For the third edition of our weekly defensive film breakdown, we unpack all of the positives and negatives from this past week’s overtime victory in Miami. While the Jets obviously did enough to win the game, their defensive effort was rather lackluster in comparison to how this unit has played in the past, particularly in the front seven. Now, with All-Pro CB Darrelle Revis out for the season with an ACL tear, it is more imperative than ever that this unit gets it together and plays the way they are capable of playing. The Jets pass rush will need to become extremely ferocious to compensate for the loss of Revis in the back end of the defense, something that they have clearly been anything but. However, for the time being, let’s breakdown last week’s game and see where and how they need to improve to remain relevant without their star player.
Just as the previous editions of this column have done, we will first start by evaluating each defensive lineman as individuals, while focusing on the linebackers and secondary as whole units.
Muhammad Wilkerson - We’ve been singing the same tune with Wilkerson for three weeks now – he needs to be more consistent. There are plays when Wilkerson looks comparable to some of the best defensive lineman in the league, while there are other plays where he looks like a glorified role player.
Against Miami, specifically, Wilkerson started out playing very hesitant. Rather than coming off of the ball fast and hard, he was demonstrating a mortal sin of defensive line play as he was playing with a tendency to stand straight up, engage the offensive lineman, and peak in the backfield for the ball carrier. Defensive linemen cannot afford to look for the ball. That is what the linebackers are for. A defensive lineman’s number one priority is to initiate the contact with the opposing offensive lineman, gain leverage, and maintain gap responsibility while reacting to the play. The only thing defensive linemen should be reading is what type of block the offensive lineman is giving them. Often times, that will take them directly to the ball.
For example, if Wilkerson is playing as a 5 technique on the outside shade of the tackle, and there is no tight end to his side, he would normally have outside contain. Now, if the ball is being run outside, the tackle will likely attempt to reach block him by getting his head to the outside of Wilkerson, and sealing him to the inside, in order to create a running lane for the back on the outside. By reading the tackle’s head, Wilkerson would realize that he is attempting to seal him to the inside, so would likely fight across his face to maintain his outside contain. This would ensure two things. First, Wilkerson is fulfilling his assignment by occupying the area that the defense is designed for him to occupy, and it would also take him directly to the ball carrier, where he would either make the play, or force it back inside to his 10 teammates in pursuit.
However, when Wilkerson does not read his opponent, but rather peaks his head into the backfield, not only does he find himself out of position, but he forfeits all leverage, allowing himself to be driven off the ball. Perhaps this had something to due with the threat of the elusive Bush, but as a defensive lineman, you must trust the defense and fulfill your role only, to the fullest extent.
Wilkerson fortunately did not make too much of a habit out of this practice in Miami. By the second half, he began to rely on his technique and instincts, rather than his eyes, to dictate his play, and it clearly showed on film. On one particular play in the third quarter, Miami ran Daniel Thomas off tackle at All-Pro Jake Long, who was matched up one on one with Wilkerson. Wilkerson came off the ball extremely fast and low, established leverage, drove Long about two yards into the backfield, shed the block, and made the play on Thomas. As you can see below, he maintains leverage on Long with his outside arm, while keeping the rest of his body free to make the play. Absolute text book play by Wilkerson.
In terms of pass rush, the Jets like to slide Wilkerson all over the line. Sometimes he will rush from a zero technique, lined up on the center, while also seeing time at both the three and five technique spots. It is certainly hard to gain some type of pass rush rhythm in constantly being moved, but clearly New York has confidence in Wilkerson’s ability to do so. He needs to develop a little more of a push and some creative hand work to improve in this area. In a four man rush, however, Wilkerson is usually the one to be doubled, so in fairness to him, opposing offensive lines certainly seem to account for him regularly.
Sione Pouha - The performance by Pouha against Miami was certainly not what Jets fans have become accustomed to. In his matchup against the Dolphin’s interior line, Pouha was flat out dominated for the better part of the game, specifically by Miami Center Mike Pouncey. Pouha, who is likely still nursing a back injury, looked hesitant, slow, and weak against the run. He struggled mightily against the double team, something he has done a tremendous job of in the past. He could not seem to gain penetration at all, even when he was single blocked, and his ability to move down the line of scrimmage in either stunts or pursuit was virtually non-existent. He served absolutely no purpose in the pass rush, as he was repeatedly stalemated at the line. Whatever Pouha’s issue may be, whether it injury or confidence, 2nd year pro Kenrick Ellis will likely begin to eat into his reps if he does not improve his play soon.
Mike DeVito - Mike DeVito is the same defensive lineman Jets fans have been watching for the past few years. Like in the previous two games this season, DeVito didn’t do anything that would warrant an exclamation point against Miami, however he remained very solid against the run. He gives a consistent effort, hardly ever gets driven off the ball, and is rarely, if ever, caught out of position. DeVito is the prototypical blue collared lineman, something that is essential to the depth of any defensive unit.
