Shaun Ellis’ game-winning touchdown against the Buffalo Bills last week wasn’t an accident.
Sure, the Jets were fortunate—there is no reason to believe Marshawn Lynch, who had been having an excellent game up to that point and had just gained a first down the series before, wouldn’t be able to pick up five yards on two carries.
Buffalo quarterback J.P. Losman held the ball too long, as he often does. Losman’s fumble was just about the most fortunate thing that could have happened to the Jets in that situation.
But it was no accident. The Jets have been doing this all year.
No, not playing down to their competition—that’s a whole different column—but getting pressure on the quarterback. That is, until the past few weeks.
Much was made of the Jets’ failings in pass defense against the Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers, and rightfully so. The secondary looked terrible both weeks, as receivers were essentially allowed to run free.
But what was even more notable about those two games was New York’s inability to generate any pass rush. Both Jay Cutler and Shaun Hill had all the time they needed to pick out their receivers, who had all day to get open. No defensive back can cover an NFL receiver for more than four or five seconds.
Against the pass-heavy Broncos and 49ers, the Jets rarely blitzed. Throughout the season, safeties Kerry Rhodes and Abram Elam, as well as cornerback Darrelle Revis on occasion, have blitzed frequently and with great success. Against Denver and San Francisco, the Jets repeatedly rushed four players, and opposing receivers eventually got open time and time again.
The player who forced Losman’s fumble Sunday? Elam, on a safety blitz from the backside.
The safety blitz is a play the Jets’ defense has mastered over the course of the year, as is the strip-sack. In New York’s first game against the Bills this year, it was Revis who got to the quarterback, forcing Trent Edwards to fumble on the Buffalo five-yard line.
Throughout the year, it has seemed as though every time a Jet safety has blitzed he has guessed right. The Jets are fourth in the NFL with 13 defensive fumbles recovered in 2008.
But Elam—who returned an interception for a touchdown in the Jets’ first game against the Bills—wasn’t the only New York defender making plays.
Linebacker Calvin Pace, another key to the Jets’ strong start to the year, had two sacks Sunday as well. He now has seven on the season and is the team’s best edge rusher. When the offensive line has to focus on Pace, it is much easier for a defensive back to time his rush and get to the backfield untouched.
After their miraculous escape against the Bills, the Jets are lucky to even be alive in the AFC East race.
But if they keep their pass rush going the way it was Sunday, they just might win the division title.