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Disappointing numbers reveal the harsh downfall of the NY Jets’ pass-rush

Carson Wentz, John Franklin-Myers, Colts, Jets
Carson Wentz, John Franklin-Myers, Indianapolis Colts, New York Jets, Getty Images

The New York Jets’ pass-rush has fallen off of a cliff

Carson Wentz could have untied both of his shoes, tied them again, and still gotten the ball out on the majority of his plays against the New York Jets on Thursday night.

Wentz was pressured on a measly 21.2% of his dropbacks, tied for the second-lowest pressure rate the Jets have applied on an opposing quarterback this season.

It’s not even as if Wentz was getting the ball out quick to limit the pass-rush. Wentz held the ball for more than 2.5 seconds on 60.6% of his dropbacks, a number that would rank fourth-highest in the NFL this season.

There are no stipulations here – Wentz was legitimately standing around in the pocket all day with no heat.

This marks the third consecutive game that the Jets have pressured the opposing quarterback on 27% of his dropbacks or less – which is well below the 2021 league average of 32.5%. Joe Burrow absorbed a 27.0% pressure rate in Week 8 while Mac Jones took an absurdly low rate of 20.5% in Week 7 (2nd-lowest among starters that week).

The Jets’ previously vaunted defensive line has turned into a collection of lifeless bodies who are effortlessly relocated to wherever the opposing offensive line wants them to go. New York’s defensive linemen are flat-out not winning their battles.

Here is a look at how their pass rushers on the defensive line (all defensive tackles and edge rushers to appear in the game) performed against Indianapolis:

  • Shaq Lawson: 1 pressure on 23 pass-rush snaps (4.3%)
  • John Franklin-Myers: 5 on 22 (22.7%)
  • Quinnen Williams: 0 on 22
  • Sheldon Rankins: 0 on 21
  • Foley Fatukasi: 2 on 14 (14.3%)
  • Jabari Zuniga: 0 on 12
  • Nathan Shepherd: 0 on 9
  • Tim Ward: 0 on 8
  • For reference: the 2020 NFL average pressure rates were 7.0% for DT and 9.7% for EDGE

Outside of John Franklin-Myers, who posted five pressures, the Jets’ defensive front did pretty much nothing. The unit combined for a lowly total of eight pressures overall.

Quinnen Williams and Sheldon Rankins were shut out while Shaq Lawson registered his seventh game of the season with either one or zero pressures.

Even Franklin-Myers’ production barely counts as impactful. Most of his pressures were collected in garbage time, and one of them was a cleanup sack where he did not actually beat his man and just brought down Wentz for no gain after he stepped up and started scrambling.

Inept pass-rush performances like this one are becoming the norm. The unit played just as poorly in each of its first two games after the bye week. New York’s defensive linemen combined for eight pressures against the Bengals and seven against the Patriots.

Over their past three games, the Jets’ defensive tackles and edge rushers have combined for 23 pressures on 470 pass-rush snaps. That is a cumulative pressure rate of 4.9%, which ranks 32nd out of 32 teams since Week 6.

That’s unacceptable.

We all knew the loss of Carl Lawson would be an enormous blow, but this unit still has enough talent to rush the passer at an above-average level without him. After all, that’s what they were doing over the first five games of the season.

From Weeks 1-5, the Jets’ defensive tackles and edge rushers combined for 79 pressures on 851 pass-rush snaps, giving them a pressure rate of 9.3% that ranked 13th-best out of 32 teams. The unit’s average of 15.8 pressures per game over that span ranked ninth-best and is more than double its league-worst average of 7.7 per game since the bye week.

The Jets’ defensive fortunes depend heavily on the performance of the four-man rush. New York is not a blitz-heavy team, so if the defensive line is not creating pressure on its own, then the quarterback is simply not going to be pressured.

Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich has received a lot of criticism for the Jets’ recent defensive struggles. While there are some areas where Ulbrich can be legitimately criticized, this is one extremely crucial aspect of defensive football that is beyond the coaching staff’s control. If the pass rushers aren’t winning, they aren’t winning. It’s that simple. There is not much the coach can do to fix that.

