The true key to the New York Jets' 2013 season will be their defense. With head coach Rex Ryan re-focusing himself on the defensive side of the ball, and with two new first-round draft picks to bolster the defense, the Jets will be successful only if their defense is great.
With the changes in personnel this offseason, the goal for New York should not be to replicate the defense from 2012, but instead to create a new identity. The following are the three key goals the Jets must achieve.
Reinvigorated Pass Rush
As veteran inside linebacker and defensive leader David Harris said recently, according to Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com, "We're going to do a lot of blitzing and getting after people. There should be a different brand of football than you were used to seeing the last couple of years."
In 2012, the Jets got away from the type of defense they played in 2009 and 2010. The pass rush that had been elite in the past was average or perhaps even below-average. Part of that was the decision to blitz less, possibly motivated by the loss of shutdown cornerback Darrelle Revis. But part of it was personnel.
With the Jets now having a retooled and young defensive line—including Sheldon Richardson, Kenrick Ellis, Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples—a poor pass rush will not be acceptable in 2013.
Set the Edge
Setting the edge has always been a staple of a Rex Ryan defense, both in Baltimore and in New York. Setting the edge is when the outside contain player (either an outside linebacker or a defensive end) closes off the outside and forces running backs to run toward the middle, usually resulting in a loss or short gain.
The players who used to do this expertly (Bryan Thomas and Calvin Pace) have aged, and the Jets suffered from poor outside linebacker play in 2012. Between Quinton Coples and Antwan Barnes, the Jets need to see a renewed devotion to setting the edge effectively in 2013.
Quality Safety Play
Perhaps most important of all, the Jets will need quality safety play. The lack of quality safeties has hurt them in each of the past two seasons, especially against key rivals like the New England Patriots. While the Patriots might not press safeties as hard if they do not have tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, the trend has been set, and many NFL teams make heavy use of tight ends and routes in the middle of the field.
The Jets have let both starters at safety, LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell, leave since last year. Their current young group of safeties, including Antonio Allen, Josh Bush and Dawan Landry, will have to do better than last year's counterparts.
If New York can finally get a strong group of safeties to go along with its reinvigorated front seven, then the Jets might once again look like the Jets.