Jets defense goes up, up, up with 'up-down' coach Gregg Williams

Orlovsky: Darnold will be too much for the Bengals (0:27)

Dan Orlovsky and Marcus Spears agree the Jets will get the win over the Bengals. (0:27)

CINCINNATI -- A look at what's happening around the New York Jets:

1. Mad scientist: Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has a longstanding tradition: Every new player on defense must perform 40 up-downs before his first practice, with the entire unit gathered around him. This season, Williams has presided over more calisthenics than a personal trainer.

Because of injuries, particularly at linebacker and cornerback, the Jets have employed 35 defensive players on the 53-man roster through the season (not to mention 10 unique starting lineups). Instability often is a recipe for disaster, but Williams has performed a small miracle: one of the best coaching jobs this team has seen in a long time. The Jets are fifth in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average), eighth in total defense and first in rushing defense.

Maybe that second "g" in Williams' first name really does stand for genius.

"I think he's done a really good job of figuring out who he has, what they can do, what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are and how to kind of operate week to week, considering that he's had some moving pieces coming in and out," Jets coach Adam Gase said.

Williams has done a terrific job with scheme and personnel. Specifically:

  • Personnel: In last week's 34-3 victory against the Oakland Raiders, Williams played a patchwork lineup that included journeymen and inexperienced players. Of the 16 players who logged the most snaps, seven entered the league as undrafted free agents and two were former sixth-round picks. Every team preaches the "next man up" mentality, but few actually make it work. Williams has figured out a way to play good defense without his most accomplished player (linebacker C.J. Mosley has missed nine games) and, in recent weeks, without his best lineman (Leonard Williams, traded).

  • Scheme: Because of injuries at cornerback, Gregg Williams has reinvented his approach. Instead of the usual heavy doses of blitzing and man-to-man coverage, he has dialed back the pressure in recent weeks (except for occasional blitzes by safety Jamal Adams). Against the Raiders, the Jets blitzed a season-low 11.4% of the pass plays and played Cover 2 a season-high 25%, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The objective, of course, was to protect his replacement corners, Arthur Maulet and rookie Blessuan Austin. Williams needs blitzing almost as much as he needs oxygen, but he has adjusted to fit his personnel. That's what good coaches do.

This impressive run of plug-and-play has required some on-the-fly coaching by Williams and his staff, but the foundation was set in the spring. That's when they started cross-training players at different positions and installing the entire playbook, not just certain concepts. The early exposure has allowed the players to adapt to new roles and new schemes along the way.

The Jets aren't overflowing with talent on defense, but they're relentless overachievers. It's been a long time since they were known that way.

2. Leonard who? The Jets have played four games since trading Leonard Williams, and their defensive numbers across the board are better in those games than in the seven with him in the lineup.

Coincidence or no?

The sexy headline would be "Jets thrive without Williams" -- but it would be misleading because it wasn't an addition-by-subtraction situation. The overall play has improved because the Jets have faced weak to mediocre offenses and because Henry Anderson, who missed Weeks 6 through 8 with a shoulder injury, is healthy and starting to produce like he did last season.

Anderson's return, along with that of Nathan Shepherd (six-game suspension), has allowed the defensive line to overcome the loss of Williams, its most accomplished player. The Jets don't have any stars up front, but they're getting contributions from six players.

Meanwhile, Williams has failed to make an impact with the New York Giants. In three games, he has seven tackles and no sacks. You think the Giants might be second-guessing the trade?

3. The Dread Bowl: The Jets are facing a winless team for the second time in five weeks on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (CBS). (See: Misery in Miami.) This time, it's the Cincinnati Bengals (0-11), who haven't scored more than 23 points in a game (failing to reach that mark by this point is really hard to do in today's NFL). Naturally, this would go in the books as an all-time clunker if the Jets manage to lose the game.

Only four times in franchise history have the Jets ended up as an opponent's only win. It last happened in 1991, when they lost at home to the 0-9 Indianapolis Colts, who stumbled to 1-15. The most memorable of the four losses came in 1980, when they did the unthinkable and lost to the 0-14 New Orleans Saints at the old Shea Stadium.

Years ago, I interviewed former Saints quarterback Archie Manning about that game. He described two vivid memories: an angry Jets fan dropping his pants and directing a moon at the Jets' bench and, earlier, dark clouds coming toward the stadium off Flushing Bay.

"Negative thoughts started creeping into my mind," Manning recalled. "I thought, 'The world is fixin' to end and we're still not going to win a football game.'"

Advice to the current Jets: Don't be that team again.

4. End of an error: The Jets are entering the final month in the final year of a decade they would like to forget. Other than a run to the AFC Championship Game in 2010, the 2010s were a total bust. This will be their ninth consecutive year out of the playoffs. The Jets' record this decade is 65-90, sixth-worst in the NFL over that span.

A mind-blowing comparison: The New England Patriots have won almost twice as many games (123-32).


Are any of the Jets' WRs worth starting?

Mike Clay asserts that because he has little confidence in Sam Darnold, he has little confidence in the Jets' receiving corps having any fantasy value against the Bengals.

5. Tough guys wanted: If a player doesn't like to tackle, he won't last long under Gregg Williams. It's one of the reasons the Jets traded linebacker Darron Lee. It also factored into the early-season benching of cornerback Trumaine Johnson, who is not the kind of player who "enjoys sticking his face in the fan," as some coaches like to say.

Maulet and Austin are the total opposite; they're fearless and physical. And that's why, amid injuries at the position, they have secured starting jobs and captured the respect of teammates. Their willingness to support the run has been "huge for us," Anderson said.

6. Did you know? If the Jets score 30 points against the Bengals, it will be four straight games with at least 30 -- something they've never done in the Super Bowl era. They did it once in franchise history, their inaugural season, 1960, when they were known as the Titans.

7. The Spirit of '99: This season is beginning to look a lot like 1999, as reader Mike Torsiello pointed out. In that season, Bill Parcells' final year as coach, the Jets lost quarterback Vinny Testaverde to an injury (torn Achilles tendon), languished with ineffective backup Rick Mirer and fell to 1-6 before Ray Lucas came out of nowhere to provide a spark. Somehow, they rallied and finished 8-8, one of Parcells' best coaching jobs.

This season, the Jets had an illness (Sam Darnold's mononucleosis), the ineffective backup (Luke Falk) and the horrific start (1-7). The obvious difference, of course, is that Darnold returned to provide the lift. Talentwise, the current team doesn't come close to the '99 squad and it would take a virtual miracle to finish 8-8, but it's still a worthwhile comparison because it shows how quickly things can change in an NFL season.

8. Canton Joe? Joe Klecko's bid for the Pro Football Hall of Fame will come into focus in the coming weeks. Twenty finalists in the senior category will be announced before Christmas. On Jan. 8, the 20 will be reduced to 10 -- and they will be part of the Hall's expanded Class of 2020. As I've stated many times, Klecko belongs in the hall in Canton, Ohio. So does the late Winston Hill, a highly decorated offensive lineman from the 1960s and 1970s. I think Hill has a shot.

9. Feisty Robby: Notice how wide receiver Robby Anderson fought for contested balls last week? The coaches have been on him about that, trying to make him more aggressive on 50-50 balls.

10. Did you know, part II? The Jets have scored 37 non-offensive points -- five touchdowns and two safeties by the defense. One more touchdown and it will be their most such points in the 21st century. They scored 42 in 2001 and 2008.