The most-maligned aspect of the Jets became its biggest strength on Sunday.
The run defense — more sieve than deterrent in the first two weeks — was presented with the considerable challenge of slowing a Miami running game headlined by Jay Ajayi and met it effectively. Ajayi managed 16 yards on 11 carries and the Dolphins totaled just 30 yards on the ground in the Jets 20-6 triumph at MetLife Stadium.
The change was stark. The Jets allowed a total of 370 rushing yards in the first two weeks.
“We got challenged the first two games of the season and gave up way too many running yards. We hold ourselves to a higher standard as a defensive front,” Leonard Williams said. “We know they pride themselves in the running game and [that] Ajayi is a great running back . . . We showed we can do it.”
Jamal Adams began a very active day on defense by stopping Ajayi for a 2-yard loss on his first carry of the game. It was one of five plays where the Jets made a tackle behind the line of scrimmage including three by Demario Davis. Adams, Buster Skrine and David Bass recorded sacks.
“I wanted to keep that energy on the field and set the tone,” Adams said. “When we got excited, we started making plays . . . It was all our mind-set for this game.”
Asked about Ajayi’s unproductive day, Miami coach Adam Gase said “he couldn’t get through anything. [Their] guys were in the backfield so fast.”
Several on the Jets’ defensive unit said the plan to “play fast” was instrumental.
Jets coach Todd Bowles didn’t make major changes to the defense. “Everybody was where they were supposed to be,” he said. “We didn’t leave open gaps and we gang-tackled instead of tackling with single people.”
Davis had a team-high 12 tackles and said “execution” was the difference. Bowles thought Davis’ play was a big part of this turnaround. Davis is in his first season calling the defensive plays (he replaced David Harris) and Bowles thought this was his best game.
“It was great to see him command the defense and still make plays,” Bowles said. “He was thinking a little bit too much earlier in the year, but now he is thinking faster and it’s coming easier for him.”
Perhaps the biggest moment for the defense as a whole came right after halftime. The Jets forced Miami to go three-and-out on the first possession, a series that included Steve McLendon stopping Ajayi for a 5-yard loss on second-and-10. The Jets scored on the ensuing possession for a 17-0 lead.
“That’s the most important series of the game,” McLendon said. “You come out of the half and if you get a stop, that game is . . . at least going to lean in your direction.”