Lessons from the past: What we did wrong against CJ Spiller, and how to correct it

It has been well-written by our site's excellent writers about how the strength of the Dolphins is in their rushing attack and specifically in the big-play ability of their speedy backs, Reggie Bush and Lamar Miller. 2 weeks ago, the Jets faced a similar type of speedy running back in CJ Spiller, and to say they sucked would be kind, as Spiller ripped off 169 yards on only 14 carries and had runs of 49 and 56 yards. Fortunately, the Bills couldn't get anything going in the pass game, Sanchez was humming along, we had a huge punt return, and the game itself was a laugher. However, while there is a garbage time argument for allowing pass yards as football teams tend to go with softer zone coverage to disallow the big plays, there is no point in where a defense has an excuse for giving up in the run game. I don't think the Jets actually did, they simply got burned by a fast player who I think is a budding star in this league (and thought so since he was ripping it up at Clemson), and have a few issues with this type of back. The Dolphins defense is probably better than the Bills and expecting huge offensive output from this team every week is probably really optimistic, so we can't have a similarly poor performance against Bush and Miller that we did against Spiller. Join me after the jump for some potential ideas.

More zone coverage?

While the talent of our corners, especially with Revis likely to play, it's very tempting to play man. After all, we have probably the best trio of cornerbacks in football with the best CB in the NFL, another top 20ish corner, and another corner who might be top 45-50, even moreso since they all excel playing man coverage. And we'll be going up against a trio of WRs that include Davone Bess, Brian Hartline, and someone else. We could likely dominate in man coverage. However, running more zone may be beneficial. First, facing a young, raw QB like Tannehill, if you can confuse him with complicated zones and pressure, he may be liable to turning the ball over. Secondly, we might prevent plays like Exhibit A: CJ Spiller's 56 yard TD run.

As we can see below, the Bills are lined up in a single back, 3 wide, 1 TE "Pistol" formation. The Jets counter with a 3-3-5 nickel. Steve Johnson and David Nelson are to the far offensive left, Donald Jones to the right. Revis aligns with Johnson, Wilson with Nelson, and Cromartie with Jones.


The Bills motion Donald Jones into the backfield as the wing back and completing the pistol. The Jets walk Yeremiah Bell to the line of scrimmage and drop Landry as the single high safety. As Jones motions into the backfield, Cromartie follows Jones across the formation, a clear signal of man coverage. Right before the snap, Revis and Wilson take away the cushion and give a look of bump coverage against Stevie Johnson and David Nelson, respectively.


Cromartie is standing between the "F" and the "L" on the NFL logo.

At the snap of the ball, Revis and Wilson don't press but they immediately turn and run with their men, who are running vertical up the field. Essentially, the moment they turned their hips to cover, they were out of position to make any play on a run to the left. Donald Jones from the backfield comes across the formation to put a wham block on the blitzing Yeremiah Bell. He cuts Bell, doesn't quite take Bell down, but sufficiently slowed him down to where he was out of the play. This is where the frustrating part of this play occurs: Cromartie is so focused on his man coverage on Jones that he follows Jones back across the formation, completely oblivious to the fact that Fitzpatrick has handed the ball off. Had Cromartie realized this, he would have been in position to make a play. Instead he follows Jones, who is on the ground after cut blocking Bell, while the run is going to the other side.


It's tough to see, but Cromartie is the one standing on the "F", facing the wrong direction. His man is on the ground in the backfield. At the top of the screen, you can also see that Revis and Wilson have already turned and are not looking at the play. Spiller has the ball and is about to hit the hole between the left guard and tackle. Harris and Mauga read run but they are blocked. Scott (the Jet at the bottom of the screen) runs over to where I assume was his assigned zone coverage, but he also fails to read run and is on the opposite side of the field to the action. Quinton Coples has a shot at Spiller with an arm tackle, but Spiller is far too good to be taken down that way. Once Spiller gets through the line, with no cornerbacks looking at the play occurring, Spiller has plenty of green space around him and only one man to beat, Landry.


Landry is an athletic dude, but he's a straight line player against one of the fastest, most elusive backs in football. Landry is toast. Scott attempts to get back in the play, and gets close, but may have in fact made it tougher for Landry to make the tackle and Scott himself whiffs. After that, Spiller is by himself and scores with no one within 10 yards of him.


