Julio Cortez, Associated Press
NEW YORK — Rex Ryan has issued a challenge to anyone who thinks his Jets defense will be anything less than elite.
"Put your negative comments out there," New York's confident coach said Tuesday, "and we'll see what happens at the end."
If you ask Ryan, there's no doubt what his aggressive attacking-style defense will accomplish this season. Or any season, for that matter. He talked up his guys while he was the coordinator in Baltimore, and he has done the same since taking over as coach in New York.
"I wouldn't trade this defense for anybody's in the league," he declared. "You're not going to be perfect, but will we end up being the best defense in football? I think so. Believe me, the least concern I have is about our defense. I think our defense is going to be outstanding."
It's hard to argue with Ryan, who has established the Jets as one of the defensive powerhouses in the NFL. New York finished third overall last season, and Ryan made a tongue-in-cheek apology during training camp for not being No. 1. There has been criticism of the team's pass rush — or lack thereof at times — and the inability to close out games at times during the last two seasons.
"There are some areas where we felt we took a step back and our focus this offseason once we got back into camp was correcting that," safety Jim Leonhard said. "I think we've done a great job here in the preseason. We're really looking forward to kicking it off against Dallas and making that march back to where we want to get."
And that's back to the AFC championship game for the third straight year — but this time, they plan to win it and go to the Super Bowl. The defense will need to be even better than it has been, and the Jets know that.
"He wants to be known as having a great defense year in and year out," Leonhard said. "Just with the talent that we have been able to keep on this defense, and the guys we were able to bring back through free agency, we feel very confident that we are going to have a successful year."
The Jets allowed the Giants to roll up 224 yards in the first half of their 17-3 victory Monday night. But, they also kept them out of the end zone by taking advantage of turnovers as Leonhard and linebacker David Harris had interceptions. And that's all that matters in Ryan's eyes. In three preseason games, the starting defense has allowed 13 points.
"We're where we thought we'd be," he said. "I think it's going to be one of the premier defenses."
Just don't label it a bend-but-not-break unit.
"That's not the type of defense we want to play," Leonhard said. "It our really makes our defensive coaches sick, actually."
It helps that Leonhard is back healthy from a broken leg, linebacker Calvin Pace's foot is healed and cornerback Darrelle Revis is in camp for a full summer after a contract holdout a year ago. And, other than losing defensive end Shaun Ellis in free agency, the main pieces of last year's unit are still here.
Throw in two promising rookies in first-round pick Muhammad Wilkerson, who'll be a starter at defensive end, and third-rounder Kenrick Ellis, a big nose tackle, and the talent to be dominant is there.
Wilkerson has had a decent if unspectacular preseason, and thinks he has improved with each game. He certainly made an impression Monday night when he got into it with Giants running back Brandon Jacobs — and both were tossed from the game for throwing punches at each other.
"I was just pass rushing and he came up to pass protect and I ran into him the first time, the ball was thrown and he approached me, threw a blow at me and that's what it was," Wilkerson said. "I retaliated. Was it a smart move? No. Do I regret it? No. It's football and I am not going to let somebody try to take advantage of me. It's over with now."
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