Breaking down the Henry Ruggs III MetLife Miracle reveals three unforgivable New York Jets defensive sins.
If Gregg Williams never coaches in the NFL again, he sure did go out his way. The now-former New York Jets defensive coordinator decided to go with a ballsy zero-blitz against the Las Vegas Raiders with just 13 seconds to go in the game this past Sunday.
You already know what happened.
By the time Henry Ruggs III was leaping in the end zone—as his teammates greeted him furiously—the entire football-loving world was already slapping itself silly. What in the world just happened?
Well, a lot transpired on the 46-yard score that could only be described as a miracle. No, Williams didn’t intentionally tank the Jets. To believe that would also mean you’d have to believe Elvis is still alive.
Just a few minutes of research brings the realization that this man simply brings the heat when it’s crunch time. And although this call will live in infamy as one of the worst in football history, it’s not hard to understand why he called it—as long as you know who Gregg Williams is as a defensive mind.
The actual play itself reveals three sins on the part of the Jets defense, all of which are critical in spite of the awful call.
1. Neville Hewitt‘s pass rush
Williams rushes seven players. That means just four are on the back end. It’s a balanced pressure look that focuses on the edges. This means Neville Hewitt—who is rushing straight up the gut—is beyond critical.
Usually, a blitz against a Hail Mary look features some sort of heavy overload pressure. The idea isn’t to sack the quarterback outright—although that’s a tremendous bonus. Instead, the idea is to force the quarterback to get rid of the ball much quicker than he wants.
An overload blitz’s intent is to purposefully flush the quarterback out of the pocket to one side, usually against the grain. This means for Derek Carr, a righty, an overload against a Hail Mary would normally feature the extra rushers coming from the offense’s right (left side of the image above), forcing the quarterback to his left.
Instead, Williams relies on lanes in the hope the quarterback cannot move, that he cannot break the pocket or step up. Hewitt’s actions while coming down the A-gap is what truly dooms the play from the start.
Hewitt allowing himself to get thrown off his lane is a killer of epic proportions. He gives Carr room to step up and deliver the throw.
We’ll truly never know how the call was coached. If Gregg Williams allows Hewitt the freedom to get the quarterback by any means necessary, this is on the defensive coordinator. Ideally, out of a balanced pressure look such as this, it would make very little sense to allow Hewitt that sort of freedom.
Considering the outside heat, the defense knows Carr cannot escape left or right. His only option is to throw it early or step up. Thanks to Hewitt, Carr finds a miraculous lane down the middle of the pocket.
2. Lamar Jackson‘s situational awareness
The second sin falls on Lamar Jackson’s shoulders. Knowing the situation, a corner in this spot must act as the last line of defense. A 20-yard completion is no problem. Allow the catch and be secure in the tackle. Game over.
That’s obviously not what happens.
Jackson plays it as though it’s a first-and-10 in the middle of the second quarter. Firstly, why he’s lined up so far inside and just seven yards off the ball is a complete mystery. Jackson, Marcus Maye, Matthias Farley and Bryce Hall (the four across near the sticks) should be at least 10-12 yards off the ball.
This is not a pleasant Sunday afternoon walk in the park. It’s a play that requires a touchdown with the game on the line. Jackson is in man coverage, but he’s also in zero coverage. To start that close against one of the fastest men in the NFL is a rough thought.
What happens post-snap is even worse.
Bailing rather than back-pedaling is fine. The problem comes when Jackson allows space to be made up too quickly. Cornerbacks must keep a buffer between the wide receiver and himself. Continue with the back-pedal or run while ensuring there’s always plenty of space between you and the weapon. It’s a situation the corner doesn’t want to turn until he absolutely has to.
Obviously, Jackson really gets into trouble when he inexplicably goes for the Ruggs stutter. As we already touched on, there’s no reason for this. A 20-yard play in-bounds is fine in this situation. Stay over the top and be secure with the tackle in the event the Raiders do something silly such as complete a 20-yard play in-bounds.
If Ruggs cuts across the middle of the field, Jackson would have to follow. That idea is something that makes the hesitation against the stutter-step at least understandable.
After the game, Jackson spoke with the media and revealed his thought process prior to the play.
“It’s tough,” Jackson said. “It’s definitely tough. I wasn’t looking for help, but I definitely was probably hoping it wasn’t on me. All I could think was, ‘Not me.’ I don’t want to be the reason, but I was. (I) have to live with it (and) have to get better.”
Anybody who’s been around the game long enough understands this is not the desired mindset. A football player should want to see the ball come to him, even defensively. The moment fear floats into the mind is the instant bad things happen.
Nevertheless, give credit to the undrafted kid out of Nebraska. He didn’t have to speak to the media yet did so anyway. He faced the music and ensured that fans and media members heard what he had to say.
“It’s tough, but at the same time, I know it’s not going to define me or my career,” Jackson added.
3. The defense tipping its hand
The best part of a blitz against a Hail Mary situation is the element-of-surprise idea. Ensuring that the quarterback doesn’t think pressure is coming is what fouls the entire play up.
In this situation, Gregg Williams theoretically said, “Here it is Jon Gruden; what are you going to do about it?” Gruden’s quarterback, Derek Carr, did something brilliant about it.
Carr’s movement pre-snap is obvious.
He sees the pressure look and changes things at the line. Instead of Darren Waller joining the two receivers on the strong side down the field, he remains in to block. This changes everything.
The running back was ready to remain in no matter what (most likely). Keeping Waller in saved the Raiders on this day, and it all happened because Gregg Williams didn’t care if Carr knew the blitz was coming.
It’s why blitzes against Hail Mary situations often sneak up on the offense. Rushing four yet bringing a slot corner and a safety on one edge, or rushing two slot corners from a near-press look, is an idea that uses the element of surprise. One hesitation from the quarterback screws up the entire downfield shot.
That’s just not Gregg Williams’s style. He’d much rather beat you after you already know what’s coming. For that attitude, one that led to a blasphemous defensive play-call, the New York Jets are still winless and the old-school defensive mind is out of a job.
Quick look at the Henry Ruggs III MetLife Miracle (more than two minutes is needed). What's important to remember is that the top goal when blitzing in this situation isn't to sack the quarterback, but rather to make him throw as quickly as possible. Bad call. #TakeFlight pic.twitter.com/fqfihIEN0B
— Robby Sabo (@RobbySabo) December 8, 2020
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