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Why Chuck Clark is exactly who the NY Jets need at safety

Chuck Clark, NY Jets, Film Review, Stats
Chuck Clark, New York Jets, Getty Images

Chuck Clark will provide a massive upgrade where the New York Jets need it most

The New York Jets’ defense was elite in 2023, finishing third-best in defensive DVOA behind only the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns. With Pro Bowlers at four different position groups, the unit had few weaknesses.

But if there was one position that held the Jets back from being the league’s best defense rather than its third-best, it was safety.

The Jets finished with a top-three defense despite spotty play from the starting back-end duo of Jordan Whitehead and Tony Adams. While the pair made some highlight-reel plays, finishing with a combined total of seven interceptions, they allowed far too many highlight-reel plays to the opposition.

Whitehead and Adams were a flimsy last line of defense. Specifically, they were poor in the tackling department. According to Pro Football Focus, Whitehead tied for the most missed tackles among safeties with 20, while Adams tied for eighth with 15. Their combined total of 35 missed tackles tied them with Seattle’s Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs for the most of any safety duo in the NFL.

This is why Chuck Clark is the perfect addition to the Jets defense.

Clark offers outstanding reliability as a tackler. Over his three seasons as a full-time starter (2020-22), Clark missed just 21 tackles across 49 starts – compare that to Whitehead’s 20 in 17 starts this past season. That gives Clark an average of 7.0 missed tackles per year, less than half of Adams’ 2023 total and about one-third of Whitehead’s.

Among the 64 safeties who played at least 1,500 defensive snaps from 2020 to 2022, Clark had the ninth-lowest missed tackle rate at 7.3%:

  1. Jimmie Ward, 49ers (2.8%)
  2. Jayron Kearse, Cowboys/Lions (4.3%)
  3. Kevin Byard, Titans (5.1%)
  4. Julian Love, Giants (5.6%)
  5. Adrian Phillips, Patriots (6.5%)
  6. Jalen Thompson, Cardinals (6.5%)
  7. Marcus Williams, Ravens/Saints (7.0%)
  8. Taylor Rapp, Rams (7.1%)
  9. Chuck Clark, Ravens (7.3%)
  10. Tashaun Gipson, 49ers/Bears (7.5%)

Comparatively, Adams had a 16.4% missed tackle rate last season (60th of 74 qualifiers), while Whitehead was at 18.0% (67th).

Clark was poised to start for the Jets in 2023 before tearing his ACL in the summer. It’s likely the Jets targeted Clark in 2023 to fix this very same weakness, as the Jets’ 2022 starting safeties had similar tackling woes – Whitehead had 17 whiffs, sixth-most, while Lamarcus Joyner had a 14.5% miss rate. The Jets missed Clark’s tackling in 2023, but one year later, they need it just as badly, so it’s no wonder they were eager to re-sign him despite the injury.

Coming off an ACL tear, it remains to be seen how Clark will perform post-injury. He will also have to compete for a starting spot against Adams and Ashtyn Davis.

However, assuming there aren’t any serious repercussions after the injury, Clark should easily win the job. Clark spent three years as an every-down starter (he missed two snaps across his 49 games from 2020-22) for an elite Ravens defense. He excels in an area that was arguably the single biggest weakness of the entire Jets defense last year. It’s his job to lose.

Clark is tailor-made for what the Jets’ defense needs from the safety position. New York is loaded with splashy playmakers at each of the other four position groups, whether it’s Quinnen Williams at defensive tackle, Quincy Williams and C.J. Mosley at linebacker, Jermaine Johnson and Haason Reddick on the edge, or the team’s lockdown cornerback trio. Plenty of game-changing plays will be produced out of these units. The safeties don’t need to worry about gambling for big hits or rangy interceptions. Their job is simply to keep everything in front of them so the Jets can play bend-but-don’t-break defense, giving their stars as many chances to feast as possible.

That’s why New York is the perfect spot for Clark. His lack of ability to produce game-altering plays is the main reason he is not a sought-after player. In 96 career games, Clark has just five interceptions, five forced fumbles, 3.5 sacks, eight tackles for loss, four fumble recoveries, and 32 passes defended. Per 17 games, that averages out to:

  • 0.9 interceptions
  • 0.9 forced fumbles
  • 0.6 sacks
  • 1.4 tackles for loss
  • 0.7 fumble recoveries
  • 5.7 passes defended

To box score scouts, those numbers are extremely unimpressive.

Clark isn’t a play-maker by any stretch of the imagination. But he’s an excellent play-preventer, and that’s all New York needs from its safeties right now. His lack of splash-play production doesn’t really matter on this team.

If Clark starts for the Jets this year, he will not generate much hype around the league because he’s rarely going to do anything that goes viral on social media. What he is going to do is stop the opponent from making those very same plays, and in the end, that will pay enormous dividends for this Jets defense. In situations where Whitehead or Adams would have let a 20-yard play turn into a 40-yard play last year, Clark will hold it to 20 yards. Those 20 saved yards won’t show up in any highlight reel or stat sheet, but 20 yards is 20 yards.

Missed tackles at the safety position were arguably the primary roadblock standing between the Jets and the title of “No. 1 defense,” and Clark has a chance to forge a night-and-day turnaround in that facet. His tackling could be one of the biggest areas of improvement for the Jets’ defense this year, potentially helping them push for that coveted No. 1 spot.

