New York Jets Scouting Review – Gregg Williams’ Defense

Joe Blewett with a scouting breakdown of Greg Williams’ defense

When the Jets officially announced Gregg Williams as the team’s new defensive coordinator, you could hear a collective sigh of relief among the faithful devotees of the Green and White. Williams has been coaching in the NFL for nearly THIRTY YEARS (coaching for thirty-six if you count his tenure at Belton High School) as he started in 1990 as a special teams for the Houston Oilers

And the veteran defensive mind has earned his keep everywhere he has been – as an assistant at least – so Jets fans were well within their rights to find solace in the fact that he will be the chief architect of the team’s defense under new head coach Adam Gase.

I mentioned Williams’ success as an assistant, but he did fairly well during his latest foray as a head coach as well. Williams went 5-3 as interim coach of the Cleveland Browns in 2018 following the firing of Hue Jackson, and many believed he had a strong chance to be retained as the team’s permanent head coach.

Unfortunately for Williams, the Browns ended up going in a different direction, which meant that he was free to go elsewhere. Elsewhere ended up being with Adam Gase and the Jets, so Cleveland’s loss is New York’s gain.

Before I get into the X’s and O’s – and I admittedly only watched a handful of Browns games for this review because there was only so much I could take – let’s get into what Williams brings to the Jets in terms of coaching mentality.

Players loafing on plays, missing meetings, routinely blowing coverages, getting consistently penalized, and just flat out being lazy? You may have seen those things under Todd Bowles and Kacy Rodgers, but I can assure you, there is no way you will be seeing them with Gregg Williams in charge of the Jets’ defense.

However, while Williams may be tough, that does not mean players don’t like playing for him.

They do. My co-host on TOJ FILM ROOM, Marcus Coleman – who played in the NFL for eleven seasons from 1996-2006 – can confirm this.

Marcus told me that everybody he has spoken to who played for Williams loved him. Players like a no nonsense coach, and many appreciate coaches who will call players out if they aren’t doing their jobs or are displaying a lack of effort. But that does not mean it will not take some time for players to adjust to Williams’ style of coaching and learn his system, because they will.

Which may lead you to ask: Joe, what exactly is the Gregg Williams system that these players will now be spending many hours of their lives attempting to perfect?

Breaking down the the Xs and Os

Strengths

Williams has a ton of versatility in the defensive fronts that he deploys from (another deep breath) 4-3 over, 4-3 under, 4-2-5 balanced, 4-2-5 over, 4-2-5 under, 4-4-3’s, 4-5-2’s, 3-3-5’s, 3-4 Okie, 3-4 Eagle, 2-4-5’s, 2-5-4’s, 3-5-3’s and 2-3-6’s. Including bear fronts, double mugs, overloads and more.

That said, the sets I saw the most over my time watching the defense was 4-3 overs (typically with 3 off ball linebackers), 4-2-5’s, 3-3-5’s and 2-4-5’s. With the defensive lineman typically penetrating and not “2-gapping”

Coverages included Cover 3 (usually regular or buzz with corners playing soft), Cover 2 (typically Tampa), Cover 1 (more press with hole then robber), Cover 6, Red 2, Green 2, Combo coervarges, Brackets (isn’t afraid to double a teams #1 which is a nice change of pace from Bowles who let #1’s wreck the game), Cones, Traps from both corners and safeties (from both cover 2 and cover 6). With that being said Williams is a heavy user Cover 1, Tampa 2 and Cover 3 off. With the most I saw being Cover1, which makes sense because of Williams blitz tendencies.

Every coach uses a lot of different fronts and coverages, but some of the looks (seen often, not just once or twice) are the trap defenses from both cornerbacks and safeties with defenders from opposite sides of the field replacing their zones, double teams, brackets, peeling linebackers into coverage, many blitzers from the secondary, dropping DE or DT’s into coverage or both. Williams also likes to show pressure with linebackers (sometimes “sugaring”) and then peeling them off into coverage, confusing the offensive line.

While on the topic of confusing the offensive line, I should mention the gap exchange tendencies that the Browns showed under Williams last year.

