The New York Jets’ defensive scheme gives them an upper hand against the Bills offense. But will the defensive line come through this time?
After playing poorly over the last few weeks, the New York Jets‘ defense has a chance to bounce back against the Buffalo Bills.
As weird as it sounds, it is true: The Bills’ offense – one of the most electrifying units in the league—is a good matchup for the Jets defense.
Yes, I’m fully aware that Josh Allen is one of the best signal-callers in the league. But the NFL, above anything, is a league of matchups.
Of course, the teams’ talent levels matter, but the NFL is not no man’s land. Everyone has talent. Usually, the schematic matchup (i.e. what each team is trying to do) plays a bigger role than individual talent itself.
That’s why the Jets’ defense struggles mightily against the Patriots—who run their offense through the ground game and with quick throws to their running backs and tight ends – and plays competent football against the explosive Bengals—who try to attack defenses through the air, on the perimeter, with their talented pass catchers.
The impact schematic matchups have on an NFL game was especially evident this past Sunday, when many underdogs won.
The Cowboys and the Bills, for example, were two of the biggest favorites in Week 9 and lost. Their stunning losses were a direct consequence of the schematic matchups surrounding each game.
Denver’s match-man principles were a nightmare for the pass-happy Cowboys, while the Jaguars’ zone-heavy defense and strong pass-rush bullied the Bills.
The blueprint to slow down the Bills is the same one teams have used against the Chiefs: Show two-high safeties, daring the offense to run the football and the aggressive quarterback to hit the layups underneath.
Jets fans are no strangers to it since Gregg Williams’ heavy Tampa-2 approach worked wonders against Allen the last two times he went to MetLife. The Bills scored 17 and 18 points, respectively, in the last two Jets/Bills games in Jersey.
While Robert Saleh should not be labeled as a heavy Cover 2 coach, he still uses a lot of 2-high coverages (Cover 4 and Cover 6, especially).
Most importantly, Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich deploy the principles of most zone-heavy defenses: keep everything in front, stop explosive plays. And those are excellent principles to deploy against Buffalo.
A defense that keeps “everything in front” is usually trouble for Josh Allen. It forces him to play disciplined football, which he dislikes.
The refusal to “be boring,” as Robert Saleh himself would describe, seemingly extends to the Bills’ coaching staff.
Brian Daboll, the Bills’ offensive coordinator, has denied running the football against light boxes.
The Bills faced light boxes the entire game in Week 9, such as this 6-man from the Jaguars.
Daboll, still, only handed the ball off to a running back nine times.
Against the Jaguars, the Bills’ best rusher was Allen, who got 50 yards on five carries. Devin Singletary, the team’s lead back, got 16 yards on six carries.
It’s pretty clear what the Bills want to do: Let Allen work the perimeter with the team’s talented receivers (Diggs, Sanders, Beasley), creating explosive plays.
But it’s also pretty clear what defenses are doing to counter it.
Pittsburgh, who beat the Bills in Week 1, did the very same thing as the Jaguars: heavy two-deep zone approach, forcing Allen to take the underneath game on time.
The Jets’ defense, fortunately, deploys similar principles to the Jaguars’ and Steelers’ defenses.
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New York deploys a heavy-zone approach – especially on early downs—in an attempt to limit the opponent’s explosive plays. On third down, Robert Saleh usually trusts his young corners in man coverage—and it has paid off thus far.
Still, Jacksonville and Pittsburgh were only able to stop Buffalo because of an element that’s currently lacking with the Jets’ defense: pass rush.
After a strong start to the season, the Jets pass rush has completely vanished from Weeks 7-9:
Pressures per game by #Jets' DT + EDGE
Weeks 1-5: 15.8 (9th / 32)
— Jets X-Factor (@jetsxfactor) November 6, 2021
Nonetheless, Sunday’s game might mean a renaissance for the Jets front-four. By the numbers, the Bills’ offensive line has not been great. They struggled against the Jaguars’ pass rush in Week 9:
Yesterday was the 3rd game this season where the #Bills OL allowed 20+ pressures.
Everyone except Mitch Morse gave up a sack and 5 pressures.
Something’s gotta give.
— Rob Quinn (@RobQuinn619) November 8, 2021
Once again, the Jets’ defensive line will need to come through.
Saleh builds his scheme around a dominant four-man front. If they play well, the rest of the defense usually will hold things together.
This week against the Bills, though, the importance gains an extra touch.
Josh Allen is a great play extender, and the Jets’ defensive line must avoid Allen’s scramble plays at all costs.
No defense can cover forever. Preventing Allen to escape the pocket will be key to the Jets’ zone-heavy approach to work. (New York could really use Bryce Huff, who has great bend off the edge. Huff, unfortunately, was placed on injured reserve and will miss at least the next two games.)
Despite the favorable schematic matchup, the game comes down to the Jets’ pass rush. It’s a common theme already, and it will repeat itself as long as Robert Saleh is in the Big Apple.
Come Sunday, don’t be surprised at all if the powerful Buffalo offense fails to score a lot of points against the Jets.
New York’s defense was built to stop offenses like the Bills’.
Jets’ fans should be surprised, instead, if Buffalo does have a high-scoring game.
An excellent performance by Josh Allen’s unit will probably mean another let down by the team’s highly-touted defensive line.
And that would be a very negative sign for the supposedly best and definitely most important unit on the team.
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