One of the least remarked upon, and most glaring statistics from the Jets overtime win against the Titans on Sunday was the number of plays on offense run by each team.
Tennessee 93. Jets 60.
Veteran DL Sheldon Rankins said that the Green & White defense, particularly the defensive line, is populated by a bunch of guys with "superpower." It was on full display on the MetLife turf.
"Me and a couple of the guys talk about it often, that there's a special thing about the group ... everyone has their superpower," Rankins told Bart Scott and Dan Graca on this week's installment of "Inside the Jets." "We speak about Q's [Quinnen Williams'] straight-line power to just move people out. Foley [Folorunso Fatukasi] is a mountain of a man. JFM [John Franklin-Myers] has the versatility to move as quickly as he does. Bryce [Huff] is the Tasmanian devil, that's what we call him, and he probably got that name 30 minutes ago. Myself? I'm kind of the wily veteran in the room right now."
He's also got a superhero designation, so read on.
Rankins, signed in free agency by the Jets after five seasons in New Orleans, took 61 snaps (61%) against Tennessee when the defensive line put seven sacks and 14 hits on QB Ryan Tannehill. Though he was credited with two tackles and a lone QB hit, he said that he's convinced the numbers will come.
"For me, it's all about being disruptive," Rankins said "The numbers are going to come with that. The more that you wreck shop, get off and disrupt the game and cause havoc inside, the numbers are going to come. Once I put the pads on I'm Batman. I feel like I'm going out there and causing damage. I'm not going to stop doing what I'm doing."
Rankins is part of a D-line that has emerged as the motor that jumpstarts the Jets entire defense. After four games, the Jets (1-3) are No. 14 in team defense, No. 12 in passing defense, tied for third in sacks, No. 22 in rushing defense, No. 14 in scoring defense and No. 8 in allowing only a 28.6% conversion rate on third down.
"The veteran leadership in that group and the mindset and the drive and all that has been up there," HC Robert Saleh said on Monday. "They're just about as good as anybody in football in terms of how cool that room is built. But we talk about it all the time with rush and coverage. We've got a young secondary back there that is doing everything they can to buy the D-line a hitch on the quarterback and if that quarterback hitches, our D-line is taking a lot of pride in making sure that he gets hit. So, it's really a team game and if our back end wasn't covering the way they were, our D-line, doesn't matter how good they are, they never get home. So, I think it's a significant complement of rushing coverage and obviously the mindset of the D-line to get home and make them pay as quickly as they can."
Rankins acknowledged that as aggressive as the D-line has been, it can leave the Jets open to cheeky and well-timed screen passes -- like the one employed by the Titans on a third-and-21 play that went for a first down in the first quarter as Tennessee drove for a field goal on its first possession of the game.
"It's a growing process," Rankins said. "We have a lot of young guys who are anxious to show what they got and to go make a play. Screens can fool you. The way we attack on defense, we're going to get it every week. Teams are going to screen us to death. If we can't stop it then it's going to be a long year. I tell guys that I know you want to make that play, put a hammer to their heads, get the sack, make that big play, but you have to understand the situation, understand the down and distance. There's no play drawn up for third-and-21. They don't exist."
During his time with the Saints, Rankins and his teammates became all-too familiar with the Atlanta Falcons (the Jets' opponent in London on Sunday) and QB Matt Ryan. Rankins also went to England with the Saints in 2017.
"We played Miami there in a similar situation, we started that year 0-2 and then had a two-game stretch," Rankins said. "We beat Carolina, then Miami, and then had the bye week. I had said that the next two weeks could change the whole shape of the season."
It did. After those two losses to open the season, the Saints won eight in a row and nine of 10 games.
"It's the message I gave last week," he said. "Win against Tennessee, then go to London and get a win. Then we get the bye week and that helps build momentum and camaraderie. We then can come out of the bye week and feel we can really do this. We need to go there and come back with a win."