Week 7 saw the New York Jets face a familiar foe in the AFC East. New York traveled to Foxboro to take on their divisional rival New England Patriots. While New York came up short in a hard fought, over time loss, this team played well, defensively, for the majority of the contest. There were certainly some lapses that led to 3rd down conversions, long drives, and touchdowns, but outside of about 2 total drives by New England, New York put together a very impressive effort against the Patriots’ high octane, hurry up offense.
Schematically, New York did an excellent job of putting themselves in the best positions possible to succeed against Tom Brady and his plethora of weapons. However, this game revealed some serious issues with this defense. Issues that, if not fixed in the future, will prevent this team from ever truly having a dominant defense in this league.
For this week’s film breakdown, we will take a different approach than we have in the past. Since the effort in the front 7 was much more about the cohesion of the unit and the scheme, there was not necessarily any individual performances that stood out. This week, the play of the defensive line and linebackers will be much better explained if their evaluation is grouped together. This will allow for a better understanding of exactly what the Jets were doing in the box to defend Tom Brady and Co, as well as how the Patriots responded to each of the Jets adjustments. The secondary, as usual, will have its usual mention. Let’s get into it:
Defensive Line/Linebackers: The defensive line has been extremely strong over the past 2 weeks prior to facing New England, showing very solid efforts against Houston and Indianapolis. Quinton Coples is beginning to come into his own as he grows with each and every rep he gets. Muhammad Wilkerson is starting to build a little more each game toward becoming the type of defensive lineman this coaching staff expects him to be. However, as previously noted in our earlier film breakdowns, the remainder of the defensive line, without Kenrick Ellis and Sione Pouha, are extremely average, and vulnerable.
The vulnerability of the depth behind Coples and Wilkerson are going to begin to damper this defense until Ellis and Pouha can return. The issue is, without a true nose capable of being an every down player, the Jets have been forced to play Mike DeVito a heavy amount at the 0 and 1 technique. We have discussed DeVito being a poor fit at this position, as he is much more of a 3 technique player, but due to injury, New York has felt that he is still their best option to play there until this unit returns to full health. DeVito’s struggles at this spot are beginning to become magnified and problematic, not just for his own play, but for the play of the rest of the defensive line.
Since DeVito is not a true nose, he does not garner the respect from offensive line that a true nose would. In New England, the Patriots offensive line left DeVito to be blocked by one man, whether it was the center or guard, unlike someone like Ellis or Pouha who command a double team about 99% of the time. By using only one man to block the nose, New England was then able to block the remainder of the line (in the base 3 man front) using two separate double teams on both Coples and Wilkerson. This was a very intelligent scheme by the Patriots, as they were able to neutralize the Jets two best playmakers on the defensive line, without skipping a beat. Due to this, Rex Ryan was forced to get creative with his blitzes and pressure packages to get penetration and pressure on the quarterback. What is most worrisome for New York is that New England’s blocking scheme may now be the blue print for offensive lines moving forward. Until Ellis and Pouha get back, the Jets need to find a way to neutralize this type of scheme, possibly by working in more true 4 man fronts, without the use of a nose guard.
The problem with the 4 man fronts the Jets were using in New England on Sunday were basically the same as the problems they were running into using the 3 man fronts. Rather than bring in an extra defensive tackle, and sliding DeVito to a 3 technique, with Wilkerson and Coples at the end spots, New York would slide either Wilkerson or Coples inside, and put Calvin Pace at the other defensive end spot. Unfortunately for them, the Patriots gave Pace about as much respect as DeVito, as they were able to block him with just one man as well. Therefore, Coples and Wilkerson were either left in a 2 on 3 scenario, or more double teams, if a back or tight end was left in to block. It is extremely hard to get sacks in this league as it is, but when constantly facing double teams, the numbers are likely close to being statistically impossible.
Against the run, the front 7 was generally solid. Coples and Wilkerson continued to face a good amount of double teams, but this ultimately helped the linebackers get through and make plays. DeMario Davis, although making mistakes at times, was very effective against the run, and proved to be lighting quick in getting down hill and stuffing the running lanes. Comparatively speaking, he is an upgrade over Bart Scott. While Scott may not make the cerebral mistakes that Davis will, Davis’s speed and athleticism alone make him more effective than Scott, even with his mental errors. He should see the majority of the reps at linebacker down the stretch.
