5 Biggest Reasons for New York Jets' Defensive Improvement in 2013
The New York Jets' (4-3) recent display of dominance on defense has reasserted Gang Green as a perennial playoff contender.
The Jets featured a decrepit rush defense in 2012 that ranked among the worst in the NFL, fueling opposing offenses past the chains on a frequent basis. Gang Green couldn't get its defense off the field last season, but New York has flipped the script in 2013.
The Jets rank second against the run through seven games this season, giving up a meager total of 77.7 yards per game. The defensive backfield, which no longer showcases Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis, has efficiently complemented the team's beastly front seven.
Gang Green ranks 10th overall defending the pass, yielding a pedestrian total of 224.9 passing yards per contest.
The Jets' drastic improvement on defense has been ignited by head coach Rex Ryan, who is arguably the best defensive mind in the game. Ryan had previously taken a backseat to former defensive coordinator Mike Pettine but reasserted himself as the primary shot caller on defense before this season.
New York also boasts an influx of youth on defense, revamping the team's formerly prominent pass rush that mounted an inefficient total of 30 sacks last season. In contrast, the Jets have recorded 24 sacks in their first seven games in 2013.
The following slideshow highlights the five biggest reasons for the Jets' defensive improvement in 2013:
Rex Ryan Is Calling the Shots
Ryan was dubbed a lame-duck head coach before training camp commenced in July.
The boisterous head honcho had seemingly earned an unworthy reprise after allowing his locker room to spin out of control in the midst of Tebow-mania.
Ryan also admitted to having zero influence over his team's offense, which was anemic under former offensive coordinator Tony Sparano.
The Jets sputtered into a miserable tailspin in 2012 that arguably should have resulted in Ryan being fired.
However, the Jets' vocal leader has redeemed himself this season.
Ryan built one of the most formidable defenses in the NFL during an offseason where the Jets were forced to be frugal. Gang Green's monstrous front seven wasn't entirely constructed from scrap, but was heavily developed from top-notch scouting efforts and players formerly slotted as second-team talent on the depth chart.
The inevitable departure of Pettine over the winter allowed Ryan to reclaim his in-house status as a defensive mastermind. His ability to effectively implement exotic blitz packages have aided the Jets toward a potential playoff push.
Ryan's defensive wisdom has the Jets near the top of the NFL in two distinct statistical categories: sacks (24) and tackles for loss (30).
The Jets theoretically exhibited a blueprint formula for defeating future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady on two occasions this season, finally earning a win over the arch-rival Patriots in Week 7.
Brady combined to complete 41 of 85 pass attempts for 413 yards and one touchdown in two games against the Jets in 2013. He was held out of the end zone in Week 7, not including the pick-six he threw to Jets safety Antonio Allen.
The Jets defense is ultimately one of the most productive units in the NFL, led by a man that was previously thought to be experiencing his last hurrah as a head coach.
Injection of Youth
The Jets' rebuilt defense is consumed by several key young players, namely defensive ends Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson.
Gang Green was desperate to inject a healthy dose of youth into a starting unit that featured aging veterans in 2012, such as former "Can't Wait" phenomenon Bart Scott and nose tackle Sione Pouha.
The Jets had become noticeably slow on defense last season, suffering several horrendous defeats while allowing at least 27 points in nine games, losing eight.
The 2013 version of the Green & White has been stout, led by Wilkerson.
The third-year player has already recorded six sacks this season. He's also forced two fumbles, exhibiting exceptional athletic ability from the point.
Richardson, the 13th overall pick in April's draft, has exploded onto the scene and has quickly become a force to be reckoned with. His aggressive style of play appropriately complements Wilkerson.
Through seven games, Richardson has recorded 19 tackles, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble. At 6'3'' and 294 pounds, Richardson possesses dynamic technique and above-average pass-rushing prowess.
Wil linebacker Demario Davis has also supplied the Jets defense with improved athleticism in the second tier. Davis has already eclipsed the total number of tackles he recorded in 2012 (22) with 33. He's steadily developing his coverage skills but is a breath of fresh air post-Scott nonetheless.
