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Who was most responsible for NY Jets’ run defense woes in 2023?

NY Jets, Run Defense, Rank, C.J. Mosley
C.J. Mosley, New York Jets, Getty Images

The New York Jets’ run defense is still a concern in 2024

Most of the intrigue surrounding the New York Jets lives on the offensive side of the ball. Aaron Rodgers. Mike Williams. Tyron Smith. All the injury question marks. Nathaniel Hackett. However, the Jets’ defense has its own questions to answer, particularly against the run. With the losses of John Franklin-Myers and Al Woods and lesser replacements against the run (Haason Reddick and Leki Fotu), how will the Jets’ run defense hold up in 2024?

I already dug deep into the numbers to try to answer that question. Another way to look at it is to evaluate the culprits on the explosive run plays against the Jets during the 2023 season.

Statistically, the Jets were decent against the run overall. They ranked 14th in run defense DVOA, 11th in Pro Football Focus run defense grade, 10th in yards per carry (4.1), 8th in EPA per carry allowed (-0.12), and 8th in rush yards over expected (RYOE) per carry (-0.1).

Still, the Jets had a big issue with allowing chunk rushes, particularly when the score was within reach. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, when the game’s win probability was within 20-80%, the Jets allowed 18 rushes of 15+ yards, tied for the fourth-worst in the NFL. They allowed 20 rushes with at least 10 RYOE, tied for the seventh-worst. They ranked 28th in open-field yards per carry (yards gained over 10 yards past the line of scrimmage) at 0.96.

This indicates that explosive runs were the Jets’ defensive problem. While I could look at every rush of 10+ yards downfield, I’ll focus on those 15+ yard gains, the generally accepted threshold for an explosive rush.

Who were the biggest culprits on those explosive rushes, and what does that mean for the Jets’ run defense in 2024?

0-0 @ DAL, Q1 11:12, 3rd & 6, NYJ 20

It’s tough to say whether it was by design or if Quincy Williams made a mistake, but the problem here is that the Jets’ blitz design leaves the left B gap completely unaccounted for. John Franklin-Myers is in the gap initially before crashing inside to draw the guard out of the gap, which seemingly should allow for Williams to blitz behind him. However, Williams instead loops all the way to the other edge, leaving the gap wide open for Dak Prescott to scramble through. It’s hard to imagine the Jets would design a blitz that leaves a gap unaccounted for, so the best guess is that Williams blitzed the wrong gap.

Culprit: Quincy Williams

10-18 @ DAL, Q3 13:16, 1st & 10, DAL 42

On a pin-pull, Quinton Jefferson loses leverage completely on the double-team to open up the play-side C-gap. Quinnen Williams gets a push on the pinning center but can’t quite close the gap. Mosley overruns the play and then misses the ankle tackle, turning what would have been a three-yard gain into a much bigger play. Jordan Whitehead’s missed tackle gives Tony Pollard an extra eight yards, completing the 23-yard gain.

Culprits: Quinton Jefferson, C.J. Mosley, Jordan Whitehead

0-3 vs. KC, Q1 8:41, 3rd & 1, NYJ 48

This was one of the most infuriating plays of the season for the Jets because of a clear penalty that the referees missed. On a one-back power call on third and short, Micheal Clemons knifes inside and gets past Jawaan Taylor’s attempted down block on a tackle overset look, but he misses the tackle in the backfield. Jamien Sherwood could have been there to stop a big gain from Isiah Pacheco, but Donovan Smith bear-hugged him and then tripped him, leaving the gap wide open. Whitehead was the last hope for the Jets but took too flat of an angle toward the play, allowing Trey Smith to block him and clear the remaining space. D.J. Reed can’t shed Marquez Valdes-Scantling until it’s too late. 48-yard touchdown.

Culprits: Micheal Clemons, Whitehead, D.J. Reed

20-20 vs. KC, Q3 7:21, 1st & 10, KC 12

Another pin-pull. Quinnen Williams and Solomon Thomas are knifing toward the backside of the play, making the down blocks easy for the blockers. Although pulling left guard Joe Thuney mostly whiffs on his block on Will McDonald, McDonald gives up the edge by cheating inside instead of squeezing the block to funnel the run inside. Pacheco also outruns Michael Carter II until Williams ultimately scrapes over the top for the ankle tackle out of bounds. Taylor may have held Mosley on the play but got away with it. 17-yard gain for Pacheco.

