Oh, ye of little faith. When the Jets' vaunted defense slumped in the back-to-back division losses at Buffalo and against Miami, a prime storyline was whether or not the defense had been worn down by a lack of this week's catchphrase, complementary football.
A few, no doubt — and you know who you are — thought all the hype around this Green & White D was undeserved. No run defense, meh third-down defense, and where are the deluge of takeaways? Back to the drawing board.
Not so fast. A reinvigorated defense took off again in the narrow loss to Atlanta and the rocking home win over Houston. The Jets' play in these two games was, to put it plainly, historical.
One measure of the D's franchise-level effort was the 329 yards combined that the Falcons and Texans gained .That's the sixth-best two-game yardage total in Jets history and the best since the 2009 team yielded 318 yards to Buffalo and Tampa Bay.
"Really, it was just staying focused on what we can control," LB C.J. Mosley said about the Texans performance, which could also be extended to the Falcons game and to the rest of the unit's best games this season. "I feel like our game plan hasn't changed too much as far as what our standard is and what our goals are. ... I just think overall defensively, we played really well on all levels."
But total yards and yards/game rankings, while the traditional measure when discussing who the best of the best are in the NFL, have their drawbacks. As defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said recently about the Green & White's sometimes porous run defense after the encounter with the Dolphins dropped them to 31st in the NFL in yards allowed/game: "Do we need to play better? Absolutely. But you're going off of pure yards. I think the better statistic always is yards per carry."
|1st Opp, Yds/Play
|2nd Opp, Yds/Play
|1966 Gms 1-2
|@ MIA (W), 1.82
|vs. HOU (W), 2.84
|1970 Gms 10-11
|vs. BOS (W), 1.86
|vs. MIN (W), 3.48
|1968 Gms 13-14
|vs. CIN (W), 3.43
|@ MIA (W), 2.21
|2023 Gms 12-13
|vs. ATL (L), 3.03
|vs. HOU (W), 2.60
However, dominating games against the Boston Patriots and Minnesota Vikings in 1970 aren't going to win the Jets any games in 2023. The Jets rankings remain mostly top-10 this week. The total defense is fifth in the league in yards/game, second in yards/play at 4.54. The pass defense is second/second. Ulbrich's point about the run defense is well-taken as the run defense, while improving slightly to 28th in yards/game, checks in at No. 12 in yards/carry.
Mosley offers high praise for Ulbrich in implementing his and head coach Robert Saleh's scheme and enabling the Jets to continue their defensive rise of the past two seasons.
Evaluating Ulbrich, Then and Now
"I do remember his name and watching him, growing up, when he was with San Francisco," the MLB and team captain said of Ulbrich, who spent a decade as a mainstay in the 49ers defense and on their special teams. "I remember the mohawk and how he played and his style. That's the type of coaching and tenacity that he brings. He wants everybody to play for each other, play with heart, play with violence, and play with the mindset that we're going to be the smartest and most physical defense out there."
"Our first year together, going through it all, he's really done a nice job remaking himself as a football coach," Saleh said of "Brick." "He does a great job with messaging, that's one of his great strengths, but understanding things from a coverage standpoint is where he's going to a whole 'nother level."
What continues to be stuck at a lower level for the Jets are turnovers. The Jets' 19 takeaways are tied for 13th and their minus-5 turnover margin is tied for 23rd. Both Sauce Gardner and Mosley bemoaned near-misses in intercepting Stroud. "I've got to be better," Sauce said, and Mosley's take was that "People who don't trust my hands, believe me, every week, every day, I'm working on my hands. We're going to get one."
But Mosley was encouraged by the 10 Stroud passes that the Jets broke up in the Sunday afternoon rain.
"We had a hand on a lot of footballs," he said. "We didn't come down with any, but we were active around the ball."
The next test for the defense will be a return engagement with the Dolphins, this time at Hard Rock Stadium and possibly in some adverse South Florida weather. After they yielded 395 yards and 34 points to QB Tua Tagovailoa, WRs Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle and company on Black Friday, it would be presumptuous to assume that the Jets can add the Dolphins and Texans to their back-to-back list above, or turn their last three games into a new franchise standard.
The Stats That Matter Most
But Mosley and his band of brothers aren't in that frame of mind at all, whether Hill plays on his ankle injury suffered in Monday's home loss to Tennessee or not, whether the defense can lead the Jets to an improbable playoff berth or not.
"We have games like that when everybody's connected and playing well. It's just a joy that it brings to you," he said of the Houston showing. "You saw that joy as the game kept going. At the end of the game, you saw everybody hugging, appreciating each other, loving each other. That's what it's all about.
"The past is the past and what we've done this season. Right now we're 1-0, so let's make it 2-0. Lets keep building, keep stacking and let the chips fall where they may at the end."