The New York Jets should consider making an adjustment to expose the Kansas City Chiefs’ one offensive liability
It’s extremely difficult to find weaknesses in the Kansas City Chiefs offense. Sure, you could point to the wide receivers, but the lack of a stud wideout didn’t stop the Chiefs from winning the Super Bowl last season. As long as Travis Kelce is out there, the Chiefs have more than enough firepower to move the football at a breakneck pace.
Even Kansas City’s offensive line is nearly flawless. The Chiefs wouldn’t be able to sustain their offensive success without the elite offensive line play they have enjoyed over the past few years. The unit hasn’t received as much fanfare as some of the league’s other top lines – a consequence of being overshadowed by perhaps the greatest QB/TE duo of all time – but without the front five’s remarkable consistency, the Chiefs wouldn’t be the Chiefs as we know them.
So far, nothing has changed in 2023. The Chiefs’ offensive line remains one of the NFL’s best. According to PFF, the Chiefs’ offensive line is one of three units that has yet to allow a sack this season.
In addition, the unit ranks seventh-best with an allowed pressure rate of 23.7%. When you combine that with the fact that Patrick Mahomes ranks sixth-highest in average time to throw at 3.02 seconds, it’s clear that Kansas City’s offensive line is thriving. Mahomes is holding the ball for a long time and still getting pressured at a low rate.
While four of the five starters on this unit are playing at a high level, there is one player on this unit who is struggling. He stands out as the lone liability within Kansas City’s offense that the New York Jets have a chance to truly exploit: left tackle Donovan Smith.
A ninth-year veteran, the 30-year-old Smith spent his first eight seasons in Tampa Bay before joining Kansas City this offseason. Smith was considered one of the league’s better left tackles a few years ago, but so far in 2023, he has shown significant signs of decline.
According to PFF, Smith has allowed 13 pressures on 138 pass-blocking snaps this season, giving him an allowed pressure rate of 9.4% that ranks 54th out of 62 qualified tackles (min. 80 pass-blocking snaps). His 13 pressures allowed stand as the third-most among left tackles.
They often say an offensive line is only as strong as its weakest link. So far, Kansas City has not been weighed down by Smith’s woes. However, it only takes a couple of killer mistakes for one struggling lineman to make the whole unit look bad. If the Jets’ group of speedy young edge rushers can beat Smith for just one or two big-time plays, it can alter the course of the entire game.
There’s just one problem: With the way they are currently using their defensive line, the Jets are not properly equipped to fully maximize their potential mismatch over Smith.
Through the first three games, Jermaine Johnson has been the Jets’ primary edge rusher on the right side of the defensive line, which means he is in line to draw the most snaps against Smith.
Here is the number of pass-rush snaps that each Jets edge rusher has played on each side of the defensive line this season:
Right side (vs. LT):
- Jermaine Johnson: 73
- Carl Lawson: 17
- Micheal Clemons: 17
- Bryce Huff: 8
- Will McDonald: 5
Left side (vs. RT):
- John Franklin-Myers: 66
- Bryce Huff: 38
- Micheal Clemons: 18
- Jermaine Johnson: 13
- Will McDonald: 9
As you can see, Johnson is far-and-away the Jets’ primary pass rusher on the blind side edge.
This is not good news for the Jets. As we broke down yesterday, Johnson has been struggling mightily as a pass rusher this season. Per PFF, Johnson is 64th out of 74 qualified edge rushers in pass-rush win rate (5.7%) and 66th in pressure rate (5.6%). According to NFL Next Gen Stats, he has the lowest third-down pressure rate (2.9%) among edge rushers with at least 20 third-down pass-rush snaps.
Johnson is not the ideal player to fully take advantage of this matchup. Yet, if the Jets stick with their current tendencies, he is going to get the most pass-rush snaps against Smith by a massive margin. That would be a huge waste of a potential tide-turning advantage.
Sure, you could argue that Smith might provide Johnson with a favorable matchup that will allow him to finally break out. But if you’re the Jets, who are desperate to force turnovers to help their fledgling offense, would you rather gamble on Johnson suddenly breaking out of his funk or simply overwhelm Smith with the consistently stellar Bryce Huff? The latter option offers far greater odds of success.
