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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New York Jets have asserted themselves as one of the NFL's best big-play defenses.
A substantial reason for that is their inclination to force fumbles while sacking quarterbacks, a trend the New England Patriots are concerned about heading into Thursday night's game in Gillette Stadium.
"Their defense is playing very well," Patriots guard Logan Mankins told me Monday. "They're getting after the quarterback better, causing a lot of turnovers, a lot of strip sacks. It's going to be a challenge."
The Jets have jarred quarterbacks into fumbling eight times and have recovered six. Both figures lead the NFL, according to data compiled by Puneet Nanda of ESPN's Stats and Information department.
The Jets have amassed 31 sacks, meaning they force a fumble on 26 percent of them.
The Pittsburgh Steelers lead the NFL with 34 sacks, but they've forced only five fumbles. They've recovered three.
"We do a lot of work in that area," Jets coach Eric Mangini said. "That's something that I learned when I was first with the Jets. We spent a lot of time on what's called ball disruption. I know [Patriots defensive line coach Pepper Johnson] does it a
lot up there.
"We focus on individual players, and you look at different areas you can exploit, maybe the way they hold the ball. It's maybe where the quarterback holds the ball and scramble patterns and giving the guys the awareness of 'If you do get an opportunity to get a sack or be the second guy in a pile, where you should pressure the ball, what would be the most vulnerable point?' "
Shaun Ellis leads the Jets with seven sacks. He's one of 15 Jets with at least a half-sack.
The Jets had 29 sacks after eight games, a franchise record. Not bad considering this is the team that brought us the New York Sack Exchange. The celebrated crew of Joe Klecko, Mark Gastineau and Marty Lyons had 27 sacks at the midpoint of 1981.
The Patriots have been susceptible. Matt Cassel has been sacked 29 times, behind J.T. O'Sullivan of the San Francisco 49ers.
Cassel, however, has been sacked just once over the past two games. The Buffalo Bills did force him to fumble. The Bills recovered.
Overall, Cassel has done a decent job protecting the ball. He has fumbled three times while being sacked, losing two.
The Jets have recorded at least two sacks in all but one of their games. They've recorded four or more sacks in six games.
In their past six games, the Jets have forced 15 fumbles and recovered nine. They recovered all three fumbles they caused in Sunday's victory over the St. Louis Rams, returning one for a touchdown.
"I was really happy the last game because of the types of fumbles that we were able to generate, where guys went in and really ripped the ball out," Mangini said. "Sometimes those fumbles are a function of how you hit the player as opposed to a conscious effort of finding the ball and getting it out."