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NY Jets must use Chiefs’ defensive tendencies against them

NY Jets, OC, Nathaniel Hackett, Chiefs
Nathaniel Hackett, New York Jets, Getty Images

The Chiefs have some extreme preferences on defense that the New York Jets should exploit

To beat the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 4, the New York Jets must follow two maxims: know thy opponent and know thyself. They haven’t done a good job of either one thus far this season, particularly on offense.

Besides obstinately sticking with Zach Wilson as their quarterback, the Jets continue to refuse to play Mecole Hardman, Jeremy Ruckert, and Xavier Gipson. They insist on rolling out C.J. Uzomah, Randall Cobb, and Laken Tomlinson despite persistent ineptitude. They play the run-run-pass game even though it takes away every chance they have of winning.

Thus far, the Jets have had the misfortune of playing three stingy defenses. By reputation, Kansas City’s is more exploitable, but they’ve been stout to begin the season. The Chiefs rank fourth in the NFL in allowing just 13.3 points per game through three weeks. They held the Jaguars and Trevor Lawrence to just nine points.

Still, there are weaker parts of the Chiefs’ defense that the Jets should target. Some of it involves their players, but more importantly, their scheme has its holes.

The Chiefs play a lot of man coverage

Kansas City defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is known for his blitzing. He’s blitzed 36.5% of the time this season, tied for the fifth-highest rate in the NFL. As a result, the Chiefs play among the most man coverage in the league.

Through three weeks, the Chiefs have played man coverage 42.6% of the time, the third-highest rate in the NFL. 32.2% of that is Cover 1 (fourth), while 7.8% is Cover 0 (fifth) and 2.6% 2-man (11th). In other words, if the Chiefs are showing man coverage, they probably have at most one safety deep. That deep safety is usually Bryan Cook, who has lined up deep on 65.8% of his snaps.

Knowing that a team plays a lot of man coverage can allow opponents to use man-beaters. Obviously, the Chiefs know that, but the Jets have some equalizers—if they’re willing to use them.

Get ’em in motion

Aaron Rodgers dislikes presnap motion, but most other quarterbacks prefer it. A passer like Rodgers can read a defense without the extras. Still, Tom Brady was the king of motion, as are the Chiefs with Patrick Mahomes and many other teams across the league. Nathaniel Hackett must recognize that he’s dealing with a different passer and adjust accordingly. Try to make things as easy as possible for Zach Wilson.

The Jets currently rank 30th in the NFL in motion rate at 24.5%. Their success rate with motion is actually decent at 42.1%, which ranks 16th. They average 5.0 yards per play with motion, which ranks 19th, compared to 4.1 YPP without it, ranking 27th. Of those motion plays, 55.3% were runs, the fourth-highest rate in the NFL.

Specifically in a three-receiver set, using motion against man coverage can open up areas of the field, making them easier to both run and pass toward. The Jets should be using more motion in this game even if Hackett wants to stubbornly refuse to use it in other matchups.

Play action

Jared Goff showed how to beat the Chiefs with play-action in Detroit’s Week 1 win. He went 6-for-10 for 113 yards (11.3 YPA) with a 99.5 passer rating and five first downs. His average time to throw was 2.82 seconds, yet he faced just two pressures and no sacks.

Obviously, that is behind the stout Detroit offensive line, but Goff faced pressure 30.8% of the time on non-play-action dropbacks despite releasing the ball in 2.15 seconds, on average. He also generated just five first downs on 26 non-play-action dropbacks.

Trevor Lawrence didn’t have a good day against Kansas City, but even he was more successful on play-action. He went 7-for-12 for 83 yards (6.9 YPA) with play-action compared to 15-for-29 for 133 yards (4.6 YPA) without it. Lawrence was pressured at roughly the same rate with and without play-action, but he was sacked three times without it and none with it.

Justin Fields wasn’t all that successful with play-action, but he also attempted just five passes from that look. Still, it makes a lot of sense that play-action would attack a man-heavy, aggressive defense.

