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Monday, February 3, 2014
Jets' D is good, but not near Seattle's best

By Rich Cimini

Good news for the New York Jets: The Seattle Seahawks delivered an emphatic reminder that great defense still matters in the offensive-minded NFL.

Bad news for the Jets: Their defense, the foundation of the team, isn’t close to that of the Seahawks.

While the Jets have the potential to be dominant on the defensive line, they don’t have enough playmakers on the second and third levels to accomplish what the Seahawks did in Super Bowl XLVIII.

Demario Davis
Demario Davis is one of the young players the Jets can build around on defense.
They can stop the run with anyone, and they have the power rushers to generate a decent-to-occasionally-strong pass rush, but there are no proven difference-makers at linebacker or in the secondary -- not yet, anyway. The Jets produced only 15 takeaways last season, continuing a trend under Rex Ryan. For all their defensive success in recent years, they've created only 130 turnovers since 2009, 15th in the league.

It’s all about the turnovers, as the Seahawks proved Sunday night -- and all season, really. They rattled the great Peyton Manning with an incredible amount of speed and intensity, relying on personnel over scheme. Their game plan was simple, but brilliant. It was them saying, “No tricks necessary; our guys are better than your guys.” They recorded only one sack (an overrated statistic), but they forced Manning to move in the pocket and they bashed his receivers when they caught the ball. The defense finished with four turnovers and a touchdown, a great day’s work.

It’s also all about pass defense in the current NFL, so you need a stable of pass-rushers and “space” players in the back seven -- exceptional athletes who can drop, cover and make plays on the ball against offenses that spread the field. The Jets finished 22nd in pass defense. The Seahawks are built for speed; it’s always been the Pete Carroll philosophy. That’s why he doesn’t carry linebackers north of 250 pounds.

In contrast, Ryan built his front seven based on strength and power, the necessary attributes of a 3-4 scheme, although he has tweaked his philosophy to adapt to the new NFL. That was apparent in 2012, when he used a third-round pick on Demario Davis, a run-and-hit linebacker. In the not-so-old days, a linebacker like Davis -- 239 pounds -- wouldn’t have been a scheme fit.

Davis didn’t wow anyone in his first season as a starter, but he’s an ascending player, one of their building blocks. He and cornerback Dee Milliner -- the December Milliner, not the early Milliner -- have the athleticism to thrive in a fast-flow defense. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie can do it, too, as long as his troublesome hip isn’t an issue.

Unlike the Seahawks, who have the best safety tandem in the league, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, the Jets are suspect at the position. Dawan Landry is a good quarterback, orchestrating the back end, but he doesn’t make plays. There’s a lot to like about Antonio Allen, who has improved considerably, but he’s still not a finished product. What does it say that graybeard Ed Reed, a midseason pickup, tied for the team lead with three interceptions?

Look, this isn’t a hatchet job on the Jets' defense. Clearly, they're better on defense than they were a year ago at this time. Their foundation is better than two-thirds of the teams, but they're still a few players away from Seattle's best. General manager John Idzik's first draft was solid, but he needs to find some of those fourth- and fifth-round gems, like his former colleagues have done in Seattle.

But, hey, it took the Seahawks four years to get to this point. Rome wasn't built in one offseason.