The buzz around the New York Jets defense heading into this season is that the potential is there to return to an elite unit in the NFL. In 2009, the Jets were 1st in total defense. In 2010, the Jets were 3rd in total defense. Last season they were down to 5th in total defense. It isn’t exactly like they were awful but much of the luster was gone, particularly when Tim Tebow drove down the field on them for a game winning touchdown, New England shredded them in their own building and Philadelphia embarrassed them late in the season.
Simply put the Jets defense lost their swag, aptly demonstrated by the loudest mouth on the team, Bart Scott struggling through a subpar year. This was a unit that was too slow, didn’t make enough big plays and didn’t put fear into opposing offenses the way it did for stretches of the 2009 and 2010 season. They became predictable and stopped attacking.
Why is there such a high amount of chatter about improvement this season?
Coaching – Rex Ryan will be taking a much more hands on role with the defensive playcalling this season after giving many of the duties over to Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine last year. This isn’t a knock on Pettine but it will be good to have Rex more involved in the day to day planning of the defense. In 2009, Ryan taught his system with great success and the Jets are now “going back to square one” with their installation which will help with fundamentals and preventing the amount of mental mistakes that occurred last year.
Beyond that, the Jets wisely hired Karl Dunbar away from the Minnesota Vikings to be their defensive line coach. We have sung Dunbar’s praises at length here at TOJ and for good reason. The Jets had a defensive back coaching their defensive line last season in Mark Carrier, they now have a well-respected line coach who coached one of the league’s best defensive lines over the past few years. More importantly, Dunbar has the knowledge to help the transition to using more 4-3 looks.
Versatility – The Jets aren’t going to be as locked into the 3-4 as they were in the past. With the strength of this year’s defense (outside of cornerback) being the defensive line, they will be using more 4-3 and 46 alignments. This is a wise move and credit the coaching staff for not trying to fit square pegs into round holes (something Eric Mangini loved to do). The Jets have better depth and talent on their defensive line than at linebacker, so why not make more of an effort to get those players on the field?
Personnel Additions – There weren’t a ton of these but they notably they improved the safety position by adding Yeremiah Bell and LaRon Landry and added needed speed in the front seven by drafting Quinton Coples and Demario Davis. Bell, Landry and Coples all project as opening day starters and Davis should see action on passing downs. They also drafted Josh Bush in the sixth round, who will see action at free safety.
Internal Improvement – Bart Scott has dropped weight and by all indications looks poised to be more of the player he was in 2009 and 2010 than he was in 2011. Aaron Maybin has now had a full off-season to work with the coaching staff and improve his craft in Rex Ryan’s system. Muhammad Wilkerson had a terrific off-season and looks ready to build on a quietly strong rookie year. Bryan Thomas is returning from missing most of last season with injury.
Still Elite – Darrelle Revis and David Harris. The best corner in football and one of the top five inside linebackers in football still suit up in Green and White.
What you should have is a unit that is deeper at linebacker, defensive line and safety than it was last season. It should also be a unit better equipped to bounce between a 3-4, 4-3 and 46.
Is there still question marks? Yes. The Jets still lack a proven coverage safety. They would be wise to add another corner for depth purposes (Drew Coleman anyone?) and Bart Scott, Bryan Thomas, and Calvin Pace have plenty to prove at linebacker. However, from top to bottom the Jets are equipped to have the best defense in their division and one of the best in the NFL.