To complement our new series of offensive film breakdown from Joe Caporoso each week, this column will provide a similar insight into each week’s game from the other side of the ball. Each position will be evaluated, with a primary focus on the defensive line. For this week, let’s take a look at what the eye in the sky told us about the Jets’ week 1 defensive performance against Buffalo,and what needs to be improved upon heading into the coming weeks.
The New York Jets defensive play this past Sunday was, for the most part, a very impressive, and dominating performance. Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was intercepted three times, once returned for a touchdown, all within the first 3 quarters of play. While there is certainly an abundance of reasons to be excited about the way the Jets played, defensively,there is still room for a vast amount of improvement. The ceiling for this defense is limitless, but in order to reach its’ full potential, improvements need to be made all across the board, particularly up front.
First, let’s look at each part of the defense, and evaluate based on position group. Since this series will have a primary focus on the defensive line, each player who received playing time will be evaluated individually,while the remaining defensive groups will be evaluated as a whole. We will then look at some of Buffalo’s most positive offensive plays and break down exactly what went wrong.
Muhammed Wilkerson – After a full film evaluation, there is little doubt that Buffalo game planned around the second year pro out of Temple. Wilkerson was accounted for on every single play, as he was double teamed on the majority of run plays, while the protection on passing plays was shifted to him, nearly 100% of the time. With Sione Pouha out, Buffalo recognized Wilkerson as the Jets best defensive lineman, and drew up a nice protection scheme to keep him in check, which is why he had a relatively quiet day. However, in the small sample of plays that Wilkerson saw one on one protection, he was a clear mismatch to whoever was attempting to block him, whether it was a tight end or tackle.
One particular flaw that Wilkerson displayed, however, was a tendency to peak his head inside when he was lined up outside of the tackle or tight end as the edge player. He needs to trust that his teammates will execute their assignments properly, and worry about his job on each particular play. Nothing too negative came out of this during Sunday’s game, but teams could take notice of this and attack the outside on Wilkerson, which would become a problem if this tendency persists. Still, it is obvious that Wilkerson is beginning to command respect from opposing offensive lines. The return of Pouha will likely lead to more double teams on him, and less on Wilkerson, allowing the talented defensive end to make more plays.
Quinton Coples – Coples looked very much like a rookie in his NFL debut. He did some things great, while making some mistakes that are a clear sign of inexperience. The best play he made all game was his tackle for loss on Bills running back CJ Spiller in the 2nd Quarter. Coples was lined up as a 5 technique on the outside shade of the tackle, who down blocked in an effort to get to the second level on Linebacker David Harris. Not only was Coples quick enough in his steps and reaction time to prevent the Tight End from getting down on him, but he chipped the tackle’s shoulder just enough to prevent him from getting to Harris, allowing the linebacker to go unblocked. Even if Coples had missed the tackle in the backfield, Harris was waiting right behind him to make the play, a direct result of excellent hand work by Coples. This play in particular was a textbook defense of the down block.
While this was certainly an excellent display of instinct and technique by the Jets first round draft pick, there are still a number of things he showed he needs work on if he ever wants to achieve his full potential. One aspect, in particular, is his ability to take on the double team. Coples was repeatedly lined up on the interior, either as a 3 technique on the outside shade of the guard, or as a 5 technique, with a tight end to his side. He faced a great amount of double teams when he was lined up in these positions, and did not necessarily fare too well. He needs to realize, that if he is going to be shifted all around the line, he is certainly going to see a great number of these schemes on the interior, so he needs to do a better job of expecting and preparing for it.
While Coples is superbly talented in terms of athleticism and strength, he does tend to get locked up with his blockers at times. He too often took on the entire man this past Sunday, rather than working a shade and attacking half the man. Regardless of who you are or how strong you may be, it is nearly impossible to go directly through a 300 lb man, especially in the NFL, where the game speed is at an all time high. If he can work these kinks out, Coples’ natural abilities will allow him to develop nicely.
Calvin Pace – Pace was easily the most technically sound player in the front seven this past week. He was the veteran of the bunch, and it certainly showed through flawless foot and hand work, as well as an overall instinct and feel for the game. No one on the team showed the ability to set the edge better, and Pace actually displayed the greatest arsenal of pass rush moves as well. The problem is, he is just a step too slow at this point in his career to capitalize on his excellent technique and record multiple sacks, otherwise his annual sack total would be much higher than what it has been over the past couple of seasons.
Kenrick Ellis – Ellis played very well filling in for an injured Sione Pouha. He proved to be a very immovable force as both a two gap and one gap assignment player, as he was constantly in the backfield, and could not be driven off the ball, even when double teamed. Ellis also displayed excellent lateral quickness for a player his size, something that is vital to the position he plays. When Pouha returns, the Jets are going to have a very good rotation at the Nose Tackle position.
