Analyzing an underrated defense

Nov 24, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 24, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports /

For the New York Jets, it seems like it wasn’t long ago when they were on the cusp of making a trip to the Super Bowl, riding a “defense wins championships” mentality only to come up short.

It’s tough to sell a great defense in today’s NFL—especially when it’s an offense-driven league. Penalties and play calls all point to favoring the starting 11 of the offensive side of the ball. However, defenses are still a vital piece to every team’s success. Even in today’s NFL, you almost can’t win without an above average defense—just ask the New Orleans Saints.

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In the past three seasons, the Seattle Seahawks, Carolina Panthers, New England Patriots and Denver Broncos have the top 10 total defenses in a single season. In 2010-2011, the Packers won the Super Bowl, not just with their great offense, but also with a top five total defense.

In 2012-2013, the San Francisco  49ers, despite losing, reached the Super Bowl riding a great defense that ranked third that season. There is a pattern here that perhaps the New York Jets are trying to replicate from other teams or at least build their own blueprint with the pieces they have.

In 2010-2011, Gang Green made the NFL Playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the 2001 and 2002 seasons. The only difference was that in 2010, they did it with arguably one of the top defenses, if not the best, that season. They finished third in rush defense, sixth against the pass and third in total defense statistics.

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Granted the team had a younger Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, along with other good defensive players like linebackers Bart Scott and David Harris, the overall defense was scary.

But even then, the Jets’ defense exceeded expectations for the second year in a row.

They were the underdogs in the AFC Wildcard Game against the Indianapolis Colts.

And there was no doubt that they were supposed to lose on the road against New England in the divisional round.

However once again, their defense showed up each game and carried themselves to a second straight AFC title game.

Obviously they came up short in that match-up against the Pittsburgh Steelers. But expectations were set for the team to repeat and return to the promise land in the years to come. However that hasn’t been the case. The Jets have yet to make the playoffs since.

The Jets are now on their third general manager, second head coach and second starting quarterback since the Rex Ryan and Mike Tannenbaum tenure. There’s no doubt that there has been an inconsistency to find that level of success that came all too fast for even New York to fully grasp in 2009 and 2010. But there has been some consistency elsewhere.

The organization seems to be fully in on the defensive mentality. They have drafted a defensive player in the first round each season since 2010—making it eight in total. Out of the eight first-round selections, not counting Darron Lee, Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson, two Pro Bowlers, along with Calvin Pryor and Leonard Williams appear to be poised to form a great defense.

Since 2010, the Jets have had a top 10 total defense, statistically speaking, with the exception of 2013 in which they finished 11th overall. Of course most of that notoriety is in large part to their great rush defense, but even that still is impressive and should be noted by their opponents. With the exception of 2014, the defense alone was keeping these same sub par Jets in games. They were in the playoff hunt from 2011 to 2013.

Certainly it’s not a foregone conclusion that teams still need to put up more points than the opponent to win the ballgame. This past season, the Jets found a great wide receiver tandem with Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall. Having a veteran signal caller in Ryan Fitzpatrick also helped them reach double digit wins for the first time since 2010. They missed the playoffs by a game, but certainly the next couple of years appear to be bright for Gang Green.

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At this point in time, with the re-signing of Wilkerson, and players like Williams, Pryor and along with their great receiving duo and newly signed featured back Matt Forte, there’s no reason why they can’t go the extra mile to push forward next season. This defense has been consistent and gotten stronger over the last couple of years. With their front seven, and players like Lorenzo Mauldin, Revis, Buster Skrine and we’ll see how much Lee contributes this season, these Jets have more than enough fuel to fly higher than they have been in recent memory—even if Fitzpatrick doesn’t come back.