New York Jets – Stop With 3-4 Labels

Stop thinking the New York Jets play a traditional 3-4 and assigning players roles based on that conception

The New York Jets are generally referred to as a “3-4” defense. This description leads to people attempting to fit all their personnel into pre-conceived roles that lack flexibility. Once somebody is a defensive tackle, they have to be a space-eating two-gap player. Once somebody is an outside linebacker, they have to be in a 2-point stance, frequently lining up at the second level and consistently dropping into coverage.

This is of course a misconception and something we are going to dig into over the next few weeks here at Turn On The Jets. Using a combination of film breakdown and playbook access, our staff is going to explain the Jets defense to the best of our ability. We are going to go through the different personnel groups frequently used by Rex Ryan, discuss how certain players will be moved around, explain the different fronts, coverages and blitz packages and work to answer any questions you will have.

Rex Ryan’s defense is far from a traditional 3-4, mixing in heavy use of the 4-3, 46, 3-3-5, 4-2 nickel slide and things that don’t even really have a name.




The previously mentioned 4-2 slide nickel was a particular favorite of Rex Ryan last year, shown below against Seattle. A linebacker was frequently removed for an extra defensive back who would then flex out over the slot receiver. Calvin Pace was most commonly used as the fourth down lineman in this personnel.



The regular use of four man fronts makes more sense of the Sheldon Richardson selection. As staff writer Mike Nolan discussed in the previously linked piece, Richardson will get plenty of opportunities to be a penetrating 3 technique in four man fronts. He also has the ability to be a major factor when the Jets move to their 46 alignments.

There has been a recent minor uproar about Quinton Coples moving to outside linebacker on the Jets defense, with many people seemingly picturing him constantly dropping into coverage and being forced to excessively play in space. Jets defensive line coach Karl Dunbar has said Coples will be in the “rush” position on the Jets defense, which we saw Coples play at heavily towards the end of last season. Both of the below images are examples of Coples coming off the edge from a 2 point stance in passing situations. This will be an even more frequent occurrence for the Jets this season.





Will Coples be asked to drop into coverage at times? Yes. But there were actually times last year he dropped into coverage from a defensive lineman spot. There is an immense amount of flexibility in Rex Ryan’s front seven and at some point next season you will see Coples at every different spot upfront.

Ryan is going to get his best players on the field for the maximum amount of reps. A player like Calvin Pace or Antwan Barnes could be a de factor “starter” but play 35-45% snaps in a given week because of the game plan and personnel packages. Rex won’t sacrifice repetitions to a talented, deep defensive line rotation to give more playing time to a weak group of linebackers.

You can call Coples whatever position you want but he is primarily going to be rushing the passer. You could technically call the Jets third safety or third corner a linebacker this season with how much they will probably be on the field at certain times. Yet, don’t get yourself so wrapped up in assigning spots or preconceived roles to anybody in Rex Ryan’s defense.

Author: Joe Caporoso

Joe Caporoso is the Owner and EIC of Turn On The Jets. His writing has been featured in the New York Times, Huffington Post, MMQB and AdWeek. Caporoso played football his entire life, including four years at Muhlenberg as a wide receiver, where he was arguably the slowest receiver to ever start in school history. He is the VP of Social Media at Whistle Sports

  • willie

    If you ask me I think the jets are set up to be primarily a 4-2-5 team. With the De opposite and the 5th db being rotated on passing/rushing downs.

  • Steve Windeler

    Well he dropped into coverage from the WLB spot 2 times last year as far as I know. I’ve been arguing this all day. He played outside of the LT about 30% of the time last year, and he did very well moving those agile LTs back, and then swimming, or ripping past them on a direct route to the QB. Much more toward the end of the season. He played little if any 2 gap.

  • Dima

    Great article. I think the negative responses are partially the result of over-Maddening. People have gotten accustomed to simplified videogame schemes and it’s difficult for them to imagine the complexities of Rex’s diverse looks (which are his strength).

    Richardson’s versatility is going to make scheme discussions even more confusing. That’s a good thing.

