Jets want No. 1 defense, but even with Quinn it won’t be easy – ESPN – New York Jets Blog

Rich CiminiESPN staff writerJul 23, 2023, 6:00 AM ET6 minute reading

Riddick’s message to Jets: ‘Win the Super Bowl or shut up’

Louis Riddick chimes in when he lays out his expectations for the New York Jets this season with the addition of Aaron Rodgers.

A look at what’s happening around New York Jets:

1. Up, up and away? What the defense did last season was historic. It reduced its points per game by 11.0 from the previous season, the second-largest turnaround in the NFL in the last 45 years. In terms of positions, it went from 32nd to fourth.

Now the Jets will climb three more spots.

“The goal is to be the No. 1 defense in the NFL,” defensive tackle Quinnen Williams said on the first day of training camp.

“Why not?” linebacker CJ Mosley said. “We put in the work. So why not go after the best? Why not try to be the best?”

With nine returning starters out of 12 spots (counting nickelback Michael Carter II), and with two first-team All-Pros in Williams and cornerback Sauce Gardner, the Jets certainly have the talent and continuity to build on last season’s dramatic turnaround. It’s the same coaching staff and the same system.

But it won’t be easy. History tells us that giant leaps are followed by a step back—a few steps, in some cases.

Look at the five biggest one-year turnarounds since 1978 (based on points per game), according to the Elias Sports Bureau. 2001 St. Louis Rams, 2002 Indianapolis Colts, 1986 Atlanta Falcons, and 1981 New York Giants all responded by giving up more points the following season.

In Atlanta’s case, it was a major regression – an increase of 9.8 PPG. For the Giants, it was just one hiccup (1.6 increase) in a strike-shortened ’82 season. It was the early phase of the Bill Parcells-Lawrence Taylor era, the beginning of defensive dominance.

The 2022 Jets are proud members of this top-five list. Soon we will find out if they can be a trend-buster.

2. Questions: Having a happy and healthy Quinnen Williams in camp is hugely important. The main reason for his tremendous performance last season, according to the coaches, was his full participation in camp. In 2021, he missed time due to offseason foot surgery and it affected him. Some players need the repetition and rhythm of camp to sharpen their game; Williams is one of those players.

The Jets made him happy with a four-year, $96 million contract extension, including the largest guarantee ($66 million) in franchise history. Vowing to continue his ascent, Williams said he took his offseason training “to a whole new level” and claimed, “I haven’t even scratched the surface of what I can do.”

Williams’ impact on defenses is undeniable, especially as a pass rusher. When he was on the field, opponents’ Total QBR dropped by 10 points and the Jets’ sack rate nearly tripled, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. He also changed the way they played defense. Counting on his interior pressure, the Jets had the lowest blitz rate in the league.

3. Attracting an audience: Something unusual happened during Williams’ first press conference after signing the big contract. Many non-football employees — from the business and marketing departments — left their desks and went outside to the second-floor patio of the team’s facility to see him. A very cool moment. It illustrated how well Williams is regarded around the building.

4. Farewell, Mims: Denzel Mims arrived with so much promise — a second-round pick out of Baylor in 2020 with the size (6-foot-3) and speed (4.38 seconds in the 40) to make scouts go wild. It never worked out.

After three disappointing seasons, Mims’ trade request was finally granted when he was sent to the Detroit Lions for a buck. The teams traded 2025 picks in the late round, with the Jets acquiring a sixth-rounder and giving up a seventh-rounder. Both picks are contingent on him making the Detroit roster.

Mims’ time with the Jets was … well, weird. Does anyone remember the food poisoning?

He left with this ignominious distinction: most receptions (42) by any wide receiver in Jets history without a touchdown.

“Sometimes a change of scenery is always good, it’s good for everybody,” coach Robert Saleh said – quite a statement.

Mims was drafted when Adam Gase was the coach and never clicked with Saleh’s staff. His route running, an issue coming out of Baylor, never satisfied the coaches. As a result, he was buried on the depth chart and only got chances when others were injured.

In a span of four months, the Jets dealt two disgruntled wideouts who made trade requests — Mims and Elijah Moore. They hope for better chemistry in the receiving room.

5. Terrible 2s: Maybe the Jets should put a moratorium on drafting pass-catchers in the second round. Consider some of their picks: Elijah Moore, Devin Smith, Jace Amaro (tight end) and Stephen Hill. Neither lasted more than two years with the Jets. You have to go back … back … back (Chris Berman voice) to Wesley Walker in 1977 to find a second-round receiver that worked.

6. The Rodgers Factor: Jets fans lucky enough to score training camp tickets can watch practice in style. The team got rid of the uncovered metal benches and installed stadium seats with roofs that protect the spectators from the merciless sun. The Jets held their first open practice Saturday.

7. Breakout Players? Players know players. That’s why it was interesting to hear Mosley and Williams single out linebacker Jamien Sherwood and defensive end Jermaine Johnson, respectively, as breakout candidates.

Sherwood gets first dibs at the outside linebacker position vacated by Kwon Alexander (free agent). He is a former college safety who switched to linebacker in 2021. Johnson was a 2022 first-round pick who was limited to just 312 snaps due to a deep rotation on the defensive line.

“Jermaine looks great,” Saleh said. “He’s got a really good weight. He looks strong, he looks fast, he looks really powerful, so I’m really excited for him going forward.”

8. Backfield Update: The Jets remain optimistic about Breece Hall’s chances to be ready for Week 1, with Saleh saying Hall hit 23 mph on the GPS while running on the sideline. For now, he is on the physically unable to perform list as he continues his ACL rehab, but he could be activated at any time.

Which brings us to free agent Dalvin Cook. Publicly, the Jets are showing continued interest. Saleh said, “You never want to say no to a great player,” but he made that comment Thursday — before new revelations about an alleged domestic violence. The Jets always say they value character in player acquisitions. How this affects their thinking is unclear. Cook has interest in the Jets, a source close to the situation said.

The Jets like their running back group, which includes Michael Carter, Zonovan Knight and rookie Israel Abanikanda.

9. Smart move: In his first offseason meeting of 2019, new Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur tried a team-building exercise. He asked all the players to change places. Allen Lazard, a first-year wide receiver, noticed Aaron Rodgers sitting by himself.

“Me being me, if I’m going to get close to anybody, it should probably be this guy,” Lazard recalled. “That probably started our relationship right there.”

It has worked out fine. Lazard signed the biggest wide receiver contract of the 2023 offseason — $22 million guaranteed — and now he’s reunited with his quarterback.

10. The Last Word: “There was probably an eight-hour period where I was like, ‘What the f—, bro?’ He was like, “It’s going to happen.” – Lazard recalls a moment of fear during Rodgers’ protracted trade talks.

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