New York Jets – Defensive Formations Deep Dive

Dan Essien does a deep dive on the potential defensive looks the Jets could deploy in 2019.

With the draft complete, most of the key elements for the Jets defense are in place. With Gregg Williams in the fold, the Jets defense will likely change in some ways. Williams insisted the Jets will stick to a 3-4 base defense, but most believe the Jets will be multiple. Here’s a look at how the different defensive looks the Jets could give this coming season as well as the benefits and drawbacks for the players in each position. Some will be based on formations Gregg Williams has used in the past while others will be based on defensive strengths.

As a primer, here’s a diagram of gaps & techniques that’ll make it easier to follow as we go through these formations.

 

3-4 Base

This is what Gregg Williams has said will continue to be the Jets base package. The funny thing is the Jets were mostly in Nickel and other sub packages throughout most of the Bowles era. But, nonetheless, here’s how they would line up:

 

Defensive Line

Potential gap techniques in parenthesis.

DE (5/4/4i) Leonard Williams
NT (0/1) Quinnen Williams
DE (5/4/4i) Henry Anderson

Alternates: NT Steve McClendon, NT/DE Nathan Shepherd

Leonard Williams and Henry Anderson are in the same role in this formation as last season. In the 5-technique, head up with the opposing tackle (or in a shade depending on instruction). Both have B and C gap responsibilities.

I think the best iteration of this formation would be with Quinnen Williams at nose. While I don’t think it’s where he’s most useful, I think he plays this position better than anyone on the Jets current roster (Steve McClendon a very close second). Playing Quinnen at “0” here allows the Jets field their best defensive line talent all at once. He will be doubled plenty in this position but he showed the ability at Alabama to both stall and even split double teams.

Outside Linebackers

OLB Jordan Jenkins
OLB Jachai Polite

Alternates: OLB Brandon Copeland, OLB Frankie Luvu

On the edge, the Jets would have a potentially ideal complimentary duo with Jenkins and Polite. Jenkins strength is in setting the edge and does his best work against the run. Polite has so much upside as a pass rusher with his ability to bend and attack with a variety of moves. The additional advantage is that Jenkins has improved as a pass rusher over the years, and Polite isn’t too terrible against the run either. Neither excels in coverage by any means but they’re athletic enough to cover a RB in the flats. They might not have to do too much of that under Gregg Williams, though.

Inside Linebackers

ILB C.J Mosley
ILB Avery Williamson

Alternates: ILB Darron Lee, ILB Blake Cashman

Another ideal duo this time at inside linebacker. Williamson came in last season and did a great job stepping in for Demario Davis. He was okay in coverage but good against the run. The Jets made a huge upgrade with what would be his running mate in this formation. C.J Mosley would likely be calling the defense no matter what formation the Jets are in. He’s now their most dynamic threat at inside linebacker. The worry about these two would be in coverage. However, Mosley is better in coverage than many often presume.

Defensive Backs

S Marcus Maye
S Jamal Adams
CB Trumaine Johnson
CB Darryl Roberts

This could end up just being the exact same group from last season if Morris Claiborne re-signs but it basically is either way. The concern lies at CB2 and with the health of Marcus Maye. Johnson had a down year in 2018 and is approaching 30 but it seems more likely teams will take their chances with the secondary matchups with the Jets’ CB2. The hope is that if the Jets can effectively get pressure with Gregg Williams, the DBs won’t have to cover for an eternity.

Jamal Adams is still the best of the bunch here. Teams have to account for him against the run and he’s improved his coverage ability a great deal. With better linebackers in front of him, Adams will have the benefit of less to clean up and more freedom to make splash plays. His growth in year 3, with the addition of C.J Mosley, could be a scary sight.

4-3 Under

I wrote about the Jets utilizing the 4-3 under before last season. I feel like this season their personnel is even more primed for it. I feel like this would be their best look on short yardage downs. It can appear as a 5-2 or a shaded 3-4 in some instances.

