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How NY Jets’ defense forged vintage performance vs. C.J. Stroud

NY Jets, Quinnen Williams, Texans
Quinnen Williams, New York Jets, Getty Images

The New York Jets placed a major roadblock in front of C.J. Stroud

Last week, I explained the formula that the New York Jets’ defense could use to keep C.J. Stroud and the Houston Texans’ offense in check. I thought it was a good matchup on that side of the ball.

Jeff Ulbrich and his players executed the game plan far better than I wrote it. As usual, the onslaught was buoyed by the key hallmarks of the team — a stifling cornerback trio and a strong pass rush, specifically up the middle.

Quinnen Williams and Quinton Jefferson posted five pressures each on 52 combined pass rush snaps, a 19.2% pressure rate. They took advantage of Michael Deiter, the center, who allowed five pressures, as well as left guard Juice Scruggs, who allowed a sack. John Franklin-Myers, Bryce Huff, and Jermaine Johnson punished George Fant for his miserable 2022 season with the Jets, hitting him for five pressures.

Keep it short

The best statistic showing how the Jets contained Houston, though, is the distribution of Stroud’s target depths.

  • Deep (20+ yards): 0-for-1, 0 yards, 1 drop, 39.6 passer rating
  • Intermediate (10-19 yards): 2-for-8, 39 yards, 4.9 YPA, 2 turnover-worthy plays, 3.29 time to throw, 47.4 passer rating
  • Short (0-9 yards): 6-for-10, 57 yards, 5.7 YPA, 1 turnover-worthy play, 2.87 time to throw, 75.8 passer rating
  • Behind LOS: 2-for-2, -4 yards, 79.2 passer rating

Stroud was one of the best intermediate and deep passers in the NFL entering this game. The Jets limited him to just nine attempts in those parts of the field, indicating that they stifled Houston’s longer-developing routes. The most startling statistic is that Stroud averaged more yards per attempt on his short throws than his intermediate ones. His time to throw on the intermediate passes was so long (fourth-longest among quarterbacks in Week 14) because he had a hard time finding where to go with the ball.

Film

Here are some examples of how the Jets’ defense made Stroud’s life difficult.

Jefferson and Solomon Thomas got credit on the sack here, but this was clearly a coverage sack. Stroud had time to throw and nowhere to go with the ball.

Johnson pinched the pocket and then Thomas came up the middle to force Stroud into a backwards pass (which is ruled a team sack and fumble in the boxscore). Still, there was a window for Stroud to release the ball before Thomas pressured him — but the Jets’ coverage was stifling. Jordan Whitehead picked up the No. 1 receiver to the right, while D.J. Reed and C.J. Mosley took out Stroud’s options to his left.

Williams usually wins with power and technique rather than quick snap get-off, but here, he did both. He exploded off the snap and used a hump move to run over the center and into Stroud’s grill, forcing a throwaway.

Sauce Gardner got hands on to disrupt the route timing, then undercut Stroud’s throw and nearly came away with the pick. The Jets got a bit lucky on this one since Noah Brown beat Reed on his route but Stroud had already decided to release the ball elsewhere. Still, Gardner prevented Stroud from pushing the ball further downfield.

On a second-and-long play, Michael Carter II simply followed Stroud’s eyes in zone coverage and nearly came up with the pick. He practically ran the receiver’s route for him. Once again, an intermediate route went nowhere.

Even the short area was a struggle for Stroud. The receiver bowed out his route, allowing Gardner to easily keep pace and deflect the ball away. It forced a fourth down.

Stroud had plenty of time to throw but nowhere to go. He started on the left, but Reed and Tony Adams switched assignments and easily stopped the intended pick play. Meanwhile, Gardner followed his receiver across the field and undercut the route again, while Quincy Williams picked up the running back. Stroud was forced to throw Carter II’s way even though there was virtually no window. Another incompletion.

Here, the pass rush did the dirty work. Huff was so quick off the snap that the running back had no shot to pick him up. It looks like the Texans’ pass protection may have also been confused, but regardless, Stroud did not have a chance to scan the field. Had he been able to, though, he would not have had much to do with the ball, as the Jets had airtight coverage.

The boxscore officially gave credit to Jefferson here, perhaps for a quarterback hit or even a tip. It was actually Huff’s front-side pressure that forced Stroud to step backward, thereby causing him to release the ball somewhat short-armed and while off-balance. That turned what otherwise likely would have been a completion for a first down into a throw too far inside, enabling Adams to deflect the ball away.

George Fant (RT) looked inside first, and by the time he turned back, it was too late. Huff blazed in and sacked Stroud as he tried to get out of the pocket. It’s unusual to see Huff get a sack on such a play because of his short arms (31¾ inches), but he took out Stroud’s legs this time. This saved Quincy Williams likely giving up a reception for a first down.

Quinnen Williams gets the sack here, but Stroud had enough time to release the ball. He simply had nowhere to go with it. He was looking for Nico Collins, but Mosley dropped into the middle to fill the hole. The only place Stroud could have possibly gone was Brown on Whitehead up top, but he never progressed there, as he stared down Collins.

This was a bogus illegal contact call on what could have more easily been called offensive pass interference. Gardner stuck on Brown like glue and batted the pass. This was another stop on an intermediate-to-deep route, but it was negated on a bad call.

Realistically, there was not much Stroud could do with this football. Perhaps he could have targeted the running back on Sam Eguavoen up top or hit the tight end on Reed, but both of those routes did not necessarily appear open when he looked at them. Gardner had Brown blanketed.

Defense leading the way

The Jets’ defense has stifled some of the best quarterbacks in football this season. Their only two blemishes are against Dak Prescott and Josh Allen in the second matchup.

From 2022-23, the Jets’ pass defense has kept quarterbacks consistently in check using the same formula: a wipeout cornerback group forcing throws into the short part of the field.

The Jets’ defense will need every bit of their excellence against the Dolphins next week. Still, their slim playoff hopes remain alive in large part due to the sheer dominance the unit posted against one of the league’s best quarterbacks this season.

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