In our weekly In The Trenches series, we’ll focus on the performances of the Jets’ offensive and defensive lines throughout the season. In this edition, Dan discusses the performance of the defensive line in the Jets’ week 11 loss to the Miami Dolphins and preview their week 12 matchup with the Houston Texans.
Chris Gross breaks down the New York Jets defensive film against the Indianpolis Colts
The New York Jets week 6 dominating performance of the inferior Indianapolis Colts was surely the best collective defensive effort of the season. From top to bottom, the Jets were sound in all facets of their defensive play. The defensive line, without two key players in Sione Pouha and Kenrick Ellis, played their best game of the season against both the run and rushing the passer, the linebackers looked surprisingly rejuvenated and fast, and the secondary continued to impress even without their All-World leader Darrelle Revis. Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine put together a brilliant game plan that clearly had Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck flustered and frustrated by the 4th quarter.
For this week’s defensive film breakdown, we will again format as we did last week, highlighting the game’s top performance, followed by the normal breakdown order. Let’s jump right into it because there is a lot to discuss.
Week 6 Top Defensive Performers:
Aaron Maybin – We have been extremely critical of Aaron Maybin in this column all season long, but it is time to give credit where credit is due. Maybin was very exceptional this past week, easily playing his best game of the season. Although the box score will not show it, Maybin was finally a serious factor in the Jets pass rush this week. We have knocked the former Buffalo Bill thus far this year for not working any pass rush moves into his arsenal, but simply running past the quarterback on a consistent basis. This week, Maybin finally worked in some variety of moves to his rushes, and it payed off tremendously.
On Antonio Cromartie’s first interception of Andrew Luck, Maybin worked a fantastic inside move that the opposing tackle was clearly not expecting, forcing Luck to run out of the pocket and make an off balance throw. Yes, Cromartie made a very nice play on the ball, but make no mistake, this play would not have happened if not for the efforts of Maybin.
Here, Maybin has Colts left tackle, and former first round pick, Anthony Castonzo completely off balance, as he tries to lunge at back to the inside, where Maybin clearly beat him.
As a result, Luck is forced out of the pocket, making an off balanced throw, with neither of his feet on the ground. With no leg drive behind his throw, Luck cannot put the necessary zip on the ball, and misses his target, resulting in the Cromartie interception.
Although Maybin only had half a sack in the box score, he was partially responsible for Muhammad Wilkerson’s strip sack in the 4th quarter.
On this play, Maybin came in on an inside loop stunt which he timed and executed to perfection. The key on these stunts is to sell the initial outside rush, to get the tackle to bail out, then come underneath, across half the length of the line, and establish pressure up the middle. As shown here, Maybin is right in the face of Luck, causing the rookie quarterback to make a decision – either take the sack, or scramble and try to make a play. Luck chooses the latter and the result is as follows.
Luck moves to his left, only to find the grasp of Wilkerson who gets credited with the sack and forced fumble. However, if not for Maybin’s perfectly executed stunt, this play would have not been made.
If Maybin can keep this level of play up, the entire pass rush will be boosted. The way he elevated the play of those around him this past Sunday should be very encouraging to Jets fans. If he does this on a consistent basis, all of a sudden the Jets go from a team that struggles to rush the passer to a team that poses a legitimate threat in that area.
Quinton Coples – As great as Muhammed Wilkerson played this past week, Quinton Coples was the best defensive lineman on the field for the majority of the game. In a full time role, Coples saw a lot of time not only at defensive end, but as a defensive tackle as well, similar to how he was used during his college career at North Carolina. What makes Coples so effective in being constantly moved around is his natural ability as a pure defensive lineman. Not only is he extremely athletic and powerful, but at 6’6″ tall, he has tremendous length, which he is beginning to use very effectively.
Coples demonstrated effective swim moves, push/pull technique, and the ability to get excellent separation from the offensive line. When the rookie uses his hands effectively, his reach is so long that it makes it just about impossible for any opposing offensive lineman to get into him enough to make a block. In doing this, Coples dictates exactly what he wants to do on any given play, making him extremely dangerous to an opposing offensive line.
