If he is healthy and in peak form, C.J. Mosley will turn around a New York Jets linebacker group that has been bad in coverage.
For some reason, many football fans seem to look at C.J. Mosley as a thumping, plodding middle linebacker who hits hard but can’t cover. They claim that the Jets are investing a massive amount of money into a player who doesn’t affect the passing game.
Those ideas couldn’t be further from the truth. If you want to watch a player who fits that description, go watch any Jets linebacker from the past two years. I’m looking at you, Neville Hewitt.
Mosley is an excellent coverage linebacker. What he lacks in mobility, he makes up for with elite fundamentals and intelligence. His preparation, instincts, recognition, and tackling are all top-notch, helping him to minimize big plays by the opponent and make plenty of his own big plays.
From 2014-18, Mosley ranked third among linebackers with 35 passes defended while allowing just 10 touchdown passes in his direction over 2,627 coverage snaps, an average of one touchdown every 262.7 coverage snaps that is over 40% better than the 2020 linebacker average (187.1).
Compare Mosley’s coverage numbers in the prime of his career (2016-19) to how the Jets’ linebackers (sans Mosley’s 2 games in 2019) have performed over the past two seasons.
Taking on a ton of targets as the every-down middle linebacker in Baltimore’s 3-4 defense, Mosley gave up a tad more yardage per cover snap than would be ideal, but he was outstanding otherwise. He kept touchdowns to a bare minimum, made plenty of his own plays on the football, and finished tackles at an extremely efficient rate.
Meanwhile, the Jets’ linebackers were brutal in coverage across both 2019 and 2020. They allowed a 15-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio (compared to Mosley’s 6-to-8 from 2016-19) and did not have a single player post an above-average PFF coverage grade in either season. In 2020, they played a primary role in the Jets ranking 32nd in the league in both receiving yards (1,105) and receiving touchdowns (14) allowed to tight ends.
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Mosley is going to single-handedly turn those numbers around – if he is fully healthy and still at the level he was at in his prime days.
Let’s take a look at examples of why Mosley is actually a much better cover linebacker than most give him credit for.
Mosley’s game is all about his brain. He has a great feel for the game, consistently knowing where he needs to be and getting there in a hurry to win the rep.
Showing an A-gap blitz pre-snap, Mosley drops back into the hook/curl zone and locates the slant route from the receiver coming out of the backfield, jumping the route for a pass deflection.
Rather than just drop to a spot on the field and stare at the quarterback like Neville Hewitt and the Jets linebackers love to do, Mosley adjusts his positioning based on where the closest threat is. He is focused on eliminating the target(s) in his area, not merely taking up space.
Great job from Mosley here in man coverage against the running back. He uses his peripheral vision to feel out the attempted rub coming from the receiver to his right, getting underneath it and sticking with James Conner as he leaks into the flat. With Mosley attached to Conner’s hip, Ben Roethlisberger is forced to throw the ball into the dirt rather than hit Conner for easy yards.
Mosley mans up against the tight end here. He anticipates the tight end looking to sit down on a curl route, so he positions himself on top of the route and gets hands-on to shut it down. As the play extends, the tight end improvises and tries to cut over the middle. Mosley beats him to the punch as he correctly anticipates the tight end’s next move, taking his first step over the middle just before the tight end does. Mosley sticks to his back hip and makes the deflection.
The play on which Mosley injured his groin in his Jets debut was an elite one. Running up the seam with one of the NFL’s top speedsters in John Brown, Mosley flips his hips and puts himself in a great position to defend underneath the target. Mosley watches Browns’ eyes and hands, and once Brown makes a move to catch the football, Mosley extends his arm at the perfect time to deflect the ball.
Mosley drops back to play the deep middle in the red zone on this play against the Bengals. Most linebackers in this situation would simply backpedal to their spot with their hips parallel to the line of scrimmage, but not Mosley. He shows off his incredible preparation and recognition as he immediately flips his hips to the outside and focuses on defending what amounts to be the only threat to his zone: the post route from the slot receiver on the left side. He gets directly in the passing lane and high-points the ball for a beautiful pick that combines both mental and physical proficiency.
Mosley takes great angles when covering the flat, which allows him to keep missed tackles to a bare minimum and make a lot of stops for short gains.
On this play, Mosley initially lines up over the A-gap before shifting out to play the hook/curl just before the snap. Mosley quickly recognizes the screen action and bolts downhill to beat the leaking offensive lineman into the backfield. The accuracy of Mosley’s route is pristine, as he recognizes the soft lob pass from Dalton and targets the ideal spot to meet Joe Mixon just after he makes the catch. With Mosley about to shatter him, Mixon goes down and takes the six-yard loss.
Great flat coverage from Mosley here. Once again, it’s all about the football IQ. Mosley consistently beats his matchup to the spot thanks to his fantastic anticipation. As soon as Mosley sees Dalton pull the ball from Mixon on the play fake, Mosley recognizes Mixon angling his hips aggressively toward the sideline, clearly tipping off that he is going into the flat. Mosley cuts hard to the outside, getting out in front and staying over the top. Dalton feeds Mixon and Mosley tackles him immediately to keep him to a 1-yard gain with zero yards after the catch.
C.J. Mosley’s game is very un-sexy and doesn’t scream “amazing cover linebacker” a la guys such as Luke Kuechly or Bobby Wagner, but regardless of his aesthetic, his effectiveness as a cover man has been right up there with the game’s elite linebackers throughout his career. If he comes back refreshed rather than rusty, he will provide an enormous boost in coverage productivity to a unit that was burnt toast without him.