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It’s time for a serious talk about the NY Jets’ pass rush

John Franklin-Myers, NY Jets, Joe Burrow, Bengals
John Franklin-Myers, New York Jets, Getty Images

Where is the pressure? New York Jets fans are searching for answers

One: The number of teams who are spending more cap dollars on their defensive line this season than the New York Jets.

Twenty-five: The number of teams who are averaging more sacks per game than the New York Jets through Week 3’s Sunday games.

New York’s current pass rush statistics are a far cry from what was expected prior to the year:

  • Pressure percentage: 13.3% (27th)
  • Sack percentage: 5.1% (23rd)
  • Sacks per game: 1.7 (26th)

Following a colossal letdown against the Cincinnati Bengals, it’s time to start directing some harsh criticism at the Jets’ much-hyped pass rush.

The Bengals’ offensive line was supposed to give this Jets defensive line an opportunity to break out after facing two tough opponents to start the season. Cincinnati had allowed 13 sacks through two games, coughing up seven in Week 1 and six in Week 2. All week, we talked about how well the Jets’ DL matched up against the Bengals’ OL on paper.

But the Jets’ pass rush couldn’t take advantage. New York mustered up only two sacks on Joe Burrow, who tossed 36 passes. An offensive line that looked lost in its previous two games appeared to be a brick wall against this Jets unit. The 5.3% sack percentage absorbed by Burrow was his lowest since Week 7 of last year.

After the four-man rush got off to a cold start, the Jets quickly turned to the blitz in an attempt to generate pressure, but Burrow and the Bengals’ dangerous wide receivers made the Jets pay for leaving fewer defenders in coverage.

Against 5+ rushers, Burrow completed 7-of-10 passes for 119 yards, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions while taking zero sacks. The 10 blitzes were a season-high for the Jets after using 11 over the first two games.

New York needs its four-man rush to win for this defensive scheme to work. If the four-man rush is not generating pressure on its own, everything falls apart.

In theory, the Jets should be equipped to blitz more often thanks to their talent at cornerback, but the problem is their safeties. Lamarcus Joyner and Jordan Whitehead are off to atrocious starts in coverage (each allowing a passer rating over 150 this season).

While the corners might be able to hold up when left on an island in blitz situations, the safeties are not providing a reliable last line of defense. This was proven on Sunday when Whitehead allowed a short first down catch to turn into a 56-yard touchdown when he missed a tackle as the only deep defender on a seven-man blitz.

Blitzing is dangerous for the Jets with the way their safeties are playing. The defense needs to generate pressure without blitzing. Right now, it isn’t happening.

Many players are at fault for the rough start. And so are the coaches.

The Players

Before getting into what the coaches can do better, let’s look at the individual players who are contributing to the disappointing production.

First, I want to credit Quinnen Williams for being the only player who has consistently shown up for this group. Williams – still criminally underutilized – is tied for 15th among interior defensive linemen with 8 pressures despite ranking way down at 34th among his peers with 71 defensive snaps.

Williams has produced a sack in two consecutive games, is consistently drawing double-teams to open up his teammates, and wins one-on-ones at a strong rate. Pro Football Focus has him as the third-ranked pass rusher among IDL with an 88.5 pass rush grade, trailing only Aaron Donald and Kenny Clark.

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Everyone else needs to start following Williams’s lead.

Let’s begin with Carl Lawson, who has a $15.3 million cap hit this season. Lawson really hasn’t looked like his old self. While he’s picking up some minor wins, his wins often take a long time to transpire and/or don’t cause much damage. Lawson leads the Jets with 9 pressures, but a couple of those were unblocked and a few others occurred late in the rep. Lawson’s only truly impactful pass rush rep was a half-sack shared with Williams in Week 2.

We’ll have to see over the course of the year if this proves to just be a short slump or a sign that he isn’t the same athlete he used to be. Lawson still has great technique and is getting some wins. Right now, he just isn’t winning as destructively as you need your best edge rusher to win.

John Franklin-Myers, who has a $12.5 million cap hit this year, is slumping. He opened the year with 3 pressures against Baltimore, but over the past two games, Franklin-Myers has 1 pressure over 38 pass rush snaps.

However, I think the Jets are misusing Franklin-Myers, which we’ll discuss later when we get to coaching.

So, two members of the Jets’ big three aren’t getting it done. How about the supporting characters?

They aren’t doing much, either.

Sheldon Rankins (4 pressures) and Jacob Martin (7 pressures) are doing fine. Rankins had a nice sack against the Bengals.

