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Third-Down Defense Seeks a Turnaround

Posted by Randy Lange on November 27, 2012 – 4:44 pm

One of the elements of the Jets’ game that hurt them on Thanksgiving night — and that has to improve quickly to optimize the results of the regular season’s five-game homestretch — is third-down defense.

“Anytime you can’t get off the field on third down on defense, you’re hurting yourself,” S Yeremiah Bell said Monday. “You know, you give them an extra three downs to kind of do what they need to do. And when they have a quarterback like they have over there, that’s not something you want to do.

New England’s O converted 73.3% of its third-down opportunities (11-of-15), the highest percentage by a Jets opponent since 1986. At one point the Patriots had moved the chains on 11 consecutive third downs.

“We were having a difficult time on third down,” Bell said, “and it’s a very uncomfortable feeling because you know you’re going to be on the field and you know that with the firepower they’ve got that they can put up points at any time.”

Besides the communication errors on the long scoring passes to Shane Vereen and Julian Edelman, head coach Rex Ryan also cited the crunch-down issue.

“The fact is that they did a good job, made some plays on us, and they consistently were able to convert on third down,” Ryan said, “and that’s a problem.”

The problem, of course, starts on downs 1 and 2. There’s nothing counterintuitive about the fact that every yard you add to the opponent’s average third-down distance improves your chances of stopping a conversion.

And over the last four games, the Green & White defense has been giving ground on the first two downs. Miami’s average third-down distance was 5.1 yards, Seattle’s was 5.4, St. Louis’ was 4.5 and New England’s was 5.1. In this four-game streak combined the Jets were trying to stop teams who on average were trying to convert third-and-5.0, the lowest four-game in-season figure since the ’86 Jets, decimated by injuries after winning 10 of their first 11, lost four straight during which opponents were facing third-and-4.6.

Average third-down distance or margin isn’t as good a predictor of success as point margin or turnover margin. The Jets did well in their 27-13 win over the Rams, for instance, despite facing multiple third-and-short situations. And their offense’s puny third-and-3.0 average on 10 third downs vs. the Patriots (three conversions) didn’t help the home side, but that’s another story.

Suffice to say that keeping up the other guys’ average third-down distance is a good way to make them punt, often after with a demoralizing three-and-out series, improve your defense’s third-down conversion rate and get them off the field, and increase your possession time, all of which can be quite helpful components of a winning game plan.

The good news for the Jets is that their third-down defense, now ranked 31st in the NFL with an opponents’ conversion rate of 45.8%, gets a chance to improve that standing and pick up 3-D steam the next two weeks, against the Cardinals’ 32nd-ranked third-down offense (28.4%) and the Jaguars’ 31st-rated offense (30.6%).

As DT Sione Po‘uha, a key part of the Jets defense, tweeted this afternoon:

I’m putting all I got into it. Cause my family, teammates and fans deserve nothing less. Lets get it!!!

Jets Un-Flexed So Far

The Jets’ kickoff times for the coming weeks remain unaffected by the NFL’s flex scheduling procedures. Sunday’s game against the Cardinals remains at its originally scheduled 1 p.m. ET kickoff, next week’s game at the Jaguars is also at 1 p.m., and their Monday night game at Tennessee on Dec. 17 wouldn’t be affected by flex scheduling in any event.

Their Week 16 Sunday night game against San Diego could be changed, but the league, which has confirmed its Weeks 13-15 schedules, doesn’t have to announce Week 16 changes until about 12 days before that weekend, or Dec. 11.


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