Quincy Williams, NY Jets, Patriots, Missed Tackles, Stats
Quincy Williams, New York Jets, Getty Images

New York Jets must clean up their fundamentals to maintain defensive dominance

The New York Jets defense is firing on all cylinders. Jeff Ulbrich‘s rapidly ascending group is allowing only 12.7 points per game across its past six contests. For the year, the Jets are ranked fourth in scoring defense (17.8 points per game), fifth in total defense (308.8 yards per game), and fourth in defensive DVOA.

This is an elite unit. No question about it.

But if the Jets want it to stay that way, they need to immediately fix an issue that sprung up over the past couple of games: tackling.

New York’s defense has been missing far too many tackles since coming out of its Week 10 bye.

Over their past two games, the Jets have missed 20 tackles, per Pro Football Focus. That ties them for the fifth-most in the NFL over that span. Their missed tackle rate across those two games was 14.7%, ranking third-worst. The league average this season is 12.4%.

The Jets’ overall defensive production is yet to be deterred by this issue. They somehow managed to only allow 13 points over the past two games despite the woeful tackling – which says a lot about how talented the unit is.

Still, this is a weakness that could be punished more harshly by better offenses. Neither the Patriots nor the Trevor Siemian-led Bears were offensive juggernauts. But with talented offensive teams like the Vikings and Bills coming up on the schedule, the Jets will start paying a steeper price if they continue missing so many tackles.

Who is responsible for the tackling problem, you ask? Well, we can pit the entirety of the blame on two position groups: the linebackers and the safeties.

Of the Jets’ 20 missed tackles over the past two games, 16 of them were attributed to a linebacker or safety. New York’s total of 16 missed tackles from those two position groups tied Chicago for the most of any team over the past two weeks. The Jets’ missed tackle rate of 21.9% at those two positions was the league’s worst mark.

Meanwhile, the Jets’ defensive tackles, edge rushers, and cornerbacks were only tagged with 4 missed tackles over the past two games, tying New York for the fourth-fewest across those three position groups. The Jets also ranked fourth-best with a 6.3% missed tackle rate at those three positions.

These tackling woes at linebacker and safety have resulted in the reemergence of a problem that plagued the Jets in 2021: allowing running backs to explode in the passing game.

In the Week 11 loss to the Patriots, New York allowed New England’s running backs to catch 8 passes for 84 yards. This past week against Chicago, the Jets allowed the Bears’ running backs to catch 4 passes for 67 yards.

New York was allowing just 36.0 receiving yards per game to running backs prior to these past two games, which still isn’t great as it would rank 21st in the league right now. But the Jets’ average of 75.5 receiving yards allowed to RBs over the past two games is atrocious. For reference, Las Vegas is the league’s worst team in that category at 54.5. For the year, the Jets are now ranked 24th at 43.2.

There are four particular players who deserve the most blame: C.J. Mosley, Quincy Williams, Lamarcus Joyner, and Jordan Whitehead. They have each missed 3 tackles over the past two games. Mosley has the lowest missed tackle rate among these four players at 14.3% while the other three players are north of the dreaded 20% mark: Whitehead at 20.0%, Joyner at 21.4%, and Williams at 23.1%.

Before this slump, the Jets’ linebackers and safeties weren’t this bad at tackling. They were certainly below average, but not quite as terrible as they have looked recently.

New York’s linebackers and safeties combined for 38 missed tackles over their first nine games, which is an average of 4.2 per game that pales in comparison to the 8.0 per game we have seen over the past two games. Their missed tackle rate was 12.2%, which ranked 20th among LB/S units through Week 10; subpar, but manageable.

The Jets need Mosley, Williams, Joyner, and Whitehead to get back to where they were as tacklers. New York can survive with mediocre tackling from its second and third-level defenders, but if the tackling at these positions continues to be awful, it will come back to haunt them.

Here is a look at the overall tackling numbers of those four players this season:

  • Jordan Whitehead: 12 missed tackles (8th among safeties), 16.9% missed tackle rate (54th of 65 safeties)
  • Lamarcus Joyner: 8 missed tackles (25th among safeties), 15.4% missed tackle rate (46th of 65 safeties)
  • Quincy Williams: 12 missed tackles (12th among linebackers), 16.7% missed tackle rate (57th of 61 linebackers)
  • C.J. Mosley: 11 missed tackles (17th among linebackers), 9.3% missed tackle rate (23rd of 61 linebackers)

Williams, Joyner, and Whitehead are all low-ranked tacklers over the course of the entire season. Yet, as poor as they’ve been overall, getting back to their season averages would still be a sizable upgrade over what we have seen recently.

It’s Mosley who brings respectabilty to the Jets’ tackling at these positions, as he is having a solid year at finishing tackles. His missed tackle rate of 9.3% ranks 23rd-best out of 61 qualified linebackers (63rd percentile). A return to that number for Mosley should work wonders for the Jets.

