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What to expect from Robert Saleh’s New York Jets defense (Film)

Sabo's Sessions, Robert Saleh
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Expect a disciplined, tough and somewhat vanilla New York Jets defense with Robert Saleh at the helm in 2021.

Gregg Williams and Robert Saleh can both be classified under the same NFL category as defensive minds. That’s where the similarities end.

Williams brought a familiar look to the New York Jets in 2019. He blitzed heavily, gamed his front seven routinely and disguised coverages as much as he possibly could.

The Jets’ new head coach doesn’t ride that way. Instead of flash, it’s workmanlike production. Rather than hocus pocus-like activity, it’s much more about responsibility. Saleh’s vanilla defense focuses on individual responsibility, technique and positioning above all else.

Interestingly, Saleh won’t call the defensive plays. That responsibility will go to new defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich. Still, Jets fans should expect plenty of Saleh’s principles in the defense.


How the personnel shakes out should be interesting. As it currently stands, a lot is needed.

New York Jets Defense
Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

The above graphic is about maximizing the unit’s potential. Therefore, six starting spots are left open and two more are filled with free agents (Marcus Maye and Brian Poole).

At least one 4-3/wide-9 defensive end is required. This means a 260-270-pound edge who can get after the quarterback and hold his own against the run. He must be athletic enough to play in space but also stiffen when necessary. As it currently stands, Tarell Basham can potentially hold down one of the two spots, but at least one newcomer is needed.

John Franklin-Myers is what makes the edge position interesting. At nearly 290 pounds, he’s a bit too heavy to lock down a prototypical edge in this system. Perhaps Saleh can get away with it if the other side is much more athletic. At the very least, he’ll figure into the mix along with his 3-technique duties.

The interior is sound. Foley Fatukasi and Quinnen Williams are perfect. They fit like a glove and the depth behind them—Nathan Shepherd, Henry Anderson, Kyle Phillips and Franklin-Myers—is tremendous.

Maye feels like a must re-sign at this point. While Ashtyn Davis could theoretically start alongside Maye in this defense, it’s best to leave the strong safety spot open. But considering Saleh’s heavy Cover 4 defense, Maye and Davis could be the starting duo.

Cornerback is an obvious issue. Count on Bryce Hall as a No. 2, which means a No. 1 is required. Will Joe Douglas re-sign Poole or head in another direction in the slot?

The one negative this new scheme brings is that it forces the Jets to hunt for another position. Not only is edge and corner a big-time need, but now in Saleh’s 4-3, so is linebacker.

Smart, speedy linebackers are what Saleh needs. He’ll play base often, but he also rarely goes past nickel. It’s tough to catch Saleh in a dime or quarter defense. Somebody not yet on the roster will be needed to pair with C.J. Mosley on the second level.


No more junk

Gregg Williams is a defensive mind who loves to fool the opposing offense. As we’ve detailed prior, Williams’s hybrid Tampa 2 principles were just one of his many disguised coverages. Oftentimes, it forces defenders out of position. This is especially the case for youngsters who are still trying to feel their way around the league.

Saleh’s defense is as bland as it gets. And don’t take bland as a negative.

Saleh will run a four-man front out there on nearly every play and play the pre-snap straight up. Where the quarterback would expect Cover 4 cornerbacks and safeties to be is exactly where they’ll be.

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