Focus on Saleh, Ulbrich to adjust, fix Jets’ brutal D woes

NEW YORK (AP) — This is absolutely not what anyone envisioned for the New York Jets.

Especially on defense.

Robert Saleh came to New York with a reputation as a defensive guru who would establish a dominant presence on that side of the football while a rookie quarterback develops on a young offense.

So far, the Jets’ defense has been embarrassingly bad. A lack of execution by the players and adjustments by Saleh and his staff are largely to blame.

“It always starts with me first, but we’ve got to coach it a lot better,” Saleh said Monday, less than 24 hours after a 45-17 loss to Buffalo. “We’ve got to understand that as players and we’ve got to stick to our fundamentals and not panic in situations and make stuff up. But collectively, obviously, it’s got to get better and we’ve got eight games to embrace the opportunity to go play great ball and improve on what we’ve put out in the first nine games.”

That’s putting it mildly.

Not only has the defense been bad, it is historically awful.

The Jets (2-7) are the first team to give up at least 45 points three times in a four-game span since the Giants in 1966, according to ESPN Stats & Info. After allowing 489 yards against Buffalo, teams have rolled up 1,890 yards in the past four games — the most given up by New York in a four-game span in team history.

“Our job is to go out there and stop people and we haven’t done it over the last few outings,” defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins said. “So for us, yeah, we’re embarrassed, because it’s not our standard.”

What that “standard” is, well, no one knows at this point.

The Jets can’t stop anyone, with teams marching up and down the field at will. Saleh recently said his defensive line in New York might be the most talented he has coached, even more than the units he had in San Francisco. Lately, though, the big guys up front have been far from dominant.

The linebacker group has been banged up, and the young secondary lost veteran safeties Marcus Maye and Lamarcus Joyner to injuries, creating an even more inexperienced group.

Given all that, it’s clear there are weaknesses all over the field. It’s on Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich to try to adjust. The scheme in place might not fit the talent on the field at the moment. And the Jets might not be able to fully fix it until the offseason in free agency and the draft.

“Is play calling going to change anything?” Saleh said. “It’s not going to change anything. It’s execution.”

But the ugly defensive stats are tough to turn away from.

They’re the worst-ranked unit in the NFL. And that’s even after Ulbrich declared after the Jets’ 54-13 loss at New England on Oct. 24: “I promise that won’t happen again.”

Except, it has. A few more times.

And everyone’s still searching for answers.

“I’m just as frustrated as everybody else and my promise to Jets fans is this thing’s going to flip,” Saleh said. “The support is always warranted and the criticism is always warranted. You reap what you sow, right? But this thing’s going to flip. I know in my heart this thing’s going to flip.”

WHAT’S WORKING

Not much. There are some bright spots on offense, which has been better in recent weeks. But it’s hard to tell what it really can be with quarterback Zach Wilson out with a sprained knee ligament. And the way the defense is playing lately, it doesn’t matter much who’s at quarterback.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

See above. There’s a lengthy list, but it all starts with Saleh and Ulbrich adjusting and coming up with a plan to get the defense to be at least respectable.

STOCK UP

Alijah Vera-Tucker. The first-round pick taken 12 spots after Wilson had an up-and-down start, but has been perhaps the Jets’ best offensive lineman the past several weeks. The left guard blocked two blitzers by Buffalo on one play — a rare Jets highlight Sunday — and has been solid in the run game.

STOCK DOWN

Mike White. The backup quarterback got the hopes up of Jets fans with an amazing debut in place of the injured Wilson. It came crashing down against Buffalo with four interceptions, giving him eight in his limited action with five TD passes.

“This market fascinates me,” Saleh said, “in the sense that he was anointed the next coming after one game and now everyone wants to throw him away. He deserves better than that.”

INJURIES

Saleh and the Jets will decide before Wednesday’s practice whether Wilson is ready or White gets another start. … Rookie CB Brandin Echols will be out three to five weeks with a quadriceps injury. … Rookie DB Jason Pinnock was activated from the COVID-19 list.

KEY NUMBER

175 — That’s how many points the Jets have allowed in their past four games, the second-highest total by any team since the 1970 merger, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Only Tennessee in 2004 was worse with 177 points given up.

NEXT STEPS

A once possible “soft spot” in the schedule is anything but now. The Jets get Miami at home next week, but the Dolphins (3-7) have won their past two while playing solid defense. Then they’re at Houston to take on the Texans (1-8), still far from a gimme. New York then hosts Philadelphia, which is 4-6 after winning two of its past three.

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