In the Jets’ miserable loss to the Bills last Sunday, a relatively low number of players played on defense with only 17 defenders checking into the game, as you can see by the accumulative spreadsheet here. As always, let’s take a deeper look and imagine what kind of schemes and players Rex Ryan will employ to defeat his former team this Sunday to get the Jets back over the .500 hump.
When the Jets signed Ed Reed, I was one of the few to not agree with the move for many reasons, which I won’t get into. However, I think that even those who accepted the signing couldn’t have enjoyed seeing him start and get 88% of the team’s defensive snaps. Even worse was that all of these snaps obviously criminally robbed Antonio Allen, the better player, of any meaningful playing time, as he only saw four total snaps. I hoped that Rex only stupidly started the 35 year old over Allen due to pay his respect (which I still think would be ridiculous), but that doesn’t look like the case. Everything we’ve been hearing is that Reed will be the Jets’ new free safety, which is a disgusting thing to imagine for the rest of the season.
To make matters worse, Reed’s spontaneous starting role makes him the consistent deep safety, which was previously the role of Dawan Landry. Landry played this role alright, and he’s actually a fairly versatile player. However, putting Landry in the box as often as the Jets did on versus EJ Manuel and company (26 snaps next to 38 deep snaps) is a waste. Antonio Allen brought his extremely versatile skillet and physicality to the box and slot for the Jets and excelled there. With Landry now slotted into that role with no apparent change to what the role asks for, the Jets are essentially playing two free safeties. Therefore, they’re throwing away a very nice blend of skillsets that they previously had and sacrificing strength and playmaking ability within the box. I can’t make much sense of this.
The patterns of Muhammad Wilkerson’s and Sheldon Richardson’s line-ups on the defensive lines are more noticeable than ever at this point in the season. Wilkerson has been playing almost exclusively as a 5-tech rusher or even further out on the line on first down, while Richardson plays inside at the 3-tech on the weak side of the line. On second downs, Wilkerson plays either inside or outside at defensive end while Richardson stays inside. On third down, everything flips and Wilkerson typically plays the 1-3 tech or at nose tackle, since the Jets would prefer to place only pass rushers on the field over the likes of Damon Harrison and Kenrick Ellis.
Speaking of Harrison and Ellis, the two played a lot versus a Bills’ team that never totally abandons the run game and always lines up with formations that hint at possible run plays. Harrison played 56% of the time with Ellis playing 28%, with the majority of both of their snaps coming on first and second down. Ellis seems expendable at times, but it’s games like these when having a backup nose tackle that doesn’t drop-off in play much from the starter is very useful. Nose tackles get tired quite easily, especially if you’re one that chases plays down like Harrison does.
To expand a bit on how the Bills’ offense is very standard with its formations, take a look at Kyle Wilson’s snap counts. He only received eight total snaps in this game, and didn’t see the field on a first down play. This is a telling sign of how infrequently the Bills employed three receivers. There’s not too much meaning here, but just a note for future reference when playing Doug Marrone’s offense. In fact, the Jets weren’t required to throw Dee Milliner into the mix on seven different occasions when the Bills only had one receiver on the field, meaning Antonio Cromartie was the only cornerback on the field.
In my opinion, the most interesting tidbit to take away from this week’s snap counts is the use of Quinton Coples. Not only did he play better than he has all year from what I saw, but he didn’t miss a snap and spent a considerable amount of time in the role of a traditional, stand-up outside linebacker (played there 38% of the time).
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Coples’ most explosive game in 2013 since coming back from his injury came when he played standing up a lot. I think his issue with converting speed to power on the edge shrinks in severity when he gets to be more patient with his approach from his upright stance. When rushing as a hand in the dirt 5-tech lineman, he needs to transition from his burst to achieving leverage on his opposing lineman to quickly. Now, he can do so with his initial move or punch on the opponent. He’s such a peculiar player when you consider that he doesn’t need to be lower than his blocker to gain leverage like most do, but it works for him. This traditional position on the edge allows him to get the most out of his superb power from a rushing linebacker and efficient hand-usage.
One other note is that we likely won’t see Coples play as an inside lineman much ever again, as he didn’t for even one snap versus Buffalo. He did a little bit in previous weeks, but his long-awaited emergence as an edge rusher and the consistent play of Leger Douzable (16% of snaps) makes it unnecessary.
In the absence of Garrett McIntyre, Troy Davis played a season-high nine snaps at outside linebacker when subbing in for Calvin Pace. Davis might have just found himself a small role here, too. Pace has been alright this year compared to worse years in his recent past, but he still offers little burst on the edge when it comes to rushing the quarterback. Davis, the former UCF standout, has much more flexibility on the edge, and he may play more on pass rushing downs for Pace if he continues to look like an upgrade in that department.
What can we expect versus Baltimore this Sunday?
– With the speed Torrey Smith possesses as an wide out, the Jets will need to prepare extra help for Antonio Cromartie when facing him in man coverage. Rex loves to stubbornly throw players who may be underachieving into situations they simply cannot consistently win, and it could kill the Jets this Sunday if it continues. If he wants to change, I would advise that resorts back to Dawan Landry being the single-high safety, and that he rolls Landry towards Cromartie on every chance the Jets get to run Cover 2.
– The Ravens offensive line has been atrocious this year as a whole, but particularly in the run blocking department. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce haven’t been getting anything to work with up front because the holes that should be opening up just aren’t. This means that the Jets can sacrifice a little beef inside. If there was ever a time to give Sheldon Richardson more opportunities to play as a 5-tech rusher in hopes of developing his pass rushing skills a bit faster, now is the time. Damon Harrison should be able to plug running lanes through the middle all by himself in case the Ravens are still intent on running the ball.
– In Marlon Brown’s return to the Raven’s lineup, I would expect the Ravens to run a few “trips” plays and consistent three-wide receiver sets. This either means a lot of playing time for Kyle Wilson, or a lot of time spent in the slot for Antonio Allen. However, we won’t know which situation will play out due to the circumstance of Rex sounding intent on still starting Ed Reed. Oh well.