Heading into the third week of the season, the New York Jets knew that they would have an opportunity to rattle Buffalo Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel. A strong pass rush was going to give the Jets a chance to win, and they responded in excellent fashion. The Jets recorded 8 sacks by seven different players, and they harassed Manuel into his worst game as a pro.
The Jets were credited for 16 quarterback hits, and the pressure forced Manuel into completing just 45% of his passes. Muhammad Wilkerson was once again the star of the show, and he had 2 sacks and 5 QB hits. Many people expected this to be a breakout season for Wilkerson, and he has not disappointed. Wilkerson has three sacks in the first three games, and he has been equally stellar against the run. He is playing at a Pro Bowl level, and it is only a matter of time before national recognition comes.
The Jets’ other defensive end, rookie Sheldon Richardson, made sure the Bills took notice of him as well. Richardson made the first solo sack of his career, and he was outstanding in shutting down Bills star running back C.J. Spiller. Richardson has silenced everyone who doubted his selection, and he is looking like a star in the making.
What made the Jets so effective, however, was their blitzing. Rex Ryan was able to show Manuel several different defensive fronts and blitz schemes, and the Bills couldn’t seem to figure out where the pressure was coming from. Both inside linebackers and both safeties recorded a sack, as did outside linebacker Calvin Pace.
While it is Pace’s job to get after the quarterback, the additional pressure from David Harris, Demario Davis, Dawan Landry and Antonio Allen was a great boost. What made Ryan’s defenses so effective during the 2009 and 2010 seasons (when the Jets went to back to back AFC Championship games) was the ability to mix personnel packages and generate pressure in a variety of ways.
Through three games, this version of the Jets defense has shown a similar ability, and if they can continue to have a high level pass rush, they will put themselves in the position to win quite a few games.