Stopping the run was an area that one never would have considered to be a concern under Rex Ryan.
In 1999, Ryan's first season as Baltimore's defensive line coach, that defense ranked second in the NFL in rushing yards allowed. The following year, that unit moved to first. His last three seasons as the Ravens' defensive coordinator from 2006-08, they ranked second, second and third in the league. In his second season as the Jets' head coach in 2010, their run defense was second.
However, now in his fourth year leading the Green & White, Ryan's rush defense hasn't lived up to its typical high standards. The Jets begin the second half of their schedule ranked 29th, giving up 141.4 yards on the ground per game.
"The run defense has been poor ... it's getting better," Ryan said Monday. "Over the last 100 rushes, we've given up, I think, 3.1 a carry. It's getting better, but it's still not where you want it to be."
In the Jets' season-opening win against Buffalo back on Sept. 9, the Bills rushed for 195 yards. In Week 4, San Francisco ran for 247 yards — the most given up by a Jets defense since the Washington Redskins produced 296 against them in 2007.
"In this league, it's tough," safety Yeremiah Bell said. "One thing we've got to do as a defense is swarm. Missed tackles aren't that bad when you've got 11 guys running to the football. They're only bad when you only get a couple of guys running to the football and he breaks one and he gets 10, 20 extra yards. We've just got to eliminate those."
As of late, the run defense has swarmed and eliminated some of its early-season miscues. Opponents have rushed for only 269 yards combined in the Jets' past three games. Rookie defensive end Quinton Coples said the recent improvements in stopping the run haven't been due to altering drills in practice but rather from a transformation in attitude.
"I just think we changed our mindset," Coples said. "Coach Rex initiated it, and then Coach Dunbar, as far as the defensive line, he made sure he emphasized it a lot more during our 1-on-1 drills and stuff. So at the end of the day, guys have just taken the mentality up a notch and focused in more on the run."
A prime example of the improvement occurred two Sundays ago when the Green & White hosted Miami. Although the Dolphins won, 30-9, their rushing attack was held to 97 yards on the afternoon. It was an encouraging performance compared to when the teams first met on Sept. 23 at Sun Life Stadium and Miami racked up 185 yards on the ground.
The defense will be tested once again Sunday as they travel to the West Coast to face the Seattle Seahawks and Marshawn Lynch, the NFL's second-leading rusher. Lynch has totaled 881 yards at 4.8 yards per carry and DT Mike DeVito knows that it will require a team effort to contain him.
"He's a guy that you've got to get 11 guys to him," DeVito said, "because I don't remember what the stat is but he's one of the best as far as yards after contact. So we've got to get everybody to him and make sure we're bringing him down because he's a great, strong runner, and it's always been like that, playing him when he was in Buffalo. He's always been like that."
With a renewed drive and determination, it's pretty clear that the Jets run defense hopes to display more steadiness in the second half of the season.
"I think after the San Fran game, we've been making a lot of strides," DeVito said. "I think we've been getting better. We started off inconsistent, which isn't like us. But we're getting back to playing Jets defense. Rex and [coordinator] Mike Pettine, they're calling great calls. So we're getting better and we're getting back to knowing what we know to do. And that's what you want to see, progress moving forward."