It would seem like the Jets don't have much room to improve on defense with the league's No. 2 unit. But turnovers— and creating more of them— is a major focus for this team heading into Monday night's game at the Falcons.
The revamped Jets defense is near the top of the NFL in several statistical categories, but one area where they are at the bottom is in turnovers. They are No. 28 in the league with just one interception and one fumble recovery. For a unit that has done a very good job of rebuilding its image after a very average 2012, the inability to create turnovers is a point of emphasis.
“It goes hand-in-hand— pass rush with the coverage, coverage with the pass rush,” safety Dawan Landry said. “Opportunities will come. The front seven is doing a tremendous job of getting a pass rush. Tips, fumbles, bad passes will come.”
The goal of the defense on every play is to make a stop and then create a turnover, so it isn't like the Jets aren't trying to do that already. But part of the reason why the Jets are not creating turnovers might be because they're so dominant in other areas.
They are in the top eight in the league in third-down percentage, limiting offenses to just a 24 percent conversion rate. Outside of the Jets' loss on Sunday, where the defense was handicapped by a short field as rookie quarterback Geno Smith turned the ball over four times, the defense has been getting off the field quickly.
The more three-and-outs the defense has, the fewer opportunities for the unit to create turnovers. After all, in the first three games they were consistently forcing punts and getting off the field.
“You get guys wrapped up, and somebody has to get after the ball. We really need to get after the ball more,” defensive end Sheldon Richardson said. “[Head coach] Rex [Ryan] wants us to be No. 1 in every category. Everything goes together and to be a dominant defense, so we should be at top of every category, no matter what. So it's as simple as us doing what we need to do.”
As for the lack of turnovers, it isn't something that has the Falcons thinking any less of their opponent. Falcons head coach Mike Smith sees a unit that is dominant, even if the lack of interceptions and fumbles is telling.
“I think turnovers come in bunches usually. I think they're doing a very good job against run. They're making it very difficult for people to run on them,” Smith said on a Thursday conference call with the New York media. “They have a cover corner who can take away your No. 1 receiver if they chose to play him that way and at times they do that with Antonio Cromartie. It's a very physical group.”
The number that matters most to the Jets right now is the one on the scoreboard, and despite the blip at the Titans this past Sunday, they've been very good this season at keeping their opponents out of the end zone. So the turnovers— or lack thereof— may be an area for improvement but it doesn't dominate their thinking.
“The important number is keeping teams from scoring points and so far, we're doing pretty well with that. That's what the most important thing is,” Landry said. “If we keep doing that, then we'll be OK. We need to keep playing Jets football and Jets defense. If we do that, then everything else will come.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.