New York Jets – Stop With 3-4 Labels

Stop thinking the New York Jets play a traditional 3-4 and assigning players roles based on that conception

The New York Jets are generally referred to as a “3-4” defense. This description leads to people attempting to fit all their personnel into pre-conceived roles that lack flexibility. Once somebody is a defensive tackle, they have to be a space-eating two-gap player. Once somebody is an outside linebacker, they have to be in a 2-point stance, frequently lining up at the second level and consistently dropping into coverage.

This is of course a misconception and something we are going to dig into over the next few weeks here at Turn On The Jets. Using a combination of film breakdown and playbook access, our staff is going to explain the Jets defense to the best of our ability. We are going to go through the different personnel groups frequently used by Rex Ryan, discuss how certain players will be moved around, explain the different fronts, coverages and blitz packages and work to answer any questions you will have.

Rex Ryan’s defense is far from a traditional 3-4, mixing in heavy use of the 4-3, 46, 3-3-5, 4-2 nickel slide and things that don’t even really have a name.




The previously mentioned 4-2 slide nickel was a particular favorite of Rex Ryan last year, shown below against Seattle. A linebacker was frequently removed for an extra defensive back who would then flex out over the slot receiver. Calvin Pace was most commonly used as the fourth down lineman in this personnel.



The regular use of four man fronts makes more sense of the Sheldon Richardson selection. As staff writer Mike Nolan discussed in the previously linked piece, Richardson will get plenty of opportunities to be a penetrating 3 technique in four man fronts. He also has the ability to be a major factor when the Jets move to their 46 alignments.

There has been a recent minor uproar about Quinton Coples moving to outside linebacker on the Jets defense, with many people seemingly picturing him constantly dropping into coverage and being forced to excessively play in space. Jets defensive line coach Karl Dunbar has said Coples will be in the “rush” position on the Jets defense, which we saw Coples play at heavily towards the end of last season. Both of the below images are examples of Coples coming off the edge from a 2 point stance in passing situations. This will be an even more frequent occurrence for the Jets this season.





Will Coples be asked to drop into coverage at times? Yes. But there were actually times last year he dropped into coverage from a defensive lineman spot. There is an immense amount of flexibility in Rex Ryan’s front seven and at some point next season you will see Coples at every different spot upfront.

Ryan is going to get his best players on the field for the maximum amount of reps. A player like Calvin Pace or Antwan Barnes could be a de factor “starter” but play 35-45% snaps in a given week because of the game plan and personnel packages. Rex won’t sacrifice repetitions to a talented, deep defensive line rotation to give more playing time to a weak group of linebackers.

You can call Coples whatever position you want but he is primarily going to be rushing the passer. You could technically call the Jets third safety or third corner a linebacker this season with how much they will probably be on the field at certain times. Yet, don’t get yourself so wrapped up in assigning spots or preconceived roles to anybody in Rex Ryan’s defense.

Author: Joe Caporoso

Joe Caporoso is the Owner and EIC of Turn On The Jets. His writing has been featured in the New York Times, Huffington Post, MMQB and AdWeek. Caporoso played football his entire life, including four years at Muhlenberg as a wide receiver, where he was arguably the slowest receiver to ever start in school history. He is the EVP of Content at Whistle Sports