Five yards. It's one of football's sacred units of measurement. Each playing field is divided into 20 strips that measure 53⅓ yards long and 5 yards wide. The game's most basic penalties — offsides, false start — get marked off with five strides by the officials in one direction or the other.
And the distance is one of the standards of rushing efficiency. Should an offense average 5 yards a carry, it's doing exceptionally well, and the defense allowing that average is back on its heels.
Yet change the words and flip the script. If a team's long gain, rather than its average, in a game is 5 yards, then the defense going up against that offense is the one that's crowing.
That's just what the Jets did to Indianapolis in their 35-9 victory on Sunday. Five Colts ran the ball 17 times, gained 41 yards, averaging 2.4 yards per carry. And their longest gain on the day was 5 yards.
Significant? Absolutely. It's the first time in franchise history, all 819 regular- and postseason games over 53 seasons, that the Jets defense has held a team to no running plays of greater than 5 yards in a game.
"Wow, that's unbelievable," head coach Rex Ryan told newyorkjets.com when he heard of the distinction his run defense had just achieved. "That's an amazing stat. When you get down to it, it's like 'What?' I've been on record-setting run defenses in Baltimore and I don't know if we ever did that."
Commitment's Starting to Show
The 5-yard long allowed by the Jets run defense is not quite an NFL record, but it beats the previous team best of 6, set a handful of times, such as in the 2010 regular-season finale against the Bills, the '07 finale vs. the Chiefs, and the '06 Meadowlands meeting with the Texans. No matter how low the rushing yardage allowed, some opponent always sneaks out on an end-around, a QB scramble, a garbage-time inside handoff for 6 or more yards.
Until, for the Jets, Sunday.
"I'm pumped about it," Ryan said, "because clearly we haven't been, statistically or anywhere else, playing up to our standards to stop the run. But I think you see the work ethic on the practice field, the commitment guys are really having to it, and I think that really shows."
To be sure, this is not among the most stunning record-book achievements in pro football history. The Jets, after all, had slipped to 31st in the league in rushing yards allowed per game and to 29th in yards allowed per carry after five games. The Colts came in with the 23rd-best yards-per-carry figure and were missing starting RB Donald Brown and starting G Joe Reitz. Fifth-round rookie Vick Ballard got the start at tailback. And once the Jets opened leads of 21-6 at halftime and 28-6 late in the third quarter, Andrew Luck and the Indy offense were not going to be working on their ground-and-pound.
Yet that's often how team records and distinctions are set. The most important thing for the Jets is to not rest on their laurels from the Colts game, not revert to the porous front that was gashed by C.J. Spiller and the Bills, Reggie Bush and the Dolphins, Frank Gore and the 49ers, and for the first half in primetime, Arian Foster and the Texans.
DT Mike DeVito has been steadfast in his belief in the Jets' defense and especially its run-stopping ability. "We're close. We're going to get this done," DeVito said with quiet determination more than once, . "We've got to be the rock on this team. We've got to be the constant."
"You Want to Be Good Right Now"
And DE Muhammad Wilkerson, coming off a career game vs. the Colts that included seven tackles, a strip sack, a batted pass and a tackle for loss — he leads the Jets with 6.5 stops at or behind the line this season — feels the progress is real and will help them in Sunday's AFC East battle in Foxboro, Mass.
"Definitely, the D-line had something to prove," Wilkerson said. "Last week I know we played better against Houston. This week we wanted to improve on that and I think we did. We've just got to play physical up front like we did and we won't have a problem with New England running the ball."
That's a bold statement, considering that the Patriots, led by second-year RB Stevan Ridley, free-agent rookie Brandon Bolden and old friend Danny Woodhead, is fourth in the NFL in rushing yards per game and 10th in yards per carry.
But Ryan teams are, among many traits, bold. And the Rex track record suggests that his run defense should look more like the one that stoned the Colts than the one that got rocked by four of the first five opponents.
"Our guys really stepped up and I'm proud of the way we played. Obviously this week's a huge challenge," Ryan said. "You've just got to focus on getting better each day. That's where you want to be. You want to be at your best at the end of the year, but you want to be good right now. You want to keep taking strides. And I think that's what we're doing."
Now if the defense can keep the Patriots from taking much longer than 5-yard strides at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, the Jets may be on to something very big and very necessary to keep moving forward the rest of this season.
Hardison Joins Practice Squad
The Jets have signed DL Matt Hardison to the practice squad. Hardison (6'4", 285), the Central Jersey product, joined the Jets as an undrafted free agent in June after being invited to rookie minicamp as a tryout player. He was waived Aug. 25. In two seasons at Delaware, Hardison played in 24 games, recording 29 tackles, including 6.5 for loss. He spent his first three collegiate seasons at Rutgers but didn't see game action.