If the New York Jets are going to go down, there are going with their egos riding high.
Shortly after Dee Milliner, who was roundly tested by opposing quarterbacks as a rookie, proclaimed himself the best cornerback in the NFL, his defensive teammate had some more boastful things to say.
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“(Compared to) the rest of the defenses in the NFL? S---, man, we’re the best," Pace said. “You ask anybody around the league, we’re not the team you want to see coming in, even in a down year."
Pace might have been on vacation out of the country when the Seattle Seahawks made a mockery of the 606-point Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, one that we might add was played on Pace's home field at MetLife Stadium this past February.
But for a moment, let's give Pace the benefit of the doubt ...
Even with statistics only telling part of the story, it is a fact that the Jets ranked 11th in yards allowed a season ago, which would be solid enough to suggest that — with improvement — the Jets could find themselves far closer to the top five this season. If Milliner and Calvin Pryor upgrade the secondary, and Pace and a capable group of linebackers play well, the Jets own a defensive line as talented as any in the NFL, even rivaling the St. Louis Rams' devastating front.
Head coach and defensive savant Rex Ryan can work with this unit and do some very respectable things. Frankly, we can't wait to see what Year 2 of the Muhammad Wilkerson-Sheldon Richardson duo up front, with scheme wrecker Damon Harrison — a starting-grade talent — coming off the bench. When you have those forces up front, it takes major pressure off the guys behind them and allows for some really creative pressure and coverage packages.
“There’s a certain type of aggression when we come ... you know we’re going to come with a lot of stuff and teams don’t want to see that,” Pace said. “They want to see a vanilla defense, that just lines up and you know where they’re going to be.”
But now let's return from dreamland ...
Pace is wrong. Hey, if you're of the mindset that players should be confident and believe they're the best, I can get behind that. The Jets were always at their best under Ryan when they were boastful (when it didn't ring hollow, or as being insecure) and carrying that bravado out on the field.
But there's just no realistic way to argue that the Jets, as thin as they are at a few locations and with a few passable starters on defense, can be the best unit in the league. They might have been 11th in yards allowed, but they were 19th in points against. Go ahead, Calvin — say what you want, but no statistic or unexpected slew of injuries to the Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, Carolina Panthers, Kansas City Chiefs or whomever else will convince me otherwise.
Heck, you could make the argument that the Jets aren't even guaranteed to have the best defense in their division. The New England Patriots have loaded up with (ouch, former Jets) corner Darrelle Revis, and the Buffalo Bills, even with Kiko Alonso's injury and Marcell Dareus' limbo status, sat higher in the defensive rankings a year ago.
Still, Pace remains undaunted and seems to have a sharper recall of 2009 or 2010 than he does of last season.
“We’re the benchmark when we’re doing well,” Pace said. “I’ll take these guys and Rex and this system any day.”
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