FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Why has the Jets defense improved over the past two games? In talking with middle linebacker Demario Davis, it’s an easy answer.
No magic formula. No scheme change. No major personnel change.
“Execution. That’s the difference,” said Davis, who is third in the NFL with 40 total tackles this season. “Coaches were putting in game plans and we weren’t executing. The past two weeks we’ve been executing. It’s that simple.”
The Jets defense, while not perfect, has amended itself over the last two weeks and it’s one of the reasons they have an opportunity to push their 2-2 record past .500 should they defeat the winless Browns (0-4) Sunday.
The numbers confirm the improvement.
After allowing 448 passing yards in Weeks 1-2, the Jets gave up 331 in Weeks 3-4. The third-down execution was revised. In the Week 2 loss at Oakland, the Jets allowed the Raiders to convert seven of 12 third-down plays.
Over the last two weeks, both victories, the Jets held their opponents to 10 of 30 on third down.
“Wanted to play faster,” defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers said. “The first couple of weeks we were so slow on defense and we wanted to play faster and get guys more aggressive and get guys flying around.”
These Jets discuss the energy level that just wasn’t around the first two weeks. Maybe it was the jitters of the road opener at Buffalo, where the Jets allowed 190 rushing yards. Of course, the Week 2 fiasco in Oakland saw the run defense allow 6.7 yards per carry, a season-high.
Several Jets players, cornerback Morris Claiborne and quarterback Josh McCown, said something changed at halftime of that Oakland game. It got the Jets into believing they can improve their play. The Jets were blown out, 45-20, in that contest but the team gained some confidence in a strange sort of way.
“For whatever reason, we just were (slow),” Rodgers said. “We couldn’t put our hands on it but we knew after the first couple of weeks that was really glaring for us.”
The only major personnel change for the Jets was moving Darryl Roberts to the third corner ahead of Juston Burris.
Scheme-wise the Jets continued to ask rush ends Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams to play gap control so their linebackers could make more plays on the ball. The Jets believe their two rookie safeties, Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, can produce support by charging up to the line on run plays.
Starting corners Buster Skrine and Claiborne weren’t doing anything special, just playing their technique, whether it was tighter coverage in man-to-man or converging on receivers at the point of attack in zone.
The additions of defensive ends Kony Ealy (Aug. 27 off waivers from New England) and David Bass (Sept. 21 after being released by Seattle) bolstered the line. Coach Todd Bowles likes to employ a rotation for the defensive line and Ealy and Bass provide fresh legs for that unit.
And overall, as Rodgers said, play fast. “It wasn’t like we were having mental errors,” he said. “We just weren’t playing fast.”
“It’s not even that, you’re trying to make it too complicated,” Davis said. “If a guy runs right here, you tackle him. If you don’t tackle him you’re not executing. If you’re supposed to be in this gap, either you are in this gap or you’re not in this gap. The ball comes to the man, you defend the pass. It’s just execution.”
Last week, Wilkerson and Williams produced their best games statistically combining for 13 tackles. Williams added two quarterback hits. Ealy intercepted a pass on a rush and knocked down four balls. And over the last two weeks, Davis has three tackles for loss, a quarterback hit and a pass defended.
The run defense remains an issue, hence Rodgers was calling out the line for its struggles last week. It doesn’t get easier Sunday when they have to face rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, who has the speed to get out of the pocket where he’s averaging 4.4 yards per carry. However, Kizer sometimes holds the ball too long on pass plays. It could lead to some sacks.
In reality there is no wizardry that’s fixed the defense. Just keep it basic.
“All 11 guys doing their job and we’re trying to get this thing clicking,” Wilkerson said. “We got some young guys on the defense and we feel like things are clicking and [we’re] trying to put together our keys.”