Most of the story lines following the New York Jets 18-17 comeback win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have centered on rookie quarterback Geno Smith. Focusing solely on Smith, however, does not do the rest of the team justice, particularly the outstanding performance of the defensive front seven. The Jets got a huge game from their defensive line and linebackers, and they would not have won without their efforts.
One of the major priorities for the Jets was slowing down running back Doug Martin, and they were very successful in that effort. Martin averaged just 2.7 YPC, and defensive tackles Damon Harrison and Kenrick Ellis deserve a ton of credit for that. The two rotated throughout the game, consistently controlling the point of attack and forcing Martin to dance around in the backfield. Even Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph couldn’t move the Jets’ two massive nose tackles, and they set the tone for the game.
When plays did reach the second level, inside linebackers and DeMario Davis and David Harris were there to clean things up. The pair recorded 8 and 7 tackles respectively, and Harris forced a fumble. Overall, they made sure that Martin couldn’t break any long runs and hugely limited his effectiveness. Both were very good in coverage as well, and the Bucs’ running backs and tight ends did absolutely nothing in the passing game.
The Jets’ pass rush was a major concern heading in the season, but they were able to generate quite a bit of pressure, recording 3 sacks. Muhammad Wilkerson was his usual dominant self, recording one sack and hurrying Josh Freeman on several other occasions. Rookie Sheldon Richardson split the credit for a sack with Calvin Pace, and both he and Wilkerson were also very effective in shutting down Martin and the run game.
Newly signed outside linebacker Antwan Barnes came up with the third sack, and he looked pretty close to the player who recorded 11 sacks with the San Diego Chargers in 2011. The Jets are counting on him to be a pass rush specialist, and with more performances like yesterday’s he will prove to be a steal of a signing.
The Jets have carefully built their defensive front through the draft, and their starting front seven (including the injured Quinton Coples) features four first round picks and two third round picks (Pace being the lone exception). Games are won and lost in the trenches, and the Jets know that their defensive line and linebackers can control a game and shut down opposing offenses.
The Jets are counting on their defense to keep games low scoring and put the team in position to win. The Jets ranked 8th in the NFL in total defense last year, and they believe they can be even better this season. The Jets will face a major test when they play the New England Patriots on Thursday, and that game will tell us more about how good this defense can be.
However, if the front seven plays like this every game, the Jets will have a dominant defense in 2013. They need top level defensive performances to win, and they got one to start their season.