The 2013 New York Jets are going to go as far as their defense takes them. ESPN, who placed the Jets dead last in their preseason NFL power ranking, doesn't think it's going to take them very far.
“Well, we never ranked ourselves 32nd,” Jets head coach Rex Ryan told the media on Monday. “We said that from day one. We’re a confident football team and we know that the preparation, work, all that stuff, that we feel good about us. Outside, is what it is. Maybe we’ll be 31st this week."
Actually, they're better than that: After a defense-propelled 18-17 win over Tampa Bay, the Jets climbed to No. 27 in ESPN's Week 2 rankings.
For the Jets to continue to climb, they'll have to continue to lean on that defense. A team breaking in a rookie quarterback can't ask the offense to do too much. Shortening the field can go a long way to take pressure off a flawed offensive unit.
Jets running backs Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory combined for just 44 yards rushing on 22 carries in Sunday’s 18-17 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It’s unfair to judge performance based on only one game, especially against a team that ranked first in stopping the run last season, but lack of production at the running back position could be an issue in the weeks to come.
Quarterback Geno Smith outrushed both backs, gaining 47 yards on just six carries.
The offensive line also didn’t do the team too many favors; allowing five sacks on the day and failing to provide much protection or open up too many holes for the team's running backs.
On Sunday, the defense made the difference, holding the Bucs to 250 total yards, the fourth-lowest offensive output in Week 1.
Doug Martin, Tampa Bay’s Pro Bowl running back, averaged just 2.7 yards per carry on the day and finished with just 65 yards to go along with a lost fumble. A season ago, he finished fifth in the league in rushing, averaging 90.9 yards per game.
Martin learned the hard way that few teams in the league possess a young, talented defensive line comparable to the Jets. Anchored by third-year pro Muhammad Wilkerson, rookie Sheldon Richardson, and the much improved Damon Harrison, the big boys up front figure to create problems for the opposition all season long. With rookie Dee Milliner lingering in the backfield and the speed of sophomore linebacker Demario Davis, it isn’t farfetched to think that this could become one of the league’s most feared units in the years to come.
Linebacker Calvin Pace, a veteran on an inexperienced squad, dismissed all the outside talk of the team’s early demise.
“Don’t get me wrong, I know the last two years haven’t been up to our standards,” Pace told the New York Post. "But 32nd? We might not be the best, but we damn sure ain’t the worst. It’s motivation.’’
Motivation, when mixed with talent, can be a dangerous combination. Mythical rankings are fun to talk about, but the Jets prefer to talk with their defense. Only time will tell how far it will take them.