On Thursday night the New York Jets’ defense hopes to duplicate previous stellar efforts against Tom Brady and the Patriots’ offense. In 2013, these two units squared off on a Thursday night that featured driving rain and minimal scoring. With the forecast showing rain tonight, the Jets hope to hold Brady to under 200 yards passing while limiting the New England running game to less than 100 yards rushing as they did in last season’s monsoon conditions. While we’ve looked at how the Jets attack the passing game and the running game, it will also be useful to get to know the individuals carrying out Rex Ryan’s inventive schemes.
This unit is the strength of the team and everything the Jets do defensively builds off of their talent. Because of their size, strength, and speed offensive lines must double-team one or more of these three players on each snap. This allows Rex Ryan to use his linebackers and defensive backs creatively against both the run and the pass. The ends will swap sides, techniques and alignments on almost every snap and the entire group will severely stress the makeshift New England offensive line.
Defensive End – Sheldon Richardson (#91)
The Jets found a gem when they selected the 6’3”, 294 pound Richardson with the 13th pick of the first round in 2013. A 4-3 defensive end at Missouri, Richardson has made a seamless transition to New York’s 3-4 scheme. As a rookie he recorded 42 tackles and 3.5 sacks, starting all but one game. We illustrated his prowess in the running game preview and, with three quarterback sacks already in 2014, his ability to generate pressure on the passer cannot be ignored.
This play is an example of how Ryan moves players around to create advantageous matchups. The Jets have their base 3-4 defensive personnel on the field but have shifted Richardson into the B gap, and the defender faces a double team from the center and guard:
Richardson splits the combination block with both speed and strength and gets to Matthew Stafford in the backfield. The play goes for a loss of 9 yards and the Lions now face 3rd and long. New England’s offensive line must identify where this player is lined up on every snap and adjust protection schemes accordingly or suffer the consequences
Nose Tackle – Damon Harrison (#94)
As illustrated in the running game preview, “Big Snacks” has the size and strength to command a double-team, or even triple-team, on every play. Despite measuring 6’4” and 350 pounds, Harrison has the ability to make plays to each sideline, as depicted below:
Green Bay runs Eddie Lacy on the stretch to the right side and tries to block Harrison one-on-one backside. Big mistake. The nose tackle tosses aside the offensive lineman and works down the line of scrimmage, holding Lacy to a meager gain. When the Patriots run to the edges, as we hope they do, Harrison must be handled on the backside.
Defensive End – Muhammad Wilkerson (#96)
Another big body up front, checking in at 6’4” and 305 pounds, Wilkerson rounds out the impressive front three the Jets rely on. After a 2013 season in which he recorded 10.5 sacks, the former Temple Owl is off to a fast start in 2014 with 3.5 sacks and 17 tackles. Due to the double teams commanded by both Richardson and Harrison, Wilkerson often finds himself in one-on-one situations:
The Jets have their base 3-4 defense on the field for this play with Wilkerson lined up at left defensive end. As Stafford retreats into the pocket, the right tackle and guard look to double-team Wilkerson. Harrison overwhelms the center and the right guard peels off to assist with the nose tackle. Once Wilkerson is isolated on the tackle the defensive end beats him inside with a speed move for the sack.
A key component of the Jets’ front, this unit matches their aggression and athleticism with versatility and intelligence. Three of these defenders are experienced veterans having great seasons, giving opposing coaches cause for concern. Look for the Patriots to utilize max protection schemes when Tom Brady drops to throw, as well as simple man blocking assignments when they stay on the ground.
Right Outside Linebacker – Calvin Pace (#97)
Pace’s versatility is another weapon for Ryan. The former Wake Forest player can line up in a two-point stance as a linebacker or put his hand in the dirt as a defensive end. This ability allows the defense to shift from a 3-4 look to a 4-3 look on the fly, even if the offense goes up-tempo. This play is an example of what his athleticism brings to the table:
Lined up as a defensive end, Pace starts this play by trying to pressure Philip Rivers. When the quarterback releases the ball on a checkdown route, the defender peels off of his pass rush and pursues to the sideline, making the tackle. Do not be surprised to see Pace assist in coverage on Rob Gronkowski, as illustrated in the passing preview. New York used him to double-team Gronkowski at times last season and may look to apply that concept again tonight.
Right Inside Linebacker – David Harris (#52)
We highlighted the former Michigan linebacker’s ability against the run in the running game preview. While aggressive in run support, Harris is also smart against play-action and solid in zone coverage. On this play from Week 1, Oakland tries to lure Harris out of position using a run fake but he is not fooled and makes the play:
If you happen to be a young quarterback reading this, please do a better job executing the play fake than Derek Carr does here. After the fake, Carr looks for Rod Streater on an underneath crossing route. Harris disregards the simulated exchange and drops into his zone. The linebacker then breaks on the receiver and makes a solid tackle in space.