New England ran the ball a surplus of times out of a heavily unbalanced package. In these packages, the Patriots would line up not just two, but three tight ends to one side of the line. Yes, this package makes it obvious where the ball is going most of the time, but against the hurry up, the Jets struggled to make adjustments to the formation, and were repeatedly gutted for positive yards. That is, until Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine did finally get to making the adjustment of bringing LaRon Landry down into the box who proved to be far to fast for any of the tight ends or offensive lineman to get out on in space. His presence in the box alone assisted in shutting this formation down, and New England used much less of it down the stretch.
David Harris was generally solid in this one, however he continues to look sluggish for his position. He does a good job of filling runs that are directed right toward him, however, he has struggled to scrape sideline to sideline this season, a trend that continued on Sunday. He was also too slow to beat offensive lineman at times, as he got sealed with a lane block on more than one occasion. The hope with Harris is that now with Davis getting a vast amount of reps, he will be able to complement the speed of the rookie with his size and tenacity.
The pass rush on this defense is obviously the most concerning issue, probably on the entire team, even more so than the quarterback position. As touched upon earlier today by TJ Rosenthal, the Jets defense lacks a true closer that can get after the quarterback late in games and cause sacks or bad throws. As much as we have praised Calvin Pace’s technique in this column all season, it is clear at this point that it will not be enough to propel him into recording a surplus of sacks. Aaron Maybin, on the other hand, regressed tremendously from his solid performance against the Colts. Perhaps Maybin got caught up in the moment of a big game, trying to make the big sack, but he reverted to his old ways of sprinting directly up the field, and ending up 5 yards directly behind the quarterback.
New York needs true pass rushing outside linebackers in the worst way possible. Bryan Thomas, Pace, and Maybin are all in contract years, and unless something drastic happens with their play, it would be shocking to see anyone of them resigned next season. With a rather depleted and aging 2013 free agent class, look for New York to target two OLB’s in next April’s draft. Combining a vicious edge rush with this very young and talented defensive line could finally put the Jets over the hump, and give them a truly dominant defense for the future.
Secondary: This was arguably the best game the secondary has played all season. Considering Isaiah Trufant’s lack of experience, he did a fantastic job on Wes Welker, who’s box score lies with regard to how well he was defended by Trufant. Two of Welker’s catches came on long catch and runs off of screens. Welker also hauled in a couple of overtime passes. However, these were obtained after a very questionable adjustment that moved Trufant over to Branch, and DeMario Davis on Welker. Brady recognized the switch, and did an excellent job of taking advantage of the mismatch, the linebacker on the speedy wide out. As much as Rex’s defensive mind is respected throughout this league, this could go down, with his conservative defensive approach late in the game, as the most questionable decision he and his staff have made all season. Why take Trufant, who was quite effective on Welker for the majority of the game, and move him on Branch, who was a non-factor? More importantly, why replace him with a linebacker to cover the fastest wide receiver on the team? A true head scratcher.
Antonio Cromartie continued to be a dominant force, holding Brandon Lloyd to just a single reception, further cementing his status as an elite cornerback in this league. Cromartie did drop a late interception that could have changed the landscape of the game, but played excellent regardless.
Kyle Wilson is continuing to grow as well. We have watched Wilson go from a heavily criticized nickelback, to a very capable starting cornerback. The pass interference penalty he was called for in overtime on Aaron Hernandez was very questionable, but his ability to bounce back the next time Brady went at him and break up the attempted pass proved that he has a short term memory, something vital for the position.
The safeties were generally effective as well. Landry was excellent against the run, and made some very nice plays in coverage. Bell continued to be solid, despite not putting up any flashy numbers or making any highlight reel plays. Antonio Allen did a very good job jamming the tight end, but was often caught trailing in coverage. In fact, the pass to Danny Woodhead that set up the game tying field goal in the fourth quarter was a result of Allen missing him as he came out of the backfield. Allen has struggled in coverage, but has proved to be effective as a blitzer, as well as being very physical, which is exactly what we expected out of him this season.
Watching the film of this matchup was truly remarkable. Ryan’s defensive mind against New England’s offensive coaching staff resulted in constant checks and adjustments throughout the entire game, a true chess match if their has ever been one. Hopefully, for the sake of New York, it is Ryan and Co that force New England into checkmate on Thanksgiving when the two teams meet for the final time this season.