By Jeff Capellini
Raise your hand if you think you can make any sense of this.
I’m not sure if the Jets’ defense is good, misunderstood, falsely accused or just one big enigma.
On one hand there is general manager John Idzik getting blasted on a daily basis for, among other things, his apparent failure to put together a competent secondary after years of Jets fans being spoiled by the likes of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie.
You know the battle cry. Rex Ryan supposedly can’t effectively run the defense he wants unless he has physical corners who excel in man-to-man schemes. As a result of not getting guys capable of blanketing opponents’ top wideouts, the big fear was the Jets would struggle in coverage if they didn’t get to the quarterback consistently.
Yet here are the Jets, ranked 10th in the NFL against the pass through four games, an extremely respectable position given the league’s throw-first-ask-questions-later approach to scoring. And, oh yeah, they lead the NFL in sacks with 14.
And just in case you are one of those people who assumes that great pass-defense numbers are enabled by crappy run-defense numbers, know this: The Jets are ranked No. 1 against the run.
Add that all together and you have the NFL’s third-ranked defense, but one that has somehow allowed 82 points during its current three-game losing streak. Okay, 75 if you do the right thing and subtract Geno Smith’s pick-six back in Week 3 against the Chicago Bears.
What does it all mean? It’s hard to say.
The logical thing here would be to blame the offense, most notably Smith, for his turnovers and consistent failures in the red zone, but everyone seems to be doing that. So what I’m going to do is call out the defense for being the feast-or-famine operation it is, fancy statistics be damned.
Perhaps the Jets are just good at stopping opponents until it really matters.
As much as the numbers suggest that the defense is holding up its end of the bargain, the stats are pretty hollow. The Jets’ inability to force turnovers and problems getting off the field on third down have been alarming. They are one of only two teams that has yet to pick off a pass this season. And while it’s really swell that both converted safety Antonio Allen and veteran backup Darrin Walls can wrap up on their tackles with the best of them, it would behoove the Jets’ corners and safeties to actually intercept a pass every now and then.
My guess is Smith would be ecstatic to occasionally start a drive on an opponent’s side of the 50.
The Jets have talked the talk about their defense forever, and by and large the unit has been the reason why anyone has feared this team even the slightest bit. But Ryan’s bunch will never be confused with an elite defense. The Jets simply don’t make enough plays to warrant any accolades beyond being good enough to give their offense a chance each week.
And their mistakes have been astonishing. As if right on cue, the Jets have given up some incredibly long drives and big plays over the last three weeks. What’s worse, fans have been basically resigned to the fact that the defense spitting the bit with the game’s momentum hanging in the balance is more of a when, not if. I know. I see them tweeting such things all the time.
Can you blame them?
There was the 97-yard odyssey that Aaron Rodgers engineered back in Week 2 at Lambeau Field. The Jets had done everything right late into the second quarter. They had built a 21-9 lead over the Packers and had made it look rather easy. But there was Rodgers taking over with less than two minutes remaining in the half and marching Green Bay the length of the field. Randall Cobb’s short TD catch all but rendered what was once a seemingly insurmountable lead a thing of the past, and the Jets went on to shoot themselves in the foot more in the second half on their way to a brutal defeat.
The defense picked up where it left off the following week against the Bears at home. After falling behind early by 14 points on two occasions, the Jets pulled to within four entering the half. But then the defense did its thing again, allowing the Bears to move 80 yards on six plays to start the third quarter. Jay Cutler’s 13-yard scoring pass to Martellus Bennett assured the Jets of playing catch-up the rest of the way in an eventual eight-point loss.
Then we had this past Sunday’s game against the visiting Lions. The Jets put themselves in another early two-touchdown hole, but they cut the deficit to seven points in the third quarter when Smith hooked up with Eric Decker on an 11-yard strike. But what followed really came as a surprise to no one. Matthew Stafford led Detroit on a 14-play, 90-yard backbreaker of a drive that he capped with a short run.
The deficit again proved to be too much for the Jets and another winnable game went by the boards.
It’s simply time for this defense to man up, to walk the walk such as it talks the talk. We know how good the Jets’ front seven are. We also know that the secondary, while by no means great, is not nearly the train wreck the beat writers try to make it out to be.
For the time being, guys like Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Damon Harrison, David Harris and Demario Davis need to lead by example, and, when the situation demands, play above themselves. Because from where I am sitting that’s a lot of talent that has been getting exploited with games on the line.
Are the Jets better than 1-3? It doesn’t matter. The fact is they are in last place in an extremely winnable division. They are about to embark on a three-game swing against San Diego, Denver and New England that will likely determine their fate the rest of the way. How they respond starting Sunday afternoon against Philip Rivers and the Chargers will tell you all you need to know.
The plan heading into this season was for the offense to finally complement the defense, to take some of the pressure off a unit that’s always been asked to go above and beyond the call. But that plan is no more. Now it’s simply time to do whatever is necessary.
And to make the gaudy statistics actually mean something.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet
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