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NY Jets may have found the secret formula for Jermaine Johnson

Jermaine Johnson, NY Jets, Film, Highlights
Jermaine Johnson, New York Jets, Getty Images

The New York Jets might have discovered the best method for Jermaine Johnson to succeed

Jermaine Johnson is enjoying one of the most esteemed offseasons of any New York Jet. For the work he’s put in, Johnson has received constant praise from teammates and coaches throughout the entire year – notably, I’ve seen multiple interviews where someone went out of their way to praise Johnson when the conversation wasn’t even about him. It’s translating to the practice field as Johnson is consistently shining in training camp practices.

So far, Johnson is backing up all of the hype with his performance in preseason games.

It’s only preseason (everyone’s favorite phrase at this time of year), so Johnson still has to prove himself when the games actually count. But what makes Johnson’s preseason performance so intriguing is the fact that it represents a massive improvement over where he was at this point one year ago.

Through two preseason games in 2023, Johnson has generated three pressures on only 15 pass-rush snaps, a pressure rate of 20.0%. In the 2022 preseason, Johnson had three pressures on 36 pass-rush snaps, giving him a pressure rate of 8.3%.

For perspective, the 2022 league average for edge rushers was 10.8%. So, one year ago, Johnson was producing pressure at a below-average rate against lowly preseason competition. Now, he is completely dominating his preseason opponents.

Most of the credit is due to Johnson himself for his individual development. But there may be another factor that is contributing to Johnson’s improvement: a change to Johnson’s role made by the Jets’ coaches.

New York’s staff may have found the key to unlocking Johnson’s full potential.

Jermaine Johnson’s pass-rush stance

Keen-eyed Jets fans may have noticed there is something different about Johnson’s role in this year’s preseason compared to the way he was used as a rookie. That difference? He is standing up a lot more frequently.

In the 2022 regular season, Johnson stood up on just 11.9% of his defensive snaps (37 of 312). He had his hands in the dirt on the other 88.1% of his plays (275 of 312).

But so far in the 2023 preseason, Johnson stood up on 31.8% of his snaps (7 of 22).

The increase in stand-up reps is directly contributing to Johnson’s success. Nearly all of Johnson’s pass-rush impact in the preseason came on plays where he was standing up.

Against the Panthers, Johnson had three pressures on five pass-rush snaps when standing up. When he had his hand(s) in the dirt, Johnson failed to collect any pressures across four pass-rush reps.

It’s apparent how much faster Johnson looks than he did in his rookie year. He rarely had reps that were as explosive as any of the three seen above.

The numbers support the eye test. Johnson is getting into the backfield much quicker than he was last year.

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Johnson has an average get-off time (how long it takes the rusher to cross the line of scrimmage after the ball is snapped) of 0.73 seconds in this year’s preseason. That ranks 11th-fastest among the 103 edge rushers with at least 10 pass-rush snaps (90th percentile).

This represents an enormous step forward for Johnson. In the 2022 regular season, his average get-off time was 0.94 seconds. That ranked 106th out of the 126 edge rushers with at least 100 pass-rush snaps (16th percentile). For perspective, the league average for edge rushers was 0.88 seconds.

Much of this improvement should be attributed to Johnson himself for the work he’s put in this offseason. However, it seems clear that he is more comfortable rushing from a stand-up position. It’s likely the role change is also contributing to his progress.

Every player has their preference. Bryce Huff, who is one of the most explosive edge rushers in the NFL, almost always lined up with his hands in the dirt last season. That works for some players. For Johnson, though, you can see how much more explosive he looks when rushing from a two-point stance (standing up).

It’s unclear if the Jets plan on maintaining this increase for Johnson in the regular season. It’s completely possible this is a small-sample preseason quirk the Jets do not plan on carrying over.

However, Johnson’s usage in last year’s preseason suggests his increase in stand-up reps may be a real indicator of what’s to come.

Johnson’s usage in the 2022 preseason turned out to be an accurate indicator of his regular season usage, as he only stood up on 5.5% of his preseason snaps. This correctly indicated that he would heavily lean toward lining up as a hand-in-the-dirt rusher. Johnson would stand up on 11.9% of his snaps in the regular season.

If Johnson’s usage in this year’s preseason is yet again an accurate indicator of how he will be used in the regular season, it means we will see plenty more of No. 11 in a two-point stance, which is an exciting thing for Jets fans.

Pushing Johnson’s stand-up rate into the 30-40% range would be an excellent way for the Jets to help him maximize his pass rushing upside. However, I’m not sure they have to go overboard and start having him stand up on half of his snaps or more.

The reason it still makes sense for the Jets to have Johnson put his hands in the dirt for the majority of his reps is that Johnson’s run defense remains his greatest strength. Because of this, he will likely be used primarily in situations where the run is a legitimate threat; we probably won’t see Johnson in many obvious passing situations.

Having Johnson rely on the four-point stance (two hands in the dirt) is the best way to maximize him in the situations he will usually face. Johnson is a more effective run defender when he’s in a four-point stance because it allows him to stay lower to the ground and establish ideal leverage on blockers as an edge-setter. He can also read the play more patiently.

We saw this against Carolina. Johnson recorded a run stuff on two of three snaps he played against the run, and he was in a four-point stance on both of those.

A healthy mix of two-point and four-point stances, with a lean toward the latter, makes sense for Johnson. So far in the preseason, we’ve seen the Jets employ an ideal balance of both stances for Johnson, and he’s used it to dominate in both phases. Carrying this plan into the regular season would be a smart move.

Johnson established himself as a strong run defender in his rookie season. The question was whether he could blossom as a pass rusher. Johnson has done everything he can throughout this offseason to prove that a pass-rush breakout is coming.

On top of Johnson’s individual effort, the Jets may have discovered the secret ingredient to fully unleashing his pass-rush potential: letting him stand up, pin his ears back, and fly.

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Matt Galemmo
9 months ago

“a four-point stance…allows him to stay lower to the ground and establish ideal leverage on blockers as an edge-setter”

This appears to be relevant only when lined close to the ball, as 4-tech or closer. In the second of the two video clips posted, when not lined up over anybody, he immediately stands up, and it is unclear to me how a four-point stance helped him at all.

I admittedly don’t understand the nuance of any of this, but it would seem it’s as simple as using hands in the dirt if you’re lined up right over someone, and do whatever maximizes your get-off if you’re not. Is that wrong?