  • KAsh

    We have a bunch of people talking about “hybrid” defenses, in which the OLB can also play some downs as a DE. That was the theme this year with Jordan and Ansah and, to a lesser extent, Mingo.

    But people are aghast if you suggest that a young, athletic DE can stand up for some downs and are confused when that a DT has the capability of sliding out and playing DE. Most “experts” could not agree who wasa DE and who was an OLB, a FS or a SS or a CB. The answer is: they are versatile. Why pigeon-hole them into one role?

  • Dan in RI

    Thanks for the explanation. One other thing to consider: Sheldon Richardson is a monster. This guy has got a helluva motor. I think the Jets watched his film and told themselves that he was just too good not to take. I’m not at all afraid that Rex Ryan won’t be able to find a way to use him alongside the other talented linemen on the team.

  • Harold

    I thank you guys for the well written article. It explains the reason for the pick of Richardson to people who were skeptical of the pick and what it meant for the other members of the line. Even Turn on the Jets suggested for a moment that it meant the Jets did like Ellis (which I think this illustrates is not necessarily the case). I think we have chance with Garay, Barnes, Big Mo, Richardson, and Coples to be a top 12 team rushing the passer and with Ellis healthy an improved run stopping team. I am looking forward to seeing what this group can do.

  • bruce Harper

    Good journalism, Joe! Great job challenging conventional wisdom with facts.

  • Lidman

    It’s all about labels…people get hung up on them. If Rex is truly ‘coaching for his job’, you can expect him to have his best players on the field.

  • joeydefiant

    This is what happens when journalists are the only access the regular joe has to football information. Don’t expect Rex Ryan to come out and fully explain what each defensive player is doing and how his schemes work. That would be detrimental to the team. His opponents Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator are the ones who need to figure this stuff out. I think the fans get too caught up in this stuff and by breaking down all this stuff it actually gives an advantage to opposing teams. Let’s say Turn on the Jets does an excellent piece breaking down the week 1 defense and scheme Rex Ryan plays this year. You don’t think the week 2 opponent is going to look at it? Sure they will have their own breakdown as well and the majority of stuff in the media is trash but I think thats a good thing for the team.

  • joeydefiant

    Lets start breaking down the opponents film. Thats a way to help the team.

  • Great article and always appreciate the illustrations. I agree 100% with the whole enough is enough with all the labeling of a defense. We have all the pieces in place to have the one of the best defensive lines in all of football. If Ellis can play and stay healthy, and Couples and big Mo continue grow as they have, add Richardson to the mix… That’s pretty nasty! Regardless of who is in what stance!!

  • Anthony

    Dima, do you even play madden? You pick the rex ryan playbook and your defense can be a 3-4, 46, 4-3, 3-3-5, traditional nickle, dime, press dime or goaline package. Belichek even gets a 1-5 front. I guarantee the average madden player is more knowledgeable about defensive fronts than the standard NFL only fan.

  • mike

    anthony i think his point was that madden, even in its current form, simplifies things so that people can call plays in a hurry and know who they’re putting out on the field, whereas ryan’s defense deliberately blurs the lines between DL/LB, or strong safety and linebacker.
    regardless of what goes on in maddenworld, the number of times a day you’ll read that the jets run a 3-4 defense is insane, so thanks for this post dude

  • Anthony

    No, not really. People were dumb long before madden. People calling the jets D a 3-4 is because of the cliff notes nature of the press. Its more fox news than wall street journal. If anything, madden is an educational tool by which people can actively assess the difference in schemes and looks on both sides of the ball. The dofference in press and man off coverages changing at the line. Puttin.recievers in motion to uncover coverages, faking pressure, pinching the line.

    Madden is much more the solution to stupid football than the cause.

  • Dima

    Saying Madden familiarizes you with Rex’s defense is like saying Loveline familiarizes you with addiction treatment. Sure, it helps, but you’re probably not as good of a diagnostician as you think you are.

    And yes, I play. Good times.

  • northjersey

    Great article Joe. Jets D are going to be monsters this year…you watch.