Coples continues to be extremely agile in his pass rushes, particularly when lined up on the inside where he is a complete mismatch against slower offensive lineman. However, what very few realize, is just how powerful he is against the run. On a play in the 1st quarter, in which Muhammad Wilkerson stopped the ball carrier for a loss of one in the backfield, Coples forced the play back into Wilkerson with a tremendous push on the opposing offensive guard. Take a look:
As you can see, Coples has the opposing guard about 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. The back (who is right behind the guard) is forced to cut back to the other side, where Wilkerson is in hot pursuit. Without this push by Coples, the back is likely never forced to cut back across the field, thus never giving Wilkerson to opportunity to make the tackle for loss. Great cohesiveness by this unit demonstrated on this play, as was the case throughout the entire game.
Rex Ryan – Ryan was ranked as a top performer for his game plan last week against Houston, something he topped this week against the Colts and their rookie quarterback. Ryan mixed up fronts, coverages, personnel, and most importantly, blitzes, particularly, the blitz that resulted in Antonio Allen’s first career sack, one of the greatest demonstrations of schematics and execution that one will ever see in a defensive arena.
As shown below, Allen lines up on the slot receiver, showing anything but blitz.
At the same time, cornerback Isaiah Trufant is lined up over the center showing an inside blitz. The alignment here makes it nearly impossible for a rookie quarterback to expect a blitz to be coming from where Allen is currently lined up. However, at the snap of the ball, Allen comes hard off the edge, while Trufant bails out to compensate for what would have been Allen’s man.
The complexity of this blitz is why it is so successful. Luck could have never expected the Jets to attempt to get Trufant all the way back to Allen’s man from where he was lined up, but that is exactly what they did. Unsuspecting that pressure is coming from his right, Luck cannot avert the blitz in time, and the play results in Allen’s first career sack. Extremely gutsy call that clearly paid dividends.
With his top two nose tackles inactive for this contest, Ryan also did a tremendous job of mixing up his defensive fronts to compensate for the lack of a true nose guard. At times, the Jets did show a traditional 3-4 look with various players lined up at the nose including Mike DeVito and Wilkerson. However, since neither of these players are truly effective at the position, Ryan adjusted to his personnel greatly.
Here, Ryan comes with a very creative scheme up front. From left to right, the personnel is David Harris, Muhammad Wilkerson, Calvin Pace, Quinton Coples, and Aaron Maybin. With virtually no one lined up in the middle, the Colts offensive line gets an unfamiliar look here both in terms of alignment and personnel, causing great confusion amongst this unit and their rookie quarterback. Excellent job by Ryan in recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of the players he had available on Sunday.
Since losing Darrelle Revis, Pouha, and most recently Ellis, Ryan has become extremely innovative in his schematics. For the second week in a row, we have witnessed how impressive of a defensive mind Ryan truly is.
Muhammad Wilkerson – Statistically, Wilkerson played his most complete game as a Jet with 7 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, and a tipped pass. New York continues to rely on Wilkerson to be their jack of all trades on the defensive front, a role he is beginning to become much more comfortable with. Throughout the course of the game, Wilkerson saw time at the 0, 1, 3, and 5 technique, and was effective at each position. We have discussed his sack above, but one particular play that really stood out was Wilkerson’s tackle in the backfield in the second quarter. On the play, Wilkerson split an aggressive double team by the Colts guard and tackle, to stop the run for a gain of only one. It was an impressive display of strength, explosion, and leverage.
Wilkerson is slowly becoming the man of many roles for the Jets, which speaks volumes to how the defensive coaching staff grades his talent and ability. Wilkerson is beginning to mature as a leader on this defensive front through both example and poise, something that, considering his tremendous talent level, is an excellent sign for this group. Moving forward, New York has to feel good about its young group of defensive lineman.
Mike DeVito – DeVito was solid as usual for Gang Green. He was forced to fill in at the nose at times due to injuries to Pouha and Ellis, however, as we have previously discussed in this column he is not necessarily a good fit in that position. Still, DeVito surely held his own, and remained the usual blue collared, run stuffing defensive tackle Jets fans have grown to love. As for his pass rush ability, DeVito still proved to be very ineffective in this area. Fortunately, Ryan and company are beginning to seriously limit his reps in passing situations, which will both keep him fresh for first and second down, and allow someone else, like Aaron Maybin to get the necessary reps during those situations.
