By Jeff Capellini, WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — A fraud has been perpetuated on the Jets’ fan base and the public at large.
For three years and two games apologists have brainwashed many into believing the Jets’ defense is elite, as if finishing in the top 5 in total yards allowed a bunch of times truly defines that which is fearsome.
There are several things to take from Sunday’s 27-10 loss in Pittsburgh, none of them good. I’m choosing this particular time and space to focus on the defense, but believe me when I tell you I’m cognizant of the disaster that was the offense, including the serious regression it showed. I just want to address this team in parts, so as not to force feed you in one big helping that which you already know.
A lot of what I’m about to say will sound familiar, but it bears repeating for the millionth time because for some odd reason the Jets still don’t get it, or are just ill-equipped to demonstrate they understand on anything resembling a weekly basis.
Despite its many successes in previous years, the Jets’ defense is a bend-but-don’t-break unit. It’s not elite. To be elite it would have to be as intimidating and productive as, say, what the Steelers showed on Sunday, or the Ravens generally have shown for more than a decade, or what the 49ers have displayed over the last year-plus or what the Giants have traditionally unveiled when they’ve needed it.
No, the Jets for sure get high marks for giving off an aura of invincibility, but when it’s time to actually produce and make the big plays at opportune moments they disappear, give up 10-minute drives, tackle like a Pop Warner team or treat opposing quarterbacks as if they wear red jerseys.
And please don’t talk to me about Darrelle Revis. Yes, his absence hurt Sunday, but you didn’t see the Steelers looking inept without their two best defensive players, Troy Polamalu and James Harrison. Pittsburgh found ways to ratchet up the intensity, to remain as intimidating as it always has been and to make a big impact when the moments called for it.
The Jets, on the other hand, continued to show they lead the NFL in best intentions.
More than anything else a top-notch defense is supposed to do, its pass rush must determine the tone and tenor of a particular game. The Jets recorded three sacks on Sunday. Sione Pouha got a gift when Ben Roethlisberger fell down in the second quarter and Gang Green got two more in the fourth quarter when the score was totally out of reach.
What exacerbated the situation further was the fact that coming in the Steelers’ offensive line was a mess, and to be honest it didn’t play all that great Sunday. The Jets, for whatever the reasons — and if you figure them out you’re smarter than me, Rex Ryan and a host of others, did not finish plays. They spent plenty of time in the pocket and got their hands on Roethlisberger at least a dozen times, but as for interrupting his rhythm or, dare I say it, bringing him to the ground with the ball, they failed miserably.
And we’ve seen this time and time again, regardless of the opponent, over the last three-plus years.
The question is why?
Do the Jets just simply not have the talent up front to get to the quarterback, even though they have made a concerted effort to draft linemen and get quicker and more athletic? Or are the schemes they employ not effective enough? I ask because regardless if they are running a 3-4 and bringing a host of linebackers or a 4-3 and relying on individual talent and pass-rushing ability, they have not gotten the job done.
Now you could say it was only the second game of the season and things can only improve, but I’d counter that by saying we’ve seen this type of failure repeatedly since Ryan arrived prior to the 2009 season. Don’t you think a true pass rush might have gotten the Jets over the hump in both 2009 and ’10 and put them in a better position to perhaps host playoff games and not have to take the hard road toward February? A case can be made that not doing a better job in the regular season was the soul reason why the Jets fell just short of the Super Bowl. I say this because playing and winning on the road in the NFL, regardless of the time of the season, is an art, not a given.
What magnifies the defense’s failure most is the fact that this offense, despite what it pulled off in Week 1, is probably, at the end of the day, below average to average at best. Without better running backs and better run-blocking, the Jets have to rely on Mark Sanchez, who, though improved, looked like his previous self after the first quarter against the Steelers.
And that’s because the Steelers have an elite defense. They sensed the enormity of the situation and went into lockdown mode on the Jets’ receivers. Jeremy Kerley had one catch after the 45-yard reception in the first quarter. Stephen Hill, he of the we better pick this guy up Hills of the World Fantasy Football Assoc., did not record a catch. Santonio Holmes was AWOL after his quick start and finished with three grabs for 28 yards.
And while all this was happening, the Jets and their fans watched in horror as Mike Wallace abused Antonio Cromartie, LaRon Landry, the heat-seeking missile that he is, repeatedly missed his marks (and got penalties) and the Jets’ defense as a whole decided two-hand touch was a far better way to stop the Pittsburgh offense than actually wrapping people up.
The Jets can get away with bending but not breaking and coming in the vicinity of quarterbacks against less experienced signal callers, which is what they will see more often than not during the rest of the regular season. However, when it comes time to deal with the Roethlisbergers, Tom Bradys and Matt Schaubs of the world they better pray they have done enough to beat teams with the likes of Ryan Tannehill, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker, among others, under center or this will, indeed, be a very long season.
I have no doubt the Jets will be fine against the run, but in this pass-happy league you don’t need a stellar running game to win. Not anymore. Quarterbacks are maturing at lightning speed as opposed to previous generations, and every team has enough depth at wide receiver and tight end to handle teams that can’t get to the quarterback.
Like the Jets.
Ryan and all of his defensive lieutenants better take what happened in Pittsburgh and learn from it because it’s hard to imagine the Jets’ offense consistently giving this defense a cushion. The Jets simply can’t look at what happened against Buffalo as the rule rather than the exception.
Either the Jets start sacking the QB, forcing turnovers or making sure the opposition’s punter plays more than their place-kicker or we’re all in for a very stressful final 14 games.
And if that happens, someone should pay. Who that could be remains to be seen. The Jets, for their part, should do everything in their power to see to it that no decisions like that ever need to be made.
The bottom line is this notion that the Jets have an elite defense is just a theory and a desire. It’s nowhere near a reality.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet
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