One of the biggest reasons for the New York Jets’ surprising 2-1 start this season has been their run defense. The Jets have faced Doug Martin, Stevan Ridley and C.J. Spiller in the first three weeks of the season, and none of those backs has averaged better than 2.7 YPC. The Jets’ front seven has been outstanding, and there is a strong case to be made that the Jets have the best run defense in the NFL.
The Jets have given up only one rushing touchdown, which came following a turnover by the offense that set the Tampa Bay Buccaneers up with the ball inside the red zone. The Jets have also only allowed one big play, a 59 yard Fred Jackson run last week in which Calvin Pace had him wrapped in the backfield and he somehow escaped. Jackson only managed to pick up 13 yards on his other 6 carries however, and Spiller only gained 9 yards on 10 carries in that game.
The Jets currently rank 6th in the NFL in rushing defense, and none of the five teams ahead of them have faced the same quality of running back opposition (in case you’re wondering the Seattle Seahawks are 12th). For what it’s worth, if you take Jackson’s run out of the equation, they would move up to second, behind only the Denver Broncos, whose opponents have been forced to pass to keep up with Denver’s offense.
The Jets’ success starts up front, with a big, athletic defensive line comprised of Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Damon Harrison and Kenrick Ellis. Those four players have been excellent all season, controlling the point of attack and getting penetration into the backfield. They also swallow up blockers, freeing up the linebackers to make plays.
Inside linebackers David Harris and Demario Davis have been playing at a Pro Bowl level this season, and they both are very good at recognizing run plays, filling gaps and pursuing backs who try to bounce to the outside. Outside linebackers Pace, Quinton Coples and Garrett McIntyre have also looked good, setting the edge and forcing runs back into the defensive line, Harris and Davis.
The Jets will face another stiff test Sunday, when they travel to play the Tennessee Titans and Chris Johnson, who has gotten better in each of his three games. However, Johnson is very similar to Spiller, and the Jets completely removed the Buffalo Bills star runner from the game. The Jets have show the versatility to handle both speed and power backs, and they have had equal success stopping both.
Overall, the Seahawks are certainly the best defense in the NFL, and there might be a few others that can claim to be better overall than the Jets, who rank 3rd in total defense (behind Seattle and the Houston Texans). However, given the caliber of the opposition they have faced and their performance against those top flight backs, it is very fair to say the Jets have the best run defense in the NFL.
It is certainly an arguable point, and Seattle fans will certainly argue it. However, the fact remains that the Jets’ run defense has been nothing short of elite this season, and it is one of the biggest reasons they are off to a 2-1 start.