Culprits: Will McDonald, Michael Carter II

20-23 vs. KC, Q4 6:21, 3rd & 23, KC 40

This was one of the key plays leading to the Jets’ ultimate defeat against Kansas City. On third-and-23, the defense’s first job is to keep Patrick Mahomes in the pocket. They’re initially doing a good job of it, but Bryce Huff and Franklin-Myers choose to try to loop outside instead of keeping containment in the middle. This opens a wide-open gap for Mahomes to run through. Mosley takes an illegal contact call, giving the Chiefs the first down anyway, but the 25-yard run was inexcusable.

Still, Taylor held Johnson for several seconds on the play. No call.

Culprits: Bryce Huff, John Franklin-Myers

3-0 @ DEN, Q1 10:20, 3rd & 8, DEN 27

As is typical of the Jets’ defense, they struggle to contain quarterback runs on third down. When Bryce Huff stunts inside Quinnen Williams’ penetration, that leaves a wide-open gap to Russell Wilson’s left. Wilson takes it. Quincy Williams probably should have recognized that Wilson was running more quickly, and perhaps Whitehead could have taken a better angle toward Wilson. Still, the Jets’ stunt caused the open hole. 16-yard gain for Wilson.

Culprits: Stunt, no one specifically responsible

3-0 @ DEN, Q1 9:01, 2nd & 8, DEN 45

On the toss, Quincy Williams is shot out of a cannon but overruns the play because he’s not in control, making it easy for the running back to sidestep him. Tony Adams takes a terrible angle toward the run, coming down flat rather than scraping over the top; he could have kept it to a 10-yard gain. Mosley takes too long to shed his block and is simply too slow to catch up with Jaleel McLaughlin (4.44 speed). Ultimately, it’s a 38-yard gain when it should have been 10 yards.

(It’s noteworthy that Huff was on the field on this play, making his on-off plus-minus look worse in the run game, but the run goes outside to the opposite side. It is true that he makes a half-hearted attempt to catch up to the play despite his speed; if that was Johnson with his 4.58 speed, he might have run it down from the backside.)

Culprits: Williams, Tony Adams, Mosley

5-7 @ DEN, Q1 0:24, 3rd & 4, NYJ 26

Once again, the Jets fail to contain a quarterback run on third down. Johnson has coverage responsibility on the back, vacating the edge. Franklin-Myers gets knocked to the ground on his pass rush, further opening a gap to the right for Wilson. It’s a lot to ask for C.J. Mosley to guard massive gaps to both his left and right, although he does overrun the play outside and give Wilson an easy lane to the inside. Whitehead gets caught flat-footed and Wilson runs past him. Adams also takes a bad tackling angle, allowing Wilson to avoid the tackle. All told, it’s a 21-yard gain on 3rd and 4.

Culprits: Franklin-Myers, Whitehead, Adams

8-10 @ DEN, Q2 4:36, 2nd & 10, NYJ 45

A pin-pull to McLaughlin has Quinnen Williams caught upfield, leaving his spot vacated. Jefferson is pushed backward several yards, allowing easy cutback access for McLaughlin. Clemons’ missed tackle turns what would have been a medium gain into a 21-yarder. Carter II gets pushed completely backward, giving more space for the back. Bryce Hall (No. 37) also doesn’t take a great angle, waiting for the receiver to block him rather than holding leverage.

Culprits: Quinnen Williams, Clemons, Carter II, Bryce Hall

7-3 vs. NYG, Q2 15:00, 1st & 10, NYG 45

Another typical Jets struggle on a quarterback run, although this one wasn’t on third down and looked like a designed play. Saquon Barkley’s motion out of the backfield moves Quincy Williams out of what would have been ideal positioning to make the play pre-snap. Quinnen Williams does a good job holding leverage initially, but he ultimately loses leverage inside to Taylor. Unlike Quinnen, Quincy ducks inside on his block rather than maintaining two-way leverage, giving Taylor more space. The ultimate culprit here, though, is Whitehead, who comes running downhill and completely whiffs on the tackle. That turns what would have been a five-yard gain into a 17-yarder.

Culprits: Quincy Williams, Whitehead

7-3 vs. NYG, Q3 14:24, 2nd & 4, NYG 31

This was a completely inexcusable play. Taylor was out of the game with a rib injury, and the Giants were not even bothering to try to throw the football with practice squad backup Tommy DeVito. The Jets knew the run was coming but still allowed a big gain. The Giants run one-back power, and Mosley knifes nicely under a block but misses the tackle. Johnson is the next one to miss, followed by an egregiously awful effort from Adams. Ultimately, this should have been at maximum a nine-yard gain, but it turned into 34 yards because of Adams’ atrocious tackling form.