Calvin Pace – Pace played quite solid yet again. Still struggling to get to the quarterback, he does have a natural ability to set the edge and not allow anything to get outside of him, something that he certainly does the best among everyone at his position on this roster. During the first quarter, on the Colts’ first attempted end around, Pace took a bad step and was beat to the outside by the tackle.
At the left of the screen here, Pace can be seen in poor position as he is seemingly sealed by the tackle, thus losing the edge and giving the back room to run around. However, Pace continued to work toward the sideline, despite being beat on the initial step. The best defense for an edge player when they are sealed is to drive the blocker as far as they can toward to side line, in order to string the play out as long as possible, and allow the help to come from the inside. Well, this is exactly what Pace does on this play, and it works to perfection, as he eventually turns the play back inside, allowing Wilkerson to make the tackle for no gain.
This is textbook recover technique from Pace, who continues to be this team’s best edge player against the run.
Daniel Muir – Muir played with an excellent energy level, and certainly did not look like someone who was just signed off the street. He did get driven off the ball a few times, but other times he did a great job holding his own against the double team. He is also very active with his hands and feet in his pass rush. Although unsuccessful, he repeatedly worked a surplus of pass rush moves against the Colts offensive line. For the capacity in which he was signed, you have to be very impressed by the effort Muir put forth on Sunday. He is playing like someone who is hungry to keep his spot on the roster, regardless of who returns.
Damon Harrison – Harrison saw limited action this week, with Muir getting more reps as the last tackle worked into the rotation. He continues to prove to be very raw, but demonstrates great power. With some coaching, down the road, Harrison can certainly be a very effective role player in this league.
The linebackers – Excellent effort across the board from the linebackers this week. Bart Scott and David Harris both looked faster than they have in the first five weeks, and both did an excellent job in their run reads and defending lead blockers. Scott even broke up a pass, which was a phenomenal demonstration of awareness on his part. With his back to the ball, Scott recognized the target’s eyes and arms reacting to the pass, and stuck his arm out where he thought the ball might be coming from, swatting it away before the receiver ever had a chance. There are still some coverage issues with these two, but for the most part they were very improved in this area this past week.
DeMario Davis’s reps continue to increase, and you’d have to think that by mid-season he will be seeing at least half of the defensive snaps per game. His speed is above and beyond anyone else’s at the position, and he continues to play with great tenacity. He looks a bit tentative at times, perhaps because he does not yet have a full grasp on the system, but he is seemingly becoming more comfortable each week.
The Secondary – As a unit, this group played very well. Kyle Wilson put together his most complete performance to date through a strong display of coverage, open field tackling, and the ability to shed blockers. Anontio Cromartie continued his dominant play in the absence of Darrelle Revis, recording an interception in his second consecutive game. Ellis Lankster was hot and cold. On some plays, he was in perfect position and showed great reaction to the ball, while on others his technique was poor, and he lacked awareness. Still, an overall above average effort from Lankster this past week.
The safeties played quite good again as well. LaRon Landry got caught trailing a couple times in coverage, but his physicality against the tight ends was spectacular this week. On one particular play, Landry lined up in the box directly on Colts Tight End Dwayne Allen. Landry jammed him hard at the line, then laced him as soon as the ball touched his hands. What he may lack in pure coverage ability, he certainly makes up for with his physical level of play.
As discussed above, Antonio Allen executed one of the greatest timed blitzes you will ever see, which is an area where we expected him to succeed in in our full draft evaluation. Yeremiah Bell was solid again, but sometimes showed a tendency to give too much of a cushion between himself and the first down marker.
Josh Bush and Isaiah Trufant also saw time this week. Both did not do anything spectacular in terms of making plays, but neither did anything that hurt the team, which is very positive. The more experience these youngsters can get in fulfilling their responsibilities, the better.
Sunday’s game was a very complete defensive effort. Each unit complemented each other very well, and the cohesion of this defense is really starting to take shape, even in the absence of the leagues best defensive back. Rex Ryan has gotten back to his roots as a defensive mastermind. All of these things will need to continuously improve moving forward, but make no mistake, New York should be very encouraged by the product they put on the field against Indianapolis.