The New York Jets defensive line is an extremely talented unit, and many coaches would be satisfied having them pin their ears back and getting after the quarterback. That is not the type of coach New York has though. Jon Ledyard shows how Todd Bowles and the Jets defensive line were able to use stunts up front to confuse and defeat the opposition with four-man rushes.
New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles made his name in Arizona as the defensive coordinator of a highly-talented unit, largely because of the creativity and aggressive nature his defenses regularly exhibited. One of the staples of a Bowles defense has always been aggressive pressure packages that rely more on scheme execution than one-on-ones triumphs.
Bowles’ lack of truly dominant individual pass rushers in Arizona could have been his undoing, but the savvy defensive mind was able to scheme for success by overwhelming opposing offensive lines with a variety of pre-snap looks and blitzes up front. Those staples of Bowles’ coaching resume have been carried over to New York, where his aggressive array of defensive twists gave the Cincinnati Bengals heralded offensive line fits in Week 1.
On the Bengals second drive of the game, the Bengals faced a 3rd and 15 from their own 31-yard line. The Jets show pressure before the snap with a unique-looking front, as inside linebackers Julian Stanford (#51) and Darron Lee (#50) align as wide techniques on the edge, while outside linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin (#55) sugars the A gap opposite shaded nose tackle Leonard Williams (#92). Middle linebacker David Harris (#52) roves around pre-snap, making it difficult for the offensive line to pre-determine who will pick him up if he blitzes.
At the snap, Williams engages center Russell Bodine (#61) immediately, while Mauldin fires into the other A gap, forcing right guard Kevin Zeitler (#68) to pinch inside and ride him down the line of scrimmage. Muhammad Wilkerson’s (#96) edge rush has effectively occupied right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi (#70), leaving an unoccupied B gap for Williams to exploit.
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The defensive lineman uses a push-pull technique on Bodine, leaving the center doubled-over and helpless at the line of scrimmage. Williams bursts into the pocket to land a hit on Andy Dalton (#14), who forces a hurried throw into the clutches of defensive back Marcus Williams (#20). When you lack dynamic edge rushers like the Jets do, being able to scheme for sacks and pressures on obvious passing downs is extremely important.
Later in the first half, the Bengals again faced a disadvantageous down-and-distance thanks to a first-down sack for a 9-yard loss. The Jets send just a four-man pressure this time, running a T/E twist on the defensive right, and an E/T twist on the left.
Steve McLendon (#99) alertly attacks left guard Clint Boling (#65) off the snap, before subtly flipping his shoulders to the sideline while crashing down to left tackle Andrew Whitworth (#77). Boling recognizes the tactic quickly, recovering to pick up Lawrence Thomas (#97) as the defensive end loops inside.
On the other side of the line, it is Wilkerson who crashes from his wide technique, forcing Ogbuehi to shuffle down the line of scrimmage before passing the defender off inside. It is a good move by the second-year offensive tackle, who recognizes Williams looping to the outside and slides into position to carry the USC product up the arc. Nevertheless, Williams is quick enough to establish a half-man advantage and get on the tackle’s edge, forcing Dalton to step up and attempt to abandon the pocket.
Wilkerson is still patrolling that gap, however, and he and Williams quickly close in on Dalton for the shared sack. Even Thomas snakes out a hand as the quarterback darts forward, slowing Dalton down by grabbing his left arm. The Bengals picked this twist up fairly well, but the result was still favorable for the Jets: chaos, pressure and eventually a sack.
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The second Jets sack that came as a result of a defensive twist occurred near the end of the first half, with the Bengals threatening to take the lead and erase a 16-10 deficit. Again the Jets show a four-man pressure while running the exact same pair of twists they did on the last sack, only flipped. The left side runs an E/T stunt with the end (Mauldin) crashing and the 2 technique (Jarvis Jenkins, #98) looping, while Williams and Wilkerson switch roles on the right side as the crasher and the looper, respectively.
On the left side Whitworth kicks out to an island as the rest of the OL slides right, but the left tackle opens his hips too early and the edge rusher crashes inside. Whitworth sees the outside linebacker is employing an inside counter move and steps down hard, but Mauldin is really just pressing the B gap to give Jenkins uncontested access to Dalton off the edge as the looper.
