On paper, these were mismatches, two likely playoff teams with elite offenses facing the Jets’ woeful defense.
Making matters worse, Gang Green was still working in a new defensive coordinator in the wake of Gregg Williams’ dismissal. In their first game without the brash defensive guru, the Jets allowed a whopping 40 points to the Seahawks in an ugly defeat. At the time, the makeshift group had allowed at least 30 points in five of its previous six games.
“Obviously, the Seahawks game was the first game after all the changes and everything like that,” safety Marcus Maye said Monday. “Everything was all up in the air.”
Apparently, the defense just needed some time to get adjusted. Nobody knew, however, it would create such a difference. Led by Williams’ replacement, Frank Bush, the Jets defense keyed upsets of the Rams and Browns, holding the two teams to a combined 36 points while forcing four turnovers. The win over the Browns came without star defensive lineman Quinnen Williams. They’ve traded starting inside linebacker Avery Williamson and lost starting cornerback Brian Poole to injury.
“I think the guys are just playing a lot more free, not necessarily thinking and worrying about [certain things],” Maye said.
Both Maye and coach Adam Gase credited everyone on that side of the ball, from players to coaches, with getting on the same page. Maye specifically singled out Bush, who was previously the team’s assistant head coach and linebackers coach, saying he’s doing a “great job” getting everyone organized and together. That may seem simple, but communication is something that had eluded the Jets defense for much of the season. Remember how much Gregg Williams’ decision to call an all-out blitz in the final seconds of a heartbreaking loss to the Raiders surprised his players?
So even with just four starters left from the opener against the Bills, the defense is playing at its best. Inexperienced players have been thrust into more prominent roles. The 57-year-old Bush is calling the plays for his first time in more than a decade. This is new for everyone.
“I feel like that whole side of the ball has done a good job of pulling together,” Gase said.
Part of the unit’s success can be traced to the offense. The offense didn’t commit a turnover in either victory, ensuring the defense wouldn’t be put in difficult positions.
Still, it was facing two high-caliber offenses, even if the Browns were down their top four receivers due to COVID-19 protocols. The Rams were at full strength.
The Jets contained both attacks. They had seven sacks in the two games. They were particularly effective in the opening halves, allowing a combined six points. There were different stars each week. On Sunday, it was outside linebacker Tarell Basham — the team’s “Energizer Bunny,” according to Gase — forcing fumbles on the Browns’ last two possessions. The week before, defensive linemen Quinnen Williams and Nathan Shepherd created havoc. The group limited the Browns’ fourth-ranked rushing attack to 45 yards on 18 carries. The previous week, the Rams’ dynamic passing game was held to 189 yards through the air.
“It’s just been a great effort of everybody just coming together, doing their jobs, doing their assignments, just giving all-out effort no matter the situation we may be in,” Maye said. “Everybody’s on the same page, between the players and coaching staff.
“It’s just been a great two weeks.”