Bryce Huff brings injects life into the New York Jets’ defense
The New York Jets‘ pass rush started off the 2021 season on the right foot. Even as they were ransacked by the season-long losses of Carl Lawson and Vinny Curry, the Jets were able to forge a solid pass rush.
Through six games, the Jets’ defensive linemen (all edge rushers and interior defensive linemen) combined for a pass rush win rate of 12.3%, according to Pro Football Focus, which ranked 11th out of 32 teams through Week 7.
However, over their last seven games, the Jets’ defenders have combined for a pass rush win rate of 10.0%, which ranks 22nd since Week 8.
There is only one major difference between the defensive line that took the field from Weeks 1-7 and the one that took the field from Weeks 8-14: the loss of Bryce Huff.
Promoted to the starting lineup following the injuries to Lawson and Curry, the second-year edge rusher from Memphis was off to a hot start over his first six games before being placed on injured reserve with a back injury and missing the next seven games.
Now, Huff is healthy and set to return for the Jets’ Week 15 clash against the Miami Dolphins.
Huff owns a 17.9% pass rush win rate this season, which ranks 17th-best out of 114 qualified edge rushers (86th percentile).
After showing flashes of excellent pass rushing efficiency in a situational role as an undrafted rookie in 2020, Huff was proving that he is capable of extrapolating that efficiency over a larger sample of snaps.
Huff has started all six of his games in 2021 after starting none of his 14 games in 2020. His playing time has doubled – he is averaging 42.3 snaps per game after averaging 21.1 last year.
The edge rushers who took over Huff’s snaps did not come close to replicating his impact in the passing game. From Weeks 8-14, Shaq Lawson ranked 84th out of 114 qualifiers with a 9.4% win rate while Ronald Blair ranked 94th with a 7.5% rate.
Fellow starting edge rusher John Franklin-Myers has done his best to hold the fort down, racking up a 17.8% win rate since Week 8 (ranking 20th/114), but it is tough for a pass rush to be successful with only one quality edge rusher, especially in the Jets’ rigid 4-3 scheme that rarely moves its players around. Defenses can easily allocate help to the side of the superior edge rusher while the quarterback knows which side to be warier of.
With Huff back into the fold, the Jets will once again have two quality pass rushers off the edge as they did to start the year.
This will make life easier for the Jets’ interior rushers.
Of all Jets defenders, the one who has seen the biggest dip in pass rushing performance since Huff’s exit is defensive tackle Quinnen Williams.
From Weeks 1-7, Williams ranked 14th out of 116 qualified interior defensive linemen with a 14.9% pass rush win rate. He also ranked sixth with 3.3 pressures per game, recording 20 in six contests.
Since Week 8, Williams’ pass rush win rate has dipped to 11.2%, ranking 39th out of 116 qualifiers. He is tied for 37th in total pressures over that span with 11 (1.6 per game).
Huff primarily plays on the right-side edge in New York’s defense while Williams also primarily lines up on the right side, so their performances directly affect one another. Without Huff, Williams has been receiving a bevy of attention due to the lack of an edge threat beside him.
The absence of Huff is not a complete excuse for Williams’ cold stretch, but it is certainly a factor worth mentioning. Huff’s return should give Williams more room to work with and present him with a strong chance to end his production dip before the season concludes.
There should certainly be a positive domino effect created by Huff’s return. But he will be looking to put up some big numbers of his own, too.
Huff will attempt to build on a start to the season in which he recorded three sacks (one full, two half) and seven quarterback hits in six games. Those totals would put him on pace for 8.5 sacks and 19.9 quarterback hits per 17 games.
The 23-year-old is coming back at the perfect time. Huff will return against a Miami team that has the league’s worst pass-protecting offensive line based on both PFF’s pass blocking grade and ESPN’s pass block win rate.
As a right-side defensive end, Huff spends most of his time battling against left tackles – and he will have an exposable one across from him this week. Miami’s left tackle is rookie Liam Eichenberg, who is tied for the most pressures allowed among all offensive tackles this season with 51 (he’s tied with Miami’s right tackle, Jesse Davis).
The table is set for Huff to pick up his second-year breakout right where it left off.