Jets defense could catch up with rest of AFC East this season

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The Jets want to get out from the AFC East basement and play meaningful football in 2022, and they’ll need their defense to accomplish it.

Gang Green’s defense made headway this offseason, but they’re still playing catch up to the rest of the division. There is, of course, the legitimate possibility that Jets group improves to become a top-20 unit. The AFC East does possess stud defenses, so even improved the Jets could still hover towards the bottom. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it just goes to show the talent and defensive coaching within the division is strong.

The Jets ended their season with a secondary that included Brandin Echols, Bryce Hall, Jason Pinnock, Michael Carter II and Elijah Riley starting. The team understood it desperately needed an overhaul and it did that. The Jets added cornerbacks D.J. Reed, who signed a three year deal in free agency, and Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, the 2022 No. 4 overall pick, to their secondary, along with safeties Jordan Whitehead and Lamarcus Joyner, who also signed as free agents.

In the trenches last season, they rarely controlled the line of scrimmage, and finished with 33 sacks, tied for fifth fewest in the league, and allowed 138 yards on the ground per game.

To elevate the trenches, they picked up FSU defensive end Jermaine Johnson, at No. 26 in the 2022 draft, to elevate their struggling pass rush and run defense. The defensive line should be better with Johnson in the fold, along with the return of Carl Lawson, who missed all of 2021 with a torn Achilles. They’ll add to a talented defensive line that also includes John Franklin-Myers and Quinnen Williams, both who produced a solid last season, accumulating six sacks.

For reference, here’s how the other AFC East defenses compare:

— The Bills defense suffocated opposing offenses by allowing the fewest yards (289) and points (18.3) per game en route to back-to-back AFC East crowns. They still have their All-Pro defensive stars from last year: cornerback Tre White and the dynamic safety duo of Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde. And made a splash by signing future Hall of Famer Von Miller to a six-year, $120M contract after his fountain of youth run (four sacks through playoffs) to winning Super Bowl LVI with the Los Angeles Rams.

— The Patriots were third in points allowed last season (19.4), but they lost a star cornerback J.C. Jackson to the Los Angeles Chargers in the offseason. But any defense led by Bill Belichick will always be on top because of his scheme. Since Belichick became the Patriots’ head coach in 2000, the Patriots have finished outside of the top-10 in points allowed only four times. So completely dismissing the Patriots defensively isn’t wise. But this season could be another one of their outliers since their talent level isn’t as elite.

— The Dolphins’ defensive talent presents a boom or bust outlook. The boom: the Dolphins’ talent is there. They have two edge rushers in Emmanuel Ogbah and 2021 first round pick Jaelan Phillips, both who combined for 17.5 sacks. Their secondary has some Pro-Bowlers in cornerback Xavien Howard, who also has All-Pro honors, and corner Byron Jones a a rising star in safety Jevon Holland. These five spearheaded the Dolphins’ strong defensive finish last season, which allowed 15.5 points per game in their last nine games. The bust: the Dolphins had to use quite a few backup QBs during that run. And when they played better QBs in the first eight games of the season, they allowed 29 points per game. They also fired Brian Flores, but kept defensive coordinator Josh Boyer, hoping to continue last season’s successes.

The Jets and their fans won’t know if they’ve surpassed their divisional rivals until they start to play them this season. Leapfrogging the Dolphins and/or the Patriots would still be progress for the Jets even if it’s because those two teams’ defenses will have regressed.

And with the Jets’ added talent, it’s not impossible.

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