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NY Jets’ struggles in one area are not responsive to today’s NFL

Jordan Whitehead, Josh Allen, NY Jets, QB Runs, Defense
Josh Allen, Jordan Whitehead, New York Jets, Getty Images

This concern heading into 2022 played out on the field

One of the quarterbacks the New York Jets will likely be dealing with for a long time is Josh Allen.

If you’re opposing Josh Allen twice a year, you’d better be able to handle a dual-threat quarterback.

The Jets couldn’t, and it showed.

Despite a strong defensive season in which they finished fifth in total defensive DVOA and 10th against the run, the Jets struggled mightily to contain quarterback runs. The most frustrating part of this was that it was often not Allen-level runners that they faltered against.

Here were the Jets’ defensive ranks against QB rushes in 2022 (all data via nflfastR):

  • 19th in yards allowed (343)
  • 14th in yards per attempt (5.44)
  • T-29th in TDs (6)
  • 23rd in QB sneak conversion rate (88.2%)
  • 29th in EPA per play (0.547)

That last stat, EPA per play, is the most noteworthy, as it demonstrates that the Jets were not just allowing QB runs, but they were allowing them when they mattered.

This was particularly noticeable in a Week 8 loss against Mac Jones, a quarterback who is not known for his athleticism or running ability. In fact, he is thought of as closer to a statue.

Jones rushed for 25 yards against the Jets after removing kneels, which would be his second-best total of the season. He only averaged 6.4 rushing yards per game across all of his other games in 2022. There were two occasions in which Jones scrambled to convert on third-and-5 against the Jets.

The Jets allowed many quarterbacks to surpass their usual rushing performance, whether they were elite rushers like Josh Allen, poor rushers like Mac Jones, or solid rushers like Jacoby Brissett and Trevor Lawrence.

Brissett and Lawrence are much better scramblers than Jones, but each of them was far more prolific on the ground against the Jets than they usually are. Brissett ran for a season-high 43 yards against the Jets. Lawrence ran for 51 yards, his second-best total of the season. For reference, Brissett averaged 15.2 rushing yards per game in 2022 while Lawrence averaged 17.1.

Josh Allen bullied many opponents with his rushing ability, but his absolute best rushing performance of the year came against the Jets in Week 9, when he ran for a season-high 86 yards and recorded his only game of the season with two rushing touchdowns. Allowing two rushing touchdowns to any quarterback in the same game is inexcusable.

This was a concern for the Jets heading into the season due to their weaknesses at linebacker and safety. Those positions are often the main line of defense to prevent a QB run from exploding at the next level.

Jermaine Johnson showed his ability to hang with Allen on the edge, and the Jets’ defense as a whole contained Lamar Jackson admirably. However, those runs allowed to quarterbacks like Jones became destructive largely due to the inability of the Jets’ linebackers to respond quickly enough when the QB broke the line of scrimmage.

C.J. Mosley and Quincy Williams were the biggest culprits in this area. For Mosley, the biggest issue was waiting for the quarterback to come to him rather than attacking aggressively. Jamien Sherwood showed a similar issue in the limited snaps he played against Allen.

For Williams, the bigger issue was just a lack of recognition. He’d be in coverage and take way too long to recognize that the quarterback was scrambling, leaving him with very poor leverage in trying to make the tackle or getting over in time.

Heading into 2023, if the Jets are going to roll it back with the same linebacker trio, they will need to place more of an emphasis on stopping quarterback runs. Besides Allen, the Jets will also face Jalen Hurts, Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Daniel Jones, and Deshaun Watson next season.

All of those quarterbacks have rushing ability, whether as a first-line option or in more of an opportunistic manner.

More than that, though, the NFL trend is for quarterbacks to look to make plays with their legs even if they are not “running” quarterbacks. Here is an assessment of some of the other Jets 2023 QB opponents and their rushing abilities:

  • Dak Prescott came into the NFL as a running threat.
  • The aforementioned Mac Jones showed the Jets that he’s not as wooden with his legs as they may have thought.
  • Tua Tagovailoa can attack an open middle.
  • Justin Herbert is the classic new-age quarterback with underrated running ability.
  • If the Texans end up with Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud, add them to the list.

That’s an awful lot of teams in total. In fact, the only opponent that may have a QB with virtually no rushing ability is the Raiders if they do end up with Aaron Rodgers.

The Jets need to do a better job of game-planning for running quarterbacks next season. It may be a mindset issue and not just a talent one. Maybe they do need to more actively spy opposing QBs; perhaps they just need to coach up their linebackers to recognize it more quickly. Maybe it’s that the defensive line needs more discipline not to break containment. Or maybe the linebackers need to get back to an attacking mindset against running QBs rather than waiting for them.

This will be a test of Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich‘s ability to adjust. They are notoriously stubborn in sticking to their system, but they did a much better job against Allen in the second half of the first Bills game than the first. That ability to adapt on the fly is critical.

While this may seem like a trivial issue to bring up, it could be one of the key differences for the Jets’ defense to finish drives and games next season.

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Matt Galemmo
1 year ago

I’m going to guess that if you rush four (yes) or play man-to-man (average, I think) you’re going to do worse against QB runs, and you’re going to live with that or employ a spy*. Kwon and Quincy both strike me as appropriately skilled to be good spies, but outside of one game where Kwon did spy a bit I can’t recall the Jets doing that. I don’t think it’s a question of ability; I think the question is why did the coaching staff not choose to man up on the QB more often?

*But if you have elite up the middle pressure, as the Jets did, rushing four shouldn’t be much of an issue. Who was getting pushed up the arc on those scrambles, because we know Quinnen wasn’t letting anything go up the middle.