Ronald Blair is not the only strong run-stopping EDGE on the New York Jets’ roster; Kyle Phillips thrives in that area as well.
The New York Jets recently added former San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ronald Blair to help improve an EDGE unit that was lacking run-stopping talent. While Blair is certainly a fantastic addition to help patch up that weakness, it cannot be forgotten that the Jets already had a player at the EDGE position who is capable of providing excellent edge-setting and run-stopping ability in rushing situations: Kyle Phillips.
An undrafted free agent out of Tennessee in 2019, Phillips signed with the Jets and had a successful rookie season, playing 549 snaps over 15 games for the league’s 11th-ranked defense (based on DVOA). While Phillips was very quiet in the passing game, he was an animal against the run, playing a major role in powering the Jets to No. 2 in rush defense DVOA. Phillips recorded 16 tackles for no gain or a loss in the run game, which tied for the third-most among edge defenders.
Phillips was limited to seven games in 2020 after suffering a season-ending ankle injury in Week 7, but he still provided excellent run defense when on the field. He had five tackles for no gain or a loss in the run game through Week 6, an average of 0.83 per game that would have put him on pace for 13 over the entire season. That would have ranked fifth among edge defenders – and Phillips did that while playing only 28.5 snaps per game (about 40% of the defensive plays on average) compared to 36.6 in 2019 (about 53% of the defensive plays on average).
Here is a look at Phillips’ production as a pass rusher and run defender over his first two seasons, as well as where those numbers ranked among qualified edge defenders.
In 2019, Phillips recorded a run stop (a tackle in the run game that constitutes a poor result for the offense) on 7.7% of his snaps against the run, nearly 2% higher than the 2020 EDGE average of 5.8% and good enough for the 77th percentile among qualified edge defenders. He also posted an elite Pro Football Focus run defense grade of 76.6, ranking at the 87th percentile. Phillips remained solid in both categories over a smaller sample of snaps in 2020.
The most impressive aspect of Phillips’s run defense is his knack for making splashy stops. As a rookie, Phillips’ average tackle against the run occurred 0.1 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, the second-deepest tackle depth in the run game among edge defenders. His 2020 mark was a nearly identical 0.2 yards, ranking sixth-deepest. Essentially, these numbers tell us that Phillips’s tackles usually occur at or behind the line of scrimmage.
Throughout his first two seasons, the Jets were fully aware of the disparity between Phillips’s skills as a pass rusher and run defender, as they utilized him accordingly. Of Phillips’s 720 career snaps, 45.6% of them came on run plays, which is well above the 2020 EDGE average of 36.7%. In 2020, Phillips faced a run play on a whopping 54.9% of his snaps.
Phillips will likely be playing the same role in Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich‘s defense. Vinny Curry and Bryce Huff are solid complements to Carl Lawson in the passing game, but both are liabilities against the run. When the Jets face a situation where they feel a run is likely and want to put a tougher, more physical unit on the field, expect Phillips and/or Ronald Blair to rotate into the game.
Let’s revisit Phillips’s film to get an idea of why he has been so effective as a run defender and how he can help the Jets in that phase this upcoming season.
Phillips’s bread-and-butter is his motor and pursuit when coming off the edge unblocked and/or on the backside. He plays through the whistle relentlessly and is skilled at tracking down the ball and finishing the tackle cleanly. We’ll start off with a few examples of Phillips’s signature hustle plays.
Phillips is unblocked here as the 9-tech, but on the broadcast angle, you can see more clearly that he still had to evade the sifting H-back from the opposite side. Phillips shows good awareness of the sifter as he gets far enough upfield to avoid the block. He dives for the tackle with good timing and accuracy, grabbing Myles Gaskin around the hips just as he goes by. Third-down tackle for loss.
Another great effort play from Phillips. He is lined up way out wide, standing up outside of the flexed-out tight end. Phillips shows the hustle that coaches love as he pursues the play from the backside to bring down now-teammate Tevin Coleman. On the way, the right tackle tries to use his outside hand to impede Phillips, but Phillips deflects it to keep himself clean.
