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New York Jets' stellar defense poised to fuel playoff push

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Do the New York Jets have the best defense in football?

Every game, all season

That's the question observers are asking after watching coach Todd Bowles' squad suffocate opponents through the first few weeks of the 2015 season. Gang Green's defense ranks first overall and in points allowed, and the team has the third-most takeaways (15) in the NFL.

Given that an elite defense can fuel a championship run, it's time to consider the Jets legitimate contenders in the AFC. To see how the Jets are getting it done, I reviewed the All-22 Coaches Film -- and came away with three reasons to fear New York heading down the stretch:

1) Todd Bowles' creative schemes mesh well with the Jets' personnel.

For all the accolades Bowles' predecessor, Rex Ryan, received for his defensive wizardry, Bowles deserves kudos for his brilliant scheming in New York. Not only has the first-year head coach cleaned up some of the fundamental flaws that torpedoed the Jets' playoff chances in previous seasons, but he's crafted a chameleon scheme that ideally suits the individual and collective strengths of his defensive personnel.

While studying the All-22 Coaches Film, I saw the Jets use a 3-4 and 4-3 base defense while trotting out an assortment of nickel defenses (4-2-5, 3-3-5 and 2-4-5) on passing downs. In fact, Bowles' creative game plans have resulted in the Jets lining up in some form of nickel defense on 62.7 percent of their defensive snaps. Granted, the increased utilization of "11" personnel might've dictated the increased use of nickel personnel, but it's also possible Bowles is simply maximizing his personnel by showcasing his five-defensive back look. The Jets' defensive advantages lie in their ultra-talented line and veteran-laden secondary, and it makes sense to keep those units on the field as much as possible.

The nickel package in particular allows Bowles to effectively handle the myriad spread formations and empty alignments opponents have leaned on to create quick-rhythm pass opportunities for suspect quarterbacks. Additionally, the various nickel packages and personnel deployments allow Bowles to attack quarterbacks with blitz pressures from all angles. From cross-dog blitzes from a 3-3-5 alignment to "in-out" hit its from 2-4-5 formation, Bowles will dial up creative pressures to force the quarterback to get the ball of his hands quickly -- or run the risk of taking a big shot in the pocket.

In the play depicted below, from New York's Week 2 win over the Indianapolis Colts, the Jets send a Mike Pick C blitz to harass Andrew Luck into making an interception. Demario Davis attacks the C-gap with the sole intention of knocking Anthony Castonzo off his block on Leger Douzable. Davis bumps Castonzo off Douzable before rushing through the gap to pursue Luck. Douzable works around the left guard to create penetration up the middle. With the pocket collapsing around him, Luck fires an errant pass to the sideline -- and Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis falls back into the play to snag his first interception of the season (TO VIEW THE PLAY, SCROLL LEFT TO RIGHT ON THE IMAGE BELOW):

With Bowles willing to attack opponents from multiple fronts with a variety of different pressures featuring a number of second-level defenders, the Jets' defense creates headaches for offensive coordinators and quarterbacks attempting to decipher the scheme.

2) The latest version of the "New York Sack Exchange" is downright scary.

The Jets' sack total -- eight, tied for 28th in the NFL -- doesn't attest to the dominant potential of their defensive line. The truth is, few NFL teams can match the talent, athleticism, versatility and disruptive impact created by the unit. It features three first-round talents -- Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams -- with explosive skills as trench warriors. It has one of the best run-stoppers in football (Damon Harrison) at the point of attack. And there's a deep collection of hybrid players (Calvin Pace, Quinton Coples, Lorenzo Mauldin and Trevor Reilly) with complementary skills as edge defenders.

Sacks aside, the line has the Jets atop the charts in several defensive categories, including scoring defense (allowing 15.0 points per game), yards per game (269.2 allowed) and three-and-out drives (21), while ranking second in yards per play (4.33 allowed) and passing yards (186.6 allowed per game).

On the All-22 Coaches Film, it is apparent that the line's stellar play sets the tone for the NFL's top-ranked defense. Against the run, Harrison, Richardson and Wilkerson are nearly impossible to move off the ball, which allows the Jets' rugged linebackers to run unobstructed to the ball. Moreover, the presence of three or more disruptive defenders at the line prevents opponents from double-teaming and "climbing" (a tactic in which the offensive linemen work up to the second level to block linebackers after working with a teammate to stalemate a defensive lineman at the line of scrimmage) to neutralize second-level defenders.

Harrison is rarely mentioned as one of the NFL's dominant defenders, but his ability to control the point has helped the Jets stymie opponents intent on running the ball between the tackles. The 6-foot-4, 350-pound nose tackle forces runners to bounce to the edges on inside runs. With few runners unable to successfully spot creases on downhill runs, the Jets are holding opposing runners to only 3.5 yards per carry, tied for second-fewest in the NFL.