Former seventh-round draft pick Antonio Allen has turned some heads in 2013, especially in the wake of a game-changing pick-six off Brady in Week 7. Allen played sporadically in his rookie season, only earning one start. He's been solid in his second season, though, recording 20 tackles, three passes defended and a big-time interception.
The Jets' influx of youth on defense has uplifted the team. They're an energetic bunch that feeds off of each other's success. As each player continues to hone their respective skill sets, the Jets defense is going to continuously improve.
The Jets defense features an appropriate balance of youthful energy and veteran leadership.
Lead cornerback Antonio Cromartie has grown into a vocal leader on defense, holding an offseason training program for young defensive backs in an attempt to help spur team cohesion.
Cromartie adopted a clear-cut leadership role after Revis' departure, a necessity for a team formerly in transition. From a production standpoint, Cromartie is enduring some hardship while struggling to overcome a hyperextended knee.
The eight-year veteran has recorded 15 tackles and a forced fumble in seven starts this season but remains without an interception. He's had difficulty on multiple accounts, specifically in coverage against Titans WR Nate Washington and Steelers WR Emmanual Sanders.
Cromartie doesn't back down from his glaring missteps, though, accepting accountability for his recent struggles.
That kind of attitude serves as a building block for younger players.
Mike linebacker David Harris has also developed into a leader on defense, albeit in less vocal format. Harris is the highest-paid player on the Jets roster. He entered the season with a chip on his shoulder after enduring a highly inefficient 2012 season, despite decent numbers.
Harris has registered 34 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble through seven games. He's also appeared to have improved his closing speed, which is perhaps a product of better technique.
Seth Walder of the NY Daily News stated that Harris acknowledged the fact that he underperformed in 2012 back in August. His play through the first half of the season is proof that he's put in the work necessary to have a strong season, an indicator of a veteran leader.
Dominance Up Front
The culmination of top-notch game plans combined with a bounty of youth and veteran presence has resulted in the Jets' dominance up front.
Gang Green boasts a relentless front seven that frequently stuffs the opposition. The Jets have held several front-line running backs in check in the first half of the 2013 season.
Limiting production on the ground has forced opponents to rely heavily on a short passing attack.
Even though the Jets have sometimes struggled in trying to prevent opposing quarterbacks from completing passes over the middle of the field, their defense has often done enough to launch the team toward victory.
The Jets' ability to make the opposition adopt a one-dimensional approach to success has enabled the secondary to get creative with its coverage schemes.
Through seven weeks, the Jets have given up an average of 302.6 total yards per game, a stagnant sum that typically doesn't result in a ton of points for the opposition.
Gang Green's constant ability to clog the trenches has frustrated opposing offenses, a feat the team seldom accomplished in 2012, suffering 10 losses.
If the Jets earn a playoff berth in 2013, their success should be mostly accredited to a stout defense that virtually punishes its opponents.
Muhammad Wilkerson (DE)
Wilkerson is the driving force on the Jets defensive line that sparks superior excellence.
The stats don't tell the whole story for "Mo," who has established himself as a household name throughout film rooms across the NFL.
Wilkerson's ability to manhandle double-team efforts creates pass-rushing lanes for his teammates. The 315-pound pass-rusher utilizes a standard five-technique spot as a down lineman. His ferocity is enhanced by quick hand movement, which Wilkerson uses to achieve leverage against offensive linemen.
Wilkerson's discipline up front is demonstrated by his patience, seldom over-pursuing when he's not able to gain an edge on a blocker.
His quickness is unprecedented for a player of his nature. His superior ability to exemplify textbook footwork constantly enables him to rip past offensive linemen and penetrate the backfield.
Wilkerson's outrageous talent is the primary reason for the Jets' continued success on defense. He's constantly evolving into a better player, honing his technique while improving his versatility on the line.
Wilkerson can line up anywhere in the front, adding dynamism to the Jets defense, which helps confuse opposing quarterbacks.
Defense has always been a staple of Ryan's Jets.
However, the Jets' rebuilt D is more than a refined concept. The brutality that players like Wilkerson bestow on opponents every week is rooted in the team's symbiotic efforts to bully competitors into defeat.
Because each game is won in the trenches.