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Improving defense must continue to carry Jets down the stretch

Jets outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins celebrates his sack with

Jets outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins celebrates his sack with defensive end Leonard Williams during a game against the Bills at MetLife Stadium on Nov. 2, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Credit: Getty Images / Abbie Parr

If the Jets expect to overcome the odds and reach the postseason, the defense will have to lead them. It’s that simple. The inconsistency of the offense is putting pressure on what the defense must do in the remaining six games.

Many thought Todd Bowles’ defense would be the strength of the team, but some struggles early in the season, especially against the run, raised questions. But recently the defense has been the strength of the team, whether it’s providing a lift by dancing during timeouts or performing at a higher level.

“We just have to show up,” outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “Make plays, get after the quarterback, cause batted balls, force turnovers and get our offense in good field position. We really have to try to repeat the best performances and just lock in and play together and eliminate some of the mistakes we had.”

Statistically, the Jets (4-6) are mediocre across the board: 21st in total defense (346.9 yards per game), 24th in sacks per pass attempt (5.43 percent), 17th in yards per play (5.26) and 16th in points allowed (22.2). Yet in the last two weeks, the defense has shown what it could be.

In their last game, the 15-10 loss to the Bucs in Week 10, the Jets allowed only one touchdown, forced a turnover, had six tackles for loss, seven quarterback hits and six pass breakups. That performance almost surpassed what they did in the previous game, a 34-21 victory over the Bills. The Jets had a season-high seven sacks and forced three turnovers against Buffalo, along with nine tackles for loss and 11 quarterback hits. It was their best defensive game of the season, and getting close to that performance each week is what this team needs.

On Sunday the Jets will host Carolina and the always difficult Cam Newton.

“He’s the (second) leading rusher on the team,” defensive end Leonard Williams said. “His strongest suit as a quarterback is knowing he’s a dual threat, highly effective at running the ball. They have a lot of plays for him to run the ball, like option and QB sneak and QB draw. If you rush too high, he ends up taking off up the middle. It’s really going to be important for our defense to affect him as much as possible.”

The resurgence of the Jets’ two best pass rushers, Muhammad Wilkerson (toe, shoulder) and Williams, from health issues has helped. Williams didn’t have a sack for the first eight games but has picked up 1.5 the last two games. Wilkerson has been playing even better, with two sacks and three quarterback hits in last three games.

“I just want to keep playing the way I’ve been playing the last few games, just consistently all around,” Williams said. “I’ve been doing way better in the run game. I’ve been able to get to the quarterback a lot and just want to keep up that production.’’

New York Sports