Fierce pass rush leading charge for Jets

Muhammad Wilkerson sacks Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel

Muhammad Wilkerson sacks Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel during the first half. (Sept. 22, 2013) (Credit: Lee S. Weissman)

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - The choice is yours.

Muhammad Wilkerson. Sheldon Richardson. Quinton Coples. Or anybody else in the Jets' front seven.

For the first time in the five-season Rex Ryan era, the Jets have a legitimate pass rush that doesn't rely solely on heavy blitzing. Bills rookie EJ Manuel learned that the hard way, getting sacked eight times.

"Offensive coordinators have to pick their poison if they want to double-team somebody,'' said Wilkerson, who was in on six tackles (two for a loss), two sacks, a forced fumble and five quarterback hits in the Jets' 27-20 win at MetLife Stadium.

Here's the dilemma for opposing teams: Put two guys on Wilkerson and that leaves the rookie Richardson one on one. Double-team Richardson and that opens the door for Wilkerson, Coples or linebackers Calvin Pace, Antwan Barnes and David Harris.

For the first time since 1988 (against Phil Simms and the Giants), the Jets made eight sacks, and they also hit Manuel 16 times. But whereas in the past Ryan had to work overtime to produce that kind of pressure, he now has a young, athletic line hunting quarterbacks for sport.

"At the end of the day, Rex is Rex, so he's going to call his blitzes still,'' Wilkerson told Newsday Monday. "But now you have four guys who can go get the quarterback.

"It's like, put everything on our shoulders. You're basically telling the four guys up front, go end the game.''

The Jets' offense held its own against the Bills, with Geno Smith, Santonio Holmes, Stephen Hill and Bilal Powell all having career days. Said Ryan: "This is the first time in Jets history that we had a 300-yard passer, 100-yard rusher and two 100-yard receivers in a game.'' But Smith is still in the midst of rookie growing pains, and that means the defense must continue to be on point until the offense gets more comfortable.

And Ryan's unit -- especially his line -- is happy to oblige.

"He uses every athletic ability that every player on defense has and he takes advantage of it in some way,'' Richardson, who had a sack and four tackles, told Newsday. "I love him for it. I always wanted to be with a coach where you didn't have shackles. And now I'm shackle-free.''

As tackle Leger Douzable said Sunday: "If they don't score, we win.'' And while shutting down offenses, the Jets hope to shut up their critics.

"We want people to keep doubting us,'' Douzable added. "We're going to keep proving them wrong. Nobody thought we could be a top-five defense.''

The Jets woke up yesterday morning with the fourth-best defense in the NFL. But even that wasn't good enough.

"Nah, that's too low for his standards,'' Richardson said of Ryan, who has said the goal was a top-five defense. "He wants to be the top defense. Period. And we're striving to be it.''

So No. 4 is no good?

"Still too low,'' Richardson said. "Still too low.''

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