New year, new coaches, but it’s the same story. The New York Jets defense has played well enough to win games, while the offense lags behind.
It’s easy to cast off the New York Jets defense after watching the first two games. They blew a fourth-quarter lead against the Buffalo Bills and allowed big play after big play against the Cleveland Browns. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story of this defense.
Yes, by traditional stats the Jets defense has struggled. They rank 21st in yards allowed per game. They also rank 23rd in passing yards allowed per game, but those statistics are unfair and don’t tell the truth of the matter. They don’t take into account many factors, such as pass attempts faced per game, turnovers forced or opponent quarterback rating (QBR).
The reality is that the Jets defense has been playing at an elite level despite those crooked traditional stats. They rank sixth in total DVOA, sixth in passing DVOA and 11th in rushing DVOA. The only other teams to rank top 11 in all three categories are the San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots. That’s some elite company and all three of those teams are undefeated to this point. The Jets are not because of their total lack of offense.
Despite all the concern over the cornerbacks ruining their season, it’s actually been the opposite. Through the first two weeks of the season, the Jets have had one of the best pass defenses in the NFL. They’re ranked sixth in DVOA for a few reasons.
The first is turnovers. The Jets are tied for third in the NFL with three interceptions and tied for first in the NFL with five takeaways through the first two weeks. All five of those takeaways came in the passing game. Whether it was an interception or the two forced fumbles against Josh Allen. Those weigh heavily when looking at how a defense performed.
Second is the lack of passing touchdowns allowed. The Jets have only allowed two passing touchdowns this season. The only teams to allow fewer are the Pats, Ravens and Packers. The Jets, Packers and Patriots are the only teams in the NFL to have more interceptions than passing touchdowns allowed.
The Jets have also allowed a completion percentage of just 59.7%, which is good for seventh in the NFL. The Jets have allowed 10.5 passing first downs per game in the first two weeks and that ranks eighth in the NFL. They’ve allowed an average opponent passer rating of just 77.3, and that’s 10th in the league.
The Jets have done all of that with little pressure against the quarterback. Their four sacks this year rank 20th in the NFL. The secondary is covering for the poor play of their defensive line, which is not something anybody thought would happen prior to the season
Now, while it is true that the Jets pass defense has been elite so far this season, there is a caveat. The Jets have played two second-year quarterbacks, neither of whom looked very good in the game they played.
The Jets will really be tested in the next four games when they go up against a trio of the game’s top passers. Tom Brady twice, Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott is a tall order for any defense. If the pass defense holds up in those games, we can accept the pass defense has been one of the biggest surprises of the NFL season.
The Jets run defense has been a bigger problem, but still grades out as a solid unit. They’re ranked 11th in rushing DVOA despite their run defense having cost them a game. The Bills ran the ball all over the Jets during their final two drives after being stuffed for three and half quarters in Week 1.
Even in the Browns game, you could see the same thing. Nick Chubb was often stuffed, but once the Browns got into the red zone, the Jets had no way to stop him.
This Jekyll and Hyde Jets run defense has been an issue. For the most part, though, the Jets have shut teams down. New York gave up just 70 rushing yards to the Browns on Monday night. Against the Bills, they gave up 90 yards to running backs. It was Josh Allen and the team’s inability to bring him down that juiced the Buffalo rushing numbers.
Obviously, Devin Singletary nearly single-handedly won the Bills that game once C.J. Mosley was removed from the game. The combination of a tired defense, losing your best run defender and the insertion of a rookie into his place was too much to overcome.
The Jets corrected that in Week 2 and played as they did for much of Week 1. With Mosley in the game, the Bills had just 55 total rushing yards. Bills backs had just 40 yards when Mosley was on the field. That looks a lot closer to the defense the Jet put together against Chubb in Cleveland.
With the Patriots coming up on Sunday, don’t expect a big day for the ground game. Despite New England’s dominant start to the season, Sony Michel has been a huge disappointment. Michel has averaged just 2.7 yards per rush so far this season.
That hasn’t stopped the Pats from feeding him the ball. Michel’s 36 carries ranks sixth in the NFL. Hopefully, the Jets rush defense continues to show up. If they don’t, this could be one of the ugliest games Jets fans have seen in a long time.