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Robert Saleh on Last Year's Turnover Enigma: 'We'll Be a Lot Better'

His 49ers Defenses in Years 2 & 3 Are a Good Roadmap as Jets D Works to Turn the Takeaway Tap Back On in '23


There's no question the Jets defense rose up to become one of the NFL's top units last season. There's also no question they have a few things to "take" care of for 2023.

Such as takeaways. Or more specifically, the lack of them.

"Defensively, you're always going to add to the scheme," Jets head coach Robert Saleh said this week at the NFL Annual Meeting in Phoenix. "Looking back at the second half of the year, we've got to get the ball, we weren't able to get the ball in takeaways. And I know we attack it, I know we're trying to disrupt it the best we can. But we have to set up the short field, score on defense, find a way to jar the ball loose."

Despite the defense rising from last in the NFL to fourth last season, and despite Saleh, defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich and the players' best efforts, takeaways were a constant sore spot after the Week 10 bye. In the nine games before the bye, they had 14 takeaways and a plus-1 turnover margin. In the eight games after, the TO tap ran dry as they had just two TAs and a minus-8 margin.

Their only interception in that span came in Week 11 in their last victory, over Chicago, and was turned in by MLB C.J. Mosley. Their last pick by a defensive back was two weeks earlier, by rookie CB Sauce Gardner against Josh Allen in the Jets' outstanding Week 9 home win over the Bills.

As for fumbles, the Quinnen Williams force of Jacksonville's Trevor Lawrence and Carl Lawson's recovery on the first drive of the Thursday night loss to the Jaguars was textbook strip-sack football. Yet that was the only recovery of an opponent's fumble in the Jets' last 10 games — or, coincidentally, since S Lamarcus Joyner pounced on Aaron Rodgers' aborted handoff in the Week 6 win at Green Bay.

Saleh pointed to opponents' game plans to run more against the Jets as one reason their fumble recovery operation sputtered.

"I think we saw the third-most runs in the league a year ago," the coach said. "It's hard to get the ball out on running plays."

The numbers bear Saleh out. The Jets defense was run on 492 times last season, tied for seventh-most attempts in the NFL. And over those fateful final eight games, they faced 245 rushes, third-most in the league.

One other statistical angle is intriguing from Saleh's four-year stretch as San Francisco's D-coordinator. In his second season with the 49ers in 2018, their total yardage ranking rose from 24th to 13th. But while the Niners had five takeaways in the first eight games that season, over the last eight games they struggled to only two TAs. That sounds familiar.

Year three in San Fran was when it all came together for Saleh's D: No. 2 in yards allowed and 27 takeaways, No. 6 in the league — then added seven more in three playoff games. And that sounds like a good omen for the Green & White.

They need to maintain their potent pass rush/coverage balance while finding some more bodies on the DL to join Williams, Lawson, John Franklin-Myers, Bryce Huff and second-year players Jermaine Johnson and Micheal Clemons in fortifying last season's fallow fumble-forcing machinery.

"We're looking for ways to close the door," said of the third-year model of his Jets defense. "How can we better when our offense scores, to slam the door shut on the opposing offense? So there's things we've got to get better at, some things we're going to focus on.

"We'll be a lot better."

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