Florham Park N.J. - There is no better adjective to describe the performance of the New York Jets defensive line in their season opener than: overwhelming. It was everything the Jets designed in the offseason. It provided a flashback to the Sack Exchange days while giving a glimpse into the near future about the endless accolades this unit can accomplish. The final result was not what New York wanted but one cannot downplay the several performances on the defensive line that had Jets fans salivating.
When the Jets drafted Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams, and signed Steve McLendon to replace Damon Harrison, a performance like the one on Sunday was always thought about but never truly seen. It was nothing but a dream. The potential was always there but more often than not it went untapped. Sunday was a huge step for an organization that has built a foundation on their defensive line. After all, they have utilized three first-round draft picks in seven seasons on defensive ends or tackles.
On opening day, the Jets recorded five sacks in the first 30 minutes. It was their most in a single half of action since the team racked five against the Philadelphia Eagles on October 26, 2003. In total, New York finished with seven sacks, which tied their record for most on opening day since 1966. Seven sacks. Let that penetrate for one second. Seven times the Jets were able to toss down Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton - that does not include the many times he had to drop back, move out of the pocket and hurry his throws.
Of the Jets defense, four members: Muhammad Wilkerson (1.5 sacks), Leonard Williams (2.5 sacks), Lorenzo Mauldin (1 sack) and Steve McLendon (2 sacks) made a competent Cincinnati offensive line look like members of a Pop Warner team. They were men on a mission. Clearly, they could not be stopped. If there were any questions or concerns about Wilkerson's leg, Williams' attitude or McLendon's age - well, they can be sacked away. There is one thing certain about the 2016-2017 New York Jets - they have arguably the best defensive line in the game.
When Damon Harrison bolted across MetLife Stadium to the New York Giants locker room in free agency, questions arose about the possibility of the Jets not having as elite of a defensive line as years past. For three consecutive years, the green and white were ranked top five in rushing defense. Losing a mainstay in the middle of the field - in Harrison - would almost certainly force the unit to take a step back.
General Manager Mike Maccagnan saw a hole in the depth chart and immediately filled the void with former Steelers nose tackle Steve McLendon. McLendon only tallied five sacks in six seasons with Pittsburgh but started his New York tenure on the right foot- notching two sacks in the first game. Damon Harrison only tallied one and a half sacks in four seasons with the Jets. Snacks who?
"I like playing with the whole defense," McLendon said after the game. "It's a great team, it's a great defense and we're just trying to do the little things to try and get better every week."
Todd Bowles will be challenged to design a scheme that will incorporate all members of this defensive line on the field at the same time. Although it is against Bowles' style, the Jets can flip to a 4-3 defense to ensure Wilkerson, Williams, McLendon, and Richardson will be on the turf collectively. The thought of it gives quarterbacks the chills but fans a thrill.
Yes, it was one game. Many times we are reminded to not drink the Kool-Aid. But, this performance was a long time coming. The unit channeled their inner Joe Klecko, Mark Gastineau, Marty Lyons, and Abdul Salaam. With Sheldon Richardson returning for a week two date with the Buffalo Bills, this year's Sack Exchange will be rejuvenated, replenished and ready to pounce.
"We know how Sheldon is," said McLendon. "Sheldon wants the ball. He can hit you with speed, power and quickness. He pretty much got it all, we're excited to have him back."
On Sunday, we had a taste of how dominant this Jets defensive line can be. With a full group facing the Buffalo offensive line, we will truly know how special they are.
Joe Barone is a staff writer at JetsInsider.com/NYJScout.com. He can be reached on Twitter (@28JoeBarone), or via email (email@example.com).null