Unfortunately, that is where the praise for DeVito ends. In terms of rushing the passer, DeVito continued to show absolutely no ability to get to the Quarterback. When he is in the game on passing downs, the Jets are essentially playing a man short. Why Quinton Coples is not seeing more reps in these situations remains a mystery.
Quinton Coples - Coples, again, saw very limited action against Miami. His first few plays were somewhat irrelevant, as the ball was run to the opposite side of the field. However, what stood out most in these situations was Coples’ backside pursuit. For a player that has been criticized to have motor issues, I have yet to come across any valid evidence of such a fault.
Coples does, however, find himself lost at times. A few plays early in the game, he seemingly had no idea what his assignment was, as he would engage the opposing offensive lineman, then begin to look around as if he was unsure if he was making a mistake or not. Knowledge of the scheme could be one issue keeping the first round draft pick off of the field for now.
That being said, Coples needs to be used more on passing downs, period. The Jets cannot afford to keep arguably their most athletic defensive lineman on the sidelines on third downs while Mike DeVito continues to run straight into tackles and guards, serving virtually no purpose. Coples is extremely quick and elusive off the ball, particularly when he is on an inside stunt matched up with less athletic guards and centers. In addition to his athleticism, Coples also continues to display great strength and leverage. In his sole QB hit against Miami, Coples stunted inside, got underneath the opposing guard, and drove him into Ryan Tannehill’s face just before the Dolphins Quarterback got the ball off.
As shown here, Coples has great position on the right guard as he continues to work up field, pushing the pocket into Tannehill’s face.
Coples finishes in the face of Tannehill with his hands in the Quarterback’s line of sight, forcing an incompletion. With the need for a pass rush even greater now with the absence of Darrelle Revis in the secondary, it would be a crime for New York to keep Coples on the sidelines in passing situations.
Kenrick Ellis - Ellis continues to play as if he is the best defensive lineman on the team. No one has been more consistent through three games than he has. Aside from showing great explosiveness and tenacity, Ellis has proved that he simply cannot be moved from the line of scrimmage. Whether it is a straight drive block, or a double team, Ellis often gains penetration into the backfield, while at the very least, maintaining his ground. His work in the passing game is miles ahead of any other interior lineman, as he continuously gets a strong push up the middle, noticeably making the quarterback uncomfortable. One specific play that stood out on Ellis, that was easily the most impressive play he has made to date, was a tackle for loss that he made after splitting a double team between Jake Long and Miami guard Richie Incognito. Like Coples, it would be a travesty for Ellis not to see more playing time. Do not be surprised one bit if he surpasses Pouha as the starter at some point in the coming weeks.
Calvin Pace - We continue to beat the same drum with Pace week in and week out. He does just about everything right technically, but he continues to show a lack of speed that is prohibiting him from being a difference maker. Like the previous two games, Pace did nothing to stand out against Miami, however there is not one instance where he made a drastic mistake. His veteran savvy is easily noticeable, and he remains one of the toughest players in the front seven. Pace will continue to be solid, but anything more than 4 sacks this year will be an over-achievement.
Aaron Maybin - Maybin continues to baffle by showing absolutely no sign of improving his pass rush moves. Week in and week out, Maybin continues his trend of sprinting upfield, out of control, more often than not past the quarterback. On one play in particular this past week, Maybin sprinted upfield past Jake Long, who simply rode him right past Tannehill into, what looked like, a chokeslam. Maybin ended up on his back, and Tannehill got rid of the ball unscathed.
The biggest concern about Maybin’s lack of improvement is the apparent lack of influence by defensive line coach Karl Dunbar. Dunbar was praised all offseason as a key piece in revitalizing this team’s pass rush woes, after his previous success in Minnesota. However, with Maybin seemingly making no changes in his game, one has to wonder exactly what Dunbar is coaching him on.
Garrett McIntyre - It was a nice story in Pittsburgh, but the Garrett McIntyre experiment has reached its peak. Miami continuously left McIntyre singled out, both on run and pass plays, and he could not break single blocking to save his life. A few times, he was even lined up over Jake Long, something the Jets should never have subjected him to. There is nothing to knock about McIntyre’s work ethic and effort, however he is simply overmatched, physically, far too often.
One play in particular that stands out, is on one of Reggie Bush’s early runs in the first quarter. Down inside the Miami 20, Bush’s run was stonewalled on the front side. The back changed directions, to meet McIntyre in the open field about two yards behind the line of scrimmage. Bush effortlessly made McIntyre look like he was on ice skates, resulting in a gain, rather than a tackle for loss. Now, in fairness to McIntyre, there aren’t many people that can get to Bush in the open field, however the seamless move made by Bush proves that McIntyre does not belong on the field in an every down, defensive role.
