The NY Jets’ run defense could decline due to the improved pass rush put together this past offseason.
No one team in the NFL has defended the run better than the New York Jets over the past decade. Since 2011, the Jets have yielded 3.89 yards per carry, the lowest mark in football.
Over the same stretch, the Jets have been an abysmal pass-rushing team, ranking 27th in the league with 2.2 sacks per game.
A role reversal could be on the horizon.
That’s not to say the Jets’ run defense will tumble to an abysmal level akin to their pass-rushing over the past decade. Instead, New York’s run defense might only be around league-average this year, whereas the pass rush could be elite.
The Jets have constructed a defensive front that is overflowing with pass-rush talent. There is a legitimate chance that Jeff Ulbrich‘s defense finishes as one of the three best pass-rushing units in the league.
To build this potentially elite pass rush, the Jets have had to pay the price of possibly waving goodbye to the excellent run-stopping they enjoyed last year and for many years prior. Many of their best pass-rushers are no better than average against the run.
The following four defenders have a large disparity between their pass-rushing talent and run-stopping talent. Shown are their 2020 Pro Football Focus grades in each phase and where they ranked (percentile) among qualifiers at their position:
- EDGE Carl Lawson: 84.9 pass-rush grade (93rd percentile), 61.1 run defense grade (54th)
- IDL Sheldon Rankins (incl. playoffs): 68.4 pass-rush grade (72nd), 58.2 run defense grade (43rd)
- IDL John Franklin-Myers: 76.4 pass-rush grade (87th), 57.1 run defense grade (42nd)
- EDGE Vinny Curry: 70.9 pass-rush grade (72nd), 53.1 run defense grade (26th)
Let’s take a look at a few plays against the run from each of these four key players to get an idea of where they struggle in the phase and what they do well.
Vinny Curry: The Bad
Lined up at 6-technique (over the tight end), Curry overplays Russell Wilson on this handoff, compromising the edge against the run. Curry tries to dive back inside to make the tackle but comes nowhere close.
If not for a great play by the weak-side linebacker coming across the formation to cover Curry’s edge, this most likely would have been a touchdown for Carlos Hyde.
This run call by the Cowboys goes directly against Curry’s gap assignment, so you absolutely do not expect him to make the tackle, but you would like to see him show more resistance and create more penetration against the crack block of 198-pound wide receiver CeeDee Lamb.
Curry is decimated by another crack block, this time by tight end Durham Smythe, who is motioning pre-snap.
Curry appears completely unaware that the block may be coming, seemingly assuming that Smythe would run a route or block to the second level.
Vinny Curry: The Good
Curry makes an awesome play against the jet sweep. He is left unblocked by the right tackle and tight end and shows good awareness as he immediately targets the ball-carrier, wasting no motion.
While Curry does not finish the tackle here, this is still a good play against a jet-sweep. Left unblocked on the weak edge, Curry is able to wrap up a running back (J.D. McKissic) in space, slowing him up enough for the defense to rally and make the tackle for a three-yard loss.
Coaches want rotational edge rushers to bring great hustle to the table. Since they are getting plenty of rest throughout the game, they should be able to play hard on a consistent basis.
Curry offers an excellent motor, seen here as he chases down Alvin Kamara.
Sheldon Rankins: The Bad
Rankins gets moved around fairly easily in the run game. Here, Rankins looks to get out in front of the zone play from the back-side B-gap, but he leaves the left half of his body exposed and gets plowed by the right guard.
The center joins in to create some more movement.
Rankins looks to swim over the right guard and penetrate the B-gap, but he does nothing with his outer arm to fend off the right tackle, leaving himself vulnerable on the outside.
The right tackle gets his hands on Rankins’ back and squashes him into the middle of the field. This is an example of the run-game consequences that can come with an aggressive one-gap approach.
Double teams are effective against Rankins. The second blocker is often able to create a lot of movement against him due to his lack of awareness that another block might be coming.
On this fourth-and-1 play, Rankins stacks the left guard and holds his ground fairly well, but he isn’t prepared for the left tackle, who blocks down on Rankins and creates plenty of space for the RB to pick up the first down.
Sheldon Rankins: The Good
Rankins’ explosion and athleticism can lead to big plays against the run when he is able to shoot through gaps cleanly.
As the front-side 3-tech here, Rankins shoots inside through the A-gap and contorts to the RB as he attempts to cut back, making the tackle for a loss.
