Todd Bowles has placed his faith in a bunch of workmanlike guys to generate a much-needed pass rush that will be pivotal if his defense has designs on being one of the better units in the league this season.
Khalil Mack isn’t walking through that door (even through the Jets really tried), so it’ll be incumbent upon Bowles & Co. to dial up consistent heat on quarterbacks through scheme and sheer will.
The early results have been encouraging, but far from dominating. The Jets might not have registered any sacks in their season-opening rout over the Lions, but they rattled Matthew Stafford enough to consistently make poor choices inside a muddy pocket. Gang Green recorded four quarterback hits to help them record five interceptions in Motown.
They finally got home against Miami in Week 2, but didn’t do enough.
“We definitely picked it up last week,” defensive lineman Leonard Williams said of the pass rush in the run-up to Thursday night’s game in Cleveland. “I hope we continue to make strides on that.”
The Jets sacked Ryan Tannehill four times, but it should have been six if not for a pair of crushing third-down defensive holding penalties. Bowles and Kacy Rodgers’ group added seven quarterback hits too to give folks on One Jets Drive some hope that maybe their pass rush will be viable.
“Obviously it’s good for us as a front, but it also obviously helps our secondary as well,” said outside linebacker Brandon Copeland, who had a sack and two quarterback hits last week. “It’s just trying to make sure that they know that we’re going to be a consistent force out there…. It’s more about showing the world that we’re going to be a consistent presence. And it’s not just a one-game or one-time thing.”
Time will tell what Bowles and Rodgers, whose unit faces another tough challenge against new Browns dual-threat quarterback Tyrod Taylor on Thursday, can reasonably get from this group.
But this seems clear: Effort won’t be lacking.
Copeland, signed primarily for his special teams prowess, has been showed promising signs through the first two weeks in Josh Martin’s absence. The veteran’s second sack against Miami was wiped out due to penalty. Undrafted rookie Frankie Luvu also recorded a quarterback hit against the Dolphins.
Nobody is expecting miracles, but it sure would help matters if the Jets get some semblance of a pass rush this season. Veteran defensive lineman Henry Anderson, acquired this offseason from the Colts for a seventh-rounder, has made an immediate impact with four pressures in Week 1, including one that forced a pick-six and a sack last week.
“That’s one of the more important parts of every game,” Anderson said of generating consistent heat on quarterbacks. “A good pass rush can change the game in your favor. You’ve seen it from some of the better pass rushers in the league… how the game can turn in that teams favor just by them demanding double teams and forcing the quarterback to get rid of the ball before he wants. So, it makes the DBs lives a lot easier by forcing the quarterback to make quicker decisions. It’s a huge part of the game. So hopefully we can continue to improve.”
Although the Jets showed good signs in Week 2, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Despite all the sacks and hits, Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill got the last laugh with a 3rd and 19 conversion in the face of a blitz late in the game that sealed the victory.
“We didn’t put enough (pressure) on him,” Bowles said of his defense’s performance in the loss. “They ran the ball and (he) got some runs here and there. (Passing) yards were low, but there were still some plays that we have to make that we should have made.”
Said Anderson: “I thought we did a decent job. But there’ still certain plays we wish could have done better.”
For all the praise heaped on the Jets secondary, it won’t matter if quarterbacks have ample time to survey the landscape in the pocket. The Week 2 loss was promising and frustrating given how it played out in crunch time.