Robert Saleh, NY Jets, Defense
Robert Saleh, New York Jets, Getty Images

After leading the league’s worst defense in points allowed in 2021, Robert Saleh has no room for error going into his second year as head coach

When the New York Jets announced the hiring of San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh as their next head coach, fans and pundits were ecstatic. For the first time, a Jets hire was universally loved. Before Saleh had coached his first preseason game, he was drawing comparisons to another coach who went from DC of a great team to head coach of the Jets – Rex Ryan.

Saleh was coined as a player’s coach; one who could get the best out of the players on his side of the ball. The trash talk wasn’t there, but the vibe around the team felt similar to that of the Ryan-led Jets.

It was a change that Jets fans needed. After two years of Adam Gase, the memes and the ineptitude had brought fans to their breaking point. To this day, you won’t find anyone who expected Gase to lead the Jets to success after his free fall in Miami.

Turn the page to the hiring of Robert Saleh.

Saleh was the favorite for the Jets position from the get-go. It was the hire to take the Jets from the 2-14 mess of 2020 to respectability.

As it turned out, things weren’t as night and day as some had hoped.

New York finished the 2021 campaign going 4-13 on the back of a rookie quarterback and head coach. The struggles of Zach Wilson and the offense were to be expected. What wasn’t expected was the ineptitude of the defense.

The first, and most striking thing that was noticed was how poorly the Jets run defense had become. Pro Football Focus graded the Jets’ run defense as third-worst in the NFL. For the first time since 2006, the Jets had a run defense outside of the top 15 in PFF’s ranking.

The strength of the team – even in their worst years – became a glaring hole overnight. That ineptitude by the front seven was mirrored by the unit as a whole.

The Jets defense would allow the most points per game to opposing offenses of any NFL team in Saleh’s first season (29.6). Saleh joined Jim Schwartz as the only other defensive-minded coach in NFL history to accomplish that feat in their first year as head coach.

Going into his second season, Saleh doesn’t have the luxury to see his defense play that poorly again.

Through free agency and the NFL draft, general manager Joe Douglas added numerous elite pieces to the defense. This was highlighted by the acquisitions of cornerbacks D.J. Reed and Sauce Gardner. Safety Jordan Whitehead was also added through free agency, along with Jermaine Johnson through the draft.

The talent acquired can’t be doubted. However, the coaching up to this point has left more to be desired.

PFF has already ranked Saleh as the worst head coach in the NFL. It won’t help that the Jets have what is considered to be the 6th-hardest schedule in the NFL going into the 2022 season.

Despite that, Saleh shouldn’t be afforded excuses if his unit fails to meet expectations yet again. While Mike LaFleur‘s struggles were to be expected, Saleh’s were not.

If the team – and defense – finds itself at the bottom of the barrel yet again, don’t be surprised to see Robert Saleh on the coaching hot seat after the 2022 season.

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Thomas Christopher is an avid sports fan, mixed martial artist, big fantasy football player and Rex Ryan stan. He's also one of Jets X-Factor's breaking news writers. Email: tpascar[at]
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9 months ago

The “defensive genius” tag was dumb to begin with, and only media propaganda. He was a successful defensive coach, who worked his way up, and coached a Super Bowl Defense. The idea there needs to be a label is laughable. As for the PFF rating coaches, even more of a joke. It’s not surprising the defense was terrible last season with what they were lining up with on the field. There are safeties at my local high school that take better angles than Ashtyn Davis. All of that said, I do have concerns about how he runs his scheme vs. the run, screen and swing passes. I also agree the LB position right now is less than NFL talent, however there was no way to fill every hole on this roster. This is year 2, there will be more growing pains. It’s not Saleh or Joe’s fault the team was an unmitigated disaster when they got here. I personally couldn’t care less about PFF ratings for coaches or comparisons to Schwartz. Not sure what the expectations were last year but anybody who expected more should probably re-think things before setting expectations for this season. I don’t expect the run D to be good, it will be a work in progress. I do expect the team to play better than last season on both sides of the ball, this “meaningful game” thing is also more hype. Let’s say they go 4-13 again and every loss is by 3 points or less, does that change anything?

9 months ago

Don’t know about coach ratings. Same a bit ridiculous. But I agree we need to improve at least 10 to 15 spots this year with all the investment on that side of the ball.

Robert Papalia
Robert Papalia
9 months ago

I have said it before and I will say it again, the Jets need to be relative this year with at the very least 7 wins. And not give up another 500 points on defense. That would only show Saleh is not the be all and end all defensive genius. And it would also show the Jets have been blown out in a number of games. A very important year for Saleh, the Jets, and Joe Douglas.
9 months ago

9 months ago
Reply to

He will be back next year no matter what happens this year. He is a winner.

Matt Galemmo
Matt Galemmo
9 months ago

Saleh changed schemes, and then he and Saleh spent some capital, but not much, to make that scheme work. The biggest investment was Lawson, and we know what happened there. Curry too. And they used their first four picks on offense.

Here’s one thing that impressed me, and one that disappoints me, about Saleh’s approach thus far. Impressed me: He and JD spent much more capital on offense, which shows me Saleh understands he is the HC now, not the DC, and he’s not afraid to look bad on defense while he tends to priority #1: the maturation of a QB on a rookie deal.

Disappoints me: I worry Saleh does not have a realistic plan at LB. Does he think he can turn one of Quincy, Sherwood or Nasirildeen into Fred Warner? He had resources to do something at LB, but he used them on (arguably) luxuries on the defensive line, backup QBs and a really pathetic kicking competition. Now whatever coin he and JD can scrape together has to go to Riley Reiff or an equivalent. LB might be a spot where Saleh’s too cute for good.

9 months ago

“PFF has already ranked Saleh as the worst head coach in the NFL.”

I wasn’t impressed with this column as I was reading it, but you completely lost me when I read this. PFF player analysis is iffy at best, but the coaching ratings were absolute nonsense. The fact that you referenced it completely undermines the credibility of this piece.

I know that there’s not much to write about right now but this added nothing to the conversation.

9 months ago

I’m even less impressed with your analysis … or lack thereof.