It’s all on the line, as far as Jets head coach Robert Saleh is concerned.
“We will win and lose games by the way our D-line plays. Period,” Saleh said Friday.
The sentiment might not be 100 percent true, as the defensive line has been a strength for a team with one win in six tries. But a case could be made the only chance the Jets had last week to keep their 54-13 loss to the Patriots competitive vanished at the line of scrimmage.
The defensive line, which had 13 sacks in the first four weeks, disappeared against New England. Quarterback Mac Jones was barely touched and was pressured just 10.3 percent of the time he dropped back, according to Pro Football Reference, his lowest of the season. While a hit to Zach Wilson knocked him from the game, the Jets sacked Jones once — the only time they hit him behind the line.
“One hiccup doesn’t define what that group is,” Saleh said before the Jets, and the defensive line, will try to bounce back Sunday against the Bengals at MetLife Stadium.
The Jets actually have not seen results from their defensive line for two straight games, but they faced a decisive Matt Ryan in Week 5, when the Jets hurried the Falcons quarterback eight times and pressured him on 33.3 percent of his dropbacks, but did not sack him.
There was less to be optimistic about from the embarrassing rout by the Patriots. John Franklin-Myers, rewarded with a contract extension that includes $30 million in total guarantees, had three sacks in four games. But against New England, he and fellow linemen Sheldon Rankins, Quinnen Williams, Bryce Huff, Foley Fatukasi and Shaq Lawson could not generate any pressure. As as result, Jones took his time in picking apart the secondary for 307 yards through the air.
And because the Jets were playing without linebackers C.J. Mosley and Jarrad Davis (both expected to return Sunday), that group could not pick up the slack. The Patriots gashed the Jets for 148 yards on the ground, too.
Since the Jets’ seven-sack explosion against the Titans on Oct. 3, their loudest group has been silenced.
“Teams now are going to scheme up on you,” said Williams, who had more sacks against Tennessee [two] than the Jets have totaled the past two games [one]. “Teams are going to do the things they can do to take players and even units or groups out of the game. … You gotta find a way.”
The Jets will get a boost at linebacker because Davis is set to make his season and team debut Sunday, Saleh said. Davis missed the first six games with an ankle injury sustained during the preseason. The fifth-year linebacker has not played in two months and only rejoined practice this week.
“He has not played in a while, so we got to be able to spell him,” Saleh said before practice in Florham Park. “Quincy [Williams] is going to return from concussion protocol, we feel good about that. So we’ll be able to get him at least some reps in there and give JD a break.”
The Jets are expected to get Mosley back, too, though they lost Jamien Sherwood and Blake Cashman last week. The linebacker corps is thin, and the quick turnaround will further complicate the position, with a Thursday night matchup in Indianapolis up next.
“There are a lot of gymnastics that are happening behind the scenes,” Saleh said of getting the players ready for not just Sunday, but also Thursday.
The Jets ruled out running back Tevin Coleman (hamstring), defensive lineman Bryce Huff (back) and tight end Trevon Wesco (knee).
Safety Ashtyn Davis (shoulder), TE Tyler Kroft (back) and DL Shaq Lawson (wrist) were full participants in practice, though all are questionable for Sunday.
The Jets have until Saturday to decide whether Zach Wilson will be moved to injured reserve, which would knock the quarterback out for a minimum of three weeks. Saleh said they will use all the time they have until making that decision.
“He’s been improving,” Saleh said of Wilson, whose sprained PCL is expected to sideline him between two and four weeks. “He’s walking around the building. He’s in great spirits.”