Gang Green had a dominant four-man front on defense during that period, made up of Mark Gastineau, Joe Klecko, Marty Lyons and Abdul Salaam. The unit was tremendous at rushing the passer, with a franchise-record 66 sacks in 1981 and 249.5 career sacks combined, but they could also stuff the run. Together, they formed the aforementioned New York Sack Exchange.
On October 3, the Jets paid homage to this legendary group with an imposing performance of their own. The Green & White recorded seven sacks and 14 QB hits during a 27-24 win over the Tennessee Titans.
This was all without their highest-paid pass rusher, Carl Lawson, as well as other veterans like Vinny Curry and Ronald Blair. Of course, the Jets do have one secret weapon that can’t get injured on the football field — head coach Robert Saleh.
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Saleh, Ulbrich Defense Performing as Advertised
When Saleh took over as the Jets HC, we all knew what to expect from his defense. The famous Cover-3 look features a 4-3 front that generally rushes four, dropping the rest in coverage. It can be very effective when done correctly and few know how to operate it better than Saleh.
Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said it right from the get-go, the core principles are “simplicity and players first.” That means putting the players in a position to succeed while allowing their unique skill sets to shine through on their own.
“Don’t do too much, and let them eat,” the Jets DC responded on September 9 after fielding a question about how he schemes the defensive line. He elaborated: “Fortunately, that’s kind of how the system is built, we’re not [one to] drop ends and drop D-tackles and do a lot of craziness with them, we train them really well going forward and that’s usually conducive to good rushers and good edge setters and good run defenders you know, so just let them eat.”
Well, they definitely ate plenty in Week 4, but that’s nothing new for this side of the ball. “The defense has been spectacular all season,” Saleh stated in his postgame press conference. “Stats don’t do justice [to] what they’ve been able to accomplish at all three levels. The D-line was outstanding today, the linebackers were outstanding today, the young DBs [made] play after play after play through all the adversity.” Later, he called the four-man front “relentless.”
The coach would never give himself any of the credit but he deserves plenty. In San Francisco, Saleh battled through a plethora of integral injuries to field a top 20 defense in 2020. With all of its stars intact, that same unit was ranked eighth in points against the season before, which helped earn them a trip to the Super Bowl.
Ulbrich deserves praise as well. Through four weeks, his injured and inexperienced unit is 14th in points allowed and 12th in yards allowed according to ESPN.
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Sack Party, Everyone’s Invited
The four-man front was the real story though. Quinnen Williams followed up on a productive Week 3 with a wrecking ball performance in Week 4. The defensive tackle had two sacks, two QB hits and seven total tackles with one for a loss. His pass-rushing partner up the gut, Sheldon Rankins, was less impressive on the stat sheet with one QB hit, but it was challenging for Tennesee to account for both players on passing downs.
Speaking of a challenge, John Franklin-Myers and Huff played like big money edge rushers on Sunday. The pair combined for 2.5 sacks, six QB hits, six total tackles and three tackles for a loss. Watch ‘JFM’ on his third sack of the season below.
Add run-stuffers Folorunso Fatukasi and Shaq Lawson to the mix, as well as Nathan Shepherd and Tim Ward, and you have a versatile group of D-linemen. It may not be the New York Sack Exchange just yet, but there’s no doubt that this rotation can help the Jets win football games.