Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich are building this New York Jets defense in a way that the 4-3 base isn’t forced to change for 11 personnel.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, welcome to the new day. Defense doesn’t win championships anymore. While it certainly helps, the powers that be in football (and in all sports) have gone down the highlight-package road, the one that leads to short-term satisfaction, casual-viewing growth and jaw-dropping athletic feats on a more regular basis.
Some might argue that this road is short-sighted. Baseball fans might say this most, for the love of the home run ball has led to an all-or-nothing approach at the plate. If an at-bat doesn’t lead to a home run or strikeout, a celebratory party is in order.
Football’s offensive road has led to athletic quarterbacks feeling invincible in a softer world and many more passing yards. Many, many more passing yards.
For instance, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was recently celebrated on Twitter for having the distinction as the only man to throw for 55,000 yards and 300 touchdowns over his first 13 seasons in the league, per CBS Sports. While that certainly deserves a tip of the cap, all that says to me is that the Boston College product entered the NFL at the perfect time for quarterbacks.
Players with at least 55k pass yds and 300 pass TD in their first 13 seasons in NFL history:
— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) May 7, 2021
Misleading feats like this one only serve to confuse the fan. Now, with the addition of a 17th game, combined with the passing explosion we’ve seen over the last 12 or 13 years, the record books will never be the same.
It’s gone so pass-heavy that what was once considered base personnel, 21, is now an abnormality. It’s 11 personnel that now rules the roost, something New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh knows well.
It’s the reason he loves to field a flexible defense.
Perhaps the Jets defense’s greatest current strength is its flexibility, and today, we’ll review just how flexible it is and how this feature will help shut down opposing offenses in 2021 and beyond.
The Jets’ 4-3 base’s flexibility doesn’t force them into Nickel
Look at the players the Jets acquired and drafted this offseason. Many of the defenders allow for tremendous flexibility in today’s league that plays for pay.
The two drafted linebackers on the team played safety in college. Each was drafted with the understanding that a position change to linebacker was in the near future.
Fifth-round pick Jamien Sherwood and sixth-rounder Hamsah Nasirildeen both clock in at under 220 pounds. So, yes, these guys will be lighter linebackers. Also yes, this is the way the league is going.
For now, we’ll leave Blake Cashman out of the equation. While he’s probably the de facto starting WILL, having played just 11 games over his first two seasons creates serious doubts about his future with Joe Douglas‘s Jets. Furthermore, highlighting what Sherwood and Nasirildeen can do in this defense is the true point.
The above look is Saleh’s base 4-3 against a 21 personnel look. It’s pretty straightforward, as Sherwood handles WILL duties (strong-side to the defense’s left). A single-high look places Marcus Maye near the box, as both outside corners start 5-8 yards off the ball.
Now, thanks to Sherwood and Nasirildeen’s previous defensive back duties, Saleh could feel comfortable with keeping base on the field against 11 personnel.