Jets defense getting the job done on third downs and in the red zone

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  • Robert Saleh
    American football coach

The Jets are 0-3, but it’s not all doom and gloom. Their defense has been outstanding in two extremely important categories: Red zone and third downs.

Gang Green’s red zone defense has a conversion rate of 33%, tied with the Saints and Broncos for the best in the NFL. They’ve also forced two turnovers in the red zone.

“This defense is made of the right stuff in terms of give us an inch of grass and it’s protected,” Jets head coach Robert Saleh said. “They take that to heart.”

The third down defense has been just as strong as teams only convert 29.7% of their opportunities, fourth best in the NFL.

That’s impressive for a defense that’s been missing three key starters in defensive end Carl Lawson, safety Lamarcus Joyner and linebacker Jarrad Davis.

“We try to create as many one-on-ones as possible on third down and the corners have been doing a great job,” Saleh said. “the nickel, Michael Carter (II), has been doing a great job, the pass rushers getting home and the communication on all the different things that offenses give us has been fantastic.”

And their numbers aren’t gassed up by playing bad offenses either. The Broncos and Panthers have Top 16 offenses from a yards and points standpoint.

The Patriots (44.68%) and Panthers (42.50%) are 10th and 11, respectively, on third downs.

The success on third down stems from a mindset change according to Saleh.

“We played a much more aggressive style,” Saleh said. “You see us on first and second down we kind of let the game come to us. And then on third down we get a little bit more aggressive with our coverages and in the way we attack protection. Credit to the guys. We try to create as many one-on-ones as possible on third down and the corners have done a great job.”

The Jets’ success getting off the field is also because they’ve done a good job of making life difficult for opposing quraterbacks.

On third downs, opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of 70.8, 10th best, according to Next Gen Stats. And signal-callers are completing only 54% of their passes (sixth best). Plus defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich’s bunch leads the league in blitz percentage at 57% and have forced four sacks.

And when teams try to run the ball, there hasn’t been much success there either. On nine carries, they’ve allowed only three first downs.

That sets up well for the Jets’ Week 4 battle against the Tennessee Titans (2-1).

While the Titans are 11th in the NFL in third down conservations at 42.50%, if the Jets can force them to throw the ball, that’ll favor Saleh’s team.

Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill is completing just 51.9% of his passes on third down — 10th worst in the NFL, per Next Gen Stats — and has thrown two touchdowns with three interceptions for a passer rating of 51.1, fifth worst.

But when the Titans utilize their mighty rushing attack led by two-time All-Pro Derrick Henry on third down, they’re extremely successful. They’ve converted eight first downs on nine carries, third best in the NFL. The majority of those attempts are on third-and-short.

So the Jets must avoid those short yardage situations and put the ball in Tannehill’s hands.

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