When All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis took his talents to Tampa Bay, some believed his departure spelled doom for coach Rex Ryan's defense. But if a three-game sample is to be believed, the Jets have a chance to be at least as good as they were with Revis and maybe better because the pass rush is better than it's ever been under Ryan.
"I think so," veteran cornerback Antonio Cromartie said yesterday when asked if this defense might be better. "There's a possibility of that.
"Our front seven is doing a heck of a job against the quarterback. We're not having to use all of our sub personnel to try to blitz with cornerbacks. We're doing it with our front seven. For the defensive backs, it makes things a little easier."
The Jets (2-1) had eight sacks of rookie quarterback EJ Manuel in their win over Buffalo last Sunday. They face a different challenge Sunday at Tennessee (2-1). The focus will be on stopping running back Chris Johnson first and then containing quarterback Jake Locker.
But consider the Jets' defensive numbers: first in red-zone defense (22.2 percent), third in third-down conversions (26.9), third in average rush per carry (3.2), third in total defense (270.0) and seventh in scoring defense (16.7).
Ryan announced Friday that rookie cornerback Dee Milliner (hamstring) is out along with running back Chris Ivory (hamstring). Cornerbacks Kyle Wilson, who replaced Milliner in the starting lineup at Buffalo, and Darrin Walls will combine to take most of the snaps, with Wilson spending most of his time as the nickel back covering the slot receiver and Walls playing outside on the wide receiver opposite Cromartie.
Wilson, a four-year veteran, said there's no question that a pass rush featuring end Muhammad Wilkerson, tackles Sheldon Richardson and Damon Harrison, and outside linebacker Quinton Coples has been the key to success.
"It's great to have a pass rush now because everybody is complementing off each other," Wilson said. "We're not covering for five seconds or overloading on the blitz. The ball is coming out on time; guys are in their face. We're doing everything we practice, our core fundamentals on defense. I like it."
In previous years, the pass rush was relatively ineffective up front, so Ryan had to create pressure by overloading blitzers in different areas. That required the cornerbacks, in particular, to hold their coverage longer. It was predicated to a degree on the ability of Revis to take away the opponent's top receiver. Now the Jets are getting pressure with just a four-man rush, though Ryan explained that those four might include a blitzer.
"Revis did an unbelievable job, but he only covered one man," Ryan said. "It wasn't like he could cover the whole field . . . You can lean on your front four or a different four guys coming. We have DBs that can rush the passer and some linebackers that are good blitzers.
"The big thing is the pressure is omnipresent with us. Even if we just rush four, you're probably thinking you've got more than that coming."