When reviewing the 2022 New York Jets defense, one takeaway is that the jump made from 2021 by Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich’s unit was remarkable.
It was a defense that in 2021 ranked last overall giving up 397.6 yards per game and, in scoring, giving up 29.6 points per game. They were hardly better against the pass (30th, 259.4 ypg) and run (29th, 138.3 ypg). Lastly, they were far from opportunistic, finishing 31st in turnovers (14) and tied for 30 when it came to interceptions (seven).
Fast forward 12 months, this unit skyrocketed from the 32nd to the fourth-ranked defense in the NFL, giving up 311.1 yards a game. Also, they shot up from 32 to four in scoring, allowing just 18.6 points a week. Their highest ranking was their elite pass defense, which finished third in the NFL, holding opponents to 189.4 yards per game. Also, the Jets finished tied for seventh in the NFL in sacks, with 45. More substantial progress from 2021 (33 sacks) and yet another key category in which the Jets’ defense finished in the top seven.
For this Jets defense, under Saleh and Ulbrich, in year three, to continue to progress and firmly establish themselves as the best defense in the NFL in 2023, more improvement can still come in two key areas specifically.
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Two areas the New York Jets defense must improve in 2023:
In terms of generating takeaways, the Jets’ defense fell off in the second half of the year following what was a good start.
The Jets’ defense had at least one turnover in every game of the first nine games of the year. In total, the unit compiled 14 turnovers in nine games, and it put the Jets in a position to be 6-3. On average, they were getting 1.6 takeaways a game.
Over the final eight games, the defense had a total of just two turnovers. Simply, not even close to good enough. After the 6-3 start, the two turnovers in eight games played a massive part in the Jets finishing the year 1-7.
By the end of the regular season, the one area the Jets’ defense hardly made progress in 2021 was the turnover department. They finished 29th in football with just 16 takeaways, an average of just under one (0.94) per game. A major drop-off from the 1.6 averaged over the first nine weeks of the season.
They finished just below league average, tied for 19th in interceptions with 12. However, the Jets’ defense picked up just four fumbles all year, which finished 31st in the NFL.
For the Jets’ defense to continue to take steps for the better in 2023, creating more turnovers will be key.
2. Run Defense
By the end of the 2022 regular season, the Jets’ run defense was ranked right in the middle. They tied for 16th, giving up an average of 121.6 yards per game on the ground.
However, an important stat to make note of is that while the yardage allowed was less than ideal for a top unit, is that the Jets’ run defense did allow just 4.2 yards per carry, which tied for sixth-best in the NFL. Unfortunately, the 16th-placed ranking comes as a result of the fact that only six teams had the ball run on them more than the Jets. Opponents, in total, tallied 492 rushing attempts against the Jets (28.9 per game).
The main point with regard to the Jets’ run defense, though is similar to the one above. Along with the second-half drop-off in turnovers mentioned, the run defense happened to tail off as the year progressed as well.
In the first nine games, the Jets allowed 998 rushing yards (110.9 per game). On a per-game average, the unit was allowing four yards a carry. In six of the nine games, the Jets allowed 3.8 yards per rush or less. In three games, the Jets held their opponents to less than 70 yards rushing.
Come the second half, the Jets gave up 1,070 yards rushing in their final eight games (133.8 per game). A whopping 22.9 yards per game increase compared to the first nine weeks. In five of the last eight weeks, they gave up over 125 yards rushing, with awful 198 and 162-yard performances allowed. After holding teams to 3.8 yards per rush or less in six of the first nine games, the defense did not hold a team to under 3.8 yards per carry through the final eight games, giving up at least 99 in every game. On average, they saw four yards per carry worsen to 4.4 yards per rush.
The Jets have a ton of great players who will be leading this defensive unit, headlined by Quinnen Williams, Sauce Gardner, C.J. Mosley, DJ Reed, John Franklin-Myers, and Michael Carter II, among others.
If the Jets can build in these two areas and simply just replicate the success they proved to have in the first half of 2022 during the second half of the season in 2023, the Jets have the talent and chance to be the best defense in football.