Thanks to his disciplined playing style, Marcus Maye has a chance to be a solid strong safety under Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich.
Safety: One of the most underrated and undervalued positions in today’s perimeter league, and one that will be extremely important for the 2021 New York Jets because of the unique flexibility they provide.
As of today, if you ask any Jets fan which position is the weakest link on the team’s defense—besides the obvious answer of outside cornerback—the answer will undoubtedly be either weakside linebacker or slot cornerback. It would be an absolutely unison response.
And they would be right.
I completely agree with Jets fans that the depth at those positions isn’t the greatest looking thing, but I’m also here to say that this spot’s weakness (the seventh guy in the box in a 4-3, 2 deep look, or the closest DB to the LOS in a 4-2 front) will be smoothed by the constant usage of three safety looks by Jeff Ulbrich and Robert Saleh.
Most notably, Lamarcus Joyner, Ashtyn Davis and Marcus Maye will be used in those roles. By deploying these three guys in a variety of ways, the Jets can mask their LB/NB weakness and get their most talented players on the field.
In my last article, I wrote about Lamarcus Joyner’s FS role, beginning my breakdown of these three safeties who will be an integral part of the 2021 Jets defense. Today, we look at the centerpiece of the group, Maye. Can he play strong safety in this new scheme?
This idea came to me after a recent press conference in which Saleh said he views Joyner as the team’s free safety and Maye as the strong safety. Davis will presumably play the role of the third safety, perhaps lining up either as a WLB (big nickel or big dime look) or a slot cornerback in some defensive looks.
Off we go to talk about Marcus Maye.
Even though some fans dislike the idea of Maye playing SS, I’m a fan. I like Maye as an all-around safety. He’s talented, disciplined and understands his assignments well.
I should be honest with you and openly note beforehand that I’m an optimistic person. I usually view and process information with the glass half full.
So, the moment I heard Saleh’s comments regarding Maye’s usage, I came back to his games against the Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers (Saleh must’ve seen the same things I did, even though Maye allowed two touchdowns vs. Jordan Reed), where he excelled close to the line in three facets that I believe are extremely important for a strong safety:
- Run support
- Man coverage
- Situational pass rushing
Below are some of the plays that best showcase how smart, instinctive and disciplined Maye is close to the line—plays I believe can be replicated this year with the best coaching staff and defensive front that Marcus Maye has had in his career.
Situational pass rushing
Playing the RPO as a blitzer
One of the toughest tasks for a defensive player comes when the offense’s play call tries to put you in conflict. Run/pass options do it often to second-level defenders, forcing them to consistently make the wrong decision.
In the play below, Maye outsmarts Josh Allen. He peaks at the running back so he doesn’t get fooled with a run on his gap (C-gap) and then attacks the quarterback, occupying his throwing lane. Maye deflects the football and almost creates a turnover. Disciplined play leads to good instincts.
Blitzing in man coverage
When you are in man coverage and the man you are responsible for is a running back or tight end who ends up blocking, you blitz. At least that’s how it happened under Gregg Williams and how it’s widely done around the league and the football world.
Here, you see Marcus Maye playing the classic SS role: matched up in front of the TE, manning him up. The Jets are playing what some call Cover 12 (1 deep safety, 2 hole defender covering the hook zones). Buffalo’s tight end stays as a blocker, and that means a green light for Maye. He comes in, bodies Devin Singletary, and gets the sack. Once again, discipline and instincts force a negative play by the offense.
Rushing free to the quarterback
You can say what you want about Gregg Williams, but the man could disguise some blitzes. On this particular play here, he shows a six-man rush and ends up bringing only four guys – two of them being Maye and current free agent Brian Poole. Maye, once again, plays disciplined football. He buzzes his feet, doesn’t run past Allen and finishes the play.
Forced Fumble vs. Josh Allen
In this play, we see the processing of Maye.
Pay attention to two very specific moments: the second Gabriel Davis commits to blocking Harvey Langi and Maye realizes it’s a run play, and the second Maye realizes Josh Allen won’t cut back and he can accelerate to make the tackle.
Tackle for loss lining up as a “linebacker”
Technically speaking, Maye is not a linebacker here. But he lines up as one of the middle linebackers in an exotic 3-4 look brought by Gregg Williams. This play is a good example of Maye being used in the box and worrying only about the run. Harvey Langi doesn’t get fooled by the TE motion and contacts the back behind the line. Maye reads the play correctly and cleans it up – as a good linebacker would.
Man coverage skills
Back to back plays: deflection followed by a touchdown
This two-play sequence here is extremely interesting. The 49ers are inside the five and their plan in back-to-back plays is to attack Maye through Jordan Reed. Maye, in both snaps, defends with the correct technique: mirrors Reed early, keeping his hips square. Then, tries the deflection with his front side hand, while his backside arm is holding the receiver to secure the tackle.
On the first play, Maye deflects the football and makes an A+ play. On the second one, a perfect throw by Jimmy Garoppolo and Reed’s wingspan beat Maye, ending up in a touchdown.
Moral: defensive players may lose reps even though they are playing them perfectly. That’s why the NFL is so competitive.
At the end of the day, what sticks out to me is that Maye is a technically sound player in man coverage. He can hold up against TEs in the toughest spots.
Key play that brought Zach Wilson and Robert Saleh home
I never rooted for a Jets loss, but I was numb when they beat the Los Angeles Rams. The play below, by Maye, secured the win.
Matched up one-on-one on a go route vs. Gerald Everrett, Maye displays good technique and also awesome athleticism. He’s on an island with a taller player than he is, but is still able to make the deflection.
One of my favorite books is Frederick Schauer’s Playing by The Rules, in which the author argues that a society guided by pre-defined rules does better than a society that approaches its problems on a case-by-case basis.
I believe that the same goes for football players.
Football players that play every situation with proper technique, respecting their assignments and display proper discipline tend to fare better than those who try to approach every play with a different mindset, often freelancing and ignoring the rules that guide their responsibilities. You must play by the rules of the techniques and the assignments.
Marcus Maye is the type of player that plays by the rules. He knows that freelancing and trusting purely on instincts can backfire. So, he sticks to his assignment, plays it fundamentally sound, finishes his rep, and is ready to do the same thing on the next one, on and on. He knows that he’s skilled enough to make an impact by simply playing every play accordingly. And that’s the definition of a rock-solid player.
This type of athlete usually succeeds in most of the situations they are put in because their mentality is always the same: play disciplined and fundamentally sound. Stick to the assignment. That’s why I’m not worried about Maye as the team’s SS. He’s shown flashes, and he will surely adapt to his new/old full-time role.
Because that’s exactly what every Jets fan should expect from Marcus Maye: adaptability and coachability off the field, and fundamentally sound, disciplined football inside the white lines.