Jets vs. Lions: Week 1 defensive grades
By Justin Fried
The New York Jets defense absolutely dominated the Detroit Lions offense on Monday night wreaking havoc en route to a 48-17 pounding of the Lions on primetime football. How does this position group grade out after this masterful performance?
There’s an old proverb that says “defense wins championships.”
While it may be too early for the New York Jets to start laying their eyes on any kind of championship gold, the team’s defense certainly played at a championship caliber on Monday night.
The Jets defense reigned supreme over Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions offense in every conceivable way on Monday night limiting the team’s rushing success and shutting down Stafford and the passing game.
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It was a complete defensive dominance highlighted by five interceptions, the most by the team since 1999, including a pick-six from Darron Lee, one of two on the day for the athletic linebacker. This put an end to a dreaded 74-game drought in which the team hadn’t scored a defensive touchdown dating all the way back to October of 2013.
The defensive showing was equal parts fun as it was effective with all three position groups controlling their aspect of the game. As with any football game, this started with the big hog-mollies up front.
The Jets defensive line stood their ground and controlled the point of attack all night long limiting the Lions to just 39 total rushing yards. While some of that is due to the sheer multitude of passes the team attempted being down multiple scores, Detroit managed just 2.6 yards per carry failing to find any room to run with the Jets defenders right in their face.
Leonard Williams was his usual disruptive self but praise must be given to both Steve McLendon and Henry Anderson who flashed all sorts of power and were constant forces in the backfield throughout the night. Anderson, in particular, has shown great hands usage to be able to fight past blocks and get penetration into the backfield.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see the team give him more snaps as the season goes on.
While the Jets pass rush still remains one of the weakest in the league, they did manage to receive some solid contribution from undrafted Frankie Luvu off the bench. The Washington State product was signed from the practice squad before the game with veteran Josh Martin out with an injury and he certainly made the most of his snaps.
Luvu finished with three tackles, one for a loss, and even recorded a pass deflection. In a position group lacking much upside, the Jets should take full advantage of the 21-year old Luvu’s good first impression and give him increased snaps even if Martin is healthy next week.
As for the inside linebackers, it was the Darron Lee show.
Although Lee didn’t stand out in the first half and even found himself out of position on a couple of plays, the former Ohio State Buckeye absolutely owned the second half and put together the best 30 minutes of football he has ever played in his NFL career.
Lee was in great position in coverage coming away with two interceptions and nearly picking off a third pass. As mentioned previously, he also ended the Jets defensive touchdown drought when he returned one of his two interceptions for six points.
On top of that, Lee was a weapon as a tackler throwing his body around and connecting on multiple tackles for loss including one where he fought past three blockers to make a tackle behind the line on an attempted wide receiver screen pass.
Lee has always had the athletic upside to be a very good player in the league but his disciplinary flaws and mental errors have kept him from being the player he has the potential to be. At least for one half of football, Lee played like an All-Pro and looked like one of the best linebackers in football.
Call it a product of a positive mindset or legitimate growth and improvement. The Jets are certainly hoping it’s the latter for a player some had already given up on.
The remaining three interceptions came courtesy of the Jets secondary who played shut down football almost the entire game. Cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson and Morris Claiborne each came away with interceptions along with safety Jamal Adams who picked off the first pass of his NFL career.
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While Johnson struggled at points getting beaten by both Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay in coverage, Claiborne was as lockdown as he has ever been. The former Dallas Cowboy was credited with a pass deflection and had just a 21.7 passer rating when he was targeted throughout the game.
The Jets could find themselves with a very promising one-two punch at cornerback if Johnson and Claiborne could stay healthy giving them one of the more underrated trios of corners in the league when Buster Skrine is factored in.
Skrine didn’t have a flawless game but other than a 26-yard completion allowed to Golden Tate Skrine more than held his own covering one of the better slot targets in the league.
As for the Jets safeties, Adams contributed much more than just his interception as the game was winding down. The second-year safety flashed Pro Bowl level talent getting credited with two pass breakups and maintaining just a 10.0 passer rating when he was targeted.
Adams also tallied six total tackles including a tackle for loss on the Jets very first defensive play. The former LSU standout has the ability to impact every phase of the defense with outstanding sideline-to-sideline range to go along with linebacker-esque tackling ability.
There may be no player that has been as instrumental to the culture change of the Jets franchise as Jamal Adams and his play on the field may finally be catching up to his All-Pro talk off of it. If that happens, watch out because the Jets will have a star on their hands and a potential top-three safety.
It should also be noted that safety Doug Middleton did a very nice job of filling in for the injured Marcus Maye as he looked every part of an NFL starting safety and could see some time in sub packages once Maye returns. However, with the Jets being so secretive about the nature of Maye’s foot injury, don’t be surprised to see Middleton get the start again this week while the former Florida Gator continues to recover.
When all is set and done, it’s hard to imagine a game going any better for a position group. The defense shut the Lions ground game down and brought enough pressure on Stafford, despite not recording a sack, to make him uneasy in the pocket. The secondary reaped the benefits and played lockdown in their own right as the team came away with five interceptions as a part of a thorough dissection of the Lions offense.