Phillips’s tackling is another thing to keep an eye on as you watch his film. He has only two missed tackles in his career, boasting a 25-to-1 ratio of tackles to missed tackles. That’s nearly five times better than the 2020 EDGE average (5.5-to-1).
Phillips does a good job of fulfilling his responsibility setting the edge as he engages the tight end, holds his ground, and stays in position to play either inside or outside. As Leonard Fournette looks to hit the edge, Phillips works outside and sheds the TE with a forklift move, pushing the TE’s arms upward. Fournette reverses field and Phillips chases him down for a four-yard loss, out-hustling multiple Jets defenders.
Defeating OTs for big plays
Phillips can defeat blockers to make plays, too.
Phillips has a tendency to play too high (this issue hurts him in the passing game), but when he gets his pads low, he offers a lot of power and can create quality penetration. Here, he gets lower than the OT and fires both hands into the upper body to create contact before the OT can get hands-on. As Phillips is slanting inside while making contact, the OT’s inside half is knocked back and he is prompted to open up his hips. Phillips clears him to make the tackle in the backfield for a loss.
Really good play by Phillips on the front side of this wide-zone run that Jets fans will become accustomed to seeing in 2021. Phillips takes on the left tackle, initiating contact on the inside half to cover the B-gap and force Jeff Wilson to head outside. Nice work by Phillips flashing his helmet inside so he can both read the play and prompt the RB to ignore the gap. Once Wilson goes outside, Phillips works across the face of the LT and gets to the edge to make the stop.
Defeating TEs for big plays
Expect Phillips to consistently win his run-game battles against tight ends.
Lined up as the 7-tech (tight end’s inside shoulder), Phillips attacks the TE’s inside half to gain inside leverage. He extends his outside arm to separate himself and work to the inside, penetrating the C-gap. Coleman cuts back into Phillips’s arms and Phillips is able to finish the tackle with the TE still draped on him.
Phillips lines up at 5-tech and takes on the tight end on the backside. He quickly diagnoses the action and understands he has natural inside leverage against the tight end, so he goes to the obvious move to claim the victory, the rip move. Phillips throws a rip with his outside arm, defeating the tight end’s inside arm to beat him and penetrate the C-gap for a stop on Josh Jacobs.
Phillips offers the versatility to line up on the inside, and he is just as effective against the run in that role.
As the 4i-technique defensive tackle (aligned over the RT’s inside shoulder), Phillips does a good job of keeping himself clean so he can pursue the play.
Phillips comes off the ball low and gets his hands into the RT’s chest to keep at him bay before he can attempt to secure the block. After knocking the RT back, Phillips pulls his hands out to keep himself free.
Phillips knows he is on the backside of an outside zone and also notices that an enormous cutback lane develops in the B-gap, so he aggressively works down the line of scrimmage to keep the cutback lane covered. Ezekiel Elliott looks to use the seemingly open B-gap, but Phillips is able to get down the line and plug it up just as Elliott comes through.
Again at 4i-tech, Phillips takes on the right guard and looks to establish outside leverage. He does so successfully, engaging aggressively as he makes first contact and lands his hands accurately into the RG’s upper body. Once he gets his hands firmly into the RG’s body, Phillips keeps his arms extended to maintain outside positioning and defend the B-gap. Once James Conner comes by and looks to cut upfield through the B-gap, Phillips sheds and makes a hard hit on Conner for the stop.
Phillips has flown under the radar amongst Jets fans. He has quietly provided some outstanding run defense over the first two years, contributing to making the Jets one of the best run-stopping teams in the league.
Now as a part of an EDGE unit that features a handful of players who have a skill-set that leans heavily towards the passing game, Phillips’s run defense is going to be even more important. When Lawson, Curry, or Huff are on the field, the Jets will be sacrificing some run-stopping ability in exchange for excellent pass-rushing ability, so the Jets will be relying on Phillips and Ronald Blair to make up for that trade-off with elite run defense during their time on the field.
Watch out for the third-year Tennessee Volunteer. If the Jets are going to maintain their status as a stout run-defense, Phillips is likely going to be a key part of it.