The Jets must be aggressive in addressing the defense.
As much as Zach Wilson’s development is the most important task within the rebuild, the Jets must build a roster equipped to start winning in 2022.
And it begins with drastically improving the defense.
With free agency approaching the Jets’ goal must be to compete for the wild card. Making the playoffs isnt necessary for 2022 to be a success. But playing meaningful games in December with a shot to make the playoff is a requirement.
The Jets defense must improve after allowing 29.6 points and 397 yards per game, both worst in the NFL. Offenses did whatever they wanted to the Jets. The run defense allowed 2,343 rushing yards (fourth most) with 28 touchdowns (most in the NFL).
The QBs sliced them up as they allowed 4,682 passing yards, third most in the NFL, and 28 touchdowns, sixth most. And the pass rush was invisible as they totaled 33 sacks, fifth fewest.
That’s why Robert Saleh said, “Having a better defense and improving on defense is at the front of our minds,” at the combine.
The Jets have almost $50 million in cap space with four draft picks in the top 40, including two in the top 10. So, they can beef up the defense and add pieces around Wilson. Those assets have created an explosion of optimism among Jets fans as they’re strung out on a drug called hope.
It’s time to capitalize on the faith and improve the win-loss column by improving the defense to make a significant jump from a 4-13 season.
The Jets need another edge rusher to help with the pass rush and run defense. A cornerback who can match up with opposing No.1 receivers and another safety.
This is my opinion but also people in the building have voiced these needs, too.
If they don’t improve the defense enough, Wilson will have to play like Justin Herbert for the team to have any chance of making the playoffs.
Herbert threw for 5,014 yards with 38 touchdowns and the Chargers still missed the playoffs because their defense allowed 27 points per game(29th) and 360 yards(23rd) per game.
That’s too big of a burden to expect Wilson to play remotely close to Herbert to overcome a poor defense in year two after finishing his rookie year with only nine touchdown passes.
And this column isnt to say don’t add pieces to the Jets offense. Because they have holes but it’s further along than the defense right now.
Wilson needs another receiver to pair with Corey Davis and Elijah Moore. The Jets need a tight end and a right guard. Supplement the roster with those pieces and let’s see what leap Wilson makes.
But no matter how much of a jump Wilson makes from a production standpoint, it won’t matter if the defense isn’t radically upgraded.
Doesn’t matter how the Jets improve it, get it done.
Look at the schedule the Jets are facing in 2022. The main theme of the Jets schedule is good-to-elite QBs.
Let’s start with the elites.
The Broncos acquired Russell Wilson, who’s a nine-time Pro Bowler with a Super Bowl ring. Wilson’s weapons feature Courtland Sutton, who went for 1,112 yards two years ago, former first-round pick Jerry Jeudy and Tim Patrick. That’s a good receiving corps and they have a talented running back in Javonte Williams who finished with 903 rushing yards with four touchdowns as a rookie.
The Packers are led by Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones and Davante Adams. Rodgers is the reigning two-time MVP, Adams is an All-Pro, and Jones is Pro Bowl running back.
The Bills aren’t disappearing as long as Josh Allen is slinging the rock to Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis, whose role should increase after his dominant playoff performance.
The Bengals are fresh off a Super Bowl appearance led by Joe Burrow with his explosive weapons in Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. All three of them have produced 1,000-yard seasons. And they have Pro Bowl running back Joe Mixon.
Ravens’ offense still has former MVP Lamar Jackson who can slice a defense through the air and with his legs.
That’s six games against elite QBs. The rosters around them are subjected to change but the point stands.
Let’s transition to the good QBs.
Kirk Cousins and the Vikings are known to put up points with playmakers in Justin Jefferson, Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen. The narrative surrounding Cousins could lead folks to believe he isnt good. But he’s averaged 31 passing touchdowns since he’s arrived in Minnesota.
The Patriots might regress with the departure of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. But Mac Jones played extremely well as a rookie, throwing for 3,801 yards and 22 touchdowns. The Patriots’ run game was phenomenal as Damien Harris carried the load with 929 yards and 15 touchdowns. Rhamondre Stevenson added 606 yards and five touchdowns.
That allowed Jones to play efficient football as a rookie. And as of right now, the Patriots own the Jets as they’ve beat Gang Green 12 times in a row.
Those are nine games with teams who can light up the scoreboard.
The last thing the Jets need is Wilson feeling like he has to get into a shootout every week to win in his second year. There will be weeks when he struggles, and the Jets defense needs to be able to bail him out.
So, while building the offense around Wilson is important, vastly improving the Jets defense is equally important for winning games in 2022.
Make it happen, Joe Douglas. You accumulated the assets for this moment. Don’t fumble the bag.