The New York Jets pass defense has been very good this year. It rates highly against the rest of the NFL by most objective measures. It has given up a passer rating of 85.6 by opposing quarterbacks, good for fifth best in the NFL. It has given up just 7.0 yards per pass attempt, tied for sixth best in the NFL. It has allowed a 62.3% completion percentage, good for eighth best in the NFL. That all sounds pretty good, and it is pretty good. But there is one measure of pass defense the 2018 Jets have really excelled in: defensive touches.
Defensive touches are simple to calculate. Add up all passes defended and interceptions and voila! A simple metric for how many times the defense gets its hands on the ball.
Defensive touches are a good statistic to measure how often a secondary’s coverage is good enough to disrupt a pass. Clearly not all good coverage results in a defensive touch; sometimes the pass is just too perfect even for great coverage. Likewise the coverage can be good but the pass is so poorly thrown (or intentionally thrown away) nobody can touch the ball. Coverage can also be very good for a while, but eventually break down due to the passer getting too much time to make a throw. All these factors make defensive touches a somewhat rough metric for measuring coverage, but over time the better teams at coverage should still end up disrupting passes with a defensive touch more than the worse coverage teams.
That brings us to the 2018 New York Jets. The 2018 New York Jets have more defensive touches than any team in the NFL other than the Cleveland Browns. Through nine games the Jets have a total of 64 defensive touches, second to the Browns’ 68, one of only two NFL teams with 60 defensive touches, and five more than the third place Cincinnati Bengals. For some perspective, the worst teams in the NFL for defensive touches in 2018 are the Detroit Lions and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, tied with just 23. The average NFL team has 44 defensive touches, meaning the Jets disrupt passes at a whopping 45% higher rate than the average NFL team.
How good is 64 defensive touches in nine games? Very, very good. Passes defended have only been tracked since 2001. In the 17 seasons defensive touches have been tracked, the best Jets team in terms of defensive touches, not surprisingly, was the 2009 Jets team featuring an All World Darrelle Revis at the absolute top of his defensive superpowers. That 2009 Jets team had 103 defensive touches. This Jets team is on pace to blow that mark away, currently tracking for 114 defensive touches in the 2018 season. That’s how good this Jets team has been at getting their hands on the football.
Defensive touches aren’t the end all and be all of pass defenses. They are just one way among many to evaluate how effective a pass defense is. To put it succinctly, the Jets pass defense in general is in position to make a play on the ball far more than any Jets team since passes defended have been tracked, and more than any team in the NFL in 2018 other than the Browns. In yet another Jets lost season, at least the pass defense is anything but lost.