“I'm man enough to realize that last year wasn't my best work,” Pace said. “I had some deficiencies in my game I needed to strengthen, and that's pass rushing. It's the type of league it is – pass, pass, pass. You’ve got to have guys who can put pressure on quarterbacks. So it's a situation where I had to go get better. I'm not great at it, but I feel more comfortable.”When the Jets signed Pace back in 2008 the hope was that he would be the edge rusher that the team sorely needed after the departure of John Abraham. Back them, Pace was never a sack machine but mostly acquired sacks through his motor and the team's solid coverage, but not his pure speed. Where Pace was always best was as the team's edge-setter, a role he might have been one of the league's best between 2008-2011. Last year Pace's play in that regard dropped off and when the team brought him back on his one-year deal, it was as a depth option.
The numbers show it. Pace has eight sacks this season, tied for his career-high and second on the team, behind Muhammad Wilkerson's 10. Pace had seven in his first year with the Jets and eight in his second. Pace, 33, is the Jets’ third-oldest player, behind two midseason acquisitions: quarterback David Garrard and safety Ed Reed. Pace is the Jets’ fourth-longest tenured player, among current members. But the Jets’ prodigious defensive front this season has helped reinvigorate Pace’s pass rush.
With budding stars such as the third-year end Wilkerson, second-year rush outside linebacker Quinton Coples and rookie tackle Sheldon Richardson, the Jets have often been able to get away with rushing just the four linemen. That bodes well for Pace, an outside linebacker.
Pace still isn't the edge-setter he once was against the run, but with the incredible defensive line he's been able to thrive in his outside linebacking role, specifically as a pass rusher. When the team lost Antwan Barnes, Pace already had 2.5 sacks but has stepped in ably as a pass rusher. Based on how he has played, the Jets might consider bringing Pace back next year, but maybe more than anything his success this season is a testament to the power of the Jets defensive line.
As the article notes, with players like Wilkerson, Richardson and Coples up front, it has given Pace more freedom to rush the passer in isolated matchups. It is hard not to think about what this group could potentially do with a young edge-rusher. That player doesn't necessarily need to be a first-round talent either, but a OLB with some lateral speed and situational awareness could go a long way with the players that will be playing on the line for the next five plus years.