C.J. Mosley is NY Jets defense's X-Factor for 2021.
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C.J. Mosley is one of the most important players on the entire NY Jets roster in 2021, boasting an incredible ceiling.

Sidearm Session

The year is 2019. Adam Gase and Mike Maccagnan are trying to build a better, more competitive New York Jets squad.

In contrast with the current boss, Joe Douglas, it appeared that Maccagnan didn’t mind building through free agency. Well, at least that’s what his acquisitions made us all think—especially when he aggressively pursued then-free agent Kirk Cousins.

One of the last Maccagnan-era men standing is C.J. Mosley—one of Maccagnan’s big (and last) signings.

Different from others, whose Jets careers have already ended, such as Le’Veon Bell, Trumaine Johnson, and Kelechi Osemele, the jury is still out on Mosley as a Jet. After appearing in just two games in his first year (Buffalo, injured vs. New England), Mosley opted out of the 2020 season due to coronavirus concerns. The Jets missed him dearly, especially in Gregg Williams’ Tampa-2-heavy scheme.

Robert Saleh‘s arrival forced Jets fans to question what the future held for Mosley. Trade rumors started floating around, alongside a little pay-cut talk.

None of it turned out to be true. Saleh and his staff have counted on Mosley since day one, and the early reviews from OTAs and minicamp are positive. Mosley looks sharp, fast and well-conditioned. Obviously, linebackers can only be properly evaluated when wearing pads, but so far, so good.

The truth is that Mosley is going to have an extremely important role in this year’s defense—even more important than some Jets fans believe. He’s critical to both the scheme and to the youngsters around him.

Follow my thoughts:

  1. First, you probably have heard Jeff Ulbrich say that his front four will be in attack mode, which means getting after the quarterback on basically every down.
  2. If defensive linemen play with a lot more freedom, another position group will have an increased responsibility against the run. Naturally, we’re referring to the linebackers here.

An attacking front four requires a linebacking trio that can stop the run, penetrate and make tackles. And it all starts with the MIKE linebacker in this scheme, as seen from Fred Warner in San Francisco, who had 125 total tackles last season (10th in the NFL).

Mosley is nowhere near as athletic as Warner, but he can surely get the job done with his instincts and high football IQ.

Mosley’s importance also gets blatant when you take a look around his position partners. SAM linebacker Jarrad Davis struggled mightily in Detroit, to a point he only played about 30% of his team’s snaps last season.

The weakside linebacker (WILL) spot, on the other hand, is wide open. It’s probably going to be filled by an inexperienced player, be it one of the team’s draft picks, Jamien Sherwood or Hamsah Nasilredeen, or the oft-injured Blake Cashman.

From both a scheme and a depth chart perspective, it’s clear that C.J. Mosley is the X-Factor of this defense.

After figuring out the importance of Mosley, I decided to take a look at every single snap he played vs. Buffalo back in Week 1 of 2019. Below, I highlight the plays that caught my eye from Mosley – both positive and negative.

Jets X-Factor Membership

Quarterback of the defense

There’s nothing that impresses on this play after the ball is snapped, but the pre-snap from Mosley here, on the first play of the game, is extremely important.

First plays are usually the snaps where players are nervous the most. That first hit hasn’t come yet, so everything is still too theoretical. Not for Mosley. He tells the defensive linemen to shift alongside the offense’s shift and aligns his linebackers properly.

This is a fine example of what he can do to Davis and Hamsah/Sherwood: free them from their pre-snap overthinking, allow the youngsters to just play.

Mosley’s Jets debut is just one terrific example of what he offers between the ears. The Bills ran a lot of uptempo, so Mosley was calling everything from the field.

This play isn’t supposed to happen in 2021

If you watched Flight 2021: An Offseason with the New York Jets, you heard Ulbrich describe his scheme in detail. In Ulbrich’s mind, quarterbacks aren’t supposed to get to their second and third reads. The front-four pressure must get there sooner than that or everything is doomed.

In this play below, even though one would like to see Mosley break quicker on the hook route by John Brown, Josh Allen ultimately gets to his third read. This should not happen in 2021. If it does, well, this defense won’t be meeting its freshly-defined Ulbrich goal.

Once again, it’s worth highlighting the fact that Mosley gets everyone lined up after the Bills shifted their formation.

Mosley, playing the Tampa-2 inside linebacker here, should have closed on Brown a tad quicker since there was no deep threat to his area. Silver lining: Mosley is a sure tackler.