The problem with Martin is that his finishing has been brutal. Martin often misses opportunities to take down the quarterback and also has a tendency to overrun the pocket, creating room for the quarterback to move around. On the year, Martin has three missed tackles.

Everyone else has been all but silent:

The Coaches

A lot of the issues simply boil down to the players’ lack of efficiency at winning one-on-one battles. However, I think the coaches can make changes to optimize the team’s chances of getting one-on-one wins.

Let’s start with Franklin-Myers. I think the Jets are misusing him. Franklin-Myers broke out in 2020 because of his explosive pass rushing on the interior. The new regime moved him to the edge in 2021, and while his run defense improved, his pass rushing dipped quite significantly. Franklin-Myers has remained on the edge for the majority of his snaps in 2022, and yet again, his pass rushing is nowhere near where it was in 2020 when he played inside full-time.

I believe that pushing Franklin-Myers back inside will drastically improve his pass rush production. The Jets could occasionally kick him out to the edge in goal-line situations or other obvious rushing situations, but it’s on the inside where I think he’s at his best. He isn’t fast enough to be an edge rusher. It’s obvious. Let him go inside and outpace guards like he did two years ago.

So, whose interior snaps would Franklin-Myers steal? That brings me to my next point.

Sit Nathan Shepherd down. Shepherd has been a low-level producer for five years and somehow continues to get reps.

This year, Shepherd has one pressure, one assisted tackle, and one missed tackle over 66 defensive snaps. Despite being a defensive tackle who is on the field for his athleticism and pass rushing potential (his run defense is not good), he has now gone 21 straight games without a sack. He also has six penalties over that span.

That level of production does not warrant any playing time, let alone 35% of the team’s snaps through three weeks. Clear a seat on the bench for Shepherd and let Franklin-Myers get those reps. Push Rankins and Thomas down the depth chart and give some of their snaps to Franklin-Myers.

My next suggestion for the staff would be to do away with the rotation-heavy approach and start leaning heavier on their stars.

In hopes of keeping everyone well-rested as to improve their efficiency, the Jets love to rotate their defensive linemen. They give less reps to their top defensive linemen than most teams and more reps to their backups than most teams.

This isn’t working. Clearly, the added rest isn’t helping anybody. Just put your best players out there as much as realistically possible.

Quinnen Williams is a star-caliber defensive tackle who continues to get out-produced by his similarly talented peers simply because they play far more snaps than him. Williams has played only 63% of the defensive snaps this season. Let Williams play 80-85% of the snaps like Jeffery Simmons and DeForest Buckner do. Cutting his snap count to get Nathan Shepherd and Solomon Thomas on the field is just making your team less talented for no reason.

Franklin-Myers is only playing 50% of the snaps while Lawson plays 59%.

The rotation-heavy strategy would be justifiable if the backups were coming in and producing with incredible per-snap efficiency on their small dosages of well-rested snaps, but they’re not. They are lifeless right now. Let your stars get into a rhythm and take over games.

That last statement presents the counterargument to valuing rest in defensive linemen: rhythm. Trench battles are highly tactical. It’s a chess match. When you’re constantly being taken out of the game, it’s tougher to do things like pick your opponent’s tendencies and set up future moves by establishing patterns.

I’d turn up the snap counts for Williams, Lawson, and Franklin-Myers while dialing back the usage of the reserves. In my perfect world, I’d have those three players at 80%, 70%, and 65%, respectively.

Finally, my last suggestion: Activate Bryce Huff.

Third-year edge rusher Bryce Huff is on the Jets’ 53-man roster but has been inactive in three consecutive games. This does not make much sense to me. Huff’s pass rushing production over his first two years proved he is a player who should be active each week for any team.

In 2021, Huff registered a 17.0% pass rush win rate based on Pro Football Focus’s tracking, which ranked at the 84th percentile among qualified edge rushers (20th of 123). Even as a rookie in 2020, Huff had a 14.8% win rate that placed at the 73rd percentile (32nd of 117).

Huff would bring an injection of energy this unit sorely needs. He has the speed and flexibility to get around the corner for those quick, high-impact wins that the Jets aren’t getting.

The fate of the New York Jets defense relies on whether this four-man rush can turn things around

No matter how they do it, the bottom line is that the Jets need to start rushing the passer at a much higher level if they have any plans of being a competitive team. This defense was built around the four-man rush. Everything starts and ends with that. When it clicks, the entire defense becomes a well-oiled machine.

But when the four-man rush is silent, the Jets do not seem capable of working around it at the moment.

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