Culprits: Adams, Johnson, Mosley

0-7 vs. LAC, Q1 3:17, 3rd & 2, NYJ 21

Out of the pistol formation on third-and-short, the Chargers run an outside-zone toss. Quincy Williams decides to pursue the play from behind and nearly gets there, but he misses the tackle on the dive. Had he scraped over the top instead, this is probably not a touchdown; it’s the risk of Williams’ play style. Sauce Gardner‘s missed tackle was the bigger issue, though, as he could have stopped Ekeler short of the first down. Carter II got somewhat unlucky, as Ekeler ran into his offensive lineman right where he would have been in position to make the tackle. After Sauce’s miss, Whitehead’s pathetic tackle attempt turned what would have been a 10-to-12-yard gain into a 20-yard near-touchdown. His facemask at the end was just the cherry on top.

Culprits: Quincy Williams, Sauce Gardner, Whitehead

9-9 @ LV, Q3 0:42, 2nd & 10, LV 47

This duo play starts out exactly as it’s drawn up; the double-teams on Quinnen Williams and Tanzel Smart leave a gap up the middle, and the offensive linemen climb to the linebackers to move them out of the play. Mosley gets caught outside, leaving an inside hole for Josh Jacobs. The bigger issue is what happens at the second level; first, Adams’ poor tackling angle allows Jacobs to run past him without a tackle attempt, and then Gardner goes for the ball, resulting in a missed tackle. The atrocious tackling from Adams and Gardner turns what would have been a 15-yard gain into a 40-yarder.

Culprits: Mosley, Adams, Gardner

12-16 @ LV, Q4 8:31, 4th & 1, LV 44

On a critical 4th-and-1, the Jets sell out for the quarterback sneak/tush push play and leave the edge vulnerable. Adams reads the play and nearly finds a way to get there, but he can’t avoid Jacobs’ chip. Reed does not do enough holding the edge on the play, turning a first down into a 15-yard play.

Culprits: Adams, Reed

13-27 vs. MIA, Q4 3:44, 1st & 10, NYJ 34

Raheem Mostert had two rushing touchdowns in this game, part of the Dolphins’ 36 carries for 167 yards and two scores on the ground. This is an outside-zone play. The Jets are actually in a 3-4-type look with three interior defensive linemen. Thomas, Smart, and Jefferson are all easily blocked out of the play, ceding several yards of leverage initially before being overtaken completely.

Whitehead should have the tackle but allows the blocker to square him up rather than attacking. Because Mosley and Williams aggressively pursue their gaps, once Mostert clears Whitehead, he has a 34-yard touchdown.

It’s easier to give Mosley and Williams a free pass for their aggressiveness given the score. The defensive tackles and Whitehead, not so much.

Culprit: Whitehead, Thomas, Smart, Jefferson, Mosley, Quincy Williams

0-0 vs. HOU, Q1 4:39, 2nd & 20, HOU 10

On a duo play, Quinnen Williams gets pushed back a few yards, while Jefferson gets completely blocked out of the picture to open a massive hole up the middle. Mosley overcommits to his right, allowing tight end Brevin Jordan to pin him outside and give Devin Singletary more running room. The two-high look in nickel means there’s little other run support, leading Singletary to a 16-yard gain.

Culprits: Quinnen Williams, Jefferson, Mosley

0-0 vs. HOU, Q2 1:52, 1st & 10, HOU 8

The Texans run one-back power out of shotgun. Quinnen Williams penetrates upfield, essentially knocking himself out of the play. Jefferson can’t maintain any leverage and is pushed back several yards, opening a hole for Singletary. Mosley can’t win against the right guard who climbs to block him out of the play. Whitehead also gets blocked by Noah Brown, giving Singletary an extra 7 or 8 yards for a 17-yard gain.

Culprits: Jefferson, Mosley, Whitehead

0-27 @ MIA, Q4 15:00, 1st & 10, NYJ 32

Thomas can’t hold any leverage on this variation of lead zone, opening a massive hole in the play-side B-gap. Quincy Williams tries to aggressively shoot the gap (rather than standing his ground to force the back out of the gap) and gets blocked out of the play. Holmes’ missed ankle tackle gives Mostert an extra 10 yards for an 18-yard gain. Whitehead is completely blocked out of the play.

