Gang Green’s defense has been hit or miss this season.
The problem is there have been far more misses than hits during the season’s first three weeks.
After finishing last season dead last in total defense, the Jets are ranked 15th — allowing 336.3 yards per game. However, they allow 27 points per game, which is tied for 26th in the league. Miscues and communication issues were so bad in the 27-12 loss to the Bengals that after the game, cornerback D.J. Reed suggested the Jets call a players and coaches team meeting to solve them.
“You observe, you watch,” defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said. “As we learn our players better, you start to learn their strengths and you learn their weaknesses. You learn what to learn on, you learn what to avoid.
“[Bill] Belichick said that a lot of times he doesn’t know who his team is until halfway through the season. And once you find out who they are and their strengths and we are rolling and we go in that direction and the direction of the players.”
One of the significant issues with the Jets defense is the lack of a pass rush. Yes, they were able to sack quarterback Joe Burrow three times against the Bengals, but that total could have been a lot more.
Burrow’s ability to escape pressure and get the ball to his receivers frustrated the Jets defensive line early in the game. So much so that the Green and White decided to blitz, which resulted in 56-yard first-quarter touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd.
The Jets defense currently ranks 27th in sacks (five). This year, Gang Green has rotated its defensive line regularly. The problem with that is players like defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, who played well against the Bengals after registering four tackles and a sack, aren’t always on the field during crucial downs.
But Ulbrich said he didn’t want to give Williams more than he could handle in terms of snaps.
“That is the instinct for sure,” Ulbrich said. “We have these critical moments in games and people are asking, ‘why isn’t Quinnen out there?’ And then you look to the side and he’s gasping for air.
“We just have to be judicious with it, but absolutely use him as much as we can and as much as we can in critical moments for sure. But there has to be a level of rotation.
“He plays at such a high clip and he goes so hard, sometimes more is less because you are not seeing the speed, the explosiveness, the special stuff from an athletic standpoint that he brings.”
What is also killing them is opponents converting on third down.
Teams have a 51.3% conversion rate against the Jets defense, which is 31st in the league. The Steelers, the Jets’ opponent Sunday, rank 25th with their defense allowing a 46.9% conversion rate.
“It’s a little bit of everything,” Ulbrich said. “It’s leverage, it’s a little bit of execution, a little bit of communication issues at times. It has to be better, it has to be better in every way.
“If that means improving our technique, drilling it better, absolutely that’s part of it. The calls are part of it too, so I have to continue to try and find the best ways to utilize the current guys that we have and play at their strengths.”
The Jets defense will face a Steelers offense that has had its own issues. In three games, quarterback Mitch Trubisky has thrown for 569 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. In the Steelers loss to the Cleveland Browns, they scored 17 points. But Pittsburgh had just one field goal after halftime and converted just one of nine third-down opportunities.
Last April, the Steelers drafted Pitt’s Kenny Pickett with the hopes of him being the team’s future quarterback. But Steelers coach Mike Tomlin decided to start the veteran Trubisky instead.
Despite Tomlin’s vote of confidence, fans have called for Pickett to replace Trubisky this early in the season, especially after the Steelers have lost two consecutive games.
If the Steelers were to make a quarterback change during the game, Ulbrich said it is something he has prepared for.
“We are aware as a defensive staff what he does well, but I don’t think from a schematics standpoint that they would be this wholesale change,” he said.
“I do think they’re different strengths, different weaknesses to the quarterbacks that we have that we have to be aware of in case there is that switch and have a good understanding if they’re going to attack us and his best throws.
“But from a schematics standpoint, they will be a whole lot different.”
Linebacker Quincy Williams (ankle) did not practice for the second consecutive day. Williams will likely miss Sunday’s game against the Steelers. Marcell Harris, who played 15 snaps and recorded three tackles against the Bengals, will probably see more playing time Sunday.
Cornerback Brandin Echols (hamstring) practiced on a limited basis. Defensive lineman John Franklin-Myers (toe) and Zach Wilson (knee) were full participants.