Back in July, before Kris Jenkins was dominating offensive linemen and carrying the Jets’ run defense to new levels, he was busy titling his playing style.
“I never did the pretty position. I’ve always been a grunt. I take pride in being a grunt,” Jenkins said of his new role as a nose tackle.
Ten games into his first season with the Jets, the self-proclaimed “grunt” can add a subtitle that reads “star.” After a failed experiment which began two seasons ago saw Dwayne Robertson switched to nose tackle, the 6-foot-4, 349-pound Jenkins has transformed the Jets’ defense from inadequate to elite. The statistics are hard to ignore…
2006: 130.3 rushing yards allowed/game (24th in NFL)
2007: 134.8 (29th in NFL)
2008: 81.3 (6th in NFL)
Not only has Jenkins provided an immovable cog in the middle of the Jets’ run defense, he’s also provided a consistent push in the pass rush. Jenkins has recorded 3.5 sacks, but his contribution also often goes unnoticed. While the mammoth nose tackle continually drives back the offense’s center and guard, blitzing linebackers such as Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas have been provided open holes to attack the quarter. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the Jets have recorded 34 sacks, already five more than they had all of last season. In the Jets’ 56-35 win over the Cardinals on Sept. 28, Jenkins also made his mark on special teams by blocking a field goal.
For opposing offenses, devising a gameplan to penetrate the Jets’ defense line has seemed more like a quantum psychics exam than a football test. But while the Patriots weren’t able to consistently run with their backs through the Jets’ defense (17 carries, 63 yards) they discovered a way to contain Jenkins. With the Patriots trailing 24-6 late in the second quarter, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels turned to a hurry-up offense with the hope of reviving a bumbling New England offense. In essence, the move worked to perfection as Jabar Gaffney hauled in a 19-yard touchdown grab to cut the Jets’ lead to 24-13 at halftime. During the second half, the Patriots’ offense awakened for 18 points in what was nearly a colossal meltdown for the Jets. However, more impressive than the Patriots’ sudden efficiency was their success in eliminating Jenkins. In containing the Jets’ massive star, the Patriots may have opened a door for other opponents to pursue.
In a copycat league that is the NFL, could opposing teams examine the Patriots’ success and attack the Jets with a no-huddle offense? Surely no offense ever would or could run the no-huddle for a full 60 minutes, but seeing offensive coordinators dial up a method to contain Jenkins would be a delicious thought. In changing the pace of the offense, the Patriots were able to tire Jenkins and his mammoth frame. In the coming weeks, it would not be a surprise to see more offenses turn no-huddle against the Jets to try to minimize the impact the nose tackle can have on a game.
*As Jenkins reminded his peers, nose tackle is not a “glory position.” It’s more like a “grunt” position and the impact one has cannot be seen on the stat sheet. His 30 tackles and 3.5 sacks look like a modest season; that is until you watch him in the trenches day after day. But ten games into this season, it’s hard to pinpoint another nose tackle who’s had a bigger impact than the man in the middle for the Jets. I’d have to rank him with the Steelers’ Casey Hampton, the Ravens’ Haloti Ngata and the Patriots’ Vince Wilfork as the league’s best nose tackle.
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