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The reasoning behind bizarre NY Jets scoreboard phenomenon

Sauce Gardner, Dak Prescott, NY Jets, Cowboys
Sauce Gardner, Dak Prescott, New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys, Getty Images

The New York Jets were on the short end of many lopsided scores in 2023

In 2022, the New York Jets lost many games entirely on the shoulders of the offense and special teams. Scores like 10-3 and 11-6 were clear indicators that the defense wasn’t to blame for the defeats.

However, in 2023, the trend was somewhat different. Sure, the Jets lost to the Falcons 13-8 and the Patriots 15-10, but most of their defeats weren’t close. In fact, the Jets lost five games by 20+ points, the most such losses in the league. That would seem to imply that the defense was just as culpable as the offense, yet the Jets finished third in defensive DVOA.

How can the dominance of the defense and the blowout defeats be reconciled?

Opponent strength

DVOA stands for Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, taking into account game context and opponent. In each of the Jets’ five defeats by 20+ points, their defensive DVOA was quite solid.

  • Week 2, Dallas, 30-10: -7.1%
  • Week 9, L.A. Chargers, 27-6: -20.9%
  • Week 11, Buffalo, 32-6: -9.8%
  • Week 12, Miami, 34-13: -14.8%
  • Week 15, Miami, 30-0: -23.2%

Part of this is certainly the opponents’ strength. Dallas, Buffalo, and Miami ranked ninth, third, and second in offensive DVOA, which means the Jets got a positive adjustment in those games. The Jets’ season-long defensive DVOA was -14.2%, which means they played better than their season average in three of those games.

Despite the blowout defeats, the Jets’ defense often posted some excellent statistics in those games. They held Dallas to 2-for-6 in the red zone, 3.0 yards per carry, and 6.4 yards per attempt. Justin Herbert threw for just 136 yards on 16-for-30 passing, and the Chargers had just 191 total yards for the game. Buffalo averaged 3.4 yards per carry and went 5-for-13 on third down. Tua Tagovailoa threw two interceptions in the first Miami matchup, and the Dolphins had just 290 total offensive yards in the second game, far below their 401.3 season-long average.

The Jets’ offense heavily contributed to those lopsided scores. They had four turnovers against Dallas, three against L.A., four against Buffalo, two in the first Miami game, and four in the second Miami game.

These turnovers led to a large chunk of the points allowed by the defense. Of the 153 points allowed by New York across these five games, 47 of them came on drives that began in Jets territory. Another 29 points came on drives that started between the 50-yard line and the opponent’s 40-yard line. On top of that, the Jets threw a pick-six against Miami and allowed a punt return touchdown to the Chargers. All together, that’s 90 of the 153 points allowed.

The easiest conclusion from these games is that the Jets’ defense still played a lot better than most other defenses did against these high-powered offenses. Their performance was made to look worse on the scoreboard due to the offense setting up easy points for the opponent.

Not enough in 2024

That being said, despite the Jets’ better-than-average defensive performances in context, they’ll need more than that from their defense in 2024. Those defensive numbers are essentially moral victories. They can’t give up 30+ points per game to Houston, Buffalo, Miami, and San Francisco and expect to win, even if their offense is far superior to its 2023 iteration.

Rather, they’ll need performances like they put up against Buffalo in the first matchup (-24.9%), Philadelphia (-22.9%), and Houston (-56.3%) — legitimately dominant efforts against good offenses, not just consolation prizes. If their defense plays C.J. Stroud in 2024 as they did in 2023, they’ll win the game.

It’s go time for the Jets’ defense just as much as it is for the offense. Time to prove that they’re not just statistics buffs but legitimate title contenders.

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