Bobby Wagner
Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

Which New York Jets opponents have top-tier field generals that can stifle Le’Veon Bell on the ground and cling to Chris Herndon in coverage?

Nania's Numbers

Previous opponent rankings:

13. Los Angeles Rams

Italicized players were added in the 2020 offseason.

The loss of Cory Littleton is a big one for the Rams. Littleton was the only offensive or defensive player to appear in every game for the franchise since it moved back to Los Angeles in 2016. He developed into one of the NFL’s best cover linebackers, leading the position with 22 passes defended from 2018-19. In 2019, Littleton was the most efficient tackling linebacker in the league, whiffing on just one tackle while making 125.

With Littleton gone, Los Angeles has one of the league’s most unproven and talent-deprived linebacker groups. The projected starters are Travin Howard, a 2018 seventh-round pick, and Troy Reeder, a 2019 undrafted free agent, who have combined for just 400 career defensive snaps. Reeder played a key role in a few games last season and was atrocious, allowing 13.2 yards per target in coverage and missing on 19.4% of tackle opportunities.

12. Cleveland Browns

Cleveland lost Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey, its two leaders in snaps at linebacker since 2016, but the unit was bad with them around anyway. Schobert is a mediocre tackler and run defender who has been only decent in coverage outside of an outlier 2018 season. Injuries have limited Kirksey to only nine games over the past two seasons.

In 2019, the unit’s biggest issue was its run defense, earning the worst cumulative run defense grade from PFF among all linebacker groups (47.2). It also below-average in just about every other category in all three phases.

Unfortunately, it does not seem like things are going to get much better in 2020. Cleveland will be relying on a bevy of unproven young players to take a big step forward – which, of course, very well could happen, but it is a complete unknown.

Mack Wilson, a 2019 fifth-round pick, is slated to lead the unit after struggling mightily as a starter throughout 2019. Wilson had the fifth-worst missed tackle rate in the passing game (20.8%) among qualifiers. Sione Takitaki was a third-round pick in 2019, and only has 105 snaps of experience on defense over eight games.

11. Kansas City Chiefs

Kansas City is set to return the starting duo of Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson after their rough 2019 season. Both in their primes (Wilson 27, Hitchens 28), Hitchens and Wilson have consistently posted poor numbers throughout their careers. Hitchens has been generally decent in coverage, but lackluster against the run, while Wilson has been the opposite.

Run defense was the duo’s core issue in 2019. Kansas City’s linebackers picked up a run stop (tackle against the run that constitutes a positive value result for the defense) on only 5.5% of their snaps against the run, which ranked 31st in the league.

The Chiefs defense improved greatly late in the regular season and into the playoffs, but that was completely in spite of the Hitchens/Wilson duo, which continued its poor play throughout all three postseason games. If Kansas City is going to maintain a strong defense throughout the entirety of 2020, the linebacker play needs to be substantially better.

10. Miami Dolphins


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