The Jets need to go bold to pull off the upset against Kansas City. Sticking with their usual tactics isn’t going to cut it against a vastly superior team. And this is one of the areas where they need to make a significant tactical change to tilt the odds in their favor.
New York has to ditch its usual tendencies and put Bryce Huff on Donovan Smith’s side on Sunday. Move Johnson to the other side.
Huff was one of the NFL’s most consistent pass rushers in 2022 and has maintained his success in 2023. Huff ranks third-best out of 91 qualified edge rushers with a 22.4% pressure rate.
If the Jets put Huff against Smith, they will have themselves a mouth-watering mismatch that could potentially cancel out all of the other advantages Kansas City’s offense might have. Nothing thwarts a high-flying offense quite like blind-side pressure.
But if the Jets keep Huff on the left side (vs. the RT), the entire pass rush could fall apart. Not only would they take the risk of wasting the Smith mismatch with Johnson, but Huff might find himself locked up by Kansas City’s star right tackle, Jawaan Taylor.
Taylor, who earlier this year signed a contract worth $20 million per season (sixth-highest among OT), is an elite pass-blocker who has the athleticism to stick with the speedy Huff and potentially shut him down. The Jets cannot afford to have their best pass rusher quieted in this game.
Huff is fantastic and might be able to make some plays on Taylor, but history suggests the Jets shouldn’t count on it. Taylor shuts down almost everyone he faces. He’s given up just 20 pressures over his last 20 games going back to last year – one per game. This year, he’s allowed only four pressures in three games (1.3 per game).
Allowing Huff to be silenced by Taylor would cost the Jets far more than letting Johnson be silenced. The Jets should try to minimize the impact of Kansas City’s best pass blocker by keeping their best pass rusher away from him. Just let Taylor shut down the guy who usually doesn’t produce anyway, and give Huff a chance to utterly dominate against Kansas City’s lone exploitable lineman.
Plus, there’s another benefit of putting Johnson on Taylor’s side: Johnson would have a significant advantage in the run game. While Taylor is an elite pass blocker, he is consistently regarded as a poor run blocker (ranked as the fifth-worst run-blocking OT at PFF this season). Johnson is a great run defender, so he can dominate Taylor in that phase.
The Jets defense is known for its rigid style. They rarely make drastic changes to their philosophy, which is done in an effort to keep things simple for the players and just let them go play football without thinking too much. For the most part, this strategy worked very well in 2022. But so far in 2022, the Jets defense has not been quite the same, especially when it comes to pass rushing.
It’s time for the Jets to start ditching their tendencies in an effort to get the defense back on track. Kansas City offers a tremendous opportunity for them to experiment with new things that could raise the defense’s ceiling.
Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich would be wise to have Bryce Huff take over Jermaine Johnson’s right-side pass-rush snaps on Sunday. You want to start creating more takeaways? Let your best edge rusher go to work against the opponent’s worst pass blocker. Don’t miss out on that potential mismatch just for the sake of stubbornly sticking with the same plan.
It’s on third downs where this change should primarily occur. The smart play is to move Huff into Johnson’s usual position at right defensive end as part of the third-down rush package, which has typically featured Huff at LDE, John Franklin-Myers at LDT, Quinnen Williams at RDT, and Johnson at RDE.
But Johnson shouldn’t be the one moving into Huff’s left-side spot. That should be Will McDonald. As we discussed in yesterday’s breakdown, the Jets should take Johnson out of the third-down rush package and replace him with McDonald, whose skill set makes him a much better fit for the role.
Let Johnson stick to first and second downs for now, where his run defense can shine. If they want to keep Johnson on Smith’s side on those downs, that’s fine – perhaps he can maximize the mismatch in those situations. It’s not as if the Jets use Huff on the early downs, anyway, though I argue they should start doing that more often.
Still, it would be smart to consider moving Johnson to the left side against Kansas City on first and second down, too, as his mismatch in the run game against Taylor is tantalizing.
The Jets have a chance to close the talent gap against Kansas City by making some smart tactical decisions. We shall see if those decisions are made, or if the Jets fail to maximize their potential advantages as they continue to stick with things that aren’t working.
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