Jets defense announces its mission with punishing force

The Jets’ starting defensive front spent the second half of Saturday’s preseason opener taking group runs up and down the sidelines during lulls in the action at MetLife Stadium.

Their real work for the night was done, but defensive tackle Steve McLendon wanted to keep his group sharp.

“It’s all of us together,” McLendon said. “We just want to stay in shape. We got pulled early, so the biggest thing is continue to condition, continue to get after it.”

They did plenty of that while they were on the field, setting the tone on a night when the defense racked up eight sacks and stifled the Titans en route to a 7-3 win.

On their first three defensive plays, the Jets were tagged for 29 yards and a pair of first downs. That quickly changed, thanks to a swarming defensive front.

Revved up by a sack of Marcus Mariota from third-year defensive end Leonard Williams on the very next play, the Jets went on to hold the Titans in check — and scoreless — for the remainder of the first half.

“It definitely gave us a little bit of momentum,” Williams said of his sack. “They came out and snapped the ball really quick on the very first play and caught us off guard a little bit. The defense rallied together and got off the field, offense scored on the first drive and things were rolling pretty well for us.”

With Mariota at quarterback for the first two series, the Titans mustered just 6 yards on six plays following their first three plays of the game. Buster Skrine nearly picked off Mariota near the end of the first quarter to send him off with a bang.

But it was the front seven that made the most noise. Plenty of it came when linebacker Julian Stanford delivered a rude welcome to backup quarterback Alex Tanney on the Titans’ first drive of the second quarter.

As Tanney looked downfield for a receiver, Stanford came around from the left side and hit him in the chest, flattening him for a sack and loss of 6 yards. Tanney was forced to leave the game after the hard hit, though he returned for the next series.

“The biggest thing is our coach preached all week about getting on the edge, putting pressure on these quarterbacks because we know what kind of quarterbacks we were facing, especially in Mariota,” McLendon said. “We knew we had to come out fast and put our bodies on them. I think the guys — every guy that got a sack tonight — did exactly what the coaches told them. … We can be a real good defense, all we gotta do is keep doing the little things and we’ll be all right.”

Stanford, an undrafted free agent out of Wagner now in his sixth year in the NFL, was one of eight Jets with a sack. Joining him were Williams, Josh Martin, Jordan Jenkins, Devon Still, Bruce Carter, Anthony Johnson and Patrick Gamble.

Though there was much interest in how the Jets’ offense would be able to move the football, their defense made sure the Titans had trouble doing just that. By halftime, the Jets had allowed just 97 yards on 25 snaps — 3.9 yards per play.

Tennessee didn’t crack the scoreboard until 5:37 into the third quarter, when Ryan Succop nailed a 36-yard field goal.

The Jets’ defensive line stayed fresh throughout the night. A rotation of the starting linemen — Williams, McLendon, Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson — played during the first half. In the second half, the starters were relegated to the bench, but stayed active on their runs with starting linebackers Darron Lee, Demario Davis and Jenkins.

Once they were done running, they watched their teammates make a pair of fourth-quarter plays to keep the Titans out of the end zone. Safety Ronald Martin picked off Tanney at the goal line on one drive and on the next, Johnson forced a fumble Josh Martin recovered.

“We finally hit somebody with full aggression, not having to pull back or anything like that,” Williams said. “[The eight sacks] weren’t a surprise, we’ve done it before. But at the same time, it’s something we have to be consistent on and something we can build upon. It definitely wasn’t a surprise. I know the talent that we got, knowing we can play like that every game.”

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