Heading into the 2013 NFL season, the New York Jets were expected to fall to the bottom of the AFC East and win at the most five or six games. However, the Jets have taken the NFL by storm and are heading into their bye week (Week 10) with a 5-4 record, good for second in their respective division.
The rest of the season does not seem intimidating for Coach Rex Ryan and the Jets, as they will only face one team that is currently over .500 – the Carolina Panthers. The Playoffs are in New York’s vision, as they will be fighting for the second Wild Card spot (the Denver Broncos or Kansas City Chiefs will likely walk away with the first Wild Card spot while the other wins their division).
Most of the Jets success can be credited to their defense; most notably their defensive line.
The defensive line includes Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, and Damon Harrison. These three players have successfully stopped the run and rushed the quarterback, forcing fumbles and making the quarterback throw interceptions. They have also came up in the clutch, stopping teams on third and fourth down, helping the Jets make a fourth quarter comeback or just stop the opposing team from taking the lead late in the game.
The three lineman have a combined 104 tackles through nine games, including 11.5 sacks, one interception, and three forced fumbles.
Wilkerson has been the biggest surprise for New York, as he makes up for 31 of the defensive line’s 104 tackles, forcing two fumbles, intercepting the ball one, and sacking the quarterback eight times. In his first two years as a Jet, Wilkerson, the 30th overall pick out of Temple struggled, 118 combined tackles, eight sacks, and four forced fumbles (32 games). In 2013, he finally broke out becoming one of the league’s premier defensive lineman.
Another surprise from the Jets defensive line is Richardson, the 13th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Richardson was one of the picks that the Jets received from the Darrelle Revis trade and after he was selected, many analysts and fans were ripping the Jets, saying they traded away a premier cornerback for a lineman who could turn out just average. However, in the first nine games of the season, Richardson is proving the doubters wrong, amassing 41 tackles, forcing one fumble, and sacking the quarterback 2.5 times.
If the Jets kept Revis and did not select Richardson, their defensive line will downgrade a great deal, which would lead to opposing teams having more success rushing the ball as well as leading fourth quarter comebacks against the Jets.
If the defensive line for the Jets was just average, they would not be over .500, as their record would most likely be 3-6 or worse heading into their Bye Week.
However, it is not just the defensive line that has contributed to the Jets surprising start, as the secondary and linebackers have both been huge factors.
In the team’s Week 9 victory against the New Orleans Saints, linebacker Quinton Coples made a huge play late in the game, stopping tight end Josh Hill on a fourth and one end-around. This ultimately led to a waste of a drive, stopping the Saints from making it a one-score game.
The defense as a whole has stopped opposing teams on third and fourth downs often, leading to punts and turnovers. Opposing teams are 46-for-132 (34.8%) on third downs against the Jets, earning a first down just once every three third downs. On fourth down, opposing teams are 3-for-9 (33%) against the Jets, proving the Jets can make big stops which has led them to multiple wins in close games.
The Jets’ current defense is very similar to their defenses in the 2009-’10 and 2010-’11 seasons. When Mark Sanchez was in his rookie year, the defense were a huge factor into why the team made it to the AFC Championship. The following year was the same outcome – as they made it to the AFC Championship again – but they failed to win. However, if it wasn’t for their defense, the Jets wouldn’t have made the playoffs let alone make it to the AFC Championship.