The New York Jets tapped into a Bryce Huff role expansion against Kansas City, and the early returns were tremendous
From Week 1 of 2022 through Week 3 of 2023, Huff had the highest pressure rate among qualified edge rushers (min. 200 pass-rush snaps) at 21.2%, recording 47 total pressures on just 222 pass-rush snaps:
- Bryce Huff, NYJ (21.2%) – 47 pressures on 222 pass-rush snaps
- Rashan Gary, GB (20.5%) – 51 on 249
- Josh Uche, NE (20.5%) – 69 on 337
- Micah Parsons, DAL (18.6%) – 107 on 574
- Nick Bosa, SF (17.2%) – 105 on 612
- Trey Hendrickson, CIN (16.4%) – 77 on 469
- Myles Garrett, CLE (15.9%) – 91 on 571
- Za’Darius Smith, MIN/CLE (15.3%) – 87 on 568
- Dante Fowler, DAL (15.2%) – 42 on 276
- Matthew Judon, NE (14.8%) – 82 on 553
Stats via PFF
But those 222 pass-rush snaps ranked as the 105th-most among edge rushers over that span.
This disparity between Huff’s efficiency and his playing time is due to the Jets’ extremely specific role for him. They have solely used him in obvious passing situations, keeping him off the field in any situation where the run is a viable threat. The vast majority of Huff’s snaps have come on third-and-long.
To New York’s credit, this plan has worked out tremendously. Every time he steps on the field, Huff has two advantages: 1) he is well-rested thanks to his low snap count and 2) he can play with all-out aggression since he does not have to respect the threat of the run. This combination has allowed Huff to produce at a wildly efficient level on a per-snap basis.
While those advantages undoubtedly help him out, Huff’s production still vastly exceeds the expectations of his role. Yes, his circumstances are more favorable than most of the players he is being compared against, but there are a lot of other Bryce Huffs in the league who play the same role but don’t produce at nearly the same level.
This chart showcases that while Huff’s role puts him in the best position to put up numbers (X axis), he still exceeds the expectations of his assignments at a level that surpasses the majority of the league’s edge rushers (Y axis).
First time running my trenches evaluation, which adjusts pass rush/block grades for difficulty of assignments (double teams, strength of opposing blocker/rusher etc.).
Myles Garrett is already back in his natural habitat, which is at the very top of this. pic.twitter.com/3D4lS1fv9o
— Timo Riske (@PFF_Moo) September 26, 2023
Simply put: Bryce Huff is too darn good to be relegated to a minimal role where he only gets to rush the quarterback about 13 times per game. His efficiency isn’t just good – it’s elite. And when a player is elite, he deserves to be fully unleashed.
In Week 4 against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Jets finally started to experiment with expanding Huff’s role. The early returns were extremely inspiring.
How the Jets inched closer to fully unleashing Huff against Kansas City
Huff played 25 total defensive snaps on a 39% snap ratio against the Chiefs. Both marks are his highest since the start of 2022, which is when the Jets began using him in his pass-rush specialist role. This marked a significant increase compared to his previous 17 games when he was averaging 14.6 defensive snaps per game on a 21% snap ratio.
Huff played 20 pass-game snaps (18 pass-rush, 2 dropping into coverage) against Kansas City. That is his second-highest mark since the start of 2022 (trailing 22 snaps against Buffalo in Week 1 of 2023), but from a rate perspective, the Kansas City game actually marked the heaviest involvement Huff has had in the Jets’ pass defense.
While Huff played 22 pass-game snaps against the Bills in Week 1, Buffalo ran a whopping 51 pass plays, so Huff participated in 43% of the defense’s pass-game reps that week. But the Chiefs only dropped back 39 times, so in this game, Huff was on the field for 20 of the defense’s 39 pass-game snaps, which is 51%. It’s the first time over the past two seasons that Huff has played more than half of the defense’s pass-game snaps.
To make this snap-count increase happen, the Jets had to trust Huff to play more early-down snaps. Huff played seven snaps on first down and four on second down. That’s extremely unusual for Huff.
One of the possible reasons that New York has been hesitant to expand Huff’s role could be their concern as to whether Huff could maintain his efficiency in an expanded role. Playing him more often on early downs would take away the two advantages that he benefits from in his pass-rush specialist role: the predictability of the opponent’s pass-run decision and his conditioning.
But Huff silenced those concerns against Kansas City. With the biggest role he’s played over the past two seasons, Huff not only maintained his efficiency, but he took it to brand-new heights.
Huff recorded a career-high seven pressures on 18 pass-rush snaps against the Chiefs, which also resulted in a career-high pressure rate of 38.9%.
That right there is all the evidence New York needs to know that Huff deserves a snap-count increase. The man isn’t just a beneficiary of a favorable role. He is simply a flat-out beast with elite pass-rushing talent who deserves to get as many pass-rush snaps as possible.