Marcus Dixon – Anyone who has been following this column through the first two weeks should not be surprised by the release of Dixon this week. He was certainly not the same player that he was in the past, a trend that continued in Miami, leading to his release. A class act, we can only hope Dixon finds his game and catches on somewhere else. For now, we move on.
The Linebackers - David Harris and Bart Scott were not particularly impressive this week. While they made their plays when it mattered late in the game, they each made a number of mistakes throughout the duration of the first 60 minutes. Harris, in particular, repeatedly attempted to arm tackle Reggie Bush in the first half, something that a back like Bush clearly shakes off with ease. On a 12 yard run with 3:56 left in the 1st quarter, Bush broke through to the second level. Harris, struggling to shed his block, attempted an arm tackle which Bush easily ran through. What should have been a 4-5 yard gain, resulted in a 12 yard gain due to poor tackling.
Harris and Scott also seemed out of sync on their blitzes at times. On a play in the first quarter, the two inside linebackers ran a twist stunt in their blitz that was poorly timed and led to a cluttered middle, which Bush easily averted and advanced to the Jets’ 3 yard line, setting up the first Miami touchdown.
What concerned me most about Bart Scott was his lazy technique at times. A few plays on which he was cut blocked down field, Scott, instead of shooting his hands and keeping the lineman off of his legs, merely lowered a shoulder, rendering no defense to the block whatsoever, taking him completely out of the play. For a veteran like Scott, there is no excuse for technique like this.
DeMario Davis and Josh Mauga each saw limited reps. Mauga was not impressive, and the sample of Davis was far too small to evaluate. He looked fast in his coverage breaks, however on the sole play that he was assigned to cover Tight End Anthony Fasano, Fasano fell down and was immediately overlooked by Tannehill.
The Secondary - Obviously, losing Darrelle Revis is as bad of a blow to any unit that could be imagined. Prior to the injury, Revis was the best player on the field, without question. While he was hardly thrown at, he showed a great ability to tackle in the open field on Reggie Bush, something that, as previously discussed, is no easy task. Revis will be sorely missed by this defense, but the remainder of the guys on the roster must elevate their play.
That includes Kyle Wilson and Antonio Cromartie. Wilson looked better in man coverage this week, except for the fade caught by Fasano inside the Jets 10, where he was caught horribly out of position, as if he was not expecting Tannehill to target Fasano on the play. Cromarite played like he does. He had lapses in coverage that either led to penalties or big plays, but did enough to get it done. Both of these players are going to be very much under the gun throughout the remainder of the season, so it is imperative that they elevate their play.
Ellis Lankster filled in for Wilson as the Nickelback after the Revis injury and was not particularly impressive. On a 19 yard catch by Davone Bess in the fourth quarter, Lankster bit extremely hard on a double move, causing him to fall to the ground while Bess effortlessly ran by him and caught the ball on the sidelines.
As you can see at the top of the screen here, Ellis is on the ground looking at Bess, who is wide open just before the 40 yard line. While Bess is no slouch, he certainly is not as good as some of the slot receivers Lankster will face throughout the remainder of the year. He will have a daunting task all season, beginning this week with 49ers’ Mario Manningham. New York will likely need to give Lankster as much help as possible.
As far as the Safeties go, both LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell played well, other than a few lapses in run defense. A few times, Bell and Landry were caught taking bad pursuit angles, none of which resulted in large gains. They did a good job covering Fasano for the most part, and Landry had the play of the day with his interception returned for a touchdown.
Eric Smith was called for two personal fouls, neither of which seemed legitimate, but when will this veteran stop putting himself in situations like this? Smith was also terribly out of position on Jorvorskie Lane’s one yard touchdown run. As shown below, Smith turns his back to the sideline in his gap, rather than staying square, and gives up an enormous running lane, which allowed the Miami fullback to walk into the endzone untouched.
Bell, the player furthest to the left of the screen, is seemingly playing outside contain and simply cannot make it back in time to make up for Smith’s mistake.
While this defensive performance was certainly nothing to write home about, there are some encouraging signs. The safety play, for the most part, was very solid, and if not for the play made by Landry, the Jets may not have won the game. Muhammad Wilkerson can absolutely be a pro bowler if he can play consistently, and Ellis and Coples show flashes of brilliance, they just need to see the field more.
With Revis out, there is no doubt that everyone on this unit needs to elevate their play. The next 13 weeks will tell us a lot about the guys on defense, as well as Rex Ryan’s coaching ability. It certainly will be a daunting task to dominate, defensively, without their best player, but make no mistake that the Jets still have the pieces to have a very good defense. The keys will be consistency, cohesion, and most importantly, a ferocious sense of urgency.