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Inside the Numbers: Defensive Mo-mentum

Wilkerson Factors into Bowles' Challenge for More Pressure, Jets' Top-2 Run Unit Since '15


Head coach Todd Bowles has given the Jets defense a charge this year: Bring more pressure to bear on the quarterback. And Muhammad Wilkerson said the defenders have listened.

"You take that challenge," Wilkerson said this week before Sunday's season opener at Buffalo. "As a man, you want to accept that challenge from your coach. You just take the challenge and make it happen."

So far, so good. In the preseason, the Jets mounted 17 sacks, which was tied for the league lead with New Orleans, and their 12.2% sack rate on all dropbacks was first. And the 17 sacks were tied for third-most in any Jets preseason since 1967.

Yeah, we know, that was the preseason. But often, an active pass rush in the preseason is a predictor for fine sack totals in the regular season. The Jets' 18 summer sacks in '68 led to their 43 in the Super Bowl regular season. The team-record 66 sacks in 1981 at the height of the Sack Exchange came after 14 summer sacks.

Wilkerson — who wants to put last year's achy-legged season behind and get a jump on the nine sacks he needs to reach 50 for his career — along with Leonard Williams and the pressure team will get a workout trying to track down Bills QB Tyrod Taylor. He's liable to be taken down behind the line, as his 78 sacks the last two years attest. But if you don't get him there, it'll be tough to catch "T-Mobile" ahead of the line, as his 1,148 rushing yards attest.

Throwing Up a Shady WallThe Jets run defense under Bowles and Rodgers has been among the NFL's best. Their 90.9 rushing yards allowed/game and 3.60 yards allowed/carry in the past three seasons combined are both second in the league behind Seattle.

The forward wall, featuring Wilkerson, Williams, Steve McLendon, and perennial 100-tackle MLB Demario Davis back in green and white, will be tested right off the bat by the Bills and LeSean McCoy, whose 2,162 rushing yards the past two seasons combined tops the league's backs.

And new Buffalo coach Sean McDermott indicates he may well use McCoy as a battering ram. There have been only six 300-carry seasons since 2013 and only one back in the NFL has done it twice — McCoy with 314 totes in '13 and 312 in '14, both when he was an Eagle.

"Shady" has a mere 437 carries his two Bills seasons, but as McDermott said this week, "If he has to play every snap and he feels good, that's what we'll do."

Kerley's CuesJeremy Kerley, newly returned to the Jets himself, was asked a leading question this week: Now that he's a seven-year vet, about to turn 29 in November, how much does he have left to give his old/new team?

"I don't know, man," he said with a smile. "I play good after adversity. Maybe I should be let go a lot more."

That was a reference to him being released by the Jets after a 2016 in which he posted career receiving lows of 16 catches and 152 yards.

"I put a lot of effort and time into making sure my body's good," he added.

One thing Jets fans know is that if he still has his quicks and his hands, JK is a great addition to the young receiving corps. I debited Kerley with only four dropped passes (307 targets, 182 receptions) and a decent 4.3 yards-after-catch average in his five Jets seasons. And he moved the chains masterfully in 2013 with team highs in first-down receptions (30) and total third-down conversions (17), including a mind-boggling five 3DCs in the first half of the overtime win over the Patriots.

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