FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) Rex Ryan expected this to be perhaps the best defense he has had since becoming coach of the New York Jets four years ago.
Instead, it has been a major disappointment and hardly the big, bad bunch the coach thought it would be.
At the very least, Ryan said it would finish ranked in the NFL's top five for the fourth straight year. Well, the Jets are 19th and falling.
``I'm not willing to concede anything, though,'' Ryan said earlier this week. ``Maybe we can have some of those great games. I'm not willing to concede it yet because I don't know any different. We have five games left and there better be some doozies on defense to get there.''
It's difficult to have confidence in this unit after it gave up a season-high 475 yards to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in a 49-19 drubbing on Thanksgiving night. It was also the worst performance, by yardage, in Ryan's 65 games as coach of the Jets.
Despite all that, Ryan's feelings about his defensive players have not wavered.
``I believe in myself and I believe in the guys that are with me,'' he said. ``I know everybody is tired of it, but that's the case. I believe in the players we have. That's why I feel like we're getting better.
``I think up until that abysmal performance we had against New England, I can see our defense getting better, much better.''
But, New York is 30th in the league in sacks with just 17, and veteran linebacker Bryan Thomas leads the team with a mere 2 1/2. The Jets clearly aren't getting to the quarterback or even putting consistent pressure on opponents enough these days, with Ryan acknowledging that they aren't blitzing nearly as much as they have in the past.
``The sack number is alarming,'' he said. ``That's not anywhere close to where we want to be.''
Aaron Maybin rejuvenated his career last year by leading the Jets with six sacks after two unproductive seasons in Buffalo as a first-round bust. Big things were expected this year, with the plan to have Maybin rushing off the edge and creating havoc for opposing quarterbacks.
He ended up getting cut two weeks ago after registering one solo tackle and no sacks in eight games.
``I think he plays about as hard as you can play,'' Ryan said. ``It just wasn't happening this year for whatever reason.''
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, Ryan's right-hand man on defense, has said all season that he doesn't concern himself with statistics. The one set of numbers that bothers him most, though, is the won-loss record: 4-7.
``It's a very black-and-white business,'' Pettine said. ``We want to be the winningest defense in the NFL and we're not there.''
The Jets are ranked a respectable seventh against the pass, not bad at all considering that the team's best player - cornerback Darrelle Revis - has missed most of the season with a knee injury. Antonio Cromartie has done a solid job of assuming Revis' role as the No. 1 cornerback, limiting wide receivers to mostly mediocre performances.
The problem has come against the run, a category in which the Jets are ranked 30th with only Buffalo and New Orleans worse.
``I can't even worry about it,'' defensive end Mike DeVito said. ``We've got five games left and we obviously haven't lived up to our expectations so far, but you can't go worrying about the past because you still have the future ahead of you. We'll talk at the end of the year when it's all said and done.''
He might be on to something, actually, because New York might have a shot at getting better in a hurry against its last five opponents, none of whom have records above .500.
-Arizona is 31st in the league in total offense, and has quarterback issues.
-Jacksonville ranks dead last in offense, and 31st in rushing.
-Tennessee is 24th in offense.
-San Diego ranks 25th in total offense and in rushing.
-Buffalo is the best of the bunch, ranking 17th overall, but 25th in passing.
``Consistency is so important in this league and something we work on week in and week out to get better,'' DeVito said. ``You need to have that. We need to be that rock that everybody can fall back on and say, `OK, the defense is going to get it done.'''
The defensive line has been reshaped over the last few seasons with players such as Shaun Ellis, Kris Jenkins and Vernon Gholston long gone. They've been replaced by young, developing players such as Quinton Coples and Muhammad Wilkerson, the team's top picks in the last two drafts, and Kenrick Ellis, a third-rounder last year.
Coples has had minimal impact so far as he adjusts to life in the NFL, and Ellis has dealt with injuries. Wilkerson, however, is beginning to have a breakout-type season with 66 tackles, two sacks, three forced fumbles and a fumble return for a touchdown.
``Does he make the Pro Bowl this year? I don't know, but I think he'll receive a bunch of votes from the guys that have played against him,'' Ryan said. ``Then, people will begin to take notice, the whole country will notice that this guy is a really good player.''
And, possibly the block Ryan needs to rebuild his Jets defense into one of the league's best. Maybe not this year, but Ryan refuses to give up on this group making one final stand this season.
``With these next five games left,'' he said, ``I think we'll play much better.''
NOTES: Ryan reiterated that it was his decision, not the front office, to play Vlad Ducasse in a rotation at left guard with Matt Slauson. Offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo said Thursday that the decision was made ``high above me,'' and raved about Slauson but called Ducasse good enough to play ``every third series ... maybe.'' Meanwhile, Slauson, a free agent after this season, was asked Friday if he felt he has been treated fairly by the team. ``I have no comment on that.'' ... QBs coach Matt Cavanaugh said Mark Sanchez's play has been ``inconsistent'' because of turnovers, but is ``generally pleased'' with his development. ``It's hard to ask for patience when you're 4-7, but I think with a young quarterback who's got talent, you've got to be patient.'' Cavanaugh also didn't think the presence of Tim Tebow or other distractions have affected Sanchez. ``You want to play QB in the NFL, it doesn't matter,'' he said he told Sanchez. ``Everything that's going on around you, learn how to handle it. That's what great ones do.''