Richardson Returns: Jets Top-Ranked Defense Only Getting Better

The New York Jets defense ranks atop the league in fewest points and total yards allowed per game entering Week 7. The already dominant defense became even stronger as Pro Bowl defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson returns from a four game suspension. Making his season debut against Washington in a Week 6 win, Richardson reunited with fellow defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson, and the devastating tandem didn’t miss a beat.

Playing 51 of 65 defensive snaps, Sheldon Richardson the 2013 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year finished the game with three assisted tackles and six quarterback hurries. Early in the second quarter, he added a sack to his stat sheet, combining with Muhammad Wilkerson on an overpowering tackle-end line stunt.

The Setup

Facing a 2nd and 10 from their own 20 yard line, Washington deploys 11 offensive personnel out of a double-inverted slot formation, leaving quarterback Kirk Cousins under center with running back Alfred Morris lined up five yards behind him.Pre-Snap

The Jets counter the spread look with their nickel defense in a 4-2-5 alignment with both defensive ends – Stephen Bowen (left) and Wilkerson (right) – positioned just outside the tackle box. Along the interior, rookie defensive tackle Leonard Williams is aligned in the A Gap as the 1 technique while Richardson as the 3 technique is shaded on the outside shoulder of rookie right guard Brandon Scherff (#75).

Tackle-End Game

Sending just four rushers against the five-man pass protection, New York uses a well-executed line stunt, or game, to confuse the offensive line and engulf Cousins just two seconds after the snap. The pre-planned combination move, which has Richardson slanting toward the B Gap and Wilkerson subsequently looping behind him, looks to exploit the A Gap:Post-Snap

Off the snap, Richardson fires out at an angle toward right tackle Morgan Moses (#76) and dips his inside shoulder in order to get smallas he shoots the gap. Scherff is late to the punch on Richardson, contacting him from the side, allowing the defender to hook the guards outside arm, taking him further out of position and preventing him from possibly passing off the rusher to Morgan. This action works in unison with Williams, who, as the 1 technique, draws the double-team from Washington on the left side of the line, opening up a large rush lane.

At the same time that the above sequence occurs, Wilkerson – after first charging straight ahead for two steps to entice the right tackle – proceeds to cross behind Richardson on the stunt, looking to penetrate the now exposed A Gap.

The Finish

As Cousins completes his three-step drop, his apparent first read on the play is wide receiver Ryan Grant (#14) on the quick out. However, because of tight coverage from safety Marcus Gilchrist (#21), who is playing the flat route with cornerback Antonio Cromartie helping over the top within the Cover 3 shell, Cousins is unable to pull the trigger and instead looks to escape the quickly evaporating pocket. Only he has nowhere to go and no time left:

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This tackle-end stunt is designed to target the A Gap and provide a rush lane for Wilkerson to bring down the quarterback. But Richardsons explosive first step off the line and upper body strength enables him to blow past Scherff and be the first to reach Cousins on the shared sack with Wilkerson. Even if the DT had failed to gain penetration, his effort nonetheless pulled Scherff out of his gap, which would have allowed Wilkerson to swoop in for the solo sack.

Richardson returns at just the right time, as he led the Jets in sacks (9), QB hits (14) and hurries (31) last season according to Pro Football Focus, adds a dangerous interior pass rush weapon to a defensive unit faring quite well without one. His presence will afford head coach Todd Bowles and defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers even more diversity within their aggressive and heavily used pressure and blitz concepts. Quarterbacks beware: arguably the best defense in the NFL just re-added their best front-seven defender back into the mix.

Follow Brian on Twitter @Brian_Filipiak.

Brian Filipiak knows about proper blocking technique, the basics of run defense,  how to defeat an overload, and the point-of-attack.

All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.

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