Pick 6 – right place at the right time

Mosley’s smarts are on full display in the next rep, as this pick-6 only happens thanks to his positioning. Had he dropped a bit more in his zone, Beasley’s drop would’ve resulted in an incompletion.

Mosley peeks at Cole Beasley and also recognizes, by Josh Allen’s drop back, that the Bills are running a quick-game concept. Once Beasley breaks, Mosley knows it’s time to, at least, close on the receiver to make the tackle. Beasley knocks the football up into the air and Mosley gets rewarded with 6.

Stick to your assignment

In the defensive scheme that the Jets will deploy in 2021, very little freelancing is allowed for the back-7 guys. Strict assignment football is what’ll highlight the defensive backs’ responsibilities.

That’s precisely what happened in this play below.

Mosley sees Beasley entering his zone and sticks to him until the end. Many linebackers would have jumped the gun and attacked Josh Allen, but not Mosley. He knows the defense is playing zone, so everyone is looking at Allen. He also knows that Beasley is the guy Allen looks for when the play breaks down.

So, Mosley, showing a great understatement of the big picture, follows Beasley and trusts his teammates to bring Allen down, which is what eventually happens.

Snaps vs. the run: at his best when recognizing the play

Mosley is not the most powerful player on the planet, but he often showcases the idea that strength is not a raw attribute. The Alabama product is probably responsible for the C-gap here, as he matches up with the Bills’ tight end.

Mosley recognizes his blocker is way too tall, so he throws him to the ground. If not for a great play by Jamal Adams, Mosley would have made the tackle.

This is what understanding leverage provides an NFL defense.

This play is such a great example of Mosley’s overall impact.

The Bills dial up a quarterback sneak in a third-and-short situation, and Mosley, first and foremost, gets everyone in position. After that, by looking at the linemen’s movement, he recognizes the running action is happening inside.

The moment he steps inside he sees Allen, there’s no hesitation, which leads to a Jets defensive stop.

This is my favorite Mosley play against the run in the entire game. The Jets MIKE recognizes the power run to the left called by the Bills and penetrates to make the tackle.

This will be his job in the new scheme, as well. With everyone else attacking, he will need to make the tackles when running backs get to the second level. This one demonstrates fantastic play recognition and tackle ability.

Mosley’s lack of strength is evident here, as he gets bullied by the Bills’ right guard. Not much to say regarding this rep, really; it’s ust a clean pancake by the Bills lineman.

Mosley should be a lot lower than he is; that’s for sure. He got caught out of position because he was coming on the blitz.

Fumble recovery

Not much blah-blah to say about this one. Mosley recovers the fumble after stopping the Bills’ quarterback sneak attempt. Back-to-back impact plays isn’t a foreign sequence for this multi-time Pro Bowler. Football is all about momentum.

Two solid reps vs. WRs in coverage

Here are two great plays in coverage, showcasing his zone-coverage ability. Beasley is running a slot-dig here, and he needs to cut right in front of Mosley – the soft spot of Tampa-2.

Mosley reacts to Allen’s throwing motion and breaks on the ball before Beasley even gets to his cut. His timing and awareness almost rewarded him with another interception.

This might be the most impressive play in Mosley’s tape. It’s Tampa-2 once again, and he’s matched up on a vertical route by John Brown.

The instincts are off the charts since Mosley breaks on the ball without turning back to look. He is simply reacting to Brown while never panicking, even though he’s matching up on a guy that’s a lot faster than him.

This one, of course, was the dreaded play Mosley injured himself, and the Jets have missed him since.

Final thoughts

I wouldn’t label C.J. Mosley as the perfect fit in this scheme, but he’s more than capable to get the job done. His tape against Buffalo showed off all of his incredible skills.

Mosley is a great linebacker in zone coverage. He recognizes concepts well and knows how to occupy the space. The grizzled vet is also a sure tackler. He can penetrate and also bring guys down in space.

Mentally, it’s all there. His football IQ is off the charts. He recognizes plays, places teammates on the correct spot, and often makes up for his own lack of physicality with good positioning.

Overall, this man is the best linebacker on this roster by far. He will help the others by simply being there because he takes care of the identifying and positioning so the young, athletic freaks can focus on just playing ball.

Within a zone-heavy defense, especially Cover-3 heavy, Mosley’s coverage skills will be highlighted and his ability to anticipate quarterbacks will show up, especially when they start to get hurried by the Jets’ front four pressure.

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A former quarterback, Vitor Paiva wants to showcase a deep analysis of what's really happening on the field, showcasing what's really on the mind of a football player during a play, in his Sidearm Session. Email: vitorpaivagon@gmail.com

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