In their first eight games of the 2019 season, the New York Jets held a 1-7 record, losing four straight games to start the season and then losing another three straight after scraping by Dallas with a 24-22 victory in week six (ESPN). Following a week one defeat against the Bills where they managed to contain them to only 17 points, the Jets conceded 22+ for the next eight weeks, struggling to find a way to stifle opposing offenses (ESPN). As a result, the Jets defense had a hard time catching a break during games, often finding itself depleted and exhausted after long stretches on the field.
But after a big victory against the New York Giants in week 10, the Jets defense turned it up a notch in the second half of the season, shutting down offensive schemes regularly (ESPN). Holding Washington to 17 points, Oakland to only 3 points, Pittsburgh to 10 points and Buffalo to just 6 points to end the season, the Jets ended up flipping their 1-7 start into a 7-9 finish, going 6-2 in their last eight games (ESPN). Even with a streaky offensive supporting cast, the Jets somehow finished the 2019 season with the 7th best defense in the entire league, pulling off an incredible 180-degree turnaround despite such a horrendous start (ESPN).
However, after coming off a year that had plenty of inconsistency, it’s hard not to wonder just what kind of season this Jets defense will have heading into 2020. It’s important to keep in mind that the Jets didn’t splash a lot of cash and were generally pretty quiet during free agency, which means that their lineup hasn’t changed much on both sides of the ball. Defensively, that might not appear to be the end of the world after the Jets were able to crack the Top 10 with the guys they already have (ESPN). But that being said, there is a reason why the Jets were not a Top 5 defense or even a Top 3 for that matter.
First and foremost, the Jets couldn’t muster a whole lot of pass-rushing, placing 23rd in sacks with a total of 35 on the year, only 1 sack short of being tied with the 4-12 Giants (ESPN). But secondly, the Jets could not defend the pass very well either, frequently struggling to contain opposing receivers from exposing them downfield to the point that they finished 17th in total passing yards allowed on the season (ESPN).
It all starts with their defensive line, which they began to address last year by selecting Alabama DT Quinnen Williams 2nd overall in the draft (ESPN). This was a great step in the right direction, but Williams certainly can’t do it on his own. Veteran DT Steve McLendon turned 34 years old this past January and is well beyond his prime (ESPN). But the essence of the defensive line issues comes down to their defensive ends. After releasing Leonard Williams to the Giants last season, the best defensive end the Jets have is 6-year vet Henry Anderson, a solid player who collected 7 sacks in 2018 but hasn’t done much since (ESPN). Despite the return of a young and promising John Franklin-Myers, the Jets have no credible defensive ends to garner any sort of pressure (ESPN). And with the 11th overall pick in the draft this year, the Jets should strongly consider pursuing another defensive lineman to bolster a unit that’s in dire need of more talent.
That being said, the D-line is not the only section of the New York Jets defense that could use some improvement. Despite having All-Pro safety Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye to anchor their secondary, the Jets could use some help at the cornerback position. After coming off a breakout season in 2018 with Atlanta, Brian Poole’s numbers took a bit of a hit, mustering only 48 solo tackles with a forced fumble and an interception to cap off his 2019 debut with the New York Jets (ESPN). While this might appear concerning, Poole is only 27-years-old and has plenty of talent left in him to have a bounce-back a year (ESPN). But just like Williams up front, Poole also needs help, and that’s why the Jets decided to get Pierre Desir from the Colts this offseason, whose coming off a good year (ESPN). However, even with these two corners, the Jets still lack the depth in this position. Remember, Jamal Adams is not really a cover safety and frequently chooses to play up along the line of scrimmage. So if the Jets decide to play him there again this season (and why not), they are going to need to compensate for his absence in their pass coverage by securing better, lockdown corners. Although they do have some additional corners such as Blessuan Austin and Arthur Maulet who’ve put up decent numbers, the Jets need another resilient cornerback or two if they want to produce a Top 10 passing defense (ESPN).
Nonetheless, what the Jets do have on defense, is an excellent linebacker corps that is only going to get even stronger this season. Last year, the Jets lost not only newly acquired C.J. Mosley in week 1 against the Bills, but also linebacker Avery Williamson before the season started (ESPN). But even with these big injuries, this group of linebackers remained to be the most influential unit in the Jets defense last season. The reason why the Jets were 2nd in the league at stopping the run, was mainly because of their linebackers (ESPN). The Jets play with a 3-4 base defense, which means they have three D-lineman rushings up the middle with usually one or two outside linebackers rushing in off the edge (ESPN). Guys like James Burgess (who led the team in tackles), to Jordan Jenkins (who led the team in sacks with 8 on the year), to Neville Hewitt, to Tarell Basham and even Blake Cashman, all stepped up last season and illustrated just what kind of havoc they can wreak upon opposing offenses (ESPN). And after signing former Ravens linebacker Patrick Onwuasor over free agency who posted 64 total tackles, 3 sacks and a forced fumble last year, it’s simply scary to think what this linebacker corps will do this season (ESPN).
With the 2020 NFL Draft approaching, the New York Jets will have the chance to tack on yet another big defensive player and build on the strong foundation they have in place. But regardless of who they draft, what remains to be the biggest reason why the New York Jets will be a Top 10 defense once again this season, is their linebackers. Linebackers continue to be the lifeline of defense, a role where you are tasked with doing just about everything: they are responsible for shutting down run attacks, pressuring the quarterback as well as defending the pass-through man and zone coverage. Despite Jamal Adams being there best defensive player and Quinnen Williams their best D-lineman, the Jets linebacker corps was unrelentingly imposing, disruptive and game-changing throughout the entire duration of last season. And with their best defensive unit getting even stronger, the Jets have all the talent to be a Top 5 defense in 2020.