The Jets defense, which rose to top-five levels in the NFL rankings last year, has fallen back in several categories in this season's first six games. Yet in the early imperfections, the D has been perfectly devastating in a few key categories. And head coach Robert Saleh knows a huge reason for the continued success is his coordinator, Jeff Ulbrich.
"He's been unbelievable," Saleh said. "I know he makes my job a hell of a lot easier, being able to make sure I'm checking in with everyone and not just so focused on one side of the ball. He and that staff have been lights-out since the day we walked in this building.
"From a head-coaching standpoint, and I'm just going to say this for him, he checks every single box and is definitely deserving of every accolade he gets."
Ulbrich's reaction to that kind of analysis from his boss is to aw-shucks it and move on to things that need to be corrected, such as his unit's tendency this season to start slow before finishing dominant.
"There's a huge emphasis within our room that starting is important, without a doubt," Ulbrich said. "And we've demonstrated that not starting good enough has hurt us, and it's been the difference in some of these games. Ultimately, finishing is what we pride ourselves on, and we do take pride that the second half has been as good as it's been. But execution in the first half has to be better."
"Coach Brick" also said that part of the slower-starts issue is the several "except-for" big plays the defense has yielded early in games — "We can't have those if we want to be the defense we want to be."
This is the result of the Jets' defensive upward trending from the first half through halftime and on into the last 30 minutes. In particular, note the Green & White's second-half passer rating by opposing QBs and points allowed:
|Net pass yards/gm
|Opp. passer rating
The other factor that has risen up for the defense lately is the turnover monster. The Jets have nine takeaways in the past three games, six of them the results of misplays by three of the top QBs in the game: Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson and Jalen Hurts.
"You have to play very consistent football in every phase, but you've got to get the ball," Ulbrich has said. "Those are the defenses that win games, win championships. That's where we need to make an enormous jump. That's not just the guys in the back end picking the ball off. It's applying pressure, it's me calling the correct calls, putting guys in position to be successful. It's all of that."
Ulbrich also touts the pivotal "violent" nature of Saleh's defensive philosophy, to produce turnovers and limit yards and points.
"A lot of it is just getting better at what we do," he said. "When the pass rush improves, we affect quarterbacks at a higher level, and that's when picks happen. The emphasis has always been to be a physical defense. We want violence to be one of those first words that you speak about when you talk about the Jets defense, and there's an element of violence getting the ball off people."
One more piece to Ulbrich's success at the defense's helm, a key intangible, is the personal touch he has with his people.
"Brick's done everything. He had a 10-year career, he relates to players," Saleh said. "He's gotten so much better every single year with the scheme and understanding more and more as he develops as a coordinator. He relates well to the guys, he has an unbelievable voice in the locker room, he's got an unbelievable level of trust with the players. The players trust him and love him."
"The biggest thing is that he listens," LB Quincy Williams said of his DC. "Throughout the week, he asks us how we feel about this, how we feel about that. As far as the calls and stuff like that, most coaches are like, 'This is what we're running. and no matter what the call is, you all play it.' When we come to the sidelines, the first thing he asks is 'What do you guys see out there?' Before he even grabs the iPad and goes through the corrections and stuff, he asks what we see.
"It's more like a dialogue," Williams concluded. "We're together. That's the biggest thing."
And after the bye, it will be time to see if the togetherness of Jeff Ulbrich's defense can smooth the approach from first half to second half into one overwhelming 60-minute rogue wave.