Culprits: Thomas, Quincy Williams, Holmes, Whitehead

27-21 vs. WAS, Q4 7:11, 2nd & 4, WAS 43

The Commanders run duo. Thomas is pushed back tremendously by the double-team, completely losing any leverage. Jalyn Holmes (No. 97) is completely pinned on the backside of the play. Mosley gets caught inside and is blocked, leaving a wide-open gap outside. Ultimately, the complete lack of leverage at the line of scrimmage caught Mosley in a bind and led to the big gain. Quincy Williams’ blitz cleared out a potential tackler, as well.
Culprits: Bruce Hector, Jalyn Holmes

7-7 @ CLE, Q1 8:00, 2nd & 10, CLE 25

The draws always get the Jets’ defense. Franklin-Myers penetrates too far upfield, leaving an open edge. Bruce Hector (No. 98) can’t beat his block and replace the gap. From there, Quincy Williams gets pinned inside, and Adams takes too flat an angle to the ball carrier.
Culprits: Franklin-Myers, Quincy Williams, Adams

17-34 @ CLE, Q4 12:47, 2nd & 3, CLE 17

The game is mostly out of reach here, but it’s another gap concept for a big gain. Thomas tries to penetrate quickly inside and is blocked completely out of the play, opening a big gap. Franklin-Myers sheds his block but can’t arm-tackle Pierre Strong. Quincy Williams is pancaked on the play, failing to recognize the blocker in front of him and take him on. Mosley allows the blocker to pin him inside rather than maintaining leverage to prevent a bigger gain.
Culprits: Quincy Williams, Franklin-Myers, Mosley

6-3 @ NE, Q4 14:47, 1st & 10, NE 19

Johnson loses containment on the edge on the reverse, biting heavily inside and vacating a huge hole. Mosley also gets sucked heavily inside. Quincy Williams nearly blows the play up in the backfield but is too late to recognize the reverse handoff. Sauce Gardner scrapes over the top with his elite speed, but David Andrews blocks him. It takes Reed and Carter II too long to shed their blocks, ultimately leading to a 17-yard run from Jalen Reagor.
Culprits: Johnson, Mosley, Reed, Carter II


The Jets allowed 22 explosive rushes in 2023, and here was the breakdown:

  • Gap: 11
  • Zone: 4
  • QB run: 5
  • Jet sweep/reverse: 2

And the worst culprits on the Jets’ defense:

  • C.J. Mosley: 9
  • Quincy Williams: 8
  • Jordan Whitehead: 8
  • Backup defensive tackles: 6
  • Tony Adams: 6

Unsurprisingly, the gap scheme was what killed the Jets, in large part due to the ineffectiveness of their interior defensive linemen. Still, the linebackers were more responsible for big runs than their reputations would have you believe. As many big plays as Quincy Williams makes, he relies heavily on his speed to shoot gaps rapidly, and if it doesn’t work, he leaves an open running lane. Mosley and Williams need to do a better job of holding leverage against blocks in space.

Another common theme was the sheer number of missed tackles turning good gains into great ones. On 11 of the 22 plays, at least one missed tackle or horrible tackling angle added a good chunk of yardage to the play. Turning solid gains into big ones is a common problem for the Jets’ defense due to their poor tackling. While Whitehead’s departure should help, Adams was also a tremendous problem in this area. Gardner’s tackling was also an issue in the run game.

Al Woods was not on the field for any of these plays, even though he was active for 10 of them. You can see how Jefferson, Thomas, Smart, Holmes, and Hector’s complete inability to stand their ground opened big holes for the offense. Based on the film of Leki Fotu and Javon Kinlaw, it’s fair to expect more of the same in 2024. That’s a big problem for the run defense.

The transition from Franklin-Myers to Haason Reddick would affect these plays mainly in that Reddick’s tackling is extremely suspect. He should have the speed to chase down plays from the backside, but the question is if he’s willing — Huff certainly wasn’t, while Johnson clearly is.

There are definitely reasons to be concerned about the Jets’ run defense in 2024. Limiting the damage will be crucial, but they haven’t shown signs of being able to do so in the past. Neglecting the interior run defense could become the Jets’ defensive downfall.

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1 month ago

Not only could neglecting the interior run defense be the downfall of the defense but it could be the downfall of Douglas and Saleh. Over Douglas’ first few years, he also neglected the OL. He made some efforts to fill out that unit, but some of the players he brought in like Dan Feeney and Billy Turner (maybe Rodgers influenced that one), were head-scratchingly bad. Now he’s doing something similar with the IDL. If you step back and look at the overall record, Douglas has brought in a very impressive group of players mostly through the draft, but it’s as though he loses focus or gets careless when it comes to lower profile players in the trenches, and his performance in these areas has been pretty bad. I could see the Johnsons coming to a conclusion that Douglas and Saleh together make too many errors of judgment to get the Jets roster where it needs to be.