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One worrisome stat stains NY Jets’ preseason finale victory

Bryce Huff, NY Jets, Edge Rushers, PFF Grade
Bryce Huff, NY Jets, Getty Image

The New York Jets defense sputtered in its preseason finale, highlighted by one stat

Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich’s New York Jets defense didn’t exactly inspire in the team’s 31-31 tie to close the preseason. Joe Flacco and Nick Mullens consistently led Philadelphia’s second and third-string offense down the field with ease against a Jets defense that was also primarily made up of second and third-string players.

Many units struggled on the Jets’ defense, but there is one particular group that was at the core of the unit’s woes. There is a single damning stat that sums up the ineptitude of said group.

Here it is: the Jets’ edge rushers combined for zero sacks, zero quarterback hits, zero tackles for loss, and zero pass deflections in a dead-silent effort.

This marks the EDGE unit’s second straight AWOL performance since Carl Lawson‘s injury shed a blistering spotlight on it. Against the Packers, the Jets got one hit and one tackle for loss out of their entire EDGE unit.

The group of Bryce Huff, Hamilcar Rashed, and Jeremiah Valoaga has been holding down the edge over the past two games. Jabari Zuniga has missed two consecutive games after a silent Week 1 performance. Ronald Blair played one snap against Green Bay and that’s it. Kyle Phillips remains on the PUP list. Vinny Curry is done for the year.

Things are dire for this group. Outside of a great two-sack preseason debut from Huff and consistently solid hustle plays and edge-setting from Valoaga – who will not make the team in all likelihood – the Jets have seen nothing to like from their edge rushers this preseason. At all.

How does Joe Douglas respond to these struggles?

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported after the Packers game that the Jets could be on the prowl for a new edge rusher, whether it be via trade or free agency.

New York’s motivation to make a move certainly has to have significantly increased after they watched their edge rushers stink it up following Lawson’s injury.

Now, of course, it is always important to remember that pass-rush wins and pressures are better tools for evaluating pass rushers than box score statistics like sacks and even quarterback hits. They provide a more consummate look at a player’s performance independent of his surroundings.

I’ll be breaking down the edge rushers’ numbers in terms of wins and pressures more throughout the next few weeks leading up to the regular season, but for now, it is certainly worth highlighting the severe lack of flashiness that the unit put forth following the loss of Lawson.

When a massively important player goes down, it helps to see some flare and pomp from his replacements. Big plays from backups provide hope that they have high-end potential that can be tapped into.

The Jets did not get any of those plays from their edge rushers over the last two games. Huff was locked down over a large sample of snaps while Rashed’s fire from training camp and the preseason opener was put out. Injuries to Zuniga and Phillips limited the number of intriguing young prospects that got a shot to perform.

Will Joe Douglas pull the trigger and try to patch up this ailing unit? Or, will he decide to punt on this season and retain his long-term capital?

It is going to be a tough decision. Sure, the Jets are not Super Bowl contenders this season, so a short-term upgrade is not necessary. However, pressure off the edge is crucial to the scheme that Saleh and Ulbrich want to run. Without it, there will be a negative domino effect that makes the jobs of every other player on the defense more difficult, which in turn will make it tougher for the coaching staff to evaluate its many young defensive players.

A good edge rush is essential to having a good four-man rush. With a good four-man rush, the Jets can blitz at a low frequency and provide extra reinforcements in the back end to help out the young linebackers and cornerbacks. That would make their transition to the NFL much easier, aiding them in setting a strong foundation for their careers.

Without a good edge rush, the Jets will need to blitz more to create pressure, which will leave fewer reinforcements in the back end and thus place a significant amount of pressure on the young defenders to win their coverage assignments without much help. That’s not a great way to ease those prospects into the league and put them in a position to develop at their own pace.

Adding an upgrade to the EDGE unit would not be for the sake of trying to add one or two wins to a rebuilding team that may not be in the mix for a playoff spot. It would be to improve the roster health of the defense so that the unit can be properly evaluated from front to back.

How Douglas handles the EDGE position will be one of his biggest decisions in the upcoming weeks. Even if he makes no decision and stands completely pat, that’s a strong decision in itself. He would be betting heavily on the development of youngsters like Huff, Phillips, Rashed, and Zuniga to keep the defense afloat so that the Jets can sufficiently begin the yearly evaluation process of their rebuilding defense.

Douglas’ choice will tell us a lot about how the Jets feel about their edge rushers and what their mindset is as they attempt to recuperate from the loss of two starters at one position.

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