In each of the past two games, Darron Lee has tied or led the Jets in tackles, registering eight against the Patriots and then 11 against the Dolphins while being credited with a forced fumble in both Weeks 6 and 7. The 6'1", 232-pounder has become a key contributor on a unit that is becoming more stingy against the run.
"He studies, he studies a lot," said MLB Demario Davis of Lee. "He wants to be good, he puts the time in. I think the biggest jump that he's probably made has been in the run game. He's been playing very sound football in the run game, being downhill, being where he's supposed to be, taking on blocks and shedding blocks and making some big run stops for us."
After a few hiccups in the early going, the Lee/Davis combination continues to grow on the inside. Since Week 3, the Jets rush defense has limited opposing running backs to just 3.42 yards, the sixth-lowest average in the NFL. In seven starts this season, Lee has totaled 56 tackles including five stops for loss. Davis has led the club in tackles in six of its seven games.
"I'd say the chemistry with me and Double-D comes from playing fast and having the trust with each other. We talk a lot in the film room, just communicating simple things," Lee said on this week's installment of Inside the Jets. "We make certain checks, the subtle checks that you see out there on the field, we make those in the film room so it's kind of innate and we go out practice them. If he sees something, he's playing fast and I'll make him right. Just having that type of trust."
Last week, the Jets held the Dolphins to just 53 rush yards on their 25 carries. While first pointing out the stout play of the defensive linemen up front, Lee said he and Davis are taking steps in the film room that continue to pay dividends on gameday.
"It's definitely just formation recognition. We see things formation wise, so it's automatic the call and what check to get to," he said. "It all starts in the film room, build that connection there and then go out and practice it and you see it out there on Sunday."
Some pundits questioned whether Lee could flourish on the inside and wondered if he would be consistently washed out in traffic. But Lee has become more of a student in Year 2 and he's diagnosing quicker and getting in the thick of the action.
"You know based on his athleticism that he can play out in space and he can guard tight ends, the knock on him has been people wondering about his size," Davis said. "But he's shown he can make big plays in the run game and he's helped us a lot there."
In addition to shutting down Jay Ajayi this past Sunday, the Jets racked up three sacks and their two interceptions led directly to 14 points. And while a first quarter Lee sack was taken off the board for a tough roughing the passer infraction, Lee is more concerned about the two-touchdown advantage the Jets surrendered and how they must quickly rectify that problem with the high-powered Falcons visiting MetLife Stadium in Week 8.
"As a group collectively, we have to continue to come out with that same intensity that we've had in the first half. We have to play to win the game and not play not to lose or played scared," he said. "When you see those simple mistakes and they start to pile up, this is a young team and we saw it on the film. We corrected those and now we just have to keep attacking and stay in attack mentality on both sides of the ball and we're aware of that."