There's plenty of blame to go around on this play, but the fact is that playing aggressive man coverage took 3 players out of the play, 2 of who could've likely prevented a touchdown even it led to a 15 yard gain. Now, no one can play zone all game, it only takes one time, and zone isn't the strength of our corners, but the team should consider having a more balanced man/zone split, similar to Pittsburgh game, but more creative pressure schemes.

Stay in your lanes!

Let's look at another big play allowed: a 49 yard run by Spiller in the middle of the 3rd quarter. Once again, the Bills line up in a 3 wide Pistol formation, with the Jets lined in the nickel, this time with a 40 front. The Bills motion Scott Chandler into the wing spot to complete the pistol and keep 3 wide.


The Jets are, again, playing man coverage. Cromartie is matched up on Jones at the bottom of the screen, Wilson is on Nelson in the slot, and Revis matched up on Johnson at the top. Landry creeps down into the box, and I believe his responsibility was Chandler, since at Chandler's motion he came down and Bell dropped as the single high safety. At the snap, Johnson and Jones run vertical routes, while Nelson runs into the flat. Revis and Cro turn with their men and Wilson follows Nelson into the flats. Chandler comes across the formation, much like Jones did on the last long run, and puts an effective cut block on Garrett McIntyre. The Bills otherwise send all the run action to the left side of the formation.


As we can see, there is a Jet defender (Kenrick Ellis) who gets into the backfield and should have blown this play up. However, Spiller eludes Ellis and cuts back to the right side. Unfortunately, with all the run action to the left, EIGHT Jet defenders are sucked that direction, the entire 4 man front, Harris, Scott, Landry, and Revis are all caught up in the direction of the run action. Here's the end zone view.


Spiller cuts it back and now there are effectively 3 defenders: Wilson and Cro, who are running with receivers, and Bell who is still 10 yards off the LOS. As Spiller cuts back, Bell comes up to stop the run, however Ryan Fitzpatrick helps out his back and throws a cut block at Bell, not a very good one but effective enough to neutralize Bell. Harris makes a valiant effort to get back to Spiller, but unfortunately he's simply not fast enough to get there and get a good wrap on Spiller. Harris and Bell do slow down Spiller slightly and Spiller was forced to hurdle, but with the rest of the D sucked inside to the left, there's no one else left to make the tackle.


Wilson and Cro have turned to face the play by this point, but the Bills WRs do a superb job blocking down field and Cro and Wilson aren't exactly the league's most physical corners. By this point, it's big play city with Spiller.


Landry eventually works free and uses his straight line speed to get back to Spiller and takes a dive at him, which doesn't bring Spiller down but gets enough of him to slow him down and eventually Cro stops him 2 yards short of the end zone.

Again, plenty of blame to go around on this one. Ellis should have stopped this one for a loss. Wilson and Cro need to do a better job getting off of blocks, and Bell needs to not get taken out by a QB. But with the speed of Spiller and the lack of speed by our linebackers, the linebackers need to stay in their lanes and trust each other to make tackles, because one flub and it's a big play. Harris should have been more disciplined and not gotten out of position to lose contain and he could've stopped this one for a short one. The game was a blow out at this point but this one was awful.

Better safe than sorry!

Another issue here was Landry's greed. When Landry sees the cut back, he attempts to crash the line and take an angle to attempt to tackle Spiller for a loss.


Landry is on the far right of the screen, #30 clear as day.

Rather than run up field and go around the mess, Landry attempts to go through the traffic. I'm not sure if Landry thought Spiller was slow or if he's supremely overconfident in his ability or what, but it was a terrible angle and a terrible decision. Landry eventually runs into a blocker, then is forced to turn up field because Spiller is about to get into the clear. He does get into the play 30 yards later, but he could have been involved to stop Spiller for a much shorter gain.

This one needs to be about discipline and smart decisions. Don't try to make the insane, impossible stop because Bush is too fast for that. Get him surrounded and take away the cut backs. The Raiders tried crashing the line and making the big stop, the Raider safety taking a greedy angle to hit Bush short of the 1st down marker, and he wound up letting Bush run around him for a 65 yard touchdown. Good angles are going to be necessary, and if we can keep Bush contained from the big plays, I don't see why the Jets can't win this one going away.

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