Jets defensive linemen Muhammad Wilkerson, Leonard Williams and Kony Ealy sat slumped next to one another at their lockers after a season-opening loss to Bills on Sunday. They dressed quietly and chatted somberly before Todd Bowles, dressed in a powder-blue three-pice suit, walked over with a suitcase in hand. The trio looked up. Bowles spoke a few stern words, gave the three players a nod, and walked away toward the door.
A day later, the Jets reviewed film from the 21-12 loss in which Buffalo RB LeSean McCoy totaled 110 yards on 22 carries, and Bowles delivered a more detailed and specific message to his defensive line during a meeting: You must be better. The unit missed assignments all afternoon, failing to clog up running lanes while McCoy rattled off a flurry of back-breaking big gains, including three rushes of more than 20 yards.
Bowles implored his defensive linemen to eliminate their mental mistakes.
“Our room, we take a lot of pressure. Coach even called us out,” Wilkerson said of Bowles. “We take pride in ourselves and our work, and we definitely accepted the challenge and know we got to play better this week.”
Wilkerson wasn’t surprised by the personal shots from Bowles.
“We men,” Wilkerson said. “I feel like as a man, you should definitely want to accept that challenge.”
Wilkerson’s defensive linemates mimicked that sentiment.
“We took that very personally,” nose tackle Steve McLendon told the Daily News. “We’re held to a certain type of standard here, and Coach asked us before the game: ‘What kind of standard are we held to?’ And we told him, and we didn’t hold up our end of the bargain. So he put us on, he told us in the meeting. ‘Hey, D line, it’s on y’all.’ We know what kind of standard we’re held to here. And all we want to do is play hard, play smart and dominate up front.”
“As a D line, we want to be the leaders of the group. We want to be the leaders of the team, and obviously be the major reason why we win,” Ealy added to The News. “I don’t blame Coach Todd for getting on us, because obviously we need that.”
Ealy appreciated the way Bowles went about calling out the defensive line. He used the opportunity as a teaching moment.
“I look at it as a challenge with Coach Todd, how he got down on us. It was nothing bad, but we understood it,” Ealy said. “He doesn’t just point the finger. He shows you why he’s mad obviously by showing you what we could be better at. It’s up to us as professional to just go out there and correct it.”
The most difficult part, though, is ahead for this group. This week, the Jets’ defense will be tasked with slowing down a potent Raiders offense highlighted by quarterback Derek Carr, receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, running back Marshawn Lynch and an athletic, physical offensive line.
“You can’t pinpoint one area with these guys,” Bowles said. “They got a lot of weapons.”
Lynch is coming off a season out of the league after announcing his retirement in 2015. He returned to his hometown Raiders in April, and in his debut this past weekend, he pounded the Titans for 76 yards on 18 carries, once again showcasing his downhill, bone-crushing style of running.
“He looks better than ever,” Bowles said of Lynch.
For Ealy, the Jets’ defense must start by limiting the man known as Beast Mode.
“We got to stop the run,” Ealy said. “We stop the run, then we force them into third-and-long, and we go eat.”
Obviously, that strategy is easier said than implemented.
But after getting reprimanded this week, the Jets’ defensive linemen are motivated to fulfill their head coach’s demands.
“We didn’t play up to our standards last week, but that’s behind us. We’re not going to dwell on that,” Wilkerson said. “All those things…we did wrong, we got to correct those. Otherwise it will be a long day for us this week.”