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NY Jets must consider changes from typical defense to beat Chiefs

NY Jets, Robert Saleh, Patrick Mahomes
Robert Saleh, New York Jets, Getty Images, Jet X Graphic

The New York Jets play defense a certain way, but they should strongly consider a shift vs. Chiefs

R-E-L-A-X, New York Jets fans—not.

Just a few weeks ago, the Jets-Chiefs showdown in Week 4 seemed like the game of the year. In the blink of an eye, it became just another ho-hum expectation of Mahomesian dominance.

With the Jets’ season teetering on thin ice and reports of significant dissent in the locker room, they now have the pleasure of hosting the Super Bowl champions who are well on their way to building a dynasty. At 1-2, New York can ill afford to lose this game. Still, with Zach Wilson once again at the helm, there is virtually no way their offense will provide anything of value. It’s going to need to be full guns blazing on defense.

But—that is not how the Jets play defense. In fact, it’s the very antithesis of what they do, which is play soft and wait for the offense to mess up in their methodical drive for six. That strategy can pay tremendous dividends with a competent offense, but it doesn’t work with the NFL’s worst. The Jets’ defense will need to sell out to win; if it doesn’t work, so be it.

There are several ideological shifts that the Jets should consider against Mahomes. They may not work; not much does work against the best quarterback in the NFL. Still, as an underdog, it takes strategy to beat the top. That’s seemingly a weakness of the entire Jets coaching staff, but if there’s any week to put it aside, it’s this one.

Blitz?

I was going to list blitzing here, but I can’t recommend that against Patrick Mahomes. His worst passer rating against the blitz over a full season is 107.4. This year, it’s “only” 100.5 on just 18 dropbacks (14.3%). Perhaps the Jets could try it, but it hasn’t worked out well for teams in the past.

Here are Mahomes’ stats against the blitz in his last seven games where he was blitzed over 30% of the time: 83-for-121 (68.6%), 918 yards, 7.6 YPA, 16 TD, 3 INT, 57 first downs. Only the Buccaneers managed to truly contain Mahomes via the blitz. Most other teams suffered significantly. His passer rating vs. the blitz was over 100.0 in every game except that Tampa one.

On the flip side, here is how Mahomes has performed when not blitzed in his last seven games when blitzed less than 20% of the time: 155-for-229 (67.7%), 1,734 yards, 7.6 YPA, 14 TD, 3 INT, 97 first downs.

Mahomes’ numbers whether blitzed heavily or rarely are very consistent. When sitting back in coverage, only the 2022 Titans and 2023 Lions kept Mahomes at bay. It’s hard to say that pressure was the cause considering that Mahomes’ numbers under pressure are excellent. It’s more likely that coverage held Mahomes in check. That was much easier for the Lions without Travis Kelce than it will be for the Jets.

In 2022 Week 3, Quinnen Williams got into a shouting match with defensive line coach Aaron Whitecotton. He was angry that the Jets had started blitzing Joe Burrow. As susceptible as Burrow was to the blitz previously, he picked the Jets’ defense apart. After that loss, the Jets stuck to their low-blitz philosophy regardless of quarterback. Therefore, I would not expect to see more blitzing from the Jets against Kansas City.

Switch sides

The Chiefs’ pass-blocking biggest liability along their offensive line is Donovan Smith, their left tackle. Smith has a 58.1 Pro Football Focus pass-blocking grade that is tied for 43rd out of 66 qualified tackles (min. 75 pass block snaps). He’s tied for fourth among tackles with 13 pressures allowed and tied for fifth with three quarterback hits. His grade in true pass sets is 46.2 (46th).

Unfortunately for the Jets, their right defensive ends have generated almost no pressure this season. Jermaine Johnson, Carl Lawson, and Will McDonald have combined to post just six pass-rush wins, six pressures, no quarterback hits, and one sack on 122 pass-rush snaps. That’s a 4.9% pass rush win rate and pressure rate. No wonder the Jets’ vaunted defensive line is doing nothing.

Perhaps it’s time for the Jets to get some of their other pass rushers on the right side. Bryce Huff is their best pure rusher, and he has 11 pressures on 49 pass rush snaps. As shaky as he’s been against the run in the past and in the preseason, the Chiefs are not the team to worry about the run against.

Huff should be playing more snaps, and the quarterback’s blind side is the correct place to put him. True, that means the Jets will have a worse matchup on the other side, but Jawaan Taylor is a far better pass protector than Smith, anyway. Put Johnson or John Franklin-Myers on the other side and let Huff do his thing.

Heavy man coverage, Gardner vs. Kelce

Travis Kelce is the Chiefs’ No. 1 target. One surprising stat jumps off the page: against man coverage, he has zero catches on three targets with a drop, and he’s 0-for-2 on contested catches. Against zone, though, he’s caught 7 of 10 balls for 78 yards and has 2.29 yards per route run. Of course, this is a tiny sample size, but it’s noteworthy.

I’m not suggesting that Kelce is slowing down. There’s no evidence for that, although there seemed to be some in 2021. What I am saying is that given the Jets’ struggles with covering tight ends, they should take their best cover man, Sauce Gardner, and put him against Kelce all game.

Gardner has not had a great start to the season. His tackling has been atrocious (26.7% miss rate), he’s allowed a 121.9 targeted passer rating, and his play recognition is a step slow. Still, Gardner has some of the best man coverage skills in the NFL. He’s the only Jets player who may be able to stop Kelce.

If the Jets insist on playing their soft zone on early downs, Kelce will most likely cook them. If Pharaoh Brown can catch a 58-yard touchdown against the Jets, Mahomes and Kelce can shred them, too.

In the 2022 season opener, the Jets shifted Gardner to cover Mark Andrews at times, resulting in Gardner’s first big highlight. Just as the Ravens featured Andrews in their passing attack, the Chiefs feature Kelce in theirs. Therefore, with a bunch of unproven receivers, Kelce must be the Jets’ defensive priority. If Mahomes beats them with other players and 1,000 paper cuts, so be it. But just as Bill Belichick consistently game plans to take out a team’s best weapons, the Jets must game plan to take out Kelce.

There is no way any Jets fan can look at the matchup with Kansas City and expect to win. But perhaps the Jets can eke one out by eliminating the Chiefs’ best skill position player.

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mlesko73
9 months ago

For all the thinking that Mahomes and KC are explosive, the reality is that they’re absolutely content to be a dink-n-dunk team. I think their Yards Per Pass Play has been average to low over the past few years. They are perfectly happy to do what Ullbrich tries to force offenses to do. The thing is, waiting for them to make a mistake on long drives isn’t like waiting for Daniel Jones to make a mistake. They don’t.
I don’t see us matching Sauce on anyone. Doing so requires the rest of the secondary to make adjustments on the fly. I’ve seen Rex talk about the intricacies in having Revis play the opponent’s top guy.
I wouldn’t sleep on Pacheco, he’s a tough, quick runner and this is a bit of a homecoming being a Rutgers guy.

Last edited 9 months ago by mlesko73
NCgreen73
9 months ago

I would be shocked if the Jets let Sauce shadow Kelse. I think it makes all the sense in the world but would require some out of the box planning. The Jets are who they are and are good at holding teams under 20 points playing that soft zone. However, when they face a patient smart QB they usually give up tons of plays, field position and time of possession. That’s not a good recipe for a teams whose offense might currently be the worst in the NFL with Zach.

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