Florham Park, N.J. - Back in the early 1980s, Jets fans knew that their defensive line was the best in the NFL at the time. Compiled up of Mark Gastineau, Abdul Salaam, Marty Lyons, and Joe Klecko, no quarterback or running back was safe going up against them. 1981 was their best year, holding opponents to 17.9 points per game, while forcing 40 turnovers and sacking the quarterback 66 times. The front four were invited to ring the ceremonial opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, where they got the basis of their nickname from. All four of those players were drafted by the Jets between 1976-1979.
Fast-forward to 2016, and the current defensive lines give Jets fans the same excitement the original Sack Exchange did. The current defensive is star-studded, with Muhammad Wilkerson, Steve McLendon, Sheldon Richardson, and Leonard Williams in the starting lineup. Deon Simon, Lawrence Thomas, and Jarvis Jenkins round out the back-ups. Most of the current line is homegrown for New York. Wilkerson was drafted in the 1st round of the 2011 NFL Draft, Richardson in the 1st round of 2013, Williams in the 1st round of 2015, and Simon in the 7th round of that same year. Thomas was signed as undrafted free agent following this years draft. Both McLendon and Jenkins were signed from Pittsburgh and Chicago as free agents this offseason.
In total for their careers, they have compiled 73 sacks among the seven of them (54.5 coming from Wilkerson and Richardson). New York had 39 sacks in 2015, with 20.5 of those sacks coming from the defensive line. This year, they have seven sacks in two games with six coming from the defensive line.
Coming into 2016, it was assumed that the Jets were going to have a strong defensive front. New York allowed 1,335 total yards, 83.4 per game, and 4 touchdowns on the ground, both top two in the NFL. Since 2015, the Jets rank 1st in the NFL in red zone defense, 2nd in third down defense, 4th in takeaways, and 2nd in rushing defense.
In two games played so far, the defense ranks 5th in the NFL in rushing defense, tied for 4th in sacks, 6th in third down defense, and 10th in red zone defense. The line would have had more sacks on Thursday night against Buffalo, but the main concern was containing quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Statistic wise, the defensive line has come up with 41 of the teams 99 total tackles, 10 of the teams 13 tackles for loss, 11 of the teams 14 quarterback hits, and one forced fumble. "Every guy up there can go and get after it," said Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith on the defensive line.
Heading into week three of the 2016 season, New York plays a Kansas City offensive line that has allowed seven sacks in two games. This time it will most likely be less contain and more getting to the quarterback. McLendon has already tied his career-high in sacks in two games. Williams is one sack away from topping his last season total. Wilkerson has looked better than ever after recovering from a broken leg. As for Richardson, he's eyeing for his first sack of the year.
"I think [the defensive line] really set the tone for the defense," said Smith. New York is currently averaging 3.5 sacks per game. If that average continues, then they are on pace for 56 sacks on the year. The Jets have their eyes set to be one of the best defensive lines in the game, so look for 50+ sacks this season.