The New York Jets needed to boost their run defense on the edge, and the addition of Ronald Blair does just that.
Joe Douglas has built a defensive line for Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich that is absolutely stacked. Quinnen Williams, Carl Lawson, John Franklin-Myers, Foley Fatukasi, Sheldon Rankins, Vinny Curry – the group is loaded with firepower.
I recently put together a ranking off all 32 defensive lines in the NFL based on the statistical production of the top-8 players on each team’s unit, and the New York Jets‘ group checked in at No. 2 behind only the Pittsburgh Steelers.
While the unit clearly has dominant potential overall, one clear weakness stood out when the results of the ranking were broken down into specific facets.
My leaderboard ranked the Jets with the NFL’s second-best pass-rushing interior defensive line, third-best pass-rushing EDGE unit, and fifth-best run defending interior defensive line, but the 29th-best run defending EDGE unit.
The Jets have monumentally boosted the passing-game prowess of their EDGE group through the additions of Carl Lawson and Vinny Curry, while Bryce Huff and Kyle Phillips offer solid pass-rushing production for backups and could still have some untapped upside considering their youth. However, the unit is lackluster against the run. Lawson has been an average run defender throughout his career. Curry is below average. Huff struggled against the run last year. Phillips was the unit’s only proven solid run defender.
New York’s lack of a strong edge-setting presence created some potential issues for the coaching staff. The idea of moving John Franklin-Myers outside into an EDGE role has been tossed around by observers, as due to the lack of a quality run defender among the team’s pure edge rushers, Franklin-Myers’s 288-pound frame might have been the best option to handle the edge in rushing situations. It’s a sensible idea, but it would require the sacrificing of Franklin-Myers’s dominant abilities as an interior pass rusher, so it would be far from ideal.
This weakness could have caused a problematic domino effect, but with the addition of former 49ers’ defensive end Ronald Blair, the Jets may have patched up their lone hole on the defensive front.
Blair, who played under Saleh in San Francisco, is a quality run-stopper on the edge. A full-time 5-technique defensive end under Saleh (he lined up outside of the OT on 85% of his snaps from 2017-19), Blair has excellent size at 6-foot-4 and 270 pounds, boasts tremendous strength (he recorded 32 bench press reps at the 2016 Combine, 94th percentile among EDGE all-time), and has produced at an impressive level in the run game throughout his career.
Let’s sink our teeth into some of the film behind Blair’s gritty effectiveness against the run.
This play is a great encapsulation of what the Jets were lacking at the EDGE position – a great edge-setter on the strong side. Playing 9-tech over the tight end’s outside shoulder, Blair stays low off the snap, keeps his knees bent to generate power, and gets his hands into the tight end’s shoulders to drive him back. Blair gets penetration while still maintaining leverage to play the edge. When Joe Mixon bounces outside, Blair peels off and makes the play for a two-yard loss. Picture-perfect.
Nice hustle from Blair off the backside. Blair is left unblocked and shows a great motor off the ball as there is no hesitancy or wasted motion in his pursuit. Since he’s a little late to get off the ball, he is able to recognize the tight end pulling away from him before he moves, so he deciphers that he should pursue with aggression. The right tackle tries to get a hand on him, but Blair swats it away with his inside hand to prevent contact. Blair gets to Mixon and makes the tackle for a three-yard loss.
Blair makes a fourth-and-1 stop on Adrian Peterson. Lined up as the 7-tech (over the tight end), Blair defeats the cut block and stays afoot before lunging into the backfield to halt Peterson just shy of the marker. This all starts with great pre-snap IQ. Blair is prepared for the cut block. When it comes, he is ready, extending his arms and planting the blocker into the ground.
Solid edge-setting play. As the wide-9 and with the left tackle in a very wide alignment, Blair aggressively bull rushes the left tackle to squeeze the edge. He keeps his eyes in the backfield and sees Peterson cutting outside, so he disengages and works inside to protect the C-gap. Blair gets low for the hit on Peterson and stops him for no gain.
This is the most recent rep of Blair on tape, as he unfortunately tore his ACL here, but he did at least go out on a high note. Russell Wilson tries to throw the brakes on Blair, but he makes an excellent open-field stop as he grabs Wilson by the sleeves to pull him down.
Blair shows some finesse to make a stop as he beats the tight end with a rip move to the inside using his outside arm. This is a clutch play, too, as Blair brings Jordan Scarlett down one yard shy of the first down marker on second-and-4.
If he is healthy, Blair will help bring the Jets’ defensive line one step closer to becoming a complete unit that is devoid of major weaknesses.
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