FanPost

This Defense did it with Pace at OLB - League Worst? A Big Team Need.

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Football Outsiders DVOA and Weighted Defense Rankings

I've spent more than a little time documenting how monumentally bad Sanchez has been, but he wasn't the only clunker on the Jets last year. It is worth pointing out that we had a top 1/3 of the league Defense (no Rex, not top 5...) with the absence of one of the best players in the league in Revis, a serious hole in the middle at NT (injuries and age), a very sluggish pair at MLB (yes Rex, Scott needs MORE snaps!) and perhaps the worst performing Outside linebacker in the league. In some ways the performance of the Defense points more towards great coaching than any of the much more illustrious years, though it does leave questions about why snap counts were so high for some players, and low for youthful others who should have been developing as eventual replacements (we would hope). Was it that the long-in-tooth players were in there were only because they had the IQ to be in the right position in a very complex scheme most of the time (even if they lacked the speed or talent to make the play often), or was Rex/Pettine too enamored with "their guys!" and the defense could even have been better?

In any case that the Jets accomplished what they accomplished - fueled by some absolute dominance late in the season against weak teams - with Pace as a defining player on the field on nearly every down is pretty startling. Pace will be cut in February, that much is sure, as Scott will be (a big fear here that Scott will be resigned to eat up major snaps next year at a discounted rate). But the fact that Pace played SO much also tells us how desperate this team will be for an Outside Linebacker in 2013. There are big needs on this team. Who could look at the Offense and not say that it doesn't deserve a serious talent influx, not only at the skill positions (big $ items) but also at OL? And with Landry on his way and Bell slowing down by the day a spearhead safety is essential to a Rex Ryan scheme, how can they not spend there? With a doughnut DL, a rookie in Coples that they didn't trust on run downs in 2012, and poor tackling MLBs, how can we not need a stout run stopper? And lastly, the guy who did the film breakdown and likely called most of the plays is gone now in Pettine, this Defense is in talent and coaching flux, but there may be no more important question than how Pace is replaced. It will say more about the Defense, its philosophy and its future than perhaps any other move.

Pace's Stats, Grades and Snaps

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Snaps

Only 5 players played more than 90% of defensive snaps. Landry is likely gone, Bell will be a year older, Harris has dramatically under performed, Cromartie stood on his head as Rex likes to say, and Pace was bad. How did they do it?

Pace the Bad Tackler

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Tackling Efficiency in the Pass Game

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Tackling Efficiency in the Run Game

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Combined Pass and Run Tackling Efficiency

Among the worst 3-4 OLB combined tackling numbers in the league, only Rob Jackson and Paul Kruger were statistically worse. In vying for the title of League Worst 3-4 OLB Kruger was the best Pass Rushing OLB in the league (despite being a poor tackler), and Jackson hardly played.

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Among the Worst in Run Stop %

Passing Game

Pass Rush (for which he was much maligned by fans) and Pass Coverage was not as bad as his tackling. He was still bottom 1/3 of the league for both in the wide view:

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Bottom 1/3 in pass coverage (receptions to cover snaps)

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Bottom 1/3 of the League Pass Rush Productivity

If you restrict the field to the top 60% of pass rush snaps, Pace was 13th out of 16. Clearly for a heavy down OLB in the 3-4 he was well below par.

Mistakes

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Pro Football Focus 3-4 OLB grades

Pro Football Focus grades are a little suspect. The biggest problem may be that they are subjective (unexaminable) and that they amplify on the ball plus/minus events too much. That being said, being at the bottom of the league here strongly suggests making on the ball and situational mistakes regularly.

Overall

It is pretty remarkable that the Jets achieved what they did with what they were working with. Not only was Pace a bottom of the league tackler, so was Scott, and Harris was bottom 1/3:

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3-4 MLB Tackling Efficiency

What are we to conclude? The Jet coaching staff were geniuses, doing it with smoke and mirrors? The Jets Defense feasted on weak opponents, beefed up their general NFL stats, and was actually more flawed than standard stats tell (tackling is a big deal)? If it was coaching is the loss of Pettine who seems to have played a significant part behind the scenes of the Rex Ryan marquee a bigger deal than most think? And of all the positions that need to be filled could there be a bigger one than the one that Pace played?

I've long thought that principal to the Tannebaum and Ryan approach was a belief that they could "Money Ball" the defense by stocking up on cheaper DBs and avoid having to cash out on the expensive pass rushers of the league because Rex's scheme could put pressure on the QB. It's true that they put a nice cash outlay for Pace, but they could deal with his lack of pass rush because they had other ways to get to the QB other than putting an expensive rusher on the other side. But the league changed. They adapted to his overloads. No longer did they rely on just one or two big stud WRs, offensive diversity has pressured the cap structure of the Jets. Now with Revis coming up for a big free agency, a new GM coming in with a different fiscal vision, the defense getting it done with zones and 46s, can the Jets go forward without getting big time performance from OLB? And if they do decide to make this a priority, could they transform this defense into really something special?

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