get them to third down, we improved in that quite a bit last week and then make them kick field goals, that’s the biggest thing, make them kick field goals.”
The issues on defense go beyond the loss of safety Jamal Adams, traded this past July to the Seattle Seahawks.
A season ago, Adams was a standout for the Jets. In 14 games, he had 75 tackles and 6.5 sacks, becoming a multiple player in terms of his impact in pass defense, his support of run defense and his ability to rush the passer and make plays behind the line of scrimmage.
Williams was able to turn Adams into an All-Pro. There is no one on the defense currently at that level.
The loss of Adams hurts but the fundamental problem of generating a pass rush exists for the Jets.
While the offseason was spent bettering the offensive line in both free agency and the NFL Draft, easily the team’s weakest point last season, issues at cornerback and especially on the edge were swept under the rug. The rebuilding process for the Jets will go into 2021 for sure and general manager Joe Douglas could only do so much in one offseason without tying up too much cap space moving forward.
But now, without bringing in a high-end pass rusher, the chickens are coming home to roost.
The Jets are unable to generate a legitimate pass rush without sending multiple players blitzing. Do this, of course, means that they are sacrificing the ability of their linebackers and the secondary in coverage.
In the past two weeks, the Jets have seen the San Francisco 49ers and then the Indianapolis Colts systematically move down the field. Quick releases, underneath routes and slants are exposing the Jets when they blitz.
“It’s more about what we can do and what I can do for our guys here. Those are always things that I’m never ever going to douse my opinion or douse my competitiveness. The thing that’s really good here, is that there’s so many of those same type of personalities,” Williams said.
“There’s not any of those young men that aren’t that way, nobody on this staff is not that way, we’re looking to compete in every avenue. They’re making progress, but we’ve have to now win, we have to win a game, that’s what we have to do.”