Who are the New York Jets’ best blitzers at off-ball linebacker and defensive back? Which players struggle at blitzing?
The New York Jets were a blitz-heavy defense under the leadership of Gregg Williams. According to Pro Football Reference, they had the NFL’s fourth-highest blitz rate in 2019 (39.2% of pass plays) and sixth-highest blitz rate in 2020 (38.4% of pass plays).
Will that change under Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich? We will have to wait to find out the answer to that question, as each coach offers a different signal as to whether the Jets will remain a blitz-heavy team or if they will swing to the other end of the spectrum.
If Saleh’s background is the indicator, the most likely answer is yes, the Jets will blitz far less than they did under Williams. When Saleh’s San Francisco 49ers defense was at its best, Saleh kept blitzes to a minimum because he could rely on the four-man rush to create pressure. In their 2019 NFC Championship season, the 49ers blitzed on 20.9% of opposing pass plays, the fourth-lowest rate in the league.
With one of the best defensive lines in the NFL on paper, the Jets have the talent to pull off a similar style of defense. Saleh should feel confident that his team has enough pass-rush juice to create a significant amount of pressure without having to blitz frequently.
Ulbrich’s background points us in a different direction. From the point that he took over as the Falcons’ defensive coordinator in Week 6 of the 2020 season, Atlanta became a much more blitz-heavy team than it was under head coach Dan Quinn.
From Weeks 1-5 (with Quinn running the defense), the Falcons’ linebackers and defensive backs combined for 19.2 snaps per game in which they rushed the passer, which ranked 16th in the NFL over that span. Over the ensuing 11 games following Ulbrich’s promotion, Atlanta’s linebackers and defensive backs combined for 25.6 pass-rush snaps per game, which ranked fifth in the NFL and represented a 33.3% increase compared to the first five weeks.
In time, we will know exactly how much the Jets plan to blitz this season, but they will obviously be blitzing to some degree, so it makes to think about which players might be the core pieces in their blitz packages. Who should they rely on for frequent blitzing roles and who should they refrain from sending after the quarterback?
Let’s take a look at the career blitzing track records of the Jets’ key defensive backs and linebackers. The team has a few players who have done a phenomenal job of getting to the quarterback, but also some players who can stand to improve in this facet of the game.