Another one of the Jets’ likely concerns about expanding Huff’s role is the effect it would have on the run defense. Giving Huff more early-down snaps means he will have to face more run plays, which is something the Jets might be afraid of. Huff’s iffy reputation against the run is part of the reason why the Jets decided to relegate him to a pass-rush specialist role.
While Huff has never been known as a stellar run defender, I don’t think his film has shown that he is an atrocious one, either. And there have been signs of progress in 2023. Huff made great plays against the run in back-to-back games prior to the Chiefs game – and perhaps this is what inspired the Jets to trust him with more early-down snaps.
Back-to-back weeks of Bryce Huff showing he's no slouch vs. the run.
This guy is way too talented to be limited to obvious pass situations. Needs more 1st/2nd down reps so he can get as many pass-rush snaps as possible pic.twitter.com/m2Zpf10NV6
— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) September 25, 2023
Maybe Huff will never be a stud run defender, or even an average one, but he surely isn’t bad enough to the point where it’s worth sacrificing a boatload of early-down pass-rush reps just to avoid placing him on the field against the run.
I put it this way in a breakdown that I posted last week where I called for the Jets to give Huff more early-down reps:
“The potential reward of one Bryce Huff pass-rush snap far outweighs the potential risk of one Bryce Huff run-defense snap. So, if the Jets give him 10 extra pass snaps and 10 extra run snaps, he should make a net-positive impact overall.”
The Kansas City game backed up this hypothesis.
Huff was on the field for five designed run plays by Kansas City. The Chiefs ran for 23 yards on those plays, which is 4.6 yards per carry. Not bad!
While that is a slightly subpar number (the league-average YPC since 2022 is 4.4), it’s a perfectly acceptable cost to get Huff as many pass-rush reps as possible. That’s nowhere near bad enough to justify keeping Huff off the field in those situations and limiting his pass-rush ceiling.
Bryce Huff film vs. Kansas City
Let’s take a look at some examples of Huff’s impact against the Chiefs on film. Huff had a number of key pressures to force negative plays by Kansas City.
On third-and-3, Huff easily evades tight end Blake Bell to pressure Patrick Mahomes on a designed sprint-out, helping to force an incomplete pass.
On another third-and-3 play, Huff loops inside on a stunt, running behind Quinnen Williams. Huff is able to beat Chiefs center Creed Humphrey and get into the backfield to flush Mahomes out of the pocket. Huff trips up Mahomes just as he begins to throw, forcing the ball into the dirt. It looks like this pass likely would have been completed if Huff had not affected it.
On third-and-7, Huff beats Chiefs star right tackle Jawaan Taylor around the edge with a speed rush. Taylor grabs Huff’s facemask to prevent a likely sack, and he gets called for a face mask penalty that results in a safety.
Here’s where we see the impact of letting Huff play on first down. On this first-and-10 play, Huff caves in the pocket with a bull rush on Taylor and then starts to turn the corner, flushing Mahomes out of the pocket. Huff’s pressure forces Mahomes straight into John Franklin-Myers, who lays a big hit. Under duress, Mahomes fires a terrible pass that gets intercepted by C.J. Mosley.
On another first-and-10 play, Huff beats Chiefs left tackle Donovan Smith around the corner, pressuring Mahomes into checking the ball down. As you can see from the wide angle, Travis Kelce was open for a likely first down. Huff’s pressure forced Mahomes to move his eyes off Kelce and take the checkdown.
Not only did the Jets give Huff more snaps, but they used him in a more versatile fashion than usual. That includes a couple of reps where Huff dropped into coverage as a QB spy on Mahomes. On this third-and-9 play, Huff chases down Mahomes on a scramble and forces a throw short of the first down marker, bringing up a field goal attempt.
The Jets should keep building with Huff
Give Jeff Ulbrich and Robert Saleh some props for shooting higher with a player who is already thriving. After all, Huff has done so well in his pass-rush specialist role that you can understand why the coaches were hesitant to mess with it. As they say, if ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
But the potential for Huff to do far greater things has always been there. As good as he’s been, it’s impossible not to be tempted by how much more productive he can still become. And with the Jets’ pass rush struggling to start 2023, the time was right for the Jets to start tapping into the unexplored possibilities with Huff. Not to mention, the Chiefs were a great opponent to do it against because of their pass-happy mentality.
Considering the fantastic results yielded by the experiment’s debut, the Jets should maintain this usage of Huff going forward – and even try to build on it.
Huff proved he is capable of maintaining his elite efficiency over a larger volume. Not only that, but he also showed that he is still capable of making plays in early-down situations. He made multiple big plays on first down that would not have happened in previous games, as he would have been on the sidelines in those situations.
Most importantly, the run plays with Huff on the field were not catastrophic. New York shouldn’t fear using Huff against the run until he gives them a reason to.
Bryce Huff is one of the most talented pass rushers in football and he deserves the opportunity to flex his abilities to the highest degree. This game was a step in the right direction.
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