Breaking Down the New York Jets' Defensive Flexibility

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IMay 24, 2012

Watch these guys get their flex on next year.
Watch these guys get their flex on next year.Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

A few days ago, I brought up several reasons why the New York Jets defense has a chance to turn it around from last season. One reason was its scheme flexibility. 

The Jets have been versatile defensively under Rex Ryan, but Pro Football Focus editor Mike Clay breaks down the defensive snap percentages of every team in the NFL by personnel grouping, and in doing so, he reveals exactly how versatile they've been. 

Per Clay's charts, the Jets were only in the base 3-4 for 37 percent of their defensive snaps, but they were in their sub package 55 percent of the time ("other" packages accounted for seven percent).

That's significant because the average team was in its base defense 45 percent of the time. The Jets were nowhere near the lowest percentage of snaps in their base defense (the New York Giants played just 22 percent of defensive snaps in their base 4-3 package).

The Jets don't play a lot in their base defense, but the way they go about it is peculiar. In fact, Clay says that the Jets are the biggest outlier of the group (emphasis mine):

They go with seven backs on 17 [percent] of their plays, which is 15 percentage points higher than the next closest team. In fact, of the 250 snaps where seven or more defensive backs were on the field across the entire NFL in 2011, the Jets were responsible for 169 (68 percent).

That number is eye-popping. What's interesting is that this number likely coincides with the Jets' struggles in getting after the quarterback. 

The Jets blitzed defensive backs quite frequently last year. Specifically, Eric Smith blitzed on a shade under 8.0 percent of the snaps he played, Kyle Wilson blitzed 8.7 percent of the time and Donald Strickland went after the quarterback 15.2 percent of the time he was on the field. 

On that note, LaRon Landry should fit right in, blitzing at a 7.8 percent clip in 2011 and an 8.9 percent rate in 2010.

Beyond the blitzing safeties and the flexibility in that package, the Jets seem incredibly fixated on these tough safeties.

The common error would be to believe that they'll be put in coverage on New England Patriots tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. But on the contrary, utilizing hard-hitting safeties like Landry and Yeremiah Bell in those seven-DB sets would allow the defense to jam the tight end off the line with one defensive back and cover with another.

There are various ways to use the seven-DB sets—blitzes and jammers are just two examples.

But all of that is just part of the equation in the Jets' overall flexibility.

Clay continues:

Interestingly, the Jets weren’t afraid to go low at defensive back, either. Only the Lions (seven percent) went with fewer than four defensive backs more than the Jets (six percent).

This is the benefit of having cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, guys who excel in man coverage.

The third defensive back was typically a single-high safety, though. Who is that guy now? The best candidate for the job is rookie Josh Bush, a sixth-round pick in April's draft. 

Stats courtesy Pro Football Focus.
Stats courtesy Pro Football Focus.

Kyle Wilson could be a candidate as a third defensive back, but he was victimized at times last year, ranking among the 10 worst cornerbacks in terms of catch rate allowed and among the bottom 20 in missed tackle rate. Allowing catches and missing tackles are among the worst things a corner can do when it's man coverage with only three defensive backs. 

Although he's never played the spot, putting him at safety is a good way to get him out of those situations. It also takes advantage of his blazing-fast speed, as he can play the center-fielder role.

The question, then, is whether he can be a leader for the secondary at the spot, and whether he can get the mental part down of knowing the calls and making good pre-snap reads, a key to being a solid center fielder in any defense.

But the real flexibility is in the Jets' front, as I touched upon previously:

With a group of versatile defensive linemen and a brand new heat-seeking missile at linebacker in Demario Davis, the Jets could play the 3-4 or 4-3 alignment.

Calvin Pace has experience at defensive end. Quinton Coples and Muhammad Wilkerson are solid tackles in a 4-3, and Coples could play outside in that front as well. Sione Pouha is more of a 3-4 nose, but he could be a run-stuffing 4-3 tackle as well.

David Harris could play the Mike linebacker in either front.

With the addition of defensive line coach Karl Dunbar, one aspect of the defense that could be impacted is the use of three- or four-man fronts. The Jets have the flexibility with their personnel to execute either look effectively, with physical guys who can dominate one-on-one matchups. We know how much Rex Ryan loves creating one-on-one situations.

Dunbar said the following, per Jenny Vrentas of the Star-Ledger:

We're going to play a lot of that 46 defense. You get in that 46 defense, you're going to get a lot of one-on-one blocks, and when we put athletic guys on the field, bad things happen for the offense.

It would be interesting to see what the fronts looked like when the Jets ran just three defensive backs out there, but the Jets have the personnel to mix it up often, and that could be one of their biggest strengths in 2012.


Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and '"like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates.


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