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4 critical NY Jets offensive and defensive scheme questions

Zach Wilson gets ready to throw the ball in practice as NY Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur looks on (with Robert Saleh).
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The answers to four questions related to the NY Jets’ offensive and defensive schemes will be crucial in determining their 2021 success. It’ll also go a long way in jumpstarting Elijah Moore‘s career, developing Zach Wilson, and developing a defensive identity.

I know, I know …

Every fan is tired of reading articles about how much different the 2021 New York Jets will be compared to Adam Gase’s years. We have already experienced six months of preaching that everything will look better in New York with the arrival of Robert Saleh and company, so why look back at all?

Well, I’m not here to write another article about the differences between the old and new coach. It’s pretty clear what’s going to change; Saleh and Gase are as different as two people can be.

Answering some of the questions that remain about the new staff’s X’s and O’s is what remains. Thus far, we have made educated guesses involving what Saleh, Jeff Ulbrich and Mike LaFleur are going to do.

Some of the scheme-related stuff is easy to predict. Other aspects are simply too tough. Fortunately, both Saleh and LaFleur coached the same squad together over the previous four years. So, looking at San Francisco to get answers is a nice place to start.

The strengths of the 49ers are not the strengths of the Jets, though. And since the consensus believes this is a quality staff, scheming to this squad’s strengths is an expected and necessary action.

Eventually, the answers will surface. And fans will slowly come to understand that truth once training camp commences. For now, we’ll pose some of the New York Jets’ most important schematic questions heading into the 2021 NFL season.

The offense’s go-to personnel has to be 11

The San Francisco 49ers were second in the league in 21 personnel usage last season, deploying it on 33% of the offense’s snaps. It will surprise me if the Jets used 21 personnel more than 20% of their snaps, for a couple of reasons.

First, Trevon Wesco – with all due respect to the solid player that he is – is not as good as Kyle Juszczyk. Plus, the Jets’ offensive personnel strength is outside at wide receiver.

The problem is realized in the scheme. The Jets are supposed to run an outside/wide-zone rushing attack, and the ideal scenario for an offense that runs outside is to load up with tight ends or fullbacks, especially if the quarterback is under center.

The extra beef keeps the edge defenders further away from the football, allowing blocks to develop more patiently and giving running backs more room to cut back inside.

The Jets will have to find a way to run the ball to the outside successfully from 11 personnel. One way to do it is to get Elijah Moore involved in pre-snap motions to the backside of the play, freezing linebackers and creating running lanes on cutbacks.

Look at how the Packers did it on this play vs. the Detroit Lions last season (picture Elijah Moore on the orbit):

We will see LaFleur’s plan when the Jets hit the field in the preseason—perhaps even before that when they go 11 on 11 in camp.

How often will the Jets play Cover 3?

Jets fans have heard it a lot in the past six months: Saleh will run Cover 3 and the front four will ease the job of the secondary.

As much as I believe this is going to be true most of the time, a football game demands flexibility. Injuries happen more often than not and sometimes the other team simply has your number. At that point, adapting is the only option left.

Saleh is not the defensive coordinator. But make no mistake about the idea that his fingerprints will be all over this defense. That’s why the Cover 3 talk is warranted.

However, last season, Saleh showed that he is able to adapt when things don’t go his way.

In an injury-plagued 2020 season, the San Francisco defense’s most used coverage was Cover 1 (31.8%). The Niners ranked 16th in the league in Cover 3 percentage (20.3%)—not the ranking most would expect for a “Cover 3 guy.”

It’s fair to believe that the Jets will play the majority of the team snaps in Cover 3. It’s how the roster seems to be built—strong upfront with fast but vastly inexperienced players in the secondary and taller outside corners who can attack the high-point.

Regardless, it’s worth keeping in mind Saleh’s ability to adapt. He might start things out with Cover 3, but he will definitely keep all options on the table.

Today’s third-down norms are also worth mentioning. The majority of third downs are played in man coverage. The Jets won’t be much different, especially when the opponent has less than five yards to go. Those situations will signal “show-up time” for Bryce Hall and company.

We’ll eventually find out who faithful Saleh will be to the Seattle Seahawks-type Cover 3 scheme he learned during his time there.

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Elijah Moore’s role

Elijah Moore earned star OTA honors this past spring. The rookie impressed everyone who watched it first-hand. Constantly wowing with his spectacular catches and clean route running, the kid’s rookie status was tough to believe.

Although he benefited from the no-show of Jamison Crowder for most of OTAs and the minimal usage of Corey Davis and Denzel Mims, Moore’s attention to detail shined.

When everyone is healthy and ready to go, what will Moore’s role be?

Honestly, it shouldn’t matter who’s healthy and who’s not; the Jets won’t be able to keep Moore off the field. He is probably their most talented receiver and has a skill that no one else in the room has—the ability to be the jet-motion man.

The 49ers were one of the few teams that had more than 50% of their passing yards coming after the catch. Screens, quick routes, and jet-sweep touch passes were the ways they got most of these yards.

It’s also how Moore should find his groove going early in the season.

We’ll begin to see Moore’s role more clearly as camp begins and progresses. As a jet-motion guy, he will undoubtedly see the field early and often.

Considering how talented he is, though, Moore might be ready to be a starting wide receiver on this team. We shall see.

How often will the Jets blitz?

This is almost a bonus question because it’s hard to figure out how often a team really wants to blitz by watching them in the summer and reviewing a coaching staff’s old tape from previous stops.

It’s likely the Jets won’t be a blitz-heavy team like the Gregg Williams, Todd Bowles, and Rex Ryan defenses. But I also don’t believe Saleh will shy away from five or more rushers completely.

Jeff Ulbrich had some success last season as the Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator thanks to his blitz packages.

The Jets signed Jarrad Davis, who is an excellent blitzer. In last season’s small sample, Javelin Guidry proved to move downhill fast and efficiently.

Ulbrich’s front four might be able to get the job done most of the time, but I predict a fair amount of third-down blitz packages for the Jets this season, especially against teams that like to get rid of the football quickly.

Training camp is near, and so is football season. Soon enough, all of these questions will have definitive answers, and every New York Jets fan will learn the identity of their brand new squad.

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