A lot is rightly being made out of the Jets early game offensive struggles, but some of this talk is obscuring that early game defense is just as much of an issue for the team. The Jets have had one of the worst opening quarter defenses in football through the first five weeks of 2021 (if not the worst).
It’s easy to blame the offense’s inability to sustain a drive for the defense being on the field too long. However, the defense is fresh in the early stages of the game. The Jets defense has been on the field for too long in the first quarter mainly because the unit can’t get itself off the field. Opposing drives against the Jets in the opening quarter have lasted an average of 8.4 plays, the highest rate in the NFL. 33.3% of opposing plays are converted into first downs against the Jets, the second highest rate behind Detroit. 61.5% of drives have resulted in points, the second highest rate in the NFL behind Cleveland. The average drive lasts 4:27, the highest rate in the league. The Jets allow 46.1 yards per drive, third highest behind Kansas City and Detroit.
Let’s compare these numbers to what takes place after the first quarter. The second, third, and fourth quarters (along with overtime) are where fatigue should really show in theory. However, the defense fares much better in the later stages of the game. Opposing drives average only 5.9 plays, tied for 13th lowest in the league. Only 22.7% of plays are converted into first downs, sixth best in the NFL. 40.9% of drives end in points, tied for 19th best. The average drive lasts 2:34, which is 12th best. The Jets only allow 28.9 yards per drive, sixth best.
To make this more visually appealing, here is the same information on the Jets first quarter defense in the form of an elegant-looking GGN chart.
You can compare it to the defensive performance after the first quarter in the form of an elegant-looking GGN chart.
Almost all of the focus of the early game struggles is on the offense. Ironically that might be due to the greater success the defense is having later in games. The offensive issues remain on everybody’s mind for four quarters. You think about how things were dismal from the kickoff, while the improved defensive performance makes you forget about early game poor play.
Still it is possible the in game improvement on defense is something of an illusion. After the first quarter, the Jets have trailed on average by 9.2 points at the start of an opposing drive. Holding leads like this naturally leads to more conservative playcalling for an offense. There tends to put a greater premium on avoiding a big mistake that could change the trajectory of the game, especially when the opposing offense appears as overmatched as the Jets have for most of the season.
Losing is typically a team effort. It is totally fair to blame the offense for its role in putting the Jets in early deficits. Just don’t forget those deficits are also happening each week because the defense isn’t getting stops.