2014/2015 New York Jets Season Preview: Defense

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

When looking at the Jets from the perspective of the NFL community, the offseason is the time to say the Jets are the worst team in the league. It's almost an annual event. It doesn't seem to faze them when they wind up being wrong every year. These experts love to use phrases like "no talent" or "worst QB in the league." This is the defensive part of the season preview series. Not only does this group have the best talent on the team, they have one of the most dominating groups in the league.

Defense: The defense has always been the New York Jets' area of strength while under Rex Ryan. I don't see any reason for that to change this year. Barring any horrible injuries, this group will benefit from its youth and experience. With several key additions, this defense can return to it's top 5 days. The great thing is that it won't take much.

We might as well start with the most dominating group on our team, and maybe in the league. Our d-line can matchup against the best and come away victorious. We weren't the best defense against the run for no reason. Our monsters up front do their job, and they do it well. Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Damon Harrison know how to eat up space and penetrate. It might be a passing league, but if you can't run the ball, things get very difficult for you. This group can make things very one dimensional for opposing offenses.

The only place where they can improve is their pass rushing ability. Mo's 10 sacks is no small feat for a predominantly 3-4 DE. There is nothing that can take away from that. We do need to be more dominating against the pass though. I am not expecting double digit sacks from these guys, but  we need to put o-lines back on their heels. Once the QB has 300 pound linemen in his face, things get very hairy. This will also allow our LBers to have more of an impact. It should also be noted that this is the deepest group we have as well. Kenrick Ellis and Leger Douzable are very good backups, and would be starting for many other teams. Even if there are a string of horrible injuries along the line, we still have the option of bringing Coples back to the land where men have their hands in the dirt. This group is elite, and should stay elite.

Our LBers are separated by two different worlds. In one hemisphere, we have the young, unproven guys. Demario Davis, and Quinton Coples are up and coming players that will play big roles this year. Coples struggled to find a footing last year, after being introduced to a new position. I don't think we can really blame him though. He was, after all, learning a whole new position. He was also recovering from a bad ankle fracture. All of these led to a slow start, but he started to come around towards the end of the season. He will be instrumental in our pass rush moving forward. Davis is a guy that has been likened to Ray Lewis, but hasn't quite lived up to that billing as of yet. He is a tackling machine, who always seems to be around the ball, but he hasn't really become a difference maker. His coverage skills are sub par, which makes him a liability in the passing game. As of right now, Davis will be the successor of David Harris. In order to fill those shoes adequately, he will need to step his game up to a new level.

On the other side of our LBing core, we have the aged veterans. David Harris and Calvin Pace, have both seen their primes come and go. Their grand finale with the Jets is on the horizon. They both still hold some value. Unfortunately for us, it's in the same area that 90% of our defense is already proficient in. Both guys are very strong against the run, and don't offer much when the ball is in the air. Sure, Pace had double digit sacks last year, but most, if not all, were coverage sacks. If 85% of our front seven is geared to stop the run, it's going to put a lot of pressure on our secondary. We need to find a way to get a consistent pass rush, without sending the house. Antwan Barnes is the one bright spot here, but there is still a lot to be seen from him. Barnes is recovering from an ACL injury that occurred earlier last year. It is still up in the air on if he will even be healthy for training camp, never mind be a pass rushing threat for us in 2014. If we can get a spark from some of the rookies, or Jermaine Cunningham, things can really come together for us. When the QB drops back, our LBers need to make their presence felt. Getting to the QB, and holding down coverage in the middle of the field, are essential for bringing this group from average to above average.

Now for the biggest question mark of our defense, the secondary. This group is very hit or miss at this point. On one hand, this group of guys, can be much better than many "experts" are expecting. On the other hand, they can only reach that success if health and growth are maximized. Every one of our CBs has a giant question mark above his head, except Kyle Wilson. This isn't necessarily a good thing either. He isn't a mystery, because we pretty much know that he has hit his ceiling.

Every other CB has a laundry list of pros and cons.  Dee Milliner struggled mightily last year, but seemed to find his stride by the end of the season. His late season splash is very encouraging, but he needs to stay healthy, and continue to grow for this season to be a success.  Dimitri Patterson is a proven vet, who can step right in, and contribute. If he can stay healthy (Big if), he can be moved around to the slot or outside, and thrive. Darrin Walls saw limited time last season for us, but he made the best of his chances. There were times when he seemed like the only DB worth a damn out there. It is still yet to be seen if he can hold up to an extended role. The rookies are rookies, and even though they have some OTA hype, we should temper our excitement. As mentioned, this group has a lot of potential, but those question marks need to be answered on the field before they can even be considered anything more than below average.

The safeties are another group that will be relying on their growth to meet expectations. As the most senior member of our safeties, Dawan Landry isn't a guy making huge impact plays. At his age, his expertise lie in the grunt work. I wouldn't be surprised if Landry is passed over for the younger Antonio Allen. Allen has shown some potential in his short time here. When going up against some of the best TEs in the game, he has displayed great poise. While other times he has looked less than great. He has shown some growth, and if he continues to grow, he could be a solid contributor on the back end.

I hate relying on rookies to fill huge roles, but as a 1st rounder, that is pretty much what happens. Calvin Pryor was drafted to bring the pain. What he also gives us, is an intimidation factor that we haven't had since the other Landry. Is it possible that we can have two consecutive DROY on our team? Sure it is, but I wouldn't count on it. Pryor brings a lot of physicality, and talent to the table, but I believe he will require some time to hone those talents. In the mean time, he will lay a lot of wood this year. That will come at a price though. He will most likely be flagged a lot, and probably be overzealous in his tactics. Mistakes will be made, but hopefully he learns from them. Until we see how Pryor and Allen work together as starters, this group isn't special.

Final Analysis: Last year was sort of sobering for our defense. They were no longer a top 10 defense, due mostly to our putrid pass defense. I think we can safely say, our run defense will be one of, if not the best in the land. As far as this years pass defense, they won't be worse. Things seemed a lot more settled this time around. There aren't so many rookies, or inexperienced guys filling big voids. It is only a matter of our youth following the natural growth curve. If they can, we will once again see ourselves perched well within the top 10.

Outlook Before Season Season Potential
DL ***** *****
LB ** ***
CB ** ****
S ** ***

***** Elite

**** Very Good

*** Average

** Bellow Average

* Bad

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