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NY Jets still have not solved persisting defensive issue

NY Jets, Missed Tackles, Defense, Sauce Gardner
Sauce Gardner, New York Jets, Getty Images

The New York Jets have a persistent defensive issue that didn’t improve this offseason

Is it nitpicking to talk about the New York Jets’ defense?

After two consecutive top-five finishes defensively, perhaps that side of the ball has earned a reprieve from scrutiny. Who cares if the interior defensive line is suspect, the safety room is thin, and the edge rusher room relies heavily on a Year 2 leap? The defense figured it out then, so they’ll figure it out now.

Perhaps that’s true. Maybe writing about fears for their run defense and pass rush is over the top. But there’s one defensive issue that’s undeniable for the Jets. You could even say that it holds them back from being a truly elite unit.

Their propensity for missed tackles.

Tackling woes

As a team, the tackling statistics aren’t as bad as they are individually. In 2023, the Jets ranked 21st in the NFL with a 12.9% team missed tackle rate. The league average was 12.5%.

It was at an individual level where the tackling issues were felt the most. The biggest culprits were the safeties: Jordan Whitehead ranked in the 9th percentile among safeties with an 18% miss rate. Tony Adams was in the 19th percentile at 15.3%. Ashtyn Davis joined the party with a 16% rate, albeit on only 25 tackle attempts.

Even in his first-team All-Pro season, Quincy Williams continued to be a tackling liability. His 13.2% miss rate ranked in the 25th percentile among linebackers. Other bad tacklers included Sauce Gardner (16.2%, 21st percentile), Quinnen Williams (15.9%, 17th percentile), Quinton Jefferson (13.3%, would have ranked in the 32nd percentile if qualified), and Solomon Thomas (12.9%, would have been 35th percentile if qualified).

Quinnen Williams tied for the sixth-most missed tackles among interior defensive linemen (10), and Whitehead had the most among safeties (20) while Adams had the eighth-most (15). Quincy Williams (20), Whitehead (20), Adams (15), and C.J. Mosley (15) had the most missed tackles on the Jets.

2024 changes

The Jets’ most significant change tackling-wise will be going from Whitehead to Chuck Clark. Clark’s 6.6% missed tackle rate in 2022 was in the 81st percentile among safeties. From 2019-22, the four seasons when he had starter-level snaps with Baltimore, Clark’s miss rate was 8.1%, which would have ranked in the 85th percentile among 2023 qualified safeties. Clark missed 21 combined tackles from 2020-22, while Whitehead missed 20 in 2023 alone.

Javon Kinlaw is also an upgrade over Jefferson in this area. He has a 7.1% career miss rate (would have ranked in the 75th percentile among 2023 qualifiers) and did not miss any tackles in 2023.

On the flip side, Haason Reddick may be a downgrade from Franklin-Myers. Reddick missed 18.2% of his tackles in 2023, ranking in the 33rd percentile among edge defenders. He was truly brutal in 2022, though, missing 36.4% of his tackles (second-worst) while tying for the most misses (16). He was never quite as bad as those two years in prior seasons, and the change to a 4-3 defense without so much dropping into coverage might change things for him. Still, Reddick’s tackling could hurt the Jets’ defense.

To a certain extent, the Jets will live with bad tackling. Quincy Williams is who he is as a tackler. Improvements from Adams and Gardner (who was at just 7.6% in 2022 before ballooning to 16.2% in 2023) would go a long way toward shoring up the back end of the Jets’ defense. They still have the surehanded C.J. Mosley and Clark, as well as Jamien Sherwood in limited reps (5.7% miss rate in 2023).

Never underestimate the power of bad tackling to infuriate a fan base and elongate a drive. It’s likely to continue as an issue for the Jets.

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