Solid play by the Jets offensive and defensive lines are a big reason the Jets are 6-1. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
The New York Jets are proof that football games are won and lost in the trenches. It has been the dominance of the offensive line and the steady improvement of the defensive front four that has propelled the Jets to their 6-1 start.
From the first snap of the season the offensive line proved it was a unit to be reckoned with as it bullied the Cincinnati Bengals for 219-yards rushing and did not allow a sack.
The Jets solidified the line by acquiring left guard Pete Kendall this summer after he was cut by the Arizona Cardinals. The Jets added Kendall to a productive pass blocking line anchored by all-pro center Kevin Mawae. Kendall added size and quickness to the guard position, the weakest spot on the Jets O-line. With the tandem of Mawae, Kendall and right guard Brandon Moore the Jets have been more successful pulling and running outside the tackles. Mawae and Kendall were teammates on the Seattle Seahawks during the 1996 and 1997 seasons.
Curtis Martin has been the major beneficiary of the much improved O-line. Martin has rushed for over 110-yards in five of the Jets first seven games. Martin also has seven touchdowns this season. It took Martin 12 games to score the first of his two touchdowns last season. Martin needed just two games to eclipse that mark this season.
The Jets O-line put on its most dominant performance of the year, on Monday night. Martin and Lamont Jordan both thrashed the vaunted Miami defense for 115-yards each. The Jets compiled 275-yards rushing versus the leagues 4th ranked ground defense.
“The offensive line deserves game balls,” said Herman Edwards in his Tuesday press conference.
Monday marked the first time since 1975 that two Jets’ running backs broke the 100-yard mark in the same game. “It’s a historical mark,” said Edwards. “Ten-years, 20-years from now they can say, ‘This is what we did as an offensive line.’” This team seems to be re-writing a lot of the Jets history books.
Due to the dominance displayed in the run game the Jets were able to keep Miami’s pass rush on its heels with a good mix of play action. The Jets allowed one sack on Monday to raise their season total to seven. Since the Bill Parcells’ era the Jets have been well adept at pass blocking. Tackles Jason Fabini and Kareem McKenzie do a great job against speed rushers, such as Miami DE Jason Taylor, and Mawae is one of the best at picking up the blitz.
On the other side of the ball the defensive line is coming of age. The Jets did a good job early in the season of containing the Chargers’ LaDainian Tomlinson and stifling the Bills’ Travis Henry. The Jets did not allow a 100-yard rusher until Week 7 when the Pats’ Corey Dillon racked-up 115. Monday night the defense held Miami to 78-yards rushing as a team and sacked Jay Fiedler four times.
The Jets are ranked 8th in the NFL in rushing yards per game, up from a dismal 28th last season. A major reason for the Jets improvement against the run is the maturing play of last years number four pick Dwayne Robertson. He made a concerted effort in the off- season to improve his play and came into camp slimmed down and ready for action. Unlike last year when the team lost Josh Evans, the line hasn’t missed a beat since he was sidelined again for the year with a back injury. D-Rob has impressed Jets coaches this season, as they have been lobbying for his trip to Honolulu.
Another reason the defensive line has excelled is that DT Jason Ferguson is playing at a high level and seems to have kicked the injury bug, which has plagued him the past three seasons. “Fergy doesn’t get a lot of the attention the other guys get,” said Edwards. “He’s been playing very, very well.”
Robertson and Ferguson have done a great job of keep the other team’s interior linemen off of the Jets’ linebacking corp. They also absorb double teams that help to free up defensive ends John Abraham and Shaun Ellis.
DE John Abraham has been putting on a show this season, leading the league with 8.5 sacks. The NFL is seeing what Jets fans have gotten flashes of throughout Abraham’s injury plagued career. In his contract year, he is showing the league what he is capable of if he stays healthy. Abraham is one of the league’s dominant speed rushers and has shown much improvement against the run.
On the other end of the line, Pro Bowl DE Shaun Ellis, is quietly again having a solid season. With the improvement of Robertson and Abraham’s great play, Ellis has quietly led the D-line in tackles with 29, fifth overall on the Jets. Ellis is also second on the team in sacks with 3.5. Overall, the Jets defensive line is responsible 17 of the teams 20 sacks.
The Jets have also proved they have depth on both the defensive and offensive lines. Brent Smith did and excellent job last week filling in for Brandon Moore (hamstring). Backup guard Jonathan Goodwin also helped filling in for Kendall (toe) against the Bills in Week 5.
The Jets, with three first-round picks starting on defensive line, have been getting good production out of their reserves, with DT James Reed seeing major time in the rotation. Defensive Coordinator Donnie Henderson has also found ways to fit former first-round pick Bryan Thomas into the DT rotation. Defensive tackle Alan Harper and rookie DE Trevor Johnson, a seventh-round pick, have also flashed at times this season.
Over the years the Jets have done a good job of assembling talent on the lines. This will most likely be the last season Jets fans get to watch these units together. Abraham, Ellis and McKenzie will all be free agents at seasons end. It will be near impossible to resign the three of them without causing a salary-cap nightmare. It will be interesting to see how general manger Terry Bradway handles the situation when the time comes.