 

Defensive Line

DE (3/4i) – Henry Anderson
DT (0/1/2i) – Quinnen Williams
DT (3/4/4i/5) – Leonard Williams
DE/LEO (9) – Jachai Polite

Alternates: DT Steve McClendon, DT Nathan Shepherd, DE/LEO Frank Luvu, DE/LEO Brandon Copeland

I think this formation particularly benefits the defensive line. Quinnen Williams and Leonard Williams are better playing in shades. They could alternate in their positions here. They would be spelled by Steve McClendon and Nathan Shepherd inside. Henry Anderson here plays defensive end to the “under” side. Polite would play 9-tech or LEO as Dan Quinn refers to it. That spot is usually reserved for the team’s best pass rusher. Polite’s alternates would be Frankie Luvu and Brandon Copeland there, who both impressed as a pass rushers last season. Polite’s upside at this spot is really intriguing, considering who is complimenting him.

Linebackers

OLB/SAM Jordan Jenkins
MLB C.J Mosley
OLB/WILL Avery Williamson

Alternates: OLB/WILL Darron Lee, OLB/WILL Blake Cashman

Another group here where the responsibility fits are almost perfect. Mosley is obviously the ideal “Mike” linebacker in the middle. He’s rangey, instinctive, and intelligent. Williamson plays the weakside linebacker here next to Mosley. Jenkins plays the strongside linebacker here to the “under” side. Here his ability to set the edge works perfectly. The only concern would be whether or not Jenkins is capable of doing enough in coverage out of this formation.

Defensive Backs

S Marcus Maye
S Jamal Adams
CB Trumaine Johnson
CB Darryl Roberts

3-3-5 Nickel

The Jets were in nickel the majority of last season. In fact, that’s true for most defenses in the NFL. This particular look though seemed to be a favorite of Gregg Williams last season with the Browns. It’s part of his pressure packages and he uses it to attack the offense from different angles. The linebackers can show up in a bunch of different spots and are usually moving up until the snap. Here’s an example of one pre-snap look from last season against the Jets:

You can see the linebackers wandering in the middle. Also, you can see here Williams took advantage of the edge rushing depth he had with a wide look across the defensive line and the defensive tackle in a 3-technique shaded away from the linebackers.

Here’s how I think the Jets would use this formation with their current roster.

Defensive line

DE (4/5) Henry Anderson
DT (0/1/2/3) Quinnen Williams
DE (4/5) Leonard Williams

Alternates: DE (9) Frankie Luvu, DE (9) Brandon Copeland

I think the Jets can use several different iterations of this look. In the iteration displayed above, they use their big three on the defensive line with Henry Anderson, Quinnen Williams, Leonard Williams. Depending on the pressure strategy, Quinnen Williams would be able line up all over the interior of the line. If Gregg Williams wants to incorporate a wide 9 or two into the formation like he did in Cleveland (in the picture above), he can substitute in Luvu or Copeland for Anderson or Leonard Williams. This formation works really well for the Jets because their defensive lineman are all unnaturally agile for their size. That attribute is incredibly valuable when running stunts and specialty blitzes.

Linebackers

OLB Jachai Polite
MLB C.J Mosley
OLB Avery Williamson

Alternates: OLB Darron Lee, OLB Jamal Adams (in 3 safety look)

You want your best blitzers to either side of C.J Mosley in this look. They should be athletic enough to drop back into coverage as well, but the main goal is to disrupt the quarterback with disguises and pressure. I think Polite would be preferred in this group. He can blitz through the middle, or the outside, and can run stunts with the defensive linemen. His usage here would be similar to how the Texans used Clowney in this package last season:

Clowney gets run stop attacking A-gap from 3-3-5 linebacker spot.

Clowney lines up at LB in 3-3-5 look in passing situation. Quick swim and  loops around defensive lineman for the sack.

The Jets can also use a 3-safety set to bring even more speed into the box, attacking the quarterback. It also brings more uncertainty for the offense deciphering who’s coming on a blitz and who’s dropping into coverage. This how the Chargers often used Derwin James last season:

James lines up outside the left tackle, beats him easily with a hesitation and chases down Pat Mahomes.

Same exact look weeks later, this time James drops into coverage playing man on the releasing tight end. Ben doesn’t recognize it and throws a pick right to him.

