Diversifying The Pass Rush

Dan Essien with a quick follow-up on an old take about how to assemble a great pass rush.

Two years ago I wrote about the importance of variety along the defensive line particularly when it comes to establishing a consistent and effectiveness pass rush. Several teams have exemplified the value of this approach since then. I’m bringing it back partly to explore new examples for further emphasis. I’m also revisiting this topic because Robert Saleh and the new regime will value edge pressure more than the previous one did. FINALLY.

To summarize the points made in the article from 2019, the key to a great NFL pass rush is to basically create an unpredictable, contracting ring of fire around the quarterback. You have to be able to attack effectively from ALL pressure points in order to consistently affect the game. That includes sealing both edges with effective pressure, which I emphasized in the original piece for the Jets to focus on. This also makes it difficult for teams to game-plan against you because you’ll typically have an advantage somewhere along the line. I’ve selected 3 of the top 5 pass rushes in the NFL that exemplified this point perfectly.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers were on this list the first time I wrote this too. It’s crystal clear why they’re still so dominant.  T.J Watt, Bud Dupree, Stephon Tuitt, and Cam Heyward are the best example of a diverse and torturous front. The results were expected. They were the 1st in sacks, 1st in opposing QB rating, and 1st in pressure percentage. The only area their front wasn’t completely dominant was run defense (11th).

Philadephia Eagles

The Eagles are a very intriguing example of a diverse front because it might be the most attainable example to emulate from a Jets’ perspective. They have perhaps the most underrated line in the NFL. As a team, they finished 3rd in sacks, 2nd in pressure percentage and they did all that with the 5th lowest blitz percentage in the NFL. That means the majority of their pressures and sacks came from pure 4-man pass rush. They also did all of this without having a single player over 10 sacks last season. Fletcher Cox, Josh Sweat, Derek Barnett, Brandon Graham, and Javon Hargrave combined for 30.5 of their 49 sacks last season. You can see the variety all there. Cox and Hargrave were dominant forces on the inside. Graham, Barnett, and Sweat rotated on the edge.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Of course, I had to include the Super Bowl champions in this discussion. Who knew Todd Bowles could put together such a dynamic pass rush in two seasons after wasting away with mediocrity along the Jets front for four?! Thanks, Mike Maccagnan! The Bucs combination of Jason Pierre-Paul, Shaq Barrett, and Ndamukong Suh (all signed in 2019) combined for 23.5 sacks last season. As a team, the Bucs were 3rd in pressure percentage. We all know Todd Bowles loves to blitz (5th highest blitz percentage per pass attempt) but doing so with effective rushers on the defensive line yields incredible results. For example, Devin White finished with 9 sacks last season as a result.

New York Jets

The Jets have a great opportunity this offseason to completely transform their defensive line and their pass rush. Fans have learned from the past (hopefully) that stacking redundant interior defensive linemen does not work. The Jets have a great foundational piece in Quinnen Williams that they need to build around. It should be similar to how the Eagles have built around Fletcher Cox or how the 49ers a few years ago built around Arik Armstead. Similar to the Eagles defense, they might be completely set on the inside between Williams, Folorunso Fatukasi, and John Franklin-Myers. I believe the Jets need to add two edge starters this offseason. An additional edge for depth might not be out of the question either. They have excellent options in free agency and in the draft. Here are my top 5 options in both free agency and the draft:

Top 5 Jets Free Agent EDGE Targets

  1. Carl Lawson (CIN)
  2. Yannick Ngakoue (JAX)
  3. Bud Dupree (PIT)
  4. Matt Judon (BAL)
  5. Kerry Hyder (SF)

Top 5 Draft EDGE Targets

  1. Azeez Ojulari (UGA)
  2. Jaelan Phillips (MIA)
  3. Greg Rousseau (MIA)
  4. Kwity Paye (MICH)
  5. Joseph Ossai (TEX)

There are so many incredible combinations of defensive fronts the Jets could end up with given what’s available this offseason. If they finally take adding edge talent seriously, their pass rush will be unrecognizable from what it has been in recent years. Here’s one of my favorite combinations of what the front rotation could look like at the end of the offseason with some attainable additions:

What defensive front do you want the Jets to end up with?