The 2021 New York Jets season was always going to be marked by how Head Coach Robert Saleh and company can develop their players. Specifically on the defensive side of the ball, with such a young roster, coaching would be vital. Nevertheless, Thursday night’s 45-30 loss to the Indianapolis Colts marked a three-game stretch of giving up 130 points. A mark that is downright unacceptable in the professional game. As the Jets defense looks back at what went wrong in their sixth loss of the season, they need to realize one thing – there are issues present at every level.
New York Jets Defense Has Issues at Every Level in 2021
Defensive Line Disappoints
Where did the New York Jets defensive front go on Thursday night? The strength of their defense, Quinnen Williams, John Franklin-Myers, Folorunso Fatukasi, and company are a young and talented front. Except, the group did not show against the Indianapolis Colts.
Colts Head Coach Frank Reich was able to do whatever he wanted on the ground against the Jets. Budding star running back Jonathan Taylor had 19 carries for 172 yards and two touchdowns, including an “icing on the cake” 78-yard rush. Meanwhile, scat bat Nyhiem Hines took six carries 74 yards, including a touchdown of his own. For a team that prided themselves on their ability to stop the run over the past decade, the Jets run defense is not what it used to be.
Along the interior, Folorunso Fatukasi is having an out-of-character year against the run, posting just a 68.7 run defense grade per Pro Football Focus. Whereas last year, he earned an 86.2 grade against the run. But it doesn’t just fall onto the Jets primary run stuffer. Free agent signing Sheldon Rankins has been one of the worst defensive linemen against the run this year, and Quinnen Williams has not been much better. The only difference is Williams has been successful at getting after the quarterback.
As the Jets enter the second half of their schedule this season, Head Coach Robert Saleh needs to focus on the defensive front. It’s the Jets most talented unit, and in order to succeed at other levels, he needs them playing like the San Francisco 49ers fronts he coached as their defensive coordinator.
Linebacker is a Mess
The biggest reason why the Jets need their defensive front to step up is because of their weak linebacker corps. Yes, it is great to see C.J. Mosley on the field playing again. But he is far from the four-time Pro Bowl linebacker the team signed in 2019. According to PFF, he ranks 69th out of 82 qualifying linebackers, as he has struggled against the run and in coverage. The worst part – Mosley still is the Jets best linebacker.
Quinnen’s brother Quincy Williams has flashed his potential, though has had plenty of ups and downs. Rookie Jamien Sherwood is out the season, while Blake Cashman is heading down the path of being cut before his rookie contract expires following the 2022 season. Thankfully, the Jets recently got veteran Jarrad Davis back, as well as rookie Hamsah Nasirildeen. However, neither will elevate the group to a point it can even stop the bleeding. In other words, the Jets will need to deal with the growing pains at linebackers until it can be revamped in the off-season.
Cornerback looks Promising
Someway, somehow, the Jets cornerbacks have been the most promising part of the defense this season. New York came into the season with a group that had less than 20 combined starts over their careers. And now, they form the Jets most consistent unit.
Second-year cornerback Bryce Hall has emerged as a legitimate starting cornerback in the NFL. His 72.5 coverage grade ranks 27th amongst 121 qualifying cornerbacks, and he stands as the second-best pass rusher at the position in 2021. Thanks to his ability to clamp down receivers on one side of the field, has allowed for the other cornerbacks to grow.
Rookie Brandin Echols has started every game opposite of him, racking up four pass deflections. Slot cornerback Michael Carter II has looked like a steal in his first season, as he is the 19th highest graded cornerback in the league by PFF. And in his second season, former undrafted free agent Javelin Guidry has emerged as a legitimate rotation piece at cornerback.
Again, this is a very young and inexperienced cornerback group. It was viewed as the biggest weakness on the Jets defense coming into the season. Yet, after just eight games, it has become the most reliable part of defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich’s defense. Now, that is not saying the group is perfect, as they are 27th in yards given up against the pass. However, the Jets have found a handful of promising players at a position where just a few months ago looked concerning.
Safety Needs Another Revamp
The opposite could be said about the Jets safeties. Coming into the season, the Jets felt confident with Marcus Maye, LaMarcus Joyner, Ashtyn Davis, and more. After all, Maye is a top safety when healthy, Joyner a seasoned vet, and Davis a former third-round pick.
Through eight games, only Davis even remains standing. Joyner is out the season following a week one elbow injury that knocked him out the season. Now, Maye, who is playing on the franchise tag, maybe join Joyner on injured reserve with an Achillies injury. Thus, leaving Davis, who has just finally started piecing together some respectable performances.
At the moment, Davis is the Jets top safety, joined by Sharrod Neasman and Jarrod Wilson on the roster. Both are quality players, though unlikely to offer long-term solutions at the position. And with the verdict on Davis still being unknown, the Jets are heading in the direction of revamping the entire safety position for 2022.
Outlook for Jets Defense Remainder of 2021
The 2021 New York Jets season was never going to end in a miraculous playoff berth. Especially if the team plays the way they did defensively Thursday night against the Colts. Nonetheless, it is time for Saleh and Ulbrich to get the defense to start improving, rather than a decline. If not, then not only will the Jets be forced to reset the entire defensive unit, but have a close eye on the two defensive minds going forward.
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