Their new Rex Ryan-led defense is whacking the living snot out of every quarterback it faces, and rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez(notes) seems to have what it takes to follow in the footsteps of 2008 prodigies Matt Ryan(notes) and Joe Flacco(notes). But the unheralded factor in the New York Jets' 3-0 start is the excellence of their special teams. The Jets currently rank first overall on Football Outsiders' DVOA rankings in special teams, and they're the only team with positive numbers in all five categories -- Field Goals/Extra Points, Kicks, Kick Returns, Punts, and Punt Returns.
According to FO's Drive Stats, the Jets are fourth in starting field position (average start at their own 34.16-yard line, the Falcons lead the NFL at 36.54). When your offense ranks 28th in average yards per drive, that's how you can still come in at around league average in points per drive. The Jets are allowing their opponents to start their average drives at their own 27.38-yard line, and as their defense ranks fourth in yards per drive allowed, second in points and touchdowns allowed, and first in punts forced, that near-seven-yard disadvantage is greatly magnified. It's a great template for winning with a rookie quarterback -- conservative offense, dominant defense, and a hidden ingredient called special teams.
How are they doing it? Well, they rank second in punt return yards allowed per attempt with 3.8 (tied with the Redskins, the Chiefs lead the league at 0.9, which is good because their offense is horrid and only the 49ers have punted more). They rank 10th with 21.6 kickoff yards allowed per attempt, but they're one of three teams without a touchback allowed (Pittsburgh and Detroit are the others), which is nice when you can get down the field and stop returns. On the other hand, the Jets rank seventh in their own average kick returns (25.2 yards per), and sixth in punt return average (13.8). They'll need all the yardage advantage they can get against the high-octane Saints, but they have the means to provide it with punter Steve Weatherford(notes), kicker Jay Feely(notes), and returners Leon Washington(notes), Jim Leonhard(notes), and Jerricho Cotchery(notes).