Theoretically, Ulbrich could increase the number of stunts and blitzes that he calls to try and make up for the lack of pass-rush wins. But that’s not the defense he and the Jets are trying to build. They can’t just give up on their identity. This is the style that they chose to employ, and they have to live and die by it.

Guys have to start winning. It’s not that complicated.

Everybody needs to be better, from the stars to the depth pieces.

John Franklin-Myers (12.6% pressure rate) and Quinnen Williams (10.8%) still boast top-tier bodies of work on the year, but they have each played below their usual standards during the post-bye cold streak.

Franklin-Myers has an 8.9% rate since the bye and Williams has a 6.4% rate. Williams’ total of zero pressures against Quenton Nelson and the Colts marked his first zero-pressure game since Week 5 of 2020 (vs. Cardinals).

However, the supporting pieces are the primary reason for the pass-rush’s ineptitude. New York isn’t getting any consistency from people not named John or Quinnen.

Shaq Lawson is the primary culprit for the Jets’ woeful pass-rushing this season. He has been an enormous liability, leaving a bevy of pressures on the table. Lawson is 48th among edge rushers in pass-rush snaps (176) but 86th in pressures (9).

Over his 176 pass-rush snaps, Lawson would collect 17.1 pressures if he generated pressure at the 2020 positional average rate of 9.7%. His total of nine pressures gives him a minus-8.1 margin versus that expectancy, which ranks third-worst among all edge rushers in the NFL this season.

Sheldon Rankins is also leaving a lot of production on the field. Rankins is 25th among interior defensive linemen in pass-rush snaps (207) but 49th in pressures (11). His 5.3% pressure rate is a career-low.

Nathan Shepherd ranks at the 46th percentile among qualified interior defensive linemen in pressure rate (6.3%). He has zero pressures over 29 pass-rush snaps since the bye week.

Considering how much Shepherd costs the team in the run game (8th-worst PFF run-defense grade among IDL) and with penalties (position-high 5 penalties), he needs to be excellent as a pass rusher. Slightly below-average pass rushing is not even close to good enough to make up for what he gives back in other areas of the game.

New York has not gotten anything out of its bottom-tier edge rushers. Tim Ward has one pressure on 60 pass-rush snaps. Jabari Zuniga flashed with a strip-sack, but that was the only pressure he has racked up over 23 pass-rush snaps in two games.

The Jets have missed Bryce Huff, who sat out of the last two games with a back injury and will not suit up for at least two more contests after being placed on injured reserve.

While Huff’s pressure rate is not too impressive (7.9% with 13 pressures on 164 pass-rush snaps), his win rate is highly impressive. Huff owns a pass-rush win rate of 17.9% at Pro Football Focus, which ranks at the 82nd percentile among qualified edge rushers and leads all defensive linemen on the Jets.

Huff’s large disparity between his win rate and his pressure rate tells us he is due for a big uptick in production. He is winning battles but has been unlucky that the ball is coming out too quick for him to do damage. Once he returns, Huff will provide a huge boost.

Shockingly, Foley Fatukasi has been one the team’s more reliable pass rushers. His 6.7% pressure rate is significantly above average for a nose tackle. His pass-rush win rate of 10.9% ranks at the 64th percentile among all interior defensive linemen – most nose tackles rank at the very bottom of that list.

It all starts with the pass-rush

If you’re looking for a place to point your finger, start here. The defensive line is supposed to be the engine that drives the entire defense. Right now, the engine is broken, so it’s no surprise the vessel it powers is unable to move.

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2 years ago

I wonder how much of their struggles are mental, by that I mean, they have been getting gashed on runs and obliterated with screen passes. Could they be thinking too much and not just getting upfield as was the plan all along because of the screens and quick runs? Whatever the case, it’s horrible and I think some of it is scheme, some on the players. From what I see, guys are not being put in situations to make plays.