Robert Saleh, New York Jets, Defensive Line, Sacks
Robert Saleh, New York Jets, Getty Images

One of the New York Jets’ best units did not show up in New England

There are many different people in the New York Jets organization who have been blamed for their roles in the team’s unsightly 54-13 loss to the New England Patriots. The coaching staff, the linebackers, and the offensive line have been common targets.

One component of the team is not receiving enough criticism: the defensive line.

New York’s defensive line is the roster’s most talented unit on paper, and it has performed up to expectations this season for the most part. The Jets went into Foxboro ranked sixth in the NFL in sacks per game (2.6) through six weeks.

But in Week 7, the Jets’ defensive line had, frankly, a brutal performance.

Pass rush

The Jets’ pass rush allowed Patriots quarterback Mac Jones to enjoy a completely stress-free afternoon. Jones was pressured on a measly 20.5% of his dropbacks, ranking third-lowest out of 30 qualified quarterbacks in Week 7. He was sacked only once.

It’s not as if Jones relied on an incredibly heavy dosage of quick throws to neutralize the pass rush, which is what the Falcons did to the Jets in Week 5. Jones held the ball for more than 2.5 seconds on 48.7% of his dropbacks. That’s a normal rate – it ranked 15th out of 30 quarterbacks in Week 7 and is only slightly below the league average this season, which is 51.9%.

There are no excuses for the pass rush’s lack of impact in this game. Unlike the game against Atlanta, where the Jets’ pass rushers won their battles fairly often but had those wins hidden by an extreme quick-release passing attack, the Jets’ pass rushers were simply getting locked down by New England’s offensive line on a consistent basis.

Jones dropped back for plenty of long-developing plays and the Jets just could not get to him.

Even if the Patriots did utilize a more quick-heavy approach, that still would not excuse the pass rush’s performance. Pass rushers can be evaluated independently of the variables around them by asking this simple question: “Are they winning their battles?”

In New England, the Jets’ pass rushers flat-out did not win their battles.

New York’s defensive linemen combined for seven pressures, less than half of their season average as a unit (14.3). Collecting those seven pressures over a combined 184 pass-rush snaps, they posted a pressure rate of 3.8%, a season-low and also less than half of their season average (8.3%).

It was a dead-silent day for most of the Jets’ defensive linemen. Here are the pressure totals racked up by New York’s defensive tackles and edge rushers:

  • Quinnen Williams: 3 pressures on 32 pass-rush snaps (9.4%)
  • Foley Fatukasi: 2 on 27 (7.4%)
  • Bryce Huff: 0 on 27 (0.0%)
  • Sheldon Rankins: 0 on 25 (0.0%)
  • John Franklin-Myers: 1 on 24 (4.2%)
  • Shaq Lawson: 1 on 24 (4.2%)
  • Tim Ward: 0 on 13 (0.0%)
  • Nathan Shepherd: 0 on 12 (0.0%)
  • For reference: 2020 IDL league average was 7.0%, EDGE average was 9.7%

On the interior, Quinnen Williams and Foley Fatukasi were decent with a combined five pressures on 59 pass-rush snaps, but Sheldon Rankins and Nathan Shepherd were useless with zero pressures over a combined 37 opportunities.

The edge rushers were even more abysmal. Bryce Huff, John Franklin-Myers, Shaq Lawson, and Tim Ward combined for two pressures over 88 pass-rush reps.

Mac Jones took full advantage of the clean pockets afforded to him. He completed 22 of his 29 clean-pocket passing attempts for 272 yards and a touchdown.

Despite sitting for the latter half of the fourth quarter, Jones’ total of 272 clean-pocket passing yards ranked fourth among all quarterbacks in Week 7 and was a personal career-high, beating his previous record by 65 yards.

It is no surprise the Jets let up 54 points with such a lowly pass-rush performance from the defensive line in a 4-3 scheme that relies heavily on its four-man rush to get home.

Run defense

The Jets’ defensive line was also poor against the run. Their defensive tackles and edge rushers combined for only six run stops (tackles that constitute a poor result for the offense), a season-low for the unit. The unit’s collective run-stop rate of 4.8% stands as their second-worst output, barely edging out their 4.7% rate against the unstoppable Derrick Henry in Week 4.

Here is the run-stop production of the Jets’ defensive linemen against New England:

  • Quinnen Williams: 2 run stops on 17 run-defense snaps (11.8%)
  • Foley Fatukasi: 1 on 24 (4.2%)
  • Shaq Lawson: 0 on 19 (0.0%)
  • Nathan Shepherd: 1 on 18 (5.6%)
  • Sheldon Rankins: 0 on 16 (0.0%)
  • Bryce Huff: 0 on 16 (0.0%)
  • Tim Ward: 1 on 8 (12.5%)
  • John Franklin-Myers: 1 on 7 (14.3%)
  • For reference: 2020 IDL league average was 6.5%, EDGE was 5.8%

The Patriots consistently threw double-teams at the Jets’ defensive linemen in an attempt to put all of the pressure on New York’s weak linebackers to fill gaps and make plays. It worked like a charm as the linebackers consistently made poor reads, took bad angles, and got stonewalled at the point-of-attack by fullback Jakob Johnson.

Because of New England’s approach, it is understandable why the Jets’ defensive linemen did not make many run stops, but the problem was that they were plowed by those double teams. They consistently struggled to hold their ground and instead got moved multiple yards off the line of scrimmage.

The unit’s struggles with handling double-teams are reflected by Pro Football Focus’ run defense grade. New York’s defensive linemen combined for a composite PFF run-defense grade of 48.6, by far a season-low.

Couple a defensive line that can’t hold up against double teams with linebackers who are lost, and you get season-highs of 148 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns for a New England offense that entered the week ranked 27th in rushing yards per game.

This was just one bad game for a unit that is loaded with talent and has been mostly solid this season, so there is no reason to bury anyone just yet.

Regardless, a performance of this caliber cannot happen again. Holding an opposing offense in check will be impossible for the Jets when their defensive line is as dreadful as it was in New England. That unit is the heart-and-soul of the defense.

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Michael Nania is one of the best analytical New York Jets minds in the world, combining his statistical expertise with game film to add proper context to the data. Nania scrapes every corner, ensuring you know all there is to know about everyone from the QB to the long snapper. Nania's Numbers, Nania's QB Grades, and Nania's All-22 give fans a deeper and more well-rounded dive into the Jets than anyone else can offer. Email: michael.nania[at] - Twitter: @Michael_Nania
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1 year ago

Good article, this flew under the radar a bit with everything else that went wrong.

Is the issue covering screens as bad as it has seemed from casual observation? Do you think that’s more on the line or the linebackers? Or both?

1 year ago

Glad you are pointing in this direction. That unit is supposed to cause problems for other teams and really since the Tennessee game they haven’t been good. Enter the short passes and quick hit runs (the double teams as you point out). Everybody has been saying all along, it’s great to have the “rush the passer” mentality but it leaves holes. As they say in the NFL, they are now EXPOSED. They can’t stop a screen, and that “bend don’t break” mentality in the back end is setting up long possessions and long drives for other offenses. Yes, they do blitz more than expected but overall the defense is out of sync, caused by the DL being on it heels. The problem is, they can’t do it alone, at some point a LB has to make a play (Quincy Williams vs. Ten, CJ all year) AND the DB’s need to do more than just be solid in coverage. Yes the DL needs to do more but they need just a little help form their friends to get back on track.