Mike DeVito – DeVito played how anyone who has watched the Jets for the past few seasons would expect him to play. He is extremely tough and smart, and he works very hard, while hardly ever making mental mistakes. DeVito, like Ellis, could not be moved off of the ball on run plays this past week. Although he did not split double teams and gain penetration like Ellis, he did a very good job of occupying two blockers and not allowing either of them to get to the linebackers on the second level.
Marcus Dixon – Dixon did not play particularly well this past week, which could just be a sign of rust since we was just recently resigned to the team following his release at the end of the preseason. Dixon did not show any type of explosion on Sunday, and struggled mightily against the double team. Many times, particularly on some of the big runs by Buffalo, Dixon would end up 8-10 yards down the field. This cannot happen on the defensive line, and if he wants to continue to get reps, Dixon is going to have to play like he has in the past, not like he did on Sunday.
Aaron Maybin – Maybin generally played how one would have expected him to play. He is extremely fast off the ball, and relentless in his pursuit, however his lack of body control caused him to get bumped around and knocked off balance too often. Maybin can be a very effective pass rusher, as we saw last year, however if he does not get his body under control, he is going to remain as a guy who will get 4-6 sporadic sacks per seasons, rather than the 10-12 that he has the potential for.
Linebackers – David Harris played as well as he normally does. He was very disciplined and seemed to have a great feel for what was coming from Buffalo on every play. A few times, he was hindered by a defensive lineman getting blocked into him, which blocked his line of vision, thus preventing him from making a play. Harris generally did a good job of shedding his blocks, but did allow the offensive lineman to get into him a few times,before he could get separation with his hands, obviously something that he needs to be more consistent with. Still, Harris was very effective, and remains one of the best players on the defense.
Bart Scott was very up and down. He certainly brought the tenacity of the Bart Scott of old that Jets fans have grown accustomed to. However, on several plays, he was a step too slow in his run angles and pursuit, which allowed the guard or tackle to get just enough of him to prevent him from making a play, which further allowed the running back to spring into the second level. Although, on other plays, Scott did beat the lineman across his face, taking him right to the play. His play was certainly decent, but needs to improve.
Secondary – The corners played the best out of any unit on the defense, as displayed by the interceptions obtained by Darrelle Revis, Kyle Wilson, and Antonio Cromartie.
The Safeties played excellent against the run. Both LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell were extremely fast to come up and fill on run plays, the primary reason as to why they were involved in so many tackles. They still need to gel in coverage a bit, however. Landry did a great job of engaging the tight end on several plays, but would more often than not allow him to get a step ahead, which is why there were some plays of Scott Chandler reeling in a catchand being tackled immediately. Of the two, Landry saw much more time in the box, while Bell occupied more of a true free safety role. Once the coverage timing gets down between the two of these new additions, the Jets secondary could strike vast fear into opposing offensive coordinators and quarterbacks.
The Big Plays Allowed – The two biggest red flags from Sunday clearly came from CJ Spiller’s two runs of 40+ yards. These plays were caused by a number of things including missed assignments, mental breakdowns, and some defensive lineman just getting flat out beat. On Spiller’s first long touchdown run of 56 yards, the defensive line in the game consisted of Dixon, DeVito, and Coles. Dixon was double teamed and blown nearly ten yards off the ball, while DeVito,who was lined up at NT on the play, got blocked into David Harris’s line of sight, which caused the linebacker to vacate his gap in an attempt to regain his vision and make a play. Spiller did a great job of recognizing this as he hit the gap where Harris was supposed to be for a clear path to the end zone.
On the second of Spiller’s two long runs, there was seemingly a bad communication error. Buffalo ran a counter type play, with the back side guard pulling to kick out Garrett McIntyre, who was lined up at defensive end. McIntyre executed a spill technique, meaning he attacked the pulling guard’s inside shoulder with his outside shoulder, in an attempt to jam anything in the middle,and force the back to the outside. Normally, this technique is used in a cover 2 scheme, where the cornerback would remain in the flats, thus accounting for any leakage on the outside caused by a spill, or in defense where a linebacker is responsible for outside contain. Unfortunately for McIntyre, neither of the two were out there, so once Spiller hit the outside, he was alone with plenty of daylight ahead.
On the same play, Kenrick Ellis got excellent penetration in the backfield, but was tackled to the ground by the guard just before making the play, a call missed by the referee that was standing right there. Marcus Dixon was again doubled teamed, struggling mightily.
Overall this was a very solid effort by the defense. Outside of a few week 1 mistakes in technique and assignment, this unit put together a very impressive performance. Sione Pouha’s return will certainly help, as it will allow for a solid two man rotation at the nose, as well as freeing Mike DeVito from seeing time there, something he is clearly undersized to do. There is a lot to work on for the Jets defense as the season progresses, but there is also much to be excited about.