Wilkerson and Richardson give the Jets a pair of two-way playmakers on the line. While some defenders seem to be obsessed with sack numbers, Wilkerson and Richardson are effective against both the run and pass. Each player flashes the explosive strength, power and hand skills to defeat blockers with brute force, but they also display the agility and athleticism to win with quickness at the line. This makes it tough for opponents to "single up" against either guy in a critical situation. Most importantly, it gives the Jets a decided advantage when using stunts, games and blitzes to blow up the run or attack quarterbacks on passing downs.

In the play depicted below, from the Jets' Week 4 win over the Dolphins, David Harris collects a sack on a blitz that uses Wilkerson as a decoy at the line of scrimmage. Here, the Jets are aligned in a "46" defense, with Harris instructed to blitz through the A-gap. Wilkerson is positioned on the outside shoulder of the right guard, occupying the B-gap. When the big, athletic defensive tackle takes a wide release to attract the attention of the guard, Harris is able to buzz through the A-gap for an easy takedown of Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill (TO VIEW THE PLAY, SCROLL LEFT TO RIGHT ON THE IMAGE BELOW):

Given the ability of Wilkerson and Richardson to create opportunities for others, the Jets' acquisition of Leonard Williams made the defensive line downright scary. The 6-5, 302-pound rookie entered the NFL viewed as the top defensive prospect in the 2015 draft class, based on his remarkable athleticism, agility and strength. He reminded some scouts of Richard Seymour during the pre-draft process, due to his potential impact as a versatile inside-outside defender. The Jets have taken advantage of his skills by deploying him at multiple spots along the line. He has aligned as a defensive tackle in four-man fronts and played as a defensive end (5-technique) on three-man lines. Williams' positional flexibility has allowed Bowles to create chaos on the interior on passing downs while also adding a little size and strength to the mix on run downs.

This deep collection of D-line puzzle pieces makes it possible for the crafty defensive play caller to mix in a variety of looks and personnel packages to wear opponents out over 60 minutes.

3) The Jets' secondary is the best in the business.

No disrespect to the "Legion of Boom" or the Denver Broncos' star-studded defensive backfield, but the New York Jets' secondary is clearly the best unit in football. The group of graybeards is headlined by perennial Pro Bowlers Revis and Antonio Cromartie, with Marcus Gilchrist, Buster Skrine and second-year pro Calvin Pryor rounding out the top quintet in the game.

Consider that the Jets are holding opposing quarterbacks to a 52.4 percent completion rate, yielding a passer rating of 60.0 and allowing 5.4 yards per pass attempt -- the best marks, league-wide, in each category. Most importantly, the Jets have surrendered just 13 passes of 20-plus yards and allowed just six touchdown passes total. Given the importance of limiting big plays and touchdowns, the Jets' suffocating pass defense is one of the reasons the defense is considered one of the premier units in football.

The All-22 Coaches Film revealed that the spectacular play of Revis, Cromartie and Skrine has keyed the Jets' exceptional play in the back end. The trio has blanketed elite receivers utilizing a variety of techniques (press, off and bail) in a handful of different coverages. The Jets have been able to throw nearly every coverage in the book at opposing quarterbacks during the first few weeks of the season, due to the experience and versatility of their veteran corners.

Revis in particular has shown exceptional awareness, instincts and diagnostic skills in coverage. As an ultra-competitive defender with an innate feel for reading routes, the six-time Pro Bowler has nabbed three interceptions thus far this season by correctly anticipating throws in his area. Consider, Revis' pivotal interception in Week 6 against the Washington Redskins, which is depicted below -- this is the perfect example of the veteran reading the route and anticipating the throw to the flat.

The Redskins are aligned in a trips formation, with a single receiver and the running back offset to the left. Revis is positioned at RCB and playing as a flat defender in the Jets' Cover 6 (quarter-quarter-half) coverage. He gets a strong jam on Pierre Garcon to force an inside release before retreating to the play under a possible corner route by the WR2. When he spots Ryan Grant running to the flat and sees Kirk Cousins ready to deliver, Revis makes a beeline to the break point for a diving interception (TO VIEW THE PLAY, SCROLL LEFT TO RIGHT ON THE IMAGE BELOW):

Gilchrist and Pryor, meanwhile, have given the Jets a nice "yin-yang" combination in the back end. Gilchrist comfortably floats over the top as a ball-hawking centerfielder, while Pryor is routinely inserted into the box to act as a run-stopper on early downs. Gilchrist, an ex-cornerback turned safety, has played exceptionally well as the designated rover, collecting a pair of interceptions and tallying five passes defensed in five games.

With the Jets' thriving in their nickel package due to the sensational play of their experienced defenders, opponents will continue to have problems moving the ball though the air.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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