For the New York Jets, success in 2020 rides more on the play of their ascending defense than the improving offense.
The New York Jets head into the 2020 season with lots to prove. Head coach Adam Gase must do a better job managing his team’s offense to retain his job, and Sam Darnold must take strides to keep his young career on track.
Although it’s the offense that receives all the attention, the Jets’ formula for success in the upcoming season will be a familiar one. Gang Green will once again be relying on their defense to win games. Some things just never change.
Leaning on their defense is nothing new for New York, but unlike previous seasons, the ceiling for this unit is sky-high. It’ll be on Gregg Williams, who worked wonders with last year’s injury-depleted personnel, to take this group to the next level.
In 2019, the Jets’ defense ranked amongst the NFL’s top-10 in many major categories. Gang Green finished first in yards per carry allowed, fifth in yards per play, seventh in total yards per game, and 10th in DVOA. They accomplished all that while several key players such as Jamal Adams, Jordan Jenkins, Henry Anderson, Quinnen Williams, Avery Williamson, and C.J. Mosley all missed time. This is a credit to the remarkable job done by Williams.
New York’s young, ascending defense will now look to build off of this momentum. The return of starting middle linebackers C.J. Mosley and Avery Williamson, who played a combined four quarters of football last season, should provide an immediate boost. These two have the potential to form one of the league’s best inside-linebacking duos.
Not only will the Gang Green defense enter the upcoming season at full health, but they also received some valuable reinforcements without suffering any major losses this offseason.
The Jets had holes at edge-rusher and in the secondary, both of which general manager Joe Douglas addressed by taking edge-rusher Jabari Zuniga and safety Ashtyn Davis in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Zuniga will likely compete with Tarell Basham for the starting job opposite Jordan Jenkins, whereas Davis, a versatile safety who can also play corner, will give Gregg Williams tons of flexibility, and the opportunity to deploy Jamal Adams all over the field.
In terms of cornerbacks, Gang Green added Pierre Desir, Quincy Wilson, and Bryce Hall. They are also rumored to be interested in free agent Logan Ryan. Desir and Wilson are coming off of down seasons, but both had previously found success with the Colts before their scheme change. Hall, a fifth-round pick, had first-round talent but slipped due to injury concerns.
Between these three newcomers, Brian Poole, Bless Austin, and Arther Maulet, this group has the makings of a formidable secondary. Considering Williams was able to find success last year with lesser talent, I expect him to do the same in 2020, especially if the Jets can bring in Ryan.
On the defensive line, not much has changed. New York will continue to rely on a committee of promising youngsters and reliable veterans. Steve McLendon and Henry Anderson are the elder statesmen of the group, with Quinnen Williams, Nathan Shepherd, Foley Fatukasi, and Kyle Phillips making up the young nucleus. This was a strong unit in 2019, and there is room for development and improvement this year.
The Jets’ defense clearly looks primed to take a step forward in 2020. The question is, how big a jump will they make?
This will ultimately determine just how competitive this team is next season.
The offense should be somewhat improved to the point where it is competent. It might be unwise to have high expectations but expect some progress. Considering it’ll be Sam Darnold’s second year in Gase’s system, Joe Douglas was able to overhaul the offensive line, and there are some talented weapons, this is a reasonable inference.
While Gang Green’s offense should be better, it won’t be capable of single-handedly winning them games. For that reason, they will depend on the defense to lead them to victory.
If the Jets’ defense emerges as one of the NFL’s elite, dominant units, then this team could surprise some people and make a playoff push. In order to achieve this, there are certainly some things that must go right. For example, Pierre Desir will have to return to form, and Quinnen Williams will have to play up to his pedigree among a few other things. Neither are certainties, but both are legitimate possibilities.
On the other hand, if the Gang Green defense continues to hover around the top-10 and remains just a solid unit, this team will likely be headed for another season of mediocrity unless the offense shows unexpectedly dramatic improvement.
In years past, it would be foolish to expect this defense to step up and lead the team to success. At the end of the day, these are the New York Jets we’re talking about. Yet since Douglas took over as GM, the franchise has seemingly turned a corner.
Will the defense find a way to execute, or will it be another year of the same old Jets?
That is the age-old question in Florham Park. But if anyone can pull it off, it’s Gregg Williams.
Brian Paget is on Twitter @BrianPaget_