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3 daunting matchups for NY Jets defense on 2022 schedule

Jeff Ulbrich, NY Jets, Defensive Coordinator
Jeff Ulbrich, New York Jets, Getty Images

The New York Jets defense will be overmatched against these offenses

Matchups are everything in the game of football. It’s never as simple as merely comparing the raw talent level of two squads. A given team could be tailor-made to clobber one team but perfectly constructed to be destroyed by another.

It’s time to wrap up our series that analyzes some of the best and worst matchups for the New York Jets on their 2022 schedule. After taking a look at some of the Jets offense’s best and worst matchups followed by a look at some of the Jets defense’s best matchups, today we’ll close things out with a look at some of the worst matchups for their defense.

Baltimore Ravens’ run game

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have been told over a million times this offseason that the Jets will likely struggle at stopping the run this season. Of the game’s four main facets (pass offense, rush offense, pass defense, rush defense), this is clearly the one where New York has the worst outlook.

Quite obviously, this means that any team who can run the ball effectively will appear to be a poor matchup for the Jets defense.

But we can get more specific than purely looking at overall rushing production. There is a certain type of running team that is especially perfect for exploiting the New York defense.

The Jets’ 4-3 defensive front plays with a one-gapping mentality. This means the main priority of their defensive linemen on most plays is to simply fire off the ball, get downhill, and shoot through one specific gap.

While this strategy can significantly boost the defense’s pass-rush potential, it comes at the cost of patience and discipline in the run game. Players worry less about clogging gaps and more about getting into the backfield as fast as possible.

Offenses that rely on gap-blocking concepts in the run game are constructed to exploit this kind of approach. Power, trap, draw, wham – any of these run-game concepts (and concepts of similar nature) will punish defensive linemen for being too aggressive.

As opposed to zone runs, gap runs are designed to attack a specific gap. This makes them the perfect counter for one-gapping defensive lines. The offense can easily target a certain spot of the defensive line, allow the defensive linemen to take themselves away from that spot, and then run toward the space they vacated.

In 2021, the Patriots stomped the Jets (in both games) using these kinds of run concepts. Draw plays were a huge killer because of their slow-developing nature. New England had all kinds of fun by simply letting the Jets charge downhill and having the offensive linemen use the defensive linemen’s momentum against them. While this strategy allowed the defense to get deep into the backfield, it also meant the offense could dictate exactly where the linemen were going to go, which gives the RB an easy read.

Enter the Jets’ nightmare matchup: the Baltimore Ravens.

Everyone knows that the Ravens have been the NFL’s premier rushing attack for the last three years. The real problem for New York is the fact that Baltimore achieves all of its rushing success while being the league’s most gap-heavy team.

According to Pro Football Focus, the Ravens offensive line ran a gap-blocking concept on 80.3% of its run-blocking snaps in 2021, which was by far the highest rate in the NFL. The second-ranked team (New England) had a 69.8% rate, and the league average was 42.0%.

In 2021, when facing offenses that finished the season with a gap-blocking frequency above the league average of 42.0%, the Jets went 0-8. They went 4-5 against teams that used gap-blocking concepts less frequently than the league average.

Baltimore loves to have its offensive linemen pull. Pulls are trouble for a one-gapping defense. If a defensive linemen’s momentum is carrying him downhill, he is extremely vulnerable to an offensive linemen who is traveling laterally to come seal him out of the play.

The Ravens will likely call a boatload of trap plays against the Jets to take advantage of this mismatch. Traps are plays in which the offense intentionally leaves a specific defensive linemen unblocked so that a pulling offensive linemen can come over and pick him up. These blocks are especially effective against one-gappers, whose aggression makes it tough for them to recognize a trap play and then react to it accordingly.

The NFL’s schedule-makers were not too kind to the Jets when they chose the Ravens as their season-opening opponent. New York’s greatest weakness will meet the team that is best-equipped to exploit it. Buckle up.

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Cleveland Browns’ run game

We turn our attention to another AFC North team who boasts a run game that is perfect for beating up the Jets.

The Browns had an elite run game in 2021, leading the NFL with 5.1 yards per rush attempt. Like Baltimore, they are another gap-favoring team (although not close to the same extent, of course). Cleveland’s offensive line ranked 8th in the NFL with a 50.2% gap-blocking frequency in 2021, per PFF.