In other words, sometimes Williams likes to show a defensive front that looks like certain players are responsible for gaps that they really aren’t responsible for.

What do I mean?

Well, to give you a clear example, a DT may show he is responsible for the play side B gap and the DE showing he will have the play side C gap. But then, as the ball is snapped, the DT knives through the playside a-gap, the DE through the b-gap and now that LB who was standing up over the A gap shoots to/through the c-gap.

The blitz packages are what most hear about first when researching or watching the Gregg Williams defense and there is a good reason for that. Williams WILL SEND ANYBODY FROM ANYWHERE, which can sometimes be very risky, but often confuses blockers and the quarterback.

There are three tendencies of the blitzes that Williams likes to run: (1) Overload blitzes, which is pretty much self-explanatory in that it requires overloading one side of the offensive line with more rushers than can be picked up.

(2) Blitzes in which Williams will line up with two 9 techs, taking the tackles out of the play as they rush the arc, then attacking the interior with many stunts/twist.

(3) And lastly, a wide 9 taking the OT out of the play. On these particular blitzes, Williams overloads one side of the offense forcing the rest of the four offensive lineman to slide towards the overload with the interior defensive lineman would occupy as many blockers as possible. In addition, Williams sends 2nd level players on twist to overload that b-gap where usually the RB was put in a no win situation.

By the way, another underrated positive of the Williams defense is that unlike Bowles’ defense, Williams won’t have secondary players 15 yards off on a blitz play (I know, crazy, right?). Even if the defenders are playing off, they will “buzz their feet” and not bail or be quick to get in a back pedal. How many times did we see Bowles blitz on 3rd down and the corners being playing off like they are trying to guard the end zone on a Hail Mary allowing easy catches for a 1st down?

I do not have an exact number, but I can say with certainty that this happened far too many times

Weaknesses

One of the main negative take always from Williams’ defense that I picked up on was the predictability of some of the coverages, primarily Cover 3 or Tampa 2 (sometimes even cover 1).

In Cover 3 Williams played both outside corners off almost every one of the snaps, which tipped the offense off to run concepts to attack Cover 3 whether it be quick hitters in the flat, Mills, crease, scissors, divides etc.

In Tampa 2, just like Cover 2 but the middle hook drops back deeper to take away a big weakness in Cover 2, the deep middle. Williams would have the MLB a few yards behind the other Lb’s, tipping off that it was going to be Tampa 2.

Was this because of the LB’s lack of ability to pedal/shuffle quickly?

The world may never know (yes, this is a cheesy reference to old tootsie pop commercials).

In terms of being predictable, something else I noticed with Williams’ defense was the lack of rotating coverage pre to post snap, again making the defense relatively predictable.

No, this didn’t happen all the time, since as I mentioned before Williams would use traps in Cover 2, 6 and would – at times – have rotating to unusual zones. However, far too often, he would use something predictable, instead of showing a MOFO or MOFC, and then rotating to the opposite.

For example, sometimes he would show Cover 2 but then that deep field ½ safety would drop into a buzz responsibility as the two outside corners dropped back into their Cover 3 responsibility and the other deep ½ safety took the middle deep 3rd.

When Williams showed MOFO, it was usually MOFO, and when he showed MOFC, it was MOFC.

Taking a deeper look into that (something very few people do on social media), this could be for one simple reason: Rotating to different looks while blitzing is a tough thing to do.

Rotating means not being in position when the ball is snapped and during blites, the ball has to get out quick to beat the blitz, so if the secondary player isn’t in position and has to cover 5-10+ yards to get to his responsibility.

Quarterbacks can rip that apart if they are quick processors and don’t panic with a little pressure in their faces.

If I’m picking up on the trends there is no way that offensive minds in the NFL aren’t picking up on it. It’s odd how unpredictable Williams can be with the front 7, both in coverage and on blitzes.

But then the coverage becomes fairly predictable on the back end.

As is the case with most positives in NFL defenses, there are usually negatives or exploitations to follow.

With blitzes, you leave cornerbacks on islands, meaning you need guys who can cover well.
You need Secondary players who can tackle, because sending more men to blitz means fewer players left behind for clean up tackles.

