In a somewhat unconventional manner, the New York Jets have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL.
That was on full display last Sunday against the Bengals when New York sacked Andy Dalton seven times and hit him often while controlling Cincinnati’s ground game. The Bengals could only muster 57 yards on the ground on 19 carries in a futile effort against the Jets’ defensive front. The Bengals ‘center and right tackle had particularly long afternoons in this contest…and New York didn’t even have Sheldon Richardson, who was serving a suspension.
In fact, on the strength of their great line, the Jets very easily could have won that game if it were not for super human feats of AJ Green and a blocked Jets’ extra point attempt.
New York lost by just one point.
Richardson’s one game suspension has been served, so he will be back Thursday Night in Buffalo for a tough divisional confrontation. As for the Bills’ offensive line, it is very strong on the left side from center to left guard to left tackle, but the right side of the line is very suspect. However, Buffalo’s best offensive lineman, Cordy Glenn, will miss this game leaving a massive hole at left tackle.
Let’s define “unconventional”.
The Jets are unique with their defensive front because they are just so loaded with big people who excel at what they do. Even though it is technically a three-man front (although that really varies), the Jets don’t have the typical edge pass-rusher. Instead they utilize Richardson, who entered the league as more of a penetrating 3-technique type, Muhammad Wilkerson, who is closer to a 3-4 defensive end in nature, Leonard Williams, who also has that type of build and attributes and new acquisition Steve McLendon, who is a nose tackle, but also has some gap versatility. With Richardson back in the fold, McClendon’s snap totals might drop a bit, but he’s an excellent fourth lineman to use throughout the game, particularly on early downs.
Under Todd Bowles, the Jets’ defense (like the one Bowles coached in Arizona), loves to use a high number of defensive backs and smaller, faster personnel on the second and third levels in nearly all down and distance situations. Bowles is a notorious blitzer and he brings these faster defenders from all over the field. His favorite method of blitzing is bringing heat right up the middle of the formation. Having such a destructive defensive line should open more room to do exactly that.
Even though New York doesn’t have a pure 4-3 defensive end and its 3-4 outside linebackers are not high-end players or top pass-rushers, Bowles still has an awful lot of options at his disposal with Richardson, Wilkerson and Williams.
Not only did the Jets win a high percentage of their one-on-one battles against Cincinnati, but they also killed the Bengals with twists and designed defensive line movement.
Because the three big men have such a wide array of talents, Bowles can find an individual matchup that greatly favors the Jets and keep going to that matchup throughout the game. No other team in the NFL has three interior talents like New York and even though it isn’t what they are best designed to do, Bowles will even align any of the three — but usually Richardson since he is the most explosive off the snap — on an outside shade of the tackle. Bowles loves moving Richardson all over the defense and will even play him in a two-point stance at times.
The youngest member of the three, Williams, was super impressive against the Bengals, -finishing with 2.5 sacks while being nearly unblockable for much of that contest.
During his rookie season, Williams’ ability was obvious. In fact, it’s rather amazing that he lasted to the sixth pick overall in the 2015 Draft, where the Jets gladly jumped on him despite already having Richardson and Wilkerson in the fold.
If Week 1 is any indication, Williams is ready to elevate his game and join his teammates as true Pro Bowl caliber defensive linemen. That is a frightening proposition for the rest of the NFL. It could already be argued that Wilkerson is the league’ best 3-4 defensive end type with the exception of J.J. Watt.
Darrelle Revis had a very long day against Green in Week 1 and it is fair to ask if he’s a declining player. That isn’t to suggest that Revis will no longer be effective or unable to do battle against the league’s top wide receivers, but he has already publicly discussed the possibility of someday moving to safety — a position he should play very well at some point considering his extreme knowledge of the game.
But if Revis is no longer elite, the Jets’ cornerback position is all of a sudden an area of concern and the argument could easily be made that Bowles would be smart not to feature personnel groupings with six defensive backs on the field. Also, the Jets’ blitz percentage could dip this year if Bowles can’t trust his cornerbacks consistently in man coverage.
But because of the talent up front, New York might not need to blitz as often to disrupt opposing passing games.
Darron Lee and Jordan Jenkins are very different types of defenders, but their presence is a welcome one for New York’s linebacking corps. Hopefully they progress throughout the season with Jenkins giving somewhat of an edge presence — especially against the run — on the line of scrimmage and Lee contributing as a very rangy player behind this elite defensive line. This is the ideal spot for New York’s first round pick to land and the Jets greatly lacked speed on the second level before his arrival.
Lee’s maturation very well could be the key to the Jets defense as a whole.
New York lost a very tough game at home on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy when emotions were very high.
Now, they have to quickly prepare for a divisional opponent on the road with very little rest.
This is a crucial game. The Jets face a brutal schedule early in the season and can’t afford to start out 0-2. No matter the outcome in Buffalo on Thursday, though, expect New York’s big guys on defense to be utterly dominating.