Considered to be a primary weakness entering 2022, the New York Jets’ run defense shined in the season opener
If you’ve been reading Jets X-Factor throughout the past few months, you know that we have frequently discussed the questionable outlook of the New York Jets’ run defense entering the 2022 season. Out of the game’s four primary facets (pass O, rush O, pass D, run D), I would have chosen the Jets’ run defense as their biggest question mark going into 2022, and I know many people agreed.
The NFL’s schedule-makers decided to immediately put the Jets’ iffy run defense to the test. New York was set to open the season with the most difficult run-stopping challenge it could possibly face: the Baltimore Ravens.
Not only has Baltimore been the NFL’s most dangerous rushing team since Lamar Jackson took over at quarterback in 2018, but the Ravens are a tailor-made schematic mismatch for the Jets defense. Their gap-blocking run scheme is the perfect counter to the Jets’ aggressive, gap-shooting defensive line.
It seemed highly likely that Jackson and the Ravens would ground-and-pound the Jets to death; especially when gameday arrived and it was clear this would be a rainy affair, further favoring Baltimore’s run game.
Nobody could have predicted what actually happened.
Jackson rushed for only 17 yards, the fourth-lowest total of his career as a starting quarterback. Baltimore’s running backs ran for just 46 yards on 15 carries.
On the day, Baltimore’s best run went for a measly 10 yards. The Ravens failed to rush for a touchdown and picked up a paltry total of four first downs via the rush.
Baltimore finished the game with 63 rushing yards on 21 attempts (3.0 per carry). It’s the fewest rushing yards accumulated by a Jackson-led Ravens team across his 54 regular season and playoff starts.
Let that sink in. A Lamar Jackson-led Ravens team has never gained fewer rushing yards than they did on Sunday against this Jets defense; one that was supposed to have major issues at stopping the run.
All of a sudden, the ceiling for the Jets’ run defense has skyrocketed. Not only did the Jets survive in a mismatch against an elite rushing attack, but they thrived, holding that elite rushing attack to one of its least productive performances.
If the Jets’ run defense could succeed at a high level against the Ravens of all teams, then who can’t they stop?
None of this is to say that the Jets are suddenly a world-beating run defense. They have to prove they can maintain this level of play. One game doesn’t change everything, regardless of who the opponent is or the greatness of the performance.
With that being said, there is no doubt that this outing by the Jets significantly alters their run-stopping outlook going forward. This team now has the potential to field a very good run defense, which is something a lot of people (myself included) did not think was within the realm of possibility before this game.
Give credit to defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, one of the team’s most scrutinized coaches. He found ways to get his team prepared for an opponent they matched up poorly against. That’s a tremendously positive sign going forward.
Another huge test awaits the Jets’ run defense in Week 2. The Cleveland Browns led the NFL with 39 rushing attempts in Week 1 and gained 217 yards on those carries. Last year, they led the NFL with 5.1 yards per rush attempt.
If Ulbrich and the Jets can forge another stout run-stuffing performance against Nick Chubb and the Browns, then it will officially be time to start considering the Jets’ run defense a legitimately strong unit.
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