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Jets defense determined to pick it up

Muhammad Wilkerson #96 of the Jets walks off

Muhammad Wilkerson #96 of the Jets walks off the field after a game against the Detroit Lions at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014. Credit: Jim McIsaac

SAN DIEGO, Calif. - This group isn't the "Sack Exchange'' by any means, but Rex Ryan's front seven has done its part in pressuring quarterbacks.

The Jets currently lead the NFL with 14 sacks. They have registered at least four sacks in three straight games, the first Jets defense to do that since 1985. They've had no difficulty tossing opposing quarterbacks to the ground, but there still is this negative: They haven't made a single interception.

"It's hard to do,'' Ryan said. "Yeah, absolutely it's hard to do. We've had a couple opportunities at them. It really is hard to explain. And I think we've got to start attacking the football. I think we'll keep getting pressure on the quarterback and hopefully good things are coming.''

The Jets (1-3) will try to record their first pick Sunday against Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, but it won't be easy. Rivers has posted a passer rating of more than 120.0 in the past three games and has thrown a touchdown pass in a team-record 24 straight games.

"He's an elite quarterback,'' outside linebacker Calvin Pace said of Rivers, the NFL's top-rated passer (114.5) this season. "Guys like that, you've got to make uncomfortable . . . Rivers doesn't mind getting hit. So a guy like that, pressure isn't going to rattle him . . . It's a tough challenge, but this is a defense that can handle it.''

Muhammad Wilkerson -- who led the Jets with 101/2 sacks last season -- has a team-high three sacks, followed by Sheldon Richardson and Demario Davis (two each). But there's still that interception total . . .

"We just need to break the dam and we need to get an interception and hold on to it,'' defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman said. "We need to make a play on the football. Once you start doing those things, they seem to snowball and happen for you more rapidly. We just haven't broken the dam yet, but we need to.''

The Jets' defense also needs to eliminate the back-breaking plays that continue to derail them each week. In each of their three straight losses, the unit has given up a long touchdown drive, including a 90-yarder in last Sunday's 24-17 loss to the Lions.

"When you can't get off the field on third down, it's demoralizing," Pace said.

Ryan said a couple of factors are contributing to the interception drought. "During the course of the game, we are doing some really good things, but we are not being a complete defense,'' he said. "And I am not saying we are always going to shut people out, but certainly that's the goal.''

Pace cited the Jets' difficult schedule against quality quarterbacks. "I don't know if anybody else has had the schedule we've had, and that's not an excuse,'' he said. "You know it's going to be a 60-minute game playing against the Jay Cutlers, the Aaron Rodgerses, so you've always got to be on point . . . There can't be any lulls . . . As you can see, we had some costly drives.''

The coaching staff has mixed in quite a lot of zone coverage this season, but Thurman said it's not due to their perceived weaknesses at the cornerback position.

So why are they playing that coverage more this season?

"I think it's necessary,'' Thurman said. "You have got to study yourself as well as your opponent. And in self-scout, you have to look at, OK, how much zone are we playing vs. how much man are we playing? And if teams know what you're going to do in a certain situation, then they'll dial up their best zone- or man-beaters, so to speak.''

Pace said the team's increased use of zone coverage isn't responsible for the unit's communication issues.

"It's just a matter of somebody has to make a play,'' said Pace, who had 10 sacks last year and has 11/2 this season. "It doesn't have to be Muhammad all the time, it doesn't have to be Sheldon all the time. Somebody needs to step up for us and make a play.''

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