To boot, the Browns have one of the most elusive running back duos in the league with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Chubb may have a case to be the NFL’s most dangerous running back on a per-play basis, as he is averaging an incredible 5.3 yards per carry in his career and just posted a 5.5 mark in 2021.

New York’s run defense might be able to stay afloat against heavy outside-zone teams. Their collective team speed on defense, especially when coupled with their run-stopping improvements in the secondary (D.J. Reed and Jordan Whitehead), could allow them to do well against teams that like to run the ball toward the edges.

But against downhill, power-running, gap-blocking teams like Baltimore and Cleveland, the Jets’ preferred style leaves them highly vulnerable, and they simply don’t have the front-seven beef to make up for it.

With the Ravens and Browns awaiting the Jets in Weeks 1 and 2, we will quickly find out if the Jets can disprove the popular notion that their interior run defense is ripe for the picking.

New England Patriots’ offensive line (both phases)

The Jets are going to rely on the pass-rush to lead their defense in 2022. Even if they struggle against the run, the Jets can still be successful defensively if they forge a successful pass-rush.

Opposing offenses with bad offensive lines will be favorable matchups for the Jets. A good pass-rush can cover up any defensive weakness, so if the Jets catch an offensive line that they can beat up on a down-to-down basis, they should be in for an enjoyable game on defense even if there are other areas where the opposing offense has an advantage.

But if the Jets meet up with a good offensive line that is capable of quieting their pass-rush, it’s probably going to be a long day for the defense.

The Patriots have been churning out elite offensive line units on a yearly basis for a long time, and there is no indication that this will cease anytime soon. In 2021, New England’s offensive line earned the 4th-best pass-blocking efficiency rating of any unit in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. The Pats have four of their best linemen returning in 2022 and also added first-round pick Cole Strange.

Additionally, we already talked a little bit about how the Patriots’ run-blocking is a mismatch for the Jets.

As previously mentioned, the Patriots offensive line employed the NFL’s 2nd-highest gap-blocking frequency of any team in 2021 at 69.8%. They love that style of rushing and proved they can use it to crush the Jets in two blowout victories last season. Across their two games against New York, New England averaged 4.4 yards per carry and scored 6 rushing touchdowns.

Adaptability is the key

If the Jets are going to take down any of these three teams in 2022, the defensive coaching staff must show some adaptability. The defensive coaches were rigid and predictable throughout the 2021 season, rarely changing their philosophies even as opponents continuously beat them with the same concepts from Week 1 through Week 18.

The 2021 season created a clear blueprint on how to defeat the Jets defense. Teams are going to come after them the same way they did last year. The Jets must throw curveballs to take them by surprise.

While a lack of talent played a major role in the Jets’ 2021 defensive woes and this year’s Jets defense appears to be more talented than last year’s, it can still be shredded with ease if the coaches fail to adapt and continue to use the same strategies on a weekly basis. Being predictable is a recipe for disaster in the NFL.

Having a core philosophy is great, and sticking to it is even better – but only to a certain extent. At some point, you have to be willing to switch things up a little bit to help your players match up better against opponents that are built to exploit your primary playstyle.

Jeff Ulbrich will be under the microscope in 2022 after captaining the third-worst scoring defense in the Jets’ 63-year history (29.6 PPG). Above anything else, the primary thing he will be judged upon is how well he prepares his squad to match up against these three aforementioned mismatches.

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1 year ago

If the New England games look the same as the last 2, I’ll be calling for Ulbrich’s head. This is a division opponent, and there is no way the same problems should exist. Yes, they will have their plays, it’s part of the game but I’m tired of this team looking silly vs. NE. The Jets have just as much, if not more talent, than them a this point so I expect the problems from last year are no longer. You can say what you want about Rex, but he did some outcoaching of the NE staff in his day.

1 year ago
Reply to  Michael Nania

Yes! Look, things happen, especially with young groups but I couldn’t get over how they got smashed time after time with the same stuff. Swing pass for 30, draw play to convert 3rd and 18, screen pass for 37, over and over and over. It doesn’t seem like it’s in Saleh’s DNA but if it keeps happening he MUST step in. I never understood why the coaches hired as “offensive guru’s” can call plays but the “defensive guru’s” can’t call the defense and have to be able to work both sides of the ball. I don’t think Sean McVay or Andy Reid are doing too much with their defenses.