There isn’t one particular culprit out of those four players. All of them have just happened to fall into a slump at the same time. Each of them has a missed tackle over the past two games that ranges from 3.1 to 6.4 percent higher than their season average.

On the positive side, the Jets should feel great about the tackle-finishing consistency they are getting from the rest of their defense.

New York’s defensive tackles, edge rushers, and cornerbacks have combined for 34 missed tackles (3.1 per game) and a 10.1% missed tackle rate this season. Those marks rank second-best and third-best, respectively, when looking solely at each team’s tackling at the aforementioned three position groups.

The Jets’ overall tackling quality should never stoop too low thanks to the reliability of their defensive linemen and corners. The talent level at those positions gives the Jets a high defensive floor, which is comforting. But there are serious question marks at the linebacker and safety positions. Those groups need to quickly bury their slump and get back to finishing tackles at a respectable level.

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Michael Nania is one of the best analytical New York Jets minds in the world, combining his statistical expertise with game film to add proper context to the data. Nania scrapes every corner, ensuring you know all there is to know about everyone from the QB to the long snapper. Nania's Numbers, Nania's QB Grades, and Nania's All-22 give fans a deeper and more well-rounded dive into the Jets than anyone else can offer. Email: michael.nania[at]jetsxfactor.com - Twitter: @Michael_Nania
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Mike Palazzo
Mike Palazzo
10 months ago

I had noticed earlier in the season that the LB core was being more patient and taking better angles. That’s why there where some good text book tackles by Williams Mosely and Alexander. In The last couple weeks they seem to be a little too aggressive and taking bad angles. Need to get back to being a bit more patient and containing the player in front of them.

Peter Buell
Peter Buell
10 months ago

Probably the wrong article for this comment but why are so many talking heads talking about who next years QB will be.
If White continues to be good the rest of the season it makes all the sense in the world to give him the job with Zack as backup

Jets71
Jets71
10 months ago
Reply to  Peter Buell

Makes total sense. Also, let’s imagine for a minute, White turns out to be a good starter and we don’t write off a 23 year old, and he ends up beating out White. I mean, White’s floor could be the “bridge guy” and his ceiling may be good starter. Good enough to win playoff games…maybe more….who knows? Either way, it’s far too early to be talking about next year’s started. I’ve said the same.

Jonathan Richter
Jonathan Richter
10 months ago
Reply to  Jets71

Are we going to pay White $10mil per to be the backup? That’s the contract he’s going to be offered this offseason.

Jonathan Richter
Jonathan Richter
10 months ago
Reply to  Peter Buell

The issue is, how much cap space do we want to devote to that position? White is surely going to get a contract offer in the 8 figures per this offseason.

Jets71
Jets71
10 months ago

This is a major issue, and it will cost them sooner rather than later. They have to clean that up. This is a very good defense but I’ve noticed a tendency for them to miss tackles and give up to many third and long conversions. I get heat on the chat boards all the time for saying this because it’s often pointed out they play “bend don’t break” but that doesn’t mean allowing the opposing offense to convert 3 straight 3rd and 8+ yards. They need to be better. I’m concerned they are reading a few too many of their own headlines.

I’ve said this, I’ll say it again and I’ll take some heat on the chat boards…Zach’s actions off the field the last few weeks haven’t been good, and maybe some guys didn’t like it, but the defense’s reaction allowed it to become an issue “outside the building.” Then they came out against the Bears and missed tackles and lacked focus early in the game. I know the D is playing well but I suggest the defensive leaders stay focused in the mirror and not read the headlines about it being a “championship defense.” There is plenty of improvement needed for this team to beat good teams particularly if they want to get to the tournament.

We evaluate every throw from Zach and the QB’s, we should be doing the same for the defensive snaps. They can do better.

I don’t want that to seem, I’m unhappy with the defense, but they need to tighten things up a bit. If this team wants to make the playoffs and who knows, win a game, the D will have to lead the way. I’d like to see more complete, and cleaner games from them, starting with sacking Cousins and taking that offense out of sync.

We all said “meaningful games in December” and we are talking playoffs. The division is in play, and the defense can lead the way to taking it.

Peter Buell
Peter Buell
10 months ago
Reply to  Jets71

71, I’ve been saying this most of the season, at least since all the platitudes began that while holding offenses lower on the scoreboard the 3rd to 1st downs they allow to be converted is what’s keeping them from becoming elite.
It leads to the D being on the field much more than they should and gives less opportunities to the offense.
Linebacker and safety needs to be addressed in the offseason.

Jets71
Jets71
10 months ago
Reply to  Peter Buell

Thanks for agreeing I thought I’d get a lot of heat. Not to mention the field position. I think both positions will be addressed in the offseason. That’s not to say this group hasn’t been good, but as you mentioned if they want to be elite they’ve got to clean this up.