Heading into the midseason bye weekend, we'll be reviewing and previewing the Jets' units this week. Today: Defense.
The Jets head into this bye weekend with the No. 2 defense in the NFL, allowing only 273.4 a game at the midway point in their season. Despite their 4-4 record after a 3-0 start, there is a lot of optimism heading into the final eight games.
"I think we're figuring out a lot about ourselves," said linebacker Bart Scott. "We're finding out our identity and how we can be what we can be."
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's unit has had several great performances against some of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. They've played well enough to win each game, with the one asterisk being the Monday night showdown when the Dolphins racked up 413 offensive yards.
Cornerback Darrelle Revis said it was "a game that we wanted to get back" heading into the Week 8 rematch. In that second 'Fins game, the defense excelled, allowing only 104 offensive yards, 52 on the ground to the No. 2 rushing offense coming in, while giving up only nine offensive points.
That's only 92 offensive points in eight games (11.5), with 31 of them given up in the Week 5 loss at Miami. New York's AFC representatives did not allow an offensive touchdown in the first nine quarters of this season, the first time an NFL team had accomplished this to start a season since 2006, and the first time the Jets did it at any time in a season since November 2000.
"Our bravado's not going to change," said S Kerry Rhodes, third on the team with 37 tackles. "I know were going to come back the same way, hungry."
The Jets have held opposing QBs to a combined 68.5 passer rating, including the Week 2 home victory over the Patriots when Tom Brady's rating in his first loss at the Meadowlands was 53.1. They've picked off opposing QBs seven times.
Revis, who leads the defense with two interceptions and 12 pass defenses, has established himself as one of the best corners in the league, especially after the numbers put up by some of the league's premier receivers in the first eight games:
Andre Johnson, Houston, four catches, 35 yards. Randy Moss, New England, 4-24, Marques Colston, New Orleans, 2-33. Terrell Owens, Buffalo, 3-13.
At RCB the Green & White began the season with CB Lito Sheppard, but the former Eagle has grabbed only one interception while playing in three out of the eight games due to his hamstring injury, and that has tested the secondary's depth.
Second-year CB Dwight Lowery has played well in Sheppard's spot, recording five pass deflections, including one pick, and a fumble recovery.
"There are still eight games left in the season and you think what could happen," Lowery said. "You can never count a team out because a team could just get hot and start clicking. You want to get hot at the right time."
Early in the season the sack numbers were low, although the D applied plenty of pressure on opposing QBs.
But shortly after return of LB Calvin Pace, their biggest pass rusher from last season, in Week 5, the Jets accumulated nine sacks of opposing QBs in the Oakland and Miami games leading into the bye. The breakout game for Pace, whom head coach Rex Ryan labeled a "gazelle," came in Week 7 when he had three sacks, two of them forcing fumbles that led to touchdowns as the Jets blanked the Raiders, 38-0 for the most lopsided shutout in franchise regular-season history.
"There's been talk around here about what we can't do," said DE Marques Douglas, who has 1.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles at or behind the line. "There were guys that were brought in here like me as pass rushers. Now 10 years later people say we can't rush the passer. And that's only one aspect of our game."
The Jets suffered a big blow when DT Kris Jenkins went out for the season with a torn ACL in the Week 6 loss to the Bills. The committee approach of Sione Pouha, Mike DeVito, Howard Green and Douglas has done a nice job filling Big Jenks' shoes.
"It was good to see those guys step up," said Pettine after the Raiders game. "That's a prideful group and I think they stepped up to the challenge."
Though injuries are part of the game and nothing is guaranteed, the time off should increase the chances of getting some banged-up players back such as Sheppard.
"We have a big eight-game stretch and we're definitely going to be prepared," said S Jim Leonhard. "We'll get a couple guys back physically in the next couple weeks. That will really help our team as well."
One more defensive highlight for the Jets: Opponents are 0-for-8 against Pettine's crew on fourth down, making the Green & White the only NFL team that hasn't allowed a fourth-down conversion this season.
"There are a lot of good things to build on," said Green. "We know that we can play and we know that we're productive at times so we just have to come back and put that all together and make sure that we do it all consistently at one time."
The LB tandem of David Harris and Scott is fast becoming the best duo in the league. Harris, making a push for his first Pro Bowl, has a team-leading 76 tackles by coaches' breakdown, leads the Jets with 3.5 sacks and has a forced fumble and an interception.
The "Madbacker" has become an outspoken leader in his first year since coming over from the Ravens along with Douglas and Leonhard. Scott is second on the team with 59 tackles and leads the team with 6.5 tackles for loss/no gain.
"The NFL season is a roller coaster," he said after the second 'Fins game. "You're going to have your ups and downs. It's about how you prepare and how you respond to the adversity.
"You can pack it in as soon as something goes bad and give up or you can help right the ship. I've been on teams before that won eight, nine games in a row. I go back on what I know. I know the season isn't over."
Sunday: Special Teams