Blitzing and playing man behind it results in secondary players typically taking on more in the run game.

With all of the gap exchange, twist and stunts in Williams defense at times has lead to a huge sacks or a tackle for losses.

BUT it has also resulted in huge holes in the run game for a three main reasons:

You need athletic players to properly execute these plays, and athletic players (with rare exception like Aaron Donald) are generally less powerful, meaning they tend to get pushed around more.

A smart offensive lineman who picks up on all the movement is a dangerous man vs Williams’ defense because it is nowhere near as easy to move defensive linemen/linebackers while they are bull rushing as it is to move them when you can use their lateral movement against them?
(3) With all of the movement/clutter around the point of attack, if a wrench is thrown in that plan, it can throw off the entire play.

Random thoughts and observations

  • Dropped Miles Garrett into coverage too much for me as he is by far the Browns’ best pass rusher.
  • Too much spot dropping from linebackers, instead of re routing and matching while in zones.
  • Linebackers/box players were very undisciplined or too aggressive.
  • Frequently not maintaining there gap responsibility or just plain out planning the run poorly.
  • Used Peppers and other safeties in box plenty both in man coverage, blitzers and to stuff the run. Adams fits well in this defense.
  • Likes VERY versatile/athletic front 7 players, usually meaning smaller defensive lineman. Need to be athletic to execute a lot of the stunts, twist and gap exchanges.
  • Had Garrett standing up at 7-9 tech often. Had Chris Smith a 266 pound lineman as a 3/4i tech in 2 man fronts.
  • Some tackling issues with defense.
  • Will play outside CB off on 3 WR sets to avoid picks/rubs which is good.
  • WILL PRESS CORNERS
  • Secondary had poor awareness of routes and stared into backfield too much.
  • Not a ton of blown coverages, unlike Bowles’.
  • Doesn’t go dime, quarter or dollar often. Meaning that LBs are left in more vs heavy pass personnel. Which increases the pressure for linebackers to be able to get out and cover well.

How do current Jets fit in Williams’ defense, and are they more suited or less suited to what Williams does than they were to what Bowles did?

Adams – Had Peppers down in the box plenty and designed more creative blitzes, meaning Adams should have an uptick in sacks.

Verdict?: More suited to Williams’ defense.

Maye – Williams had no safeties down in the box at times. Maye will be more in the deep ½ or middle 3rd but also has the ability to be an effective box player.

Verdict?: More suited to Williams’ defense.

Trumaine Johnson – This one is simple: More traps defenses better for a smart player like Johnson. Also, Williams presses a ton more than Bowles which is a strength of Johnson’s.

Verdict?: More suited to Williams’ defense.

Morris Claiborne (if signed) – Another simple one: Claiborne is better in a press role.

Verdict?: More suited to Williams’ defense.

Skrine (if signed ) – Maybe a little Better because of slot corner blitzes but Skrine is good in any defense.

Verdict?: Neutral.

Avery Williamson – Williams requires more athletic linebackers for reasons described above which isn’t the forte of Williamson.

Verdict?: More suited to Bowles’ defense.

Darron Lee – More athleticism required in a defense is a plus for Lee.

Verdict?: More suited to Williams’ defense.

Jordan Jenkins – Not big enough to be on the d-line and not athletic enough to play in a 4-3 over. Could see some usage where he would be ok but in no way it is an upgrade.

Verdict?: More suited to Bowles’ defense.

Leonard Williams – Leonard Williams is an athletic DT, which is something Gregg Williams really likes. A defense that requires more movement and penetration is likely a good thing for Leonard Williams and his numbers.

Verdict?: More suited to Williams’ defense.

Steve McLendon (if signed) – McLendon is more athletic than some think but not enough to get a big chunk of playing time. Minutes will be cut noticeably.

Verdict?: More suited to Bowles’ defense.

Henry Anderson (if signed) – Anderson isn’t athletic enough to play DE in this system but was thought to be too small to play inside as a DT, which is true in a more bland scheme. Williams likes athleticism on the d-line, which might keep Anderson as a DT.

Verdict?: Neutral