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The NY Jets pass rush actually played quite well vs. Carolina

Sheldon Rankins, NY Jets, PFF Grade, Stats, Film Contract, 2021
Sheldon Rankins, NY Jets, Getty Images

The New York Jets defensive line was not as dormant as you may have thought

Fans and media members alike threw a lot of criticism at the New York Jets‘ defensive line throughout the team’s season-opening 19-14 loss to the Carolina Panthers. The unit that many see as the best on the roster finished with only one sack as it watched Sam Darnold throw 24 completions for 279 yards over their heads.

If you want to scout based on sack totals, then sure, the Jets’ defensive line was terrible. But if you actually analyze the unit’s full body of work, it is clear that the unit played a solid game.

New York pressured Darnold on 33.3% of his dropbacks. That’s a fairly average rate – it is currently tied for 14th-highest out of 31 qualified quarterbacks in Week 1 – but when you consider the style of football that he and the Panthers offense played, it is very impressive that the Jets were able to push his number that high.

Darnold released the ball under 2.5 seconds after the snap on 66.7% of his dropbacks. That stands as the highest portion among qualified quarterbacks in Week 1 prior to Monday Night Football.

So, Darnold was pressured on a fairly league-average percentage of his dropbacks even though he was getting the ball out immediately more often than any other quarterback in the league.

It takes some high-quality pass rushing for that discrepancy to occur.

New York’s pass rushers were winning their battles at an excellent rate. They just did not get many chances to finish off plays because the ball was coming out so quickly. And since casual observers like to judge pass rushers based off of sacks and sacks only, completely ignoring wins, pressures, and hits, the narrative formed that the defensive line was bad.

Below is a look at the pass-rush win rates (via Pro Football Focus) of the Jets’ six most-used pass rushers against Carolina. These rates tell us how often each player defeated the blocker(s) in front of them to create an angle to the quarterback while doing so in an ample amount of time (use the league averages shown below the list as a guide for the quality of these numbers).

2020 league averages: 9.9% for IDL, 12.9% for EDGE

Five of the Jets’ top six pass rushers won their battles at a rate ranging from great to elite, with the dead-silent Shaq Lawson being the only exception.

All edge rushers on the Jets combined for a pass-rush win rate of 14.3%, a decent chunk higher than the 2020 positional average of 12.9%. Bryce Huff starred as his 84.9 PFF pass-rush grade ranked eighth-best in the NFL among edge rushers with at least 20 pass-rush snaps in Week 1 (prior to MNF). John Franklin-Myers was also impressive as he picked up four pressures (including one sack) in his first start on the edge as a Jet.

All interior defensive linemen on the team combined for a pass-rush win rate of 15.7%, substantially higher than the 2020 positional average of 9.9%. Quinnen Williams tied with Franklin-Myers for the team lead with four pressures. Foley Fatukasi did more than just stop the run as he picked up three pass-rush wins (two of which were converted into pressures) over only 14 pass-rush opportunities.

Collectively, the entire Jets defense combined to earn a PFF pass-rush grade of 72.7 against the Panthers, ranking 10th-best out of 30 teams in Week 1 prior to Monday night. New York’s performance led to Carolina earning the second-worst pass-blocking grade out of 30 teams (37.4).

The Jets pass rush was a problem for the Panthers’ offensive line, and Carolina’s coaching staff countered it by running an offensive attack that was designed to prevent the pass rush from wrecking the game.

While the Panthers’ quest to keep the pass rush quiet on the stat sheet was successful – as evidenced by the Jets notching only one sack – there is a cost that comes with allowing the pass rush to intimidate you into running a conservative offense. Carolina’s dink-and-dunk offense led to a measly 19 points against a reeling defense that was loaded with inexperienced players and backups.

The Carolina offensive line’s inability to hold up long enough to create explosive plays was the primary reason that the Panthers failed to put the Jets away and ended up allowing them back into the game.

Ultimately, I think “disappointing” is a better word to describe the Jets pass rush in this game than words like “bad” or “quiet.” Expectations for the pass rush were sky-high considering how alarmingly weak the Panthers offensive line is. New York’s defensive front absolutely could have been a lot more destructive against a brutal Panthers offensive line than it was.

With that being said, the Jets pass rush still put together a good outing that went overlooked by many fans who thought it was subpar or even bad. The team’s core pass rushers were winning a strong rate of their battles but simply did not get many chances to turn their wins into noticeably impactful plays because the Panthers were getting the ball out so fast.

A lack of impact plays does not mean there was a lack of impact, though. The great consistency at which New York’s pass rushers won battles made it clear to the Panthers that their offensive line could not hold up for long, prompting them to curl up and fail to fully expose a defense that was in dire straits.

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