Jets nose tackle Kris Jenkins is done for the season, and his absence leaves a gaping hole in the middle of their defense and could significantly hinder the unit as a whole.
The 6-foot-4, 360-pound Jenkins had just 13 tackles and zero sacks through the first six games of the year, but his primary responsibility in head coach Rex Ryan?s 3-4 defensive scheme is opening up blitzing lanes for the linebackers. Jenkins? gargantuan frame is essential in that regard, and the Jets do not have an adequate replacement.
According to NFL Network?s Mike Lombardi, defensive end Sione Pouha likely will move into Jenkins? spot, and Marques Douglas will take Pouha?s place on the outside. But the downgrade from Jenkins to the 30-year-old Pouha is tremendous, both in terms of size (Pouha is 6-foot-3, 325 pounds) and skill.
Without a premium nose tackle, the 3-4 defense becomes extremely vulnerable to the run, a lesson the Kansas City Chiefs — currently being torched for 4.5 yards per rushing attempt — are learning firsthand. The Jets — who rank 17th in the NFL with 4.0 yards allowed per try but have had Jenkins to anchor their line — are in danger of falling into the bottom rung of rushing defenses.
And that?s just the beginning of the problem. Ryan?s defense has been torched by potent passing attacks because of nagging injuries to cornerbacks Lito Sheppard and Donald Strickland. Neither is fully healthy yet, and Darrelle Revis — while excellent in man-to-man duty — is unable to cover everyone on the field. Losing Jenkins figures to have a detrimental effect on the pass rush as well, and giving opposing quarterbacks more time to throw against a banged-up secondary is a recipe for disaster.
With the Patriots surging and the Dolphins coming around, the Jets will be hard-pressed to turn things around and keep up in the AFC East if their defense isn?t as stout as it has been. Quarterback Mark Sanchez?s recent struggles have made it clear that while he may be the team?s leader of the future, he isn?t the Sanchize just yet. That means it?s up to Pouha to step into Jenkins? enormous shoes and make sure his absence doesn?t effect the entire defense.
And it?s also up to Ryan to figure out a way to overcome the recent downturn. Ryan is a veteran coach with a brilliant defensive mind, but rebuilding the Jets? defense without Kris Jenkins figures to be his toughest challenge yet.