The New York Jets have a bunch of cornerbacks who handle their business in the run game, a trait that Gregg Williams loves in his defensive backs.
When you think “run defense,” your mind first focuses on the trenches – the nose tackle, the three-technique, the inside linebackers – but run defense is a team effort. All 11 guys play a role in their team’s run-stopping performance. Obviously, the men in the trenches are more involved than the men outside, but defensive backs are certainly an integral piece of a team’s run defense.
The Jets ranked second in run defense DVOA a season ago. Their interior defensive line was the driving force behind that dominant performance, but one position’s output in that phase should not go overlooked – cornerback. Blessuan Austin, Arthur Maulet, and Brian Poole were excellent at handling their duties against the run, and all three are returning to play key roles in 2020.
Gregg Williams places a strong emphasis on tackling and run defense in his defensive backs. Hence the two newcomers in the Jets’ cornerback room, Pierre Desir and Quincy Wilson. Both former Colts thrive in the run game, creating a five-deep depth chart of corners who can stop the run.
Let’s dig into the film and numbers behind the excellent run defense of the top-five cornerbacks on Gregg’s opening-week depth chart.
Key 2019 stats:
- 7 run tackles, 0 misses (12th-most run tackles without a miss among CB)
- 72.8 PFF run defense grade (79th percentile among CB)
One of the most crucial plays of the Jets’ 34-3 win over the Raiders in Week 12 was a run stop by Austin. On a 4th & 1 handoff to fullback Alex Ingold in the third quarter (Jets leading 20-3), Austin laid the final blow to hold Ingold short of the marker. As shown on the broadcast replay, Austin’s helmet shot to Ingold’s hip is the finisher. Great accuracy by Austin, hitting the perfect spot to halt forward momentum and prevent what would have been a first down.
Austin made one of the Jets’ most remarkable hustle plays of the season against the Bengals in Week 13. He sprints nearly 30 yards downfield and across the formation to make a diving stop on Joe Mixon, saving a touchdown. This play was called back by a Cincinnati penalty, but nevertheless, Austin saved six points on his hustle alone. Fantastic effort.
That play also exemplifies how important it is to have wide receivers who care about blocking. Austin’s man (Tyler Boyd, #83) put almost zero energy into blocking him. If Boyd had put even a moderate amount of effort into that block, Austin would not have been able to make the play, and Mixon would have scored. Denzel Mims should help rejuvenate this aspect of the Jets offense.
Key 2019 stats:
- 10 run tackles, 0 misses (8th-most run tackles without a miss among CB)
- 70.5 PFF run defense grade (71st percentile among CB)
- 5 run stops* on 104 run defense snaps for 4.8% run stop rate (94th percentile)
- *- the “run stop” stat filters out tackles on productive plays for the offense, namely first down pickups
In man-to-man coverage against the motioning slot receiver, Maulet winds up near the box on this play, just outside of the tight end. He quickly diagnoses the run as his man blocks down on Jamal Adams. Recognizing that he is responsible for the D-gap, Maulet remains impressively patient, staying true to his gap without overpursuing. He maintains balance, mirrors Joe Mixon to the outside, and makes an outstanding tackle in space as he swats away the stiff-arm attempt, limiting Mixon to a three-yard pickup.
On this run up the middle by Jalen Richard, Maulet quickly recognizes the run action and breaks before his man can get a chance to block him. Maulet arrives a bit too aggressively/close to the line of scrimmage, but makes up for it with a solid diving stop, wrapping his right arm around Richard’s hip. A potentially big run (due to Neville Hewitt and James Burgess being locked up at the second level) is held to five yards on 1st & 10 thanks to a good read and finish by Maulet.
Maulet was able to play that run so aggressively because he knew that Jamal Adams had the deep half to his side. Adams and Poole creep back into a Cover-2 while Marcus Maye drops from the deep middle into robber position. Maulet’s responsibility is the flat, so with only one threat to his side and deep help behind him, he has the freedom to attack. Great job by Gregg building around the strengths of his players, putting Maulet in a position to do what he does best.
Key 2019 stats:
- 69.8 PFF run defense grade (70th percentile among CB)
- 8 run stops on 224 run defense snaps for 3.6% run stop rate (93rd percentile)
- 4 tackles for loss vs. the run (tied for 2nd-most among CB)
Poole was a bit prone to whiffs in the run game, placing at the 40th percentile with a miss rate of 20.8% (19 tackles, 5 misses), but he was very active for a defensive back.
As Julian Edelman motions left, Poole does not stick with him, but shifts towards the middle into what you might call a weakside linebacker position. Reading the combo block of the center and right guard, Poole sniffs out the run quickly after the snap. He bursts through the enormous B-gap fast enough to beat the wide receiver to the spot, cutting down Sony Michel for no gain.
In press-man against tight end Mike Gesicki on this play, Poole immediately diagnoses the run as the entire Miami offense simultaneously slides left. Poole shoots for the D-gap while Gesicki lunges at him. Poole uses his outside arm to rip beneath Gesicki’s punch and avoid being pushed upfield, and then rides the momentum of Gesicki’s block through the C-gap. He slivers through the small crease, elbowing the right tackle to open up some room. Poole’s penetration alone is enough to blow up the play, but he makes sure to get some credit for himself as he dives and grabs Mark Walton‘s foot. Two-yard loss for Miami as Poole and Quinnen Williams share a TFL.
Key career stats:
- Career PFF run defense grade of 76.0 (would rank at 85th percentile among CB in 2019)
- 45 tackles and 3 misses vs. run over career for 6.3% miss rate (would rank at 84th percentile among CB in 2019)
- 20 run tackles without a miss in 2018 (2nd-most among CB)
The two newcomers by way of Indianapolis fit right into Williams’ mold of corners who are willing, capable tacklers.
As an outside corner who specializes in zone, Desir does not get involved in the run game often, but he has been an extremely consistent finisher when the ball has found him.
On this crucial 4th & 1 run by Dallas near Indianapolis’ goal line, Desir flies in off the back side to stop Ezekiel Elliott behind the line, topping it off with a forced fumble recovered by Indianapolis. This was in the second quarter – Dallas never got inside of the Colts’ 10-yard line over the rest of the game on its way to a 23-0 loss. Clutch play by Desir.