Meanwhile, Williams is left with two options as the crasher on the other side. He can attack the right guard’s outside shoulder to open up a rush lane inside for Wilkerson, or he can attempt to bull rush Ogbuehi to create pressure himself. Because Zeitler never fully commits to Williams and is able to pick up the looping Wilkerson cleanly, the Jets second-year defensive lineman is forced to generate pressure himself.
Immediately Williams finds a leverage point and drives Ogbuehi off-balance, a task made easier when the right tackle fails to generate a punch with his left arm. The offensive lineman’s frame is left wide open, and Williams takes advantage by getting his hands inside and blowing Ogbuehi out of his path to finish the play with a big sack.
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It should be noted that while we are focusing on the Jets’ scheme here, not many of these plays are possible without the elite talent the team has up front, particularly in the form of Williams. The first-round draft pick has an elite combination of power, hand usage, and explosiveness, which he consistently maximizes by playing with superb technique and leverage. By the way, he just turned 22 years old in June. We’ll begin talking about Williams as one of the better defensive players in the league this season, and we likely won’t stop until his career is wrapping up. He’s that good.
The Jets notched one more sack off a defensive twist, once again coming with a four-man rush against a five-man protection. Another E/T twist on the defensive right side, accompanied by a T/E combination to the left. The right side of Thomas and McLendon is handled well by Boling and Whitworth, but Wilkerson’s loop takes him in a clean path through the A gap for the sack.
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Remember Williams’ dilemma on the last twist? This time he chooses the opposite tactic when Zeitler slides aggressively to him, blowing up the guard so Wilkerson can get inside cleanly. This is where a little illegal activity is often employed by the crasher, which you can almost get a glimpse of as Zeitler attempts to disengage from Williams to pick up Wilkerson. Williams gets just enough of a hold on the right guard (grabbing his right arm) to hinder his movement back inside, allowing an unscathed sack for Wilkerson. These holds are rarely seen or called by officials, so crashers will often try to hold the blocker and clear a rush lane for their looping teammate to exploit.
The beauty of a successful twist game up front is two-fold. First, it allows for the generation of pressure with just four defenders, alleviating the need to compromise coverages by sending exotic blitzes. Second, the defense is able to put the other team’s offensive line on alert the rest of the game, forcing linemen to keep their heads on a swivel at all times – on the lookout for another twist.
This can allow for easier victories in one-on-one matchups, which Williams takes advantage of on this next play. A triangle read for the right side of the Bengals offensive line here means the center, right guard and right tackle are responsible for the shaded nose, the weakside linebacker and the defensive end.
Harris, the WLB, creeps up toward the line showing blitz, and right off the snap Zeitler’s eyes are fixed on his movements. Harris’s first few steps take him toward the edge as if he is looping outside, causing Zeitler to look to his right expecting Wilkerson to crash inside on another twist. Bodine does a poor job of squeezing the A gap, and Harris’s motion causes Zeitler to hesitate just long enough for Williams to split both blockers for the hit on Dalton. The mere expectation of another twist was enough to help create pressure, causing the Bengals offensive line to see ghosts up front.
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See how Williams flips his shoulders to present minimal surface area to the blockers while spiking through the A gap? Also, notice how active his hands are as he swims Zeitler with his left arm and clubs with the opposite hand. Bodine tries to get on Williams’ edge and ride him out, but the defensive lineman is simply too powerful, running through contact to force the incompletion.
The Jets may not have top-tier edge rushers who can win one-on-one matchups with regularity, but in Bowles’ chaotic blitz schemes, execution and timing are more important than elite individual talent. Of course, having the horses matters too, and the Jets defensive line of Williams, Wilkerson, McLendon, and Sheldon Richardson (suspended for this game) is one of the best in football. Expect to see the Jets continue to present myriad issues for offensive lines with their twist games, while the Bengals must fix their communication and recognition errors up front before Sunday’s matchup against the Steelers stout defensive line.
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All video courtesy of NFL Game Pass.