The New York Jets defense was not the fifth best in the NFL, regardless of what people say. That much was evident based on the way the team played in the 16 regular season games of 2011. Rex Ryan‘s defense ranked 13th in rushing yards allowed per game, 27th overall in rushing touchdowns allowed, and 20th in points allowed per game.
Fans harped on Brian Schottenheimer, the former offensive coordinator of the team, for the failures of the offense but no one talked about how Mike Pettine, the team’s defensive coordinator, was disappointing in his first season with full control of the defensive play calling. Still Pettine wasn’t the main problem for why the Jets defense was an average defense.
The main reason for the mediocre performance of the defense in 2011 was a lack of talent at outside linebacker, defensive end, nickel cornerback, and free safety. Only one of those problem areas was addressed by the Jets thus far during this off-season, with the selection of Quinton Coples with the 16th overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Bryan Thomas’ performance has steadily declined in the past few years and he no longer has the speed of a starter, while Aaron Maybin is a developing player who has not proven himself to be worthy of the starting job at outside linebacker. Eric Smith is still the best starting free safety on the roster, which in no way should be reassuring to fans hoping for the team to improve, even though he is best suited as a backup strong safety/special teams specialist.
Kyle Wilson will continue to be used as a nickel corner despite his obvious struggles at the position. It doesn’t help that Bart Scott and Calvin Pace are also losing speed, and Demario Davis the team’s 2012 third round pick actually struggles in pass coverage, which is evident based on his play at Arkansas State.
So is all hope, of the team having a good defense in 2012, lost? The answer to that question is no. Jim Leonhard will likely be re-signed by the team to play free safety opposite LaRon Landry. Leonhard would be an adequate starting free safety, and a mentor for young safeties like Josh Bush.
Maybin has actually gained a significant amount of bulk during this off-season and currently weighs 240 pounds; if he can gain 15 more pounds, he would have the size of a starting outside linebacker. He’s going to have the opportunity to learn all of the plays in the defensive playbook for the first time and with Ryan taking over play calling duties in 2012 Maybin could be far more dangerous this season.
Drew Coleman is now a free agent and he is willing to consider returning to the Jets. If signed, Coleman would most likely surpass Wilson as the team’s nickel cornerback. So yes there is hope that the defense can improve in 2012, but if the Jets deviate too much from the suggested options listed in this article, then the unit will not be much better than the one from 2011.