The last time the Jets had a player with double-digit sacks was 2005 as John Abraham paced the club with 10.5 QB takedowns. In fact from 2000-'05, New York's AFC representative had at least one player rack up double-digit sack totals.
Abraham, who had 13 sacks in 2001, 10 in 2002, 9.5 in 2004 and 10.5 in 2005, was a unique athletic talent who opposing offensive coordinators had to gameplan for. While Rex Ryan and new defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman will devise plans next season featuring various pressure and assimilated pressure packages, do the Green & White have a player or players who will keep opposing QBs up night?
Under Ryan, the Jets have averaged 34 sacks a season. While they finished tied for 8th in sacks in 2010 with 40, the numbers have dipped each of the past two years as the Green & White tied for 17th in 2011 with 35 and tied for 25th in 2012 with 30.
In 2009, the Jets fielded a historically stout defense. But that unit amassed 32 sacks — a number that ranked tied for 18th as OLB Calvin Pace led the way with eight. Sacks don't win or lose games alone, but you have to disrupt the QB in the modern-day NFL that is dominated by passing.
The Green & White believe they are better equipped to get after people in 2013 and for good reason. Quinton Coples led the team with 5.5 sacks in his first pro season and he will play a hybrid OLB/DE position for the Jets in Year 2.
"I think it gives me a head start on getting to the quarterback," Coples said of standing up. "It also gives me a head start on seeing the pass as far as if I have seam flat or if I'm able to check with a three-receiver hook. It just depends on the play call. I can see the receivers when I'm standing up and I can see things going on — their formation and how they're operating, and the things they can run out of it a lot better than I can with my hand in the dirt."
"Here's a guy that has all the physical tools to be the best player out on the field and that's what we need him to be," said Ryan of Coples.
After getting his feet wet in Year 1 and really coming on in the second half of the season, a motivated and an engaged Coples has the potential to reach double-digit sack totals. The only player on the roster to accomplish that feat on the pro level is former Chargers OLB Antwan Barnes.
The Jets quietly scooped up Barnes in free agency and this is a speed rusher who amassed 11 sacks with the 'Bolts in 2011. Editor-in-chief Randy Lange also pointed out this week, Barnes "erupted for 18.5 sacks in 38 games as a Charger since '10." Barnes, who already knows the system since he began his career with the Ravens, is explosive off the edge and he should thrive in sub packages.
"He's not as well-known as he should be, but in the time that he's played and the numbers that he's put up — the guy has some serious talent," said OLB Calvin Pace. "He got talent enough to be playing in Hawaii at some point in time."
In five seasons with the Jets, Pace has totaled 28 sacks. After being released in a cost-cutting move, the club was happy to bring their jack of all trades back to the mix at OLB.
"That was a big signing for us because it's not just that he's kind of like the glue," Ryan said. "We're doing a lot of different things with him. We're moving him all over the place."
Pace, whose eight sacks in Ryan's inaugural season as head coach was a career-high, is a versatile cog who gives the Jets flexibility. He still can get up the field, but his reliability setting the edge along with athleticism to cover means sometimes other players are going to get the glory. Garrett McIntyre has a good motor and Ricky Sapp will also look to push for playing time on the outside.
But everything will start up front because the Jets have a few players who should demand double teams and there will be an opportunity for a better push up the middle. Many pundits and fans were bewildered by the Jets' second Round 1 selection on Draft Weekend — Sheldon Richardson.
Some wondered if the selection of the Missouri DT was a wasted pick because the Jets have traditionally used a 3-4 as their base defense. But the Green & White will continue to be multiple with their fronts and this Rex Ryan/Dennis Thurman led defense is not all two-gapping. The tackle position, the Rush 'Backer and the Will Backer are all 4-3 type positions.
"To get him at 13, we thought was somewhat of a steal. The guy brings a lot of passion, a lot of energy to the game and to the position," said defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman. "He will give us some inside presence as a pass rusher. We feel like with the drafting of (Quinton) Coples last year and Muhammad Wilkerson the year before and big Kenrick Ellis, we have a defensive front we can be proud of and get pressure on the quarterback without necessarily having to blitz."
"Half our defense was played in a 4-3, at least," added Ryan. "It doesn't matter. Our thing is, just give us a good football player and this system will make a good player great."
Quarterbacks hate pressure up the middle and Richardson has the ability to make passers uneasy. You now have the ability to pair up Richardson and Ellis in the middle, Wilkerson and Coples down at DE, David Harris at middle linebacker, Demario Davis at the Will and Pace becomes the Sam 'backer.
If any team fails to put two men on Wilkerson, they are playing with fire. He is a do it all talent who had five sacks last year despite commanding multiple people in the trenches. Harris, who has 22.5 career sacks, is a sound rusher and the fast Davis will be an intriguing blitzer for the Jets as well.
While the tendency for us is to get caught up in the various fronts and reps for each player, the packages, personnel groupings and alignments are going to change week-to-week. If the Pats and the Saints spread the Jets out and they counter with sub packages, Barnes might never come off the field. But the Titans could play a lot of two-tight ends or jumbo packages and you might not see that much of Barnesy.
One of the great features of a Ryan-led defense is opportunity and he has promised to be more aggressive in 2013. The Jets have a lot more speed in the front seven and they love their coverage ability on the outside. So sit back and watch the overloads, the simulated pressures and the stunts — the Jets are going to bring the heat. And don't be surprised if a defender reaches a double-digit sack total for the first time since 2005.