Let’s take a look at some examples of Clark’s tackling in action.

Chuck Clark film

Who better than Tyreek Hill to show Clark’s tackling ability?

Clark rotates to a deep single-high alignment just before the snap. The Dolphins throw a screen to Hill, and the Ravens have the numbers to stop it with three defenders against two blockers in the area. However, both blockers dominate their reps while linebacker Patrick Queen overpursues toward the line of scrimmage, allowing Hill to dart past him.

As all of that is happening, Clark does a great job of playing this conservatively. With the Ravens having a numbers advantage in the area, he knows there is no rush for him to get involved and that he must stay over the top in case things go awry. He stays flat and maintains his depth, keeping everything in front of him as he watches the action play out. When things do go awry, Clark is in a good position to make the play thanks to his conservative approach. Clark takes down Hill in space before this play goes from bad to worse.

This play is a great example of Clark’s feel for taking safe angles.

Clark is manned up against the tight end on a slant. When he realizes the ball has been thrown, Clark turns around to see Hill running underneath him across the middle of the field. At this moment, there’s a clear path between Clark and Hill, which could entice Clark to try and make the play.

But Clark is smart. He knows he does not have the leverage to stop Hill if he tries to go downhill and close the ground. So, instead of chasing Hill, Clark flattens out and goes over the top of the traffic, anticipating that Hill is going to bounce this outside and try to slice up the sideline. Clark runs directly toward the sideline and meets Hill just as he runs by, stopping him before he can break free.

This isn’t anything fancy or even much of an actual tackle, but I just wanted to highlight Clark’s effort as he chases down the speedy Jaylen Waddle after three Ravens defenders fail to stop him.

I wanted to include this play because I think it clearly displays Clark’s mentality in the open field. He almost always chooses the safe route over the high-risk/high-reward route. Avoiding risky tackle attempts is the key to his low missed tackle numbers.

As Clark sees his teammate whiff on the tackle against a curl route, Clark has the space and time to take an aggressive angle to try and cut off the receiver before he breaks loose. If he takes a perfect angle and makes an excellent tackle, maybe Clark could stop him around the 45- or 40-yard line. Instead, Clark decides to play it extremely safe, maintaining depth and inside leverage to squeeze the receiver toward the sideline. While Clark concedes a decent chunk of yardage for free, he also eliminates any chance of the play becoming significantly worse than what it already was.

The Jets will take this every time from their safeties. A handful of cool-looking downhill tackles to save five yards (on a play that already moved the chains) isn’t worthwhile if the cost is an occasional whiff that leads to a touchdown. Clark’s mentality ensures you will always live to fight another down.

This is another great job by Clark of staying over the top instead of trying to play hero ball.

As Clark watches this play unfold, there is an enticing gap for him to try and shoot through for the stop. That’s not his gap, though. Somebody is responsible for that. Clark needs to let the players up front do their jobs and handle his own responsibility of being the security blanket.

He does just that. As he comes downhill, watch as he squats around the 48-yard line and mirrors the play horizontally instead of going toward the line of scrimmage. Once Clark sees that the RB is going to clear the linebackers, he gets over the top to shove him out of bounds before he can break loose.

This might be another play where you can argue that Clark had an opportunity to stop the ball carrier earlier, but again, in the long run, this mentality wins out over the Whiteheads of the world. On this play, Whitehead might have fired in and blasted this guy, but is that worth it in exchange for the whiffs that will come later?

Clark runs nearly the entire width of the field to stop Joe Mixon in the open field as the last line of defense.

Again, it’s the angle that impresses me. Watch Clark as he sees Mixon catch the screen pass. There’s no panic. He doesn’t rush in to try and get Mixon as quickly as possible. Instead, he calmly flattens out and runs horizontally down the 45-yard line, anticipating the worst-case scenario and preparing himself to halt it.

When Clark sees the poor tackling from his teammates, confirming Mixon is going to jet down the field with a full head of steam, Clark gets depth and tries to stay over the top of Mixon. The safe, anticipatory angle prompts Mixon into flattening out and trying to undercut him, but Clark keeps pace and runs him out of bounds.

Clark is the last line of defense New York needed

None of these plays stand out too much on their own, but their value adds up. The Jets’ 2022 and 2023 safeties would have missed multiple tackles in these situations. Clark saved a ton of yardage and multiple touchdowns with these stops.

The Jets’ defense has an elite linebacker duo and an elite pass rush. Their excellence can be largely attributed to the aggressive mentality that Jeff Ulbrich’s scheme allows them to play with. However, as a consequence of that mentality, the Jets occasionally allow big plays to seep through the first and second levels, especially on screens and gap runs.

Already loaded with playmakers, what the Jets have been missing to complete their defense is a reliable security blanket who can limit the damage when the front-seven’s aggressiveness comes back to bite them. Previously, those moments were exacerbated by bad tackling in the back end, turning doubles into triples and triples into home runs. With Clark, doubles will stay doubles.

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Jonathan Richter
4 days ago

I completely agree. Clark is the addition that could take this D to the next level. Wish we had him last year. If Tony Adams can take a step up with year of experience under his belt this D could be elite.

Great article.