Florham Park, N.J. - Jets fans, there is good news and bad news surrounding the defensive line - or the foundation of the organization. The good news - there is still a tremendous amount of skill, talent and potential among the unit that will play a pivotal role down the stretch. The bad news - teams have started to figure out the deadly four-headed monster - Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Leonard Williams and Steve McLendon. It took some time but offenses have finally debunked the defensive line.
The positive vibes were flowing after an extraordinary seven-sack performance in Week One. Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton could have rented a New York City flat on the MetLife Stadium turf. It was a blast from the past - shades of the 'New York Sack Exchange' lingered among the excited fanbase. That was until we realized - teams catch on.
Since that special season opening performance, the Jets were able to bring down the opposing quarterback just five times. Offensive coordinators have read Todd Bowles' front-seven like a book executing short pass after short pass. The most disconcerting aspect of it all - as long as quarterbacks continue to cut up the field with short and methodical passes, the defensive line will continue to be a non-factor.
"I think as the game went on, [the defensive line] wore down," Bowles said in a conference call on Monday. "Their quarterback just got the ball off quick and sometimes the pressure doesn't get there when the ball is already out."
That is the issue. As high-tempo offenses continue to pick apart the Jets defense, the more wear and tear the front-seven sustains. New York has tried to rotate their model multiple times this year and in the past. Todd Bowles has experience in 3-4 defenses but with so much talent up front, it was almost impossible for the Jets head coach to not adapt a 4-3 format. Essentially, if the talented Wilkerson, Richardson, Williams and McLendon can be on the field at the same time with outside linebacker support, the Jets defense will be that much better. The only question - how can the four-headed monster adapt to high tempo offenses?
"We have to take it personal," said defensive tackle Steve McLendon. "When we get a chance, we have to be frustrated. We have to hit the ball carrier hard and do whatever it takes to win. If we go out and do our job - we'll be fine."
The Jets know what they have to do. They are just not offering any specifics.
"You have to attack the ball carrier and be in better positions to make tackles," Bowles said when asked about certain tactics defenses can use against fast-moving offenses.
In slow and progressive offenses - like the Jets for example - the offensive line has a challenge to provide the quarterback enough time to locate a receiver in the secondary. It does not matter how strong or weak the secondary is. It does not matter how strong or weak the offensive line is. The defensive line cannot do their job and pressure the quarterback if signal callers become mobile and chop the field in small segments. By doing so, time of possession is eaten up. The more time on the field, the more energy is burned on the defensive side of the ball.
"We have to communicate better, play fast, play hard and play smart," said McLendon. "Quarterbacks now get the ball out quicker. We have to try to do whatever it takes to get a win.
Andy Dalton did it. Tyrod Taylor did it. Alex Smith and Russell Wilson made things look easy. Ben Roethlisberger turned the defensive line into a shell of itself. The good news - there is plenty of time remaining in the season for the Jets to adapt. They still have Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Leonard Williams and Steve McLendon playing their hearts out. The bad news - as of now - the defensive line is officially debunked and not much can be done to stop it.
Joe Barone is a staff writer for JetsInsider.com/NYJScout.com. He can be reached on Twitter (@28JoeBarone), or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).null