Harris is a veteran who has seen everything New England can throw his way. It is unlikely the Patriots will fool (video link) him on Thursday night, so the offense must beat him physically rather than mentally.
Left Inside Linebacker – Demario Davis (#56)
Another featured player in TWIR is this former Arkansas State linebacker. Davis already has 29 tackles to his name in 2014 and is a very solid player against the run. When the offense goes to the air, the linebacker is strong in both zone and man coverage. On this play against Green Bay, the Jets have their nickel personnel on the field. The Packers have Rodgers in the shotgun and empty the backfield, which forces Davis into the slot to cover wide receiver Randall Cobb in man:
The linebacker gives Cobb a big cushion but does not get beaten, keeping the play in front of him and making a quick tackle after the completion.
Like Harris, Davis is a heady player with great instincts for defensive football. He recorded a sack of Rodgers in their Week 2 meeting. While great coverage downfield aided Davis on this play, it is worth illustrating his feel for the game. The Jets have their base defense on the field and show Green Bay a 4-3 front. Davis drops into zone coverage off the snap of the ball but, when he sees the play develop, he attacks the pocket:
Davis shows both wisdom and athleticism on this play. When he identifies that the play is breaking down and he has no receivers to cover, he finds a gap in the blocking and drags Rodgers to the Lambeau turf. In Harris and Davis, Rex Ryan has two very smart players in the heart of the defense.
Left Outside Linebacker – Quinton Coples (#98)
Drafted 16th overall in 2012 following a stellar career at North Carolina, Coples struggled as a rookie,only starting two games at defensive end. The Jets then moved him to outside linebacker where he has been marginally better, though not equal to his pre-draft hype. The linebacker is off to a very slow start in 2014 with only one sack and three tackles despite starting every game. On his one sack this season he demonstrated some of the potential that moved him up draft boards:
He beats the right tackle with a strong rip move, disengaging from the block once he has breached the pocket. He then chases down Rodgers as the quarterback tries to escape the pocket and records the sack.
Despite his potential, Coples has been a disappointment and is the weak link of the linebacking corps. New England should look to attack the player in both the pass and run games on Thursday night.
Plagued by injuries, the defensive backfield is the weakest positional grouping in the New York defense. Going into 2014, the Jets looked at Dee Milliner, Dexter McDougle and Dimitri Patterson as their top three cornerbacks; Milliner and McDougle are now on IR whereas Patterson went AWOL. On Thursday night Ryan will roll out Phillip Adams and Kyle Wilson as the starting cornerbacks and may even need to use Josh Thomas, recently signed from the practice squad, in sub packages.
Cornerback – Kyle Wilson (#20)
Selected with the 29th overall pick of the 2010 draft, the former Boise State Bronco has never lived up to his potential. We could show you film or link to a nice rant (audio link).
The play in question:
Well, at least he was in really good position.
Cornerback – Philip Adams (#24)
A former Patriot, this defensive back has been in the NFL for 59 games and Thursday night will be his sixth start. He did notch an interception against the Chargers on this play:
Safety – Calvin Pryor (#25)
Safety – Dawan Landry (#26)
Now with his third NFL team, the veteran from Georgia Tech serves as a hybrid safety in Ryan’s defense. On most plays, Landry is aligned as a strong safety near the line of scrimmage to assist against the run. Landry has also been used in deep downfield coverages this season. We demonstrated his ability against the run in the running preview, but Landry is capable, though unspectacular, against the pass as well.
On this play, the Chargers have their 12 personnel on the field with Rivers under center. The Jets show Cover 2 in the secondary, but as Antonio Gates comes in motion across the formation, the defensive backs roll to Cover 3 with Landry coming forward towards the line of scrimmage. San Diego runs a great play to beat Cover 3, sending the outside receiver deep to occupy the cornerback, and Gates delays for a second before running an out-and-up route to the same side:
The design of this play is perfect. Landry’s responsibilities in Cover 3 are the outside flat, and Gates sells Landry on the out route. The safety is not buying and stays with him on the deep pattern. If Landry comes off the route in any way, Rivers has an opportunity for a big play to his tight end. This is a well-crafted route that is only stymied by even better recognition from the safety.
It should be apparent that due to various factors – including inexperience and injury – the Jets are vulnerable in the secondary. If the Patriots can handle the talent in the front seven, they will be able to hit for big plays against the back four. Pryor, Adams, and Wilson are all vulnerable targets for Brady and the offense on Thursday night.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.