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Jets Defense Has Built an Early Red Zone Wall

Posted Sep 26, 2013

One of our undeniable strengths in this early going has been the defense. And one of the strengths within that strength has been the defense's performance inside its own 20.

"I think in the red zone in particular, we’re much improved," head coach Rex Ryan said this week. "Obviously, a lot of games are won or lost there. It’s been an emphasis for us to improve in the red zone on defense and I think we’ve done that so far."

And how. The Jets have allowed just two touchdowns in nine red zone defensive opportunities in the first three games, a .222 TD rate that is the best in the NFL.

"The defense's job is to prevent points," LB David Harris said matter-of-factly after today's practice at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. "When we're on the field in the red zone, our main job is to keep them out and hold them to three points. And so far we've been doing a pretty good job of that."

"It's all about the mindset, just tuning into your game plan, knowing your opponents and your assignments in that specific area," DE Muhammad Wilkerson said. "We always say they're not in till they're in. So we definitely don't want to give them a touchdown, hopefully we'll hold them to three, and then what would be better is if we could knock them out of field goal position."

We've been holding them to three for a while now. Tampa Bay scored both its touchdowns in the opener on first-half RZ opportunities. Since then, we've gone seven possessions without giving up a TD (six FGs and the late kneeldown drive at New England).

That doesn't sound like a long streak, but in the red zone world it's not far from an eternity. The last time our defense went 7-for-7 was in Games 5-7 in 1999. The last time we had a longer streak was 11-for-11 back in Games 6-8 in the '93 season.

And the last time we had a better first three games of red zone touchdown defense, the concept of the red zone had yet to be created. The 1972 Jets allowed only two TDs in 10 opponent drives inside their 20, back when the goalposts were on the goal line, not the end line.

Two caveats for Jets Nation: One, red zone domination comes and goes, and over a season the best defenses will allow about four touchdowns on every 10 drives.

And two, it's nice to stop the bad guys inside the 20, but you need to stop them from outside the 20, too.

"We gave up a touchdown on a blown coverage in the New England game, and when Buffalo scored their touchdown, it was on a blown coverage also," Ryan said. "I don’t know how many touchdowns we’ve given up, I think three this season.

"It seems like we’ve had one major breakdown per game. If we can eliminate it, we’ll be pretty good."

JETS' BEST STARTS IN RED ZONE DEFENSE SINCE 1970
First 3 Games First 4 Games
Year Drives   TDs  TD% Year Drives    TDs  TD%
1972 10 2 .200 1982 9 3 .333
2013 9 2 .222 1988 9 3 .333
1988 8 2 .250 2000 12 4 .333
2001 11 3 .273 2009 9 3 .333

Rex Cetera

Not practicing in team drills today were WR Santonio Holmes (foot), LB Quinton Coples (ankle), T Oday Aboushi (knee), RB Chris Ivory (hamstring) and CB Dee Milliner (hamstring). Holmes and Coples were planned DNPs by the training staff. Milliner's was not. Ryan was asked if he's disappointed with his first-round corner's latest injury.

"No, just the opposite. The kid was coming and so we’ll see. Hopefully this isn’t that big of an issue because he’s going like this," Ryan said, moving his hand in an upward direction like a Jet lifting off. "One thing we know about Dee: very competitive young man. Hopefully it won't be long with this injury."

DT Sheldon Richardson (shoulder), a DNP Wednesday, was limited today. ... For the Titans, WR Kenny Britt (neck/ribs) and T Dave Stewart (calf) were limited while LB Moise Fokou (neck) didn't practice.

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