If you had to identify the strength of the New York Jets during this season and in the Rex Ryan era in general, it would have to be the defense.
From lineman Muhammad Wilkerson to linebacker Bart Scott to cornerback Darrelle Revis, the Jets have had their share of Pro Bowl-caliber defenders over the last six years and have fielded some defensive units that carried the team almost to the Super Bowl a couple of times.
This season is more of the same, but instead of contending for a title, the Jets are one of the worst teams in the league at 1-7 going into this Sunday’s game against the Chiefs. The Jets are among the NFL leaders in sacks, but New York’s offense is struggling. Second-year quarterback Geno Smith was recently benched for veteran backup Michael Vick, and the offseason acquisition of former All-Pro running back Chris Johnson hasn’t produced great returns.
The defense may be getting to the ball, but they’re not getting the ball. The Jets are on pace to set a dubious record that no team wants. The Jets are on pace to have the fewest takeaways in a season. From Matt Ehalt of The Record (Hackensack, N.J.):
“I have been a part of a lot of record-setting defenses, but I never thought I would set one in futility,” Ryan said. “Thank goodness the year isn’t over. I bet we won’t be there, I bet we won’t break that record before the year is over, but we can’t buy one.”
With a league-low three takeaways this season, the Jets’ defense is well on its way to smashing the previous NFL low for a 16-game season of 11 set by Houston in 2013. The Jets have recovered two fumbles and have one interception in eight games.
“Even when the ball hits us in the hands, it doesn’t seem like [we catch it]. We could have given up 10 turnovers last week and yet we can’t get one on defense,” Ryan said earlier this week. “So, again, you just go out, you talk about it, you emphasize it, but it has to get done better than it’s been getting done, for sure.”
Backup cornerback Phillip Adams has New York’s only INT of the season, which he snagged against the Chargers during a 31-0 loss in Week 5. The starting DBs — safeties Calvin Pryor and Dawan Landry, and corners Antonio Allen and Darrin Walls — have made it halfway through the season by doing little more than bending. And breaking. And not making plays. This isn’t new, either. Last season, the Jets finished 31st in the league in takeaways with just 15.
Though to be fair, getting turnovers isn’t always something the defense can control. Jets linebacker Calvin Pace probably put it best when he said, “Sometimes you got to create them and sometimes you got to get lucky.” Landry added that the defense can’t become overly aggressive trying to get takeaways, which can put them out of position to make tackles.
Meanwhile, the Jets’ offense leads the league this season with 18 turnovers. So I’m guessing New York’s defense is at least getting plenty of interceptions and fumble recoveries in practice.