On the sixth snap of the Jets’ 2017 season, with the sun shining in Buffalo, Bills running back LeSean McCoy collected a screen pass from Tyrod Taylor near the right hashmarks. He cut to the inside at the line of scrimmage, sending linebacker Darron Lee to the turf, then swerved left as defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson fell backward, sprawling in surprise.
McCoy reversed fields, sprinting from one sideline to the other. By the time he reached the first-down marker, McCoy had gained 21 yards. Multiple Jets lay on the ground in his wake. The catch-and-run set the tone for a huge day from McCoy, who finished with 169 yards from scrimmage in the Bills’ 21-12 season-opening win. He accounted for five plays of 18 or more yards, including three runs.
It’s this type of performance the Jets are hoping to avoid when they face the Bills for the second time this season Thursday night at MetLife Stadium. And while Todd Bowles’ defensive players respect McCoy’s athleticism and explosiveness, they believe their development as a run defense will shine through in prime time this week.
“He’s not a superhero,” defensive lineman Steve McLendon told the Daily News Tuesday of McCoy. “You don’t want to make it seem like he can’t be stopped.
“He’s an amazing athlete. He can do some things with the football that you see done on the basketball court. I give him that. …(But) this is how I look at everybody. And like I said, no disrespect to anybody. They put on their pads just like I do. They put on their pants just like I do. They put on their helmet just like I do. They put on their jersey just like I do. It doesn’t make no difference to me.”
“Every superhero gets knocked down some time,” McLendon added. “Ya’ll looking at him as a superhero. We’re looking at him just like an ordinary man that has to be stopped.”
The Jets surrendered 190 yards on 42 carries in that loss in Buffalo. A week later, the Raiders scampered for 189 yards on 27 carries. The Jets lacked gap discipline against the run. They missed tackles. It was a glaring issue.
Since those first two games, the Jets have gotten “incrementally better each week,” according to Bowles. They’ve offered two stellar showings against the Dolphins, holding Miami to 30 yards in Week 3 and 58 yards in Week 7. They allowed at least 118 yards in the four other games, including 140 to the Falcons last week. (But 52 of those yards came on one play; take that out, and the Jets allowed 2.84 yards per carry.)
There’s no question the Jets’ run defense has been inconsistent, which should make fans nervous heading into Thursday’s matchup with McCoy, who is sixth in the NFL with 763 yards from scrimmage this season. But players speak of a much-improved unit as compared to Week 2.
“We’re a hell of lot more disciplined,” outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins told the News. “We knew that what we put out there in that game wasn’t what we wanted to identify ourselves as, and it wasn’t what we worked so hard in the offseason and during camp to put out there. That was out of character for us, and that is what we didn’t want to be.”
Slowing down the man they call “Shady” is much easier said than done, though. Only two teams this season – Carolina and Denver – have held McCoy under 85 yards from scrimmage in a contest.
“It’s hard to stop Shady,” rookie safety Jamal Adams said. “Let’s put it like that.”
“We got to know where he is at all times,” Bowles said.
With Manish Mehta