Leonard Fournette broke free for a 66-yard run on Jacksonville’s second play from scrimmage four Sunday’s ago against the Jets. Steve McLendon called it “small miscues between everyone on the field” that led to that colossal breakdown.
“But one thing we did well,” the Jets' veteran nose tackle said, “every guy [rallied] back from it and we didn’t give up nothing else.”
In that game and all since, the defense has been stingy against the run:
• Fournette ran the ball 18 more times for 10 yards.
• The following week, the Jets held Miami to 50 yards rushing.
• They completely smothered the Giants' Saquon Barkley a week later, holding him to 1 yard on 13 carries and the Giants to 23 yards overall.
• Last Sunday, the Redskins went nowhere fast, gaining 54 yards on 20 rushes.
The Jets allow just 79.1 yards rushing per game, the lowest in the NFL. But that stout defense and their No. 1 spot will be challenged Sunday against Oakland and rookie running back Josh Jacobs, whose 923 rushing yards are fourth most in the NFL.
“We try not to focus on the rankings,” defensive end Henry Anderson said. “We just try to shut down every run play that we face.”
Since Fournette’s long run, the Jets have yielded just 172 rushing yards over a stretch of nearly 239 minutes of football.
This season, only one back has reached 100 yards against the Jets. Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott ran for 105 in Week 6, despite the Cowboys missing their top tackles, La’El Collins and Tyron Smith.
But as a defense, the Jets take pride in what they’ve been able to accomplish.
“Defenses that are known for stopping the run are remembered because of how physical and aggressive they are,” outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “To stop the run, you got to be physical, you got to be nasty and you got to be an [expletive]. Those are the characteristics.”
It starts with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who undoubtedly has been called some of the same things over his career.
The Jets have a saying: “The play doesn’t care who makes it.” Williams has the defense playing together, trusting each other, and understanding if everyone does their job the play will be made.
“We’re not trying to make a play that’s not yours,” Jenkins said. “Everybody’s bought in to, ‘All right, I’m going to do my job. If the play comes, I’m going to make it. If not, oh well, somebody else is going to make it.’ ”
The Jets don’t have players who are known as great run-stoppers necessarily. They’ve also been without tackle machines C.J. Mosley for eight games and Avery Williamson for the entire season.
But Williams is putting his players in position to succeed and getting the most out of them.
“In order to play very strong run defense, you got to play 11 guys being together,” he said. “We don’t catch and react. We’re an attacking defense. You got to do a really, really, really good job of not letting them get outside.”
Safety Jamal Adams leads the Jets with eight tackles for a loss. After that, it’s lineman Kyle Phillips with six, and McLendon, Jenkins and lineman Foley Fatukasi with five.
Second-year lineman Nathan Shepherd, who was suspended for six games, has four TFLs in the two games since his return. Rookie Quinnen Williams is having a quiet impact. He’s facing double-teams, which is freeing up others to make plays.
“Those guys have really put it on tape what they’re trying to do,” Adam Gase said. “They’re playing physical, they’re playing violent, they’re playing aggressive football.”
McLendon agreed, and credited some of the young players on the line.
“It’s nothing mystical that we’re doing,” he said. “We’re just playing our technique. We’re playing extremely fast and we’re playing extremely hard.
“We got a lot of hungry young guys. It’s always a good thing to have: a lot of hungry young guys that are willing to work every single day. It’s just amazing to see how well we are doing in the run game.”
Jacobs and Oakland will be a different kind of test, though.
The Raiders have a bigger and better offensive line than the Giants, Redskins, Dolphins and Jaguars. It will be the best the Jets have faced since their 33-0 loss to the Patriots on Oct. 21 when Sony Michel ran for three touchdowns.
Jacobs leads the NFL with 54 missed tackles, and he’s second in yards after contact per carry (3.6). According to Pro Football Focus, Jacobs is the No. 1 graded running back right now, just ahead of Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook.
“Josh Jacobs is a tough back to bring down,” Gase said. “Big O-line, these guys get on you and they kind of engulf you, push you off the ball, then you have a back that’s running extremely hard [and hard] to bring down. He’s making people miss left and right.”
The Jets’ goal every week is to make a team one-dimensional, but the Raiders have a strong passing game. David Carr has thrown 15 touchdown passes. That makes this week even more challenging as the Jets shoot for a third-straight victory.
But for them, everything starts with stopping the run and staying true to the principle of making the play without a worry about who makes it.
“If the ball’s going the other way, I know I’m not going to go make that play,” Jenkins said. “I’m not going to go try and make a tackle that 10 other guys are going to beat me to. I’m going to do my job and one of my brothers will make the play.”