This Jets' defense needs to stand up and be the group it thinks it can be.
That’s not some opinionated ink-stained dope saying so. It’s the Jets' defenders themselves.
Two weeks into the season, they have yet to have the kind of game that truly illustrates what they believe they can accomplish. They were solid against the Bills in the opener, coming up with four timely takeaways that were enough to squeeze out a victory, and then they were smacked around by the Cowboys in their second contest.
Now they are facing the Patriots.
They haven’t yet played to what they call “our standard.” And they are ticked about it.
“I wouldn’t say there is an anger so much as a fire,” linebacker Jermaine Johnson told Newsday of the group’s mentality, especially after surrendering 30 points and 382 yards to Dallas. “We just don’t feel great about last game, and obviously that’s not the goal in any game. So we’re going to come out this game and 100% make sure that doesn’t happen again.
“Like we want to do every time, we’re going to dominate and win the game.”
That may sound like brash talk coming from a team that has lost 14 straight to New England, but the way this defense sees it, they’ve won at least two straight against the Patriots. Last year’s losses came in games in which they allowed only one offensive touchdown combined.
“It was a dominant two games, to be quite honest,” Johnson said.
Not enough to win, though.
“Obviously, we’re always looking to go out and be better,” he added.
If the Jets are going to scratch this seven-year itch they’ve had to beat the Patriots, it’s going to have to come because they wreck New England’s offensive capabilities. That doesn’t mean making great plays. It just means making the smart plays that present themselves.
“They don’t really have a complex offense. It’s pretty simple for like the quarterback to get . . . everything is, like, simple,” cornerback Sauce Gardner said, teetering on smack talk before quickly making his actual point. “But it’s like they excel at it. What they try to do is get other people to mess up and make mistakes. They just do everything right.”
Jets defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich also lauded the Patriots' offense under Bill O’Brien.
“He is very good at game-planning you and taking what you give them,” Ulbrich said. “He instills a whole lot of patience in their offense, I can see that, a lot of efficiency, protecting the ball, protecting the time of possession, doing some very nice things. I know their record [0-2] does not indicate that and I know they got behind in a couple of these games early, so it kind of maybe changed the direction of the offense, but he is a fantastic coach, had a lot of success in the league, and they’ve got some guys on offense that are a problem.”
That’s just polite coach-speak, at least at the end. For one of the few times in this so-called rivalry, the Jets are the far better team, at least when it comes to their defensive matchups. They should be able to do to the Patriots' offense what the Dallas defense did to the Jets' offense.
Ulbrich pointed out that his players have rebounded before after performances that were not sufficiently impressive.
“Yeah, it is an interesting group,” he said. “Today’s NFL at times when there is adversity, there is a lot of finger-pointing and there is a lot of people who don’t want that responsibility on their shoulders. I’m so fortunate as a coach that is not the nature of this group, that is not in their DNA. We have a collective group that points the finger at themselves, coaches included, and because of that, it gives us the best opportunity to respond like we should and need to.”
Make no mistake: The Jets need to.
Asked what he envisions happening on Sunday, Johnson came through the gap like an unblocked blitzer.
“Dominance,” he said. “Straight like that. Dominance and victory.”
One does not ensure the other, as last year illustrated. But these Jets already have shown that they can’t have the latter if the defense doesn’t provide the former.
The offense no longer is the strength it once was, thanks to Aaron Rodgers’ torn Achilles. Some potential injury shuffling may take place on an already leaky line protecting an already suspect quarterback with an already unpopular offensive coordinator making the calls. That means that in order for the team to succeed, this defense must not only meet its own lofty expectations but exceed them.
There’d be no better way to begin that identity shift to their side of the ball than by coming up huge against the Patriots, just as they did last year, only this time with enough to pull the entire team to a win and end this absurdly long streak against them.
They still believe they can be the top defense in the league even if, after two weeks, they are ranked 20th in yards allowed per game (348) and 15th in points allowed (23).
“When we communicate,” defensive lineman Quinnen Williams said, “I feel like we are the number one defense in the NFL.”
Here’s something they might want to communicate:
It’s time to back up the talk they’ve been spewing for months with a performance that measures up to their potential, and do it against a quarterback and an offense they completely overmatch and should be able to crush.
Sounds as if they plan to do just that.