Jets’ Ulbrich focused on fundamentals, not overhauling D

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Jeff Ulbrich knows people are looking at his New York Jets defense right now and laughing.

And deservedly so.

The Jets are putting up numbers so bad, they rank among the worst in franchise and league history. Opponents are practically scoring at will lately, marching up and down the field with ease.

“We haven’t been good enough, in any way,” Ulbrich acknowledged Thursday. “We haven’t covered well enough, we haven’t rushed well enough, we haven’t stopped the run well enough. So, it’s a little bit of everything.”

And it all adds up to one big mess.

Their 45-17 loss to Buffalo last Sunday marked the third time in four games the Jets gave up at least 45 points. The previous team to do that was the Giants in 1966.

Opponents have scored 175 points against New York in that span, the second most allowed by any team in a four-game stretch since the 1970 merger.

Here’s more: The 1,890 yards given up by the Jets in the past four games are the most in a four-game span in franchise history.

“It’s a byproduct of, we need better coaching, we need better execution by the players, we need to keep searching and finding answers for them,” said Ulbrich, in his first season as New York’s defensive coordinator. “As a coaching staff, trying our best to put them in the positions to be successful.

“We have not done that as of late very well, so we’re going to keep fighting and clawing and scratching and trying to find these inches to help these guys out.”

It’s not just one particular area, either, as Ulbrich pointed out. The Jets are ranked last in the NFL in overall defense, meaning total yards allowed. They’re also 32nd in points allowed, 31st against the pass and 29th against the run.

Ulbrich, who served as Atlanta’s interim defensive coordinator late last season, is mixing parts of that system with the San Francisco-style defense Jets head coach Robert Saleh ran with the 49ers.

“We’re not going to make huge, fundamental changes,” Ulbrich said. “And I know that might (tick) some people off because they’re like, ‘Change it, it’s all (lousy).’ But there are some base fundamentals we’re getting better at.”

Ulbrich acknowledged those improvements are difficult to see on Sundays, especially with the amount of points being scored against them.

There are “tweaks,” as he called them, being made to try to settle the defense. And, no, he isn’t considering overhauling the entire system.

“I’ve been in the NFL a long time as a player and coach and I’ve been around struggling teams before in both capacities where you could lose, in my opinion, absolute belief in anything if you start doing that,” Ulbrich said. “Then you’re just guessing. I don’t think that’s how you can get prolonged success in this league.

“You’ve got to build a foundation.”

The Jets came into this season thinking they at least had that, with playmakers up front and at middle linebacker and a young, athletic group of cornerbacks flanked by veteran safeties.

Well, the defensive line behind Quinnen Williams, John Franklin-Myers, Sheldon Rankins and others hasn’t been the dominant force it was expected to be. Defensive end Carl Lawson, signed to be a spark in the pass rush, was lost for the year in training camp. C.J. Mosley and Jarrad Davis didn’t play together at middle linebacker until a few weeks ago because of injuries. And safeties Marcus Maye and Lamarcus Joyner are out for the season with injuries.

“I’ve never been on a team that threw out the defense because they had injuries,” Mosley said.

But what has transpired has been an influx of inexperienced players — such as rookie defensive backs Brandin Echols and Michael Carter II, and second-year players Bryce Hall and Javelin Guidry — having to step up. There has also been a revolving door at safety all season.

“We’re falling short and that’s not good enough,” Ulbrich said. “None of us accept that. None of us are sitting around saying, ‘We’re young, we’re inexperienced.’ None of us are using that as an excuse, by any means. The system is new, that’s not an excuse by any means.

“We have to get better. We have to find a way to be better — players and coaches.”

NOTES: QB Zach Wilson (knee), LG Alijah Vera-Tucker (toe) and DT Nathan Shepherd (knee) were all limited for the second straight day. … RB Michael Carter leads the Jets with 367 yards rushing and four TDs and is tied with WR Jamison Crowder for the most catches with 31. The fourth-round pick out of North Carolina was asked if he still feels like a rookie. “I never did,” he said. Carter added that when some teammates would call him “rook,” he’d confidently say: “I’m not a rookie. I’m just in my first year. … They drafted me to play.”

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