Defensive Backs

S Marcus Maye
S Jamal Adams
CB Trumaine Johnson
CB Darryl Roberts
CB Brian Poole

In this package, Brian Poole joins the starting group at Nickel. Many have referred to his skill set as similar to Buster Skrine. He’s had success blitzing from the slot, and he has some splash plays in coverage but he struggled with inconsistency with the Falcons under Dan Quinn. His aggressive playing style definitely fits the mold of the defense, though. He could fare better with the Jets.

3-3-5 Wide Nickel

A wrinkle based on the previous formation discussed, this formation utilizes the OLBs wide and the line of scrimmage. This is a good formation to bring pressure off the edge and force the quarterback to step up right into the Jets strength on the interior defensive line. Here’s how it looked under Gregg Williams in Cleveland:

Here’s how the Jets would line up:

Defensive Line

DE (5/4/4i) Leonard Williams
DT (0) Quinnen Williams

DE (5/4/4i) Henry Anderson

Alternates: DT Steve McClendon, DT/DE Nathan Shepherd

Linebackers

OLB Jachai Polite
MLB C.J Mosley
OLB Brandon Copeland

Alternates: MLB Darron Lee, MLB Blake Cashman, OLB Frankie Luvu

Just a quick reminder of the player the Jets are getting in C.J Mosley. Watch him clean up this successful pressure.

Defensive Backs

S Marcus Maye
S Jamal Adams
CB Trumaine Johnson

CB Darryl Roberts
CB Brian Poole

4-2-5 Nickel

This Jets utilized this classic Nickel look plenty last season. This year they’ll a bit more juice up front and at linebacker. Again, the critical area will be how often they can put pressure on the quarterback with questions on the outside of the secondary.

 

Defensive Line

DE (6/9) Jachai Polite
DT (1/2/3) Quinnen Williams

DT (1/2/3) Leonard Williams
DE (6/9) Henry Anderson

If you’re the Jets, you want your best pass rushers on the field at the same time. This group should be incredibly dangerous. The key will be disciplined gap integrity and fluidity in the plan of attack. You don’t want them running into each other en route to the quarterback. That’s where coaching comes into play.

Polite and Anderson are listed at defensive end here. Anderson had a great success rushing both inside and outside last season. His versatility comes is very useful here. Either one of Anderson or Polite are basically guaranteed to have a one on one given the talent up front. With Anderson’s power and Polite’s speed they should be able to pinch the pocket and force the quarterback into scramble mode or right into Leonard or Quinnen Williams.

Quinnen Williams destroying the right guard and nullifying a double team attempt from the right tackle en route to a sack. He will demand attention. 

Linebackers

ILB C.J Mosley
ILB Avery Williamson

Defensive Backs

S Marcus Maye
S Jamal Adams
CB Trumaine Johnson
CB Darryl Roberts
CB Brian Poole

4-2-5 Double A-Gap

We didn’t see this look much from the Jets under Todd Bowles but I think it could be a really effective formation for the Jets to employ. The double-A gap look continues to give offenses fits in today’s NFL. Gregg Williams used a disguised version of this look with the Browns. The Jets new personnel could make it even more interesting.

Defensive Line

DE Jachai Polite
DT Henry Anderson
DT Leonard Williams
DE Brandon Copeland

In this look you want true edge rushers on the outside and agile interior rushers. The double-A gap look presents all sorts of possibilities so anyone on the defensive line has to agile enough to drop into coverage in a disguised zone blitz scheme.

Linebackers

ILB C.J Mosley
ILB Avery Williamson

Mosley has some experience with “exotic” pressure looks in Baltimore. That included some double-A gap looks. He doesn’t get a ton of credit for his ability in coverage but here he is making and outstanding play dropping into coverage from this formation:

Defensive Backs

S Marcus Maye
S Jamal Adams
CB Trumaine Johnson
CB Darryl Roberts
CB Brian Poole

This formation really benefits the good blitzers the Jets have in their secondary in Jamal Adams and Brian Poole. This formation gives them an opportunity to potentially overload one side of the offensive line with pressure. Poole or Adams can be really disruptive here if they’re coming off the edge free.