New York Jets Preseason Week 1 Report Card: Defense
By James Cunningham
The New York Jets opened up their preseason against the Giants in the annual Metlife Bowl. See how the defense faired in their first game of the new year.
The New York Jets’ preseason opener is all wrapped up. Gang Green couldn’t start out with a win, losing to the New York Giants 31-22. Most starters only played one drive, so this game was pretty meaningless for the most part. Neither team wanted to give the other tape to use for their meeting in November.
The Jets defense had its ups and downs in Thursday’s outing. The starting unit got a three and out to start off the game, which is a good sign. The backups had a rough time handling the Giants’ passing attack, giving up numerous big plays.
The Jets defense was without two of its key pieces on the line, as Leonard Williams and Steve McClendon watched from the sidelines. This was just a precautionary move to keep the teams’ veterans healthy for the regular season. They did the same with offensive veterans Le’Veon Bell and Ryan Kalil.
Each unit among the Jets’ defense has its own strengths and weaknesses. Some groups thrived on Thursday, while others crumbled. How did each tandem fair? Below is a full report card for the defensive side of the ball.
Next: Defensive Line
The defensive line had a solid game overall. They completely shut down the running game, limiting the Giants to 2.2 yards per carry on 18 carries. They didn’t get to the quarterback very much, though. The lone sack against Big Blue came from Montrel Meander, the second-year cornerback who was formerly a UDFA picked up by the Browns in 2018.
Quinnen Williams, the third overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, had a quiet night. He only played 11 snaps and recorded one tackle. The coaching staff didn’t feel the need to play him much, which believe it or not, is a good thing. Keep him healthy for the season rather than line him up for several drives in a preseason game.
Bronson Kaufusi, the 28-year-old defensive end/outside linebacker who the Jets signed in 2018, had a strong outing Thursday. He’s been impressing Gregg Williams throughout camp, earning some reps with the first team. He nearly forced a fumble on quarterback Alex Tanney, which was brought back for a touchdown by Parry Nickerson, but the officials ruled it an incomplete pass after being reviewed.
For being without two of its starting linemen, the defensive line put on a solid performance. The backups showed the Jets shouldn’t be concerned regarding depth on the line. Once Williams and McClendon hit the field, the pass rush will take a turn upwards.
The Jets’ linebacking core was arguably the best unit among the entire team during Thursday’s game. They made plays left and right, and they didn’t make many if any, big mistakes. The whole unit put on a good show for Jets Nation.
The backup linebackers put up a great performance, and a couple even created an argument to put them in starting situations in the future. No, I’m not saying anyone should earn a starting job in one preseason game, but they definitely opened some eyes among the coaching staff.
Frankie Luvu had arguably the best performance among the entire Jets roster. He posted six combined tackles and forced a fumble, creating the Jets’ lone takeaway of the game. He and Blake Cashman teamed up to take the football away from Paul Perkins, and fellow linebacker Neville Hewitt recovered it, giving the offense the ball in the red zone.
Cashman, the Jets 5th round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, had a very solid debut. He was all over the field, making an impact on almost every play. He posted four tackles in his limited playing time. The Jets even gave him a couple of reps at outside linebacker, primarily due to his speed.
If Cashman continues to impress, he could find himself on the field in some passing and third-down situations ahead of Avery Williamson. Gregg Williams has a ton of variety and depth at the linebacker position, and will likely use it appropriately.
Rookie outside linebacker Jachai Polite had a quiet preseason opener. He didn’t play until the start of the second half, and only put up two tackles. Many Jets fans wanted to see Polite play well, as he was heating up in practices during the days prior. Polite will need some time before turning into a viable starting pass rusher. And that’s completely reasonable for a third-round draft pick.
The Jets showed they have more than enough depth at the linebacker position. They should feel completely fine with sending out one of the second team players if one of the starters needs to come out for any reason. The linebacking core may wind up becoming the strongest unit of the Jets’ defense in 2019.
The Jets defensive backs had a rough game. There’s no other way to put it. They struggled heavily against the Giants’ receiving core, and it was definitely concerning to watch. The Jets are beyond thin in the secondary, and Thursday’s game completely proved that.
The Giants scored three passing touchdowns, one of which was a 51-yard reception by Russell Shepard on a slant route. He beat Parry Nickerson badly and took it all the way to the end zone. Nickerson was among the Jets’ worst performers and may find himself on the roster bubble if the Jets decide to bring in a cornerback or two to try and strengthen their depth.
Nickerson wasn’t the only defensive back who struggled. Daniel Jones picked apart the second team in his only drive, completing all five of his passes. One of those five was a touchdown throw in the back of the end zone, where Santos Ramirez played good coverage but failed to turn around and make a play on the ball. It could have easily been an interception or at least a deflection if he was able to find the ball.
Derrick Jones, Kyron Brown, and just about every cornerback on the Jets depth chart got beat a couple of times, and the Giants took advantage. The secondary made it easy for the opposing team to pass the ball down the field, which is why they completed 78 percent of their passes and threw for three touchdowns.
The Jets need to find a cornerback somehow, somewhere. If any of the starters go down, the next man up could immediately become a liability in the Jets’ defense. Joe Douglas fixed up the depth on the offensive line very well. Next up, he’s gotta find some depth in the secondary.
Hopefully, Trumaine Johnson and Darryl Roberts play well and stay healthy for the duration of the season. If not, things in New Jack City may go downhill very quickly.