Against New England, the Jets patently refused to pass on first down for most of the game, even as Tony Romo begged them to run play-action. It’s incumbent upon them to do it against Kansas City. Playing conservative and keep-away may seem like a decent idea against a poor offense like the Patriots’ (although it manifestly was not wise), but the Jets need to score points in this game. If Wilson gives it away, so be it, but they can’t play scared of turnovers.

Reverses and jet sweeps

It’s about time that the Jets get Mecole Hardman involved in the offense on jet sweeps. They’ve played multiple teams with man coverage but simply refuse to attempt to use him. They used Braxton Berrios in that role a fair amount in 2022, but Hardman has been completely invisible.

The Chiefs will be on the lookout for it with Hardman on the field, which makes him an effective decoy. The Jets can use him on a sweep to keep the defense honest and then build off that on play-action. Screen passes in the other direction tend to work well with evened numbers.

Isolate L’Jarius Sneed and Justin Reid

Through three weeks, 2022 first-round cornerback Trent McDuffie has played lights-out football for the Chiefs. On the other side, though, L’Jarius Sneed’s play is shakier. After a solid 2022 season, Sneed is the man to target when the Chiefs are playing man coverage.

Sneed has allowed three of five receptions for 67 yards in man coverage, which is 22.3 yards per reception, including 22 YAC (7.3 per reception). Although it’s a small sample size, compared to McDuffie’s two catches for 24 yards and 7 YAC allowed, Sneed is the preferable target.

Meanwhile, at safety, Justin Reid has also struggled in man coverage. He’s allowed 5 of 5 receptions for 44 yards, or 8.8 yards per reception, despite a 3.8 average depth of target. That hints that Reid is vulnerable to screen passes, as he’s allowed 25 YAC or 5.0 per reception.

Quarterback runs

When a defense plays man, the defenders usually have their backs to the quarterback, making it easier to take off. Unathletic passers like Mac Jones can still gain rushing yardage against man looks. A more athletic quarterback like Zach Wilson should be able to take advantage.

While Goff wasn’t able to gain much on the ground against Kansas City, Trevor Lawrence had five rushes for 26 yards, and Justin Fields had 11 for 47. While neither of those are off the charts, there is potential to break containment and look to run.

In 2022, the Chiefs allowed the fifth-most rushing yards to quarterbacks (444), the 11th-most yards per attempt (4.7), the 11th-highest EPA per attempt (0.154), and the 12th-highest success rate (50%). This year, they’ve still allowed the 10th-most quarterback rushing yards (72), but they’ve limited the yards per carry to just 3.4, the ninth-lowest. Quarterbacks have also run successfully just 28.6% of the time and posted a -0.437 EPA per rush, both the fifth-lowest marks in the NFL.

Still, the Chiefs have their 2022 track record against rushing quarterbacks, and their heavy man scheme dictates that there should be opportunities to scramble. Calling designed run plays is probably not a great idea given the Chiefs’ aggressive blitzing, but taking off if a path opens up likely is.

Get Breece Hall involved in the passing game

Breece Hall has had a poor start to the season in the passing game, catching just two of five targets with two drops. His average depth of target is -0.8, and all of those targets have been screens or dump-offs.

The Jets have yet to attempt to take advantage of Hall’s natural receiving skills, though. He showed intriguing potential as a route-runner in 2022, making moves to beat defenders. In a man-to-man situation, running Hall on a larger route tree makes a lot of sense.

It seemed that Hackett would be the perfect offensive coordinator for this to happen, but that hasn’t been the case thus far. Against Kansas City, the Jets need to take the training wheels off Hall. If the defense crashes the line of scrimmage to stop him on the ground, the team needs to unlock his potential through the air.

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Jonathan Richter
8 months ago

This points up just how little Hackett has helped Zach so far. Not excusing Zach’s poor performances, but we could have won both those games with some better offensive concepts.

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