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.