The New York Jets defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday and once again the defense had a good showing. In this film room session, let’s take a closer look at the performance of linebacker, Darron Lee. He has been under the microscope this season after a fairly disappointing beginning. Let’s try to breakdown where he still needs to grow and where he’s showing signs of improvement.
Needs to Improve
Darron Lee has to get better with his ability to read and react on a consistent basis. He often suffers from slow reads which tend to result in him getting lost in the crowd or overpowered by a lineman reaching the second level. Let’s take a look at a few plays.
The first play is the Leonard Fournette TD in the first quarter. Here its Darron Lee in coverage where struggled at times last season but hoped to improve. On this play, at the snap, you can see he has Fournette man to man. But Lee stutter steps in place and then has to maneuver around the route crossing his face. By then Fournette is gone and Bortles finds him for the easy TD. It’s a great play design by the Jaguars but you’d hope to see Lee react a bit faster.
The next play is about not just reaction time but aggression. You see on this play, he makes the right read. But instead of aggressively meeting the lead blocker in the hole, he shuffles just to the side of Mo Wilkerson and tries to squeeze past the fullback to make the play. Fortunately, Steve McClendon makes a nice play here but you want to see Lee be more aggressive here and blow this play up.
On this next play, again Lee makes the right read but just takes a little bit too long to react. The offensive line parts to give him full vision of the handoff but he takes a bit too long to close in and then misses the tackle. Fortunately, Demario Davis was on the outside watching for the bounce and made a huge hit on Chris Ivory. Lee did well to get past the left guard, who was supposed to combo block up to him, and spill the run to Davis. But he is athletic enough to make this play by himself and should be expected to.
As a comparison, here’s Julian Stanford on a run to his side later in the game. Watch how aggressive he is taking on the left guard in the hole and helping make the stop. Also, because Stanford got there so quickly, he didn’t allow the combo block to last long enough to get any push on Leonard Williams and you can see they both end up in on the tackle.
Here on this play, Lee is lined up facing the right guard. His issue here is just instincts. For some reason, after the snap, he takes a step to his left despite the fact that almost no key (lineman, or running back) could’ve led him that way. Fortunately on the other side Jamal Adams makes a great play for the stop. Being a good ILB often means being able to trust your decision making and plays like this don’t help for Lee.
On this next play, Lee’s keys are screaming at him here and he takes too long to get going. The center and right guard pull as Blake Bortles hands it off to Chris Ivory on an outside run. Lee took a tad too long and once he started outside, the center got him, and that was the end of the play for Lee.
Here it’s literally the same exact play later in the game. Lee once again stalls for a little bit and then starts to chase it down to the outside. Fournette made a terrible decision here cutting it back inside. Because of Lee’s slow read, the center and guard get outside of him and Fournette could’ve just bounced to the outside and followed his blockers. Too often Lee is just in the way. It’s good to end up around the ball but you want to see him making more of an impact.
Signs of Improvement?
Darron Lee still has a ton to work on but there are some things he did well from Sunday. Most of these things showcase his ability as an athlete and how useful he can be when he combines that with good decision making.
On this play, Lee is lined up facing the right guard. At the snap, Lee makes the right read as the guard pulls and Fournette receives the toss. Lee closed down quick but in control and helped Claiborne make the stop. This is what you want from Lee.
On this next play, Lee is lined up facing the left guard. At the snap, Lee does take another false step (likely due to Bortles initial turn) but corrects it, quickly comes downhill on Fournette and makes a great form tackle. He wasn’t perfect on this play but being decisive and aggressive after the false step made it look much better.
On this final play, Lee is lined up facing the left guard. At the snap, you see he’s in one on one coverage with tight end to his side. He goes stride for stride the tight end and does well to complete his good coverage through the bad pass by Bortles into that area by not committing PI. This is the advantage he has with his speed. If he combines that with good awareness (turning around when the ball is in the air), he’ll be just fine covering players down the field.
The bottom line is that Darron Lee has to play better as a former first round pick and as a guy with his kind of rare athleticism at ILB. So far he’s struggled much more than he has impressed. At some point, if things don’t change, I wouldn’t be surprised to see other guys like Julian Stanford coming for his spot as a starter. For now, let’s continue to be patient and see if he starts making the impact plays a habit and not a rarity.
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