The NY Jets defense has some clear holes that opponents will attempt to take advantage of
Jets X-Factor has talked nonstop about this New York Jets roster: its strengths and weaknesses, 53-man roster projections, remaining areas of need, and divisional and league comparisons.
Now, let’s take it a step further: how would an opponent try to beat the Jets?
We’ll start as an opposing offensive coordinator who is breaking down the Jets defense. Since we’re assuming a blank slate from 2022, the team’s scouts will be forced to look back at the film from 2021. However, while the game tape yields some clues, extensive personnel differences limit the effectiveness of finding any strong patterns.
The Jets put some ugly film out there on defense last season. The statistics back up that tape: dead last in defensive DVOA, last in pass defense DVOA, 26th in rush defense DVOA, 31st in overall Pro Football Focus defensive grade, 29th in run defense and coverage grades, and last in points allowed per game (29.6).
However, the return of key edge rusher Carl Lawson, the signings of cornerback D.J. Reed and safety Jordan Whitehead, and the drafting of cornerback Sauce Gardner and edge rusher Jermaine Johnson are bound to alter that drastically. If nothing else, the Jets will have an NFL-caliber defensive lineup out there.
A remaining weakness for this defense lies up the middle. The Jets have not signed a true run-stuffing defensive tackle thus far, and the tackling of their linebackers is suspect. Though Jordan Whitehead is a strong box safety, the fact remains that the team does not have big bodies capable of getting into the inside running lanes. Rushing up the middle, particularly in non-obvious rushing situations, would be a staple of the offensive game plan.
Additionally, the Jets’ linebackers are prone to overpursuit, especially Quincy Williams. That makes misdirection plays a must. Counterplays, bootlegs, play action, and general fakes should work well against this defense until they prove otherwise.
Another long-time bugaboo of the Jets defense has been covering running backs and tight ends. Though the signing of Kwon Alexander should help that somewhat, C.J. Mosley is still a liability in coverage. The Jets do not have a ball-hawking free safety as of now. Combining fakes with dump-offs, screens, and seam passes to the tight ends will be hard to defend. This will also neutralize the pass rush, which has significant talent in Carl Lawson, John Franklin-Myers, Quinnen Williams, and Jacob Martin, among others.
In a move that might surprise some Jets fans, I would attack Sauce Gardner often. As hyped as he is, a rookie cornerback is a rookie cornerback. Even the great ones often struggle in their rookie seasons. Sauce knows this and is prepared to be challenged. Still, for all his dominance in college, teams avoided him as if he were Darrelle Revis. That will change in the NFL.
In zone looks, I would make Sauce the focus, putting two men into his zone, one under and one over. That forces the rookie into no-man’s land.
When the Jets play teams with strong running games, they will likely go with a lot of single-high, middle-of-the-field closed looks. Therefore, if I have a strong running game (Ravens, Browns, Steelers, even Bengals, Patriots, Broncos, etc.), I would isolate my best receiver on Sauce and challenge the rookie. Since the Jets will likely play each of their starting CBs on a particular side, it will be easy to get that isolated matchup.
In Cover-3 looks, I would run seam passes to wherever the free safety is not, which will most likely work due to the Jets’ shakiness at both linebacker and free safety. That goes especially now with the publicly available early training camp tape showing Lamarcus Joyner repeatedly out of position or late getting over to help.
Now, of course, the Jets are aware of their vulnerable points and will do what they can to compensate. That’s part of the cat-and-mouse game of football, the Xs and Os that are hard to see when watching a game on TV. It remains to be seen if Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich are up to the challenge.