This is a nice display of power and block-shedding from Rankins. As the front-side 3-tech, he attacks the outer half of the right guard to blast him back. He also does a good job of staying afoot through the shove from the center.
Rankins then throws on the brakes, tosses the guard outside, and works back inside for the tackle.
As the front-side 3-tech once again, Rankins gets out in front of the play for a stop this time.
He does a nice job of getting beneath the pads of the left guard and also powering through the attempted block of the fullback.
John Franklin-Myers: The Bad
Franklin-Myers gives up the edge from a 5-technique alignment as he charges a bit too far inside and is then cut down by 195-pound wide receiver Albert Wilson.
He tries to grab Wilson from the ground but fails.
While Franklin-Myers’ 288-pound frame gives him a huge quickness advantage on the interior that he maximizes in the passing game (and occasionally in the run game as we will see later), it leaves him undersized and movable in the run game.
Former Jets tackle Brandon Shell plows Franklin-Myers (4i-tech) inside on this split zone play to open up a huge cutback lane for Carlos Hyde.
Franklin-Myers shows a lack of awareness here as he allows the RB to dart straight by him. From a 4i-tech alignment, Franklin-Myers engages the right guard and holds his ground, positioning himself well to play either the B or C-gap.
However, he never locates the RB and misses an opportunity to shed towards the inside and make the stop for a short gain.
John Franklin-Myers: The Good
Just like Rankins, Franklin-Myers can use his burst to make flashy stops against the run.
Franklin-Myers slices inside from the 4i-tech spot, beats the left guard with a double-swipe, and meets Le’Veon Bell for the three-yard loss.
Franklin-Myers does a great job staying low coming off the ball, getting underneath the right tackle to establish control.
He crashes down the line and makes the tackle for a two-yard loss coming from the backside.
This is another great example of an explosive play off the ball from Franklin-Myers. He lines up at the 2i-technique spot, over the right guard’s inside shoulder. The RG pulls while the center tries to block down on Franklin-Myers.
He skips inside and uses a rip move to get by the center and penetrate the A-gap, blowing up the play.
Carl Lawson: The Bad
Lawson can struggle to set the edge sometimes. Against New York Jets legend and future Ring of Honor inductee Eric Tomlinson, Lawson initially holds the edge well, but he works a little too far inside rather than holding his position, which leaves the edge vacated.
Gus Edwards takes advantage of it.
Lawson gives up a big play on an end-around. He appears to have a solid awareness of the end-around itself, but where he loses the rep is with his awareness of the offensive line. Lawson creeps inside towards the traffic and allows the center to come all the way out to the edge to pin him inside.
Ideally, Lawson gets outside of the center and takes an extremely hard outside angle to force the run back inside or at least force the runner to slow up a bit.
The left tackle appears to botch this play as he leaves Lawson with a clear path into the backfield. Lawson appears unsure of whether to play the running back or the quarterback.
He overpursues the play and whiffs on a chance to stop the RB for a massive loss.
Carl Lawson: The Good
Following along with Rankins and Franklin-Myers, Lawson is yet another explosive athlete who is capable of using his physical prowess to blow up run plays even if he struggles in other areas as a run defender.
As the 9-tech here, Lawson gets a good jump off the ball, makes a great read, and takes a fantastic angle as he stops the jet sweep.
Another purely nasty run-stop from Lawson. He engages the left tackle (rookie Andrew Thomas) and feels him leaning out in front, so he jerks him forward.
Lawson comes right out of the move to make the stop.
Lawson plows through two tight ends and darts in from the backside for the stop.
The Jets have some shaky run defenders on their defensive line. However, it should not be forgotten that they also have a pair of elite ones who will help pick up the slack in Foley Fatukasi and Quinnen Williams.
On the downside, the Jets will be relying on some combination of two Day 3 rookies (Jamien Sherwood and Hamsah Nasirildeen) and two questionable run defenders (Jarrad Davis and Blake Cashman) at linebacker next to Mosley, so that needs to be considered as well.
Ultimately, the Jets may have too many mediocre run defenders to maintain their status as a dominant run defense. However, those mediocre run defenders are just that: mediocre. They are not terrible.
With a handful of excellent run defenders to balance things out, this Jets defense figures to rank in the middle of the pack when it comes to stopping to the run.
If a league-average run defense is the cost of having a pass-rush that is one of the league’s absolute best on paper, you can bet the Jets will gladly pay it.