I wanted to write this fanpost before the Steeler game because it seemed to be a growing trend that wasn't really being talked about too much, but I thought one more game of data would be of benefit. People in the beginning of the year were harping on Wilson with the old "he doesn't turn his head around" talk despite the fact he was performing better than most CBs in the league in many ways, and near the top of the league in the slot, and then there was some targeting of Cromartie. But then the Steeler game came with Wilson out for most of it and Cromartie nursing hidden injuries and what was a growing trend - the weakness of the Jets pass defense - especially in the short game - has become flat out apparent. The Jets tried to do a few things differently in that game, but the huge elephant in the room is that the Jets Defense is quite poor in coverage. And as much as people want to harp on Wilson (or now Cromartie) despite the fact that they are our most skilled cover guys, its the rest of the defense that simply cannot cover receivers...and the truth is that the Jets were built this way. With more than 1/3 of the season over it is time to take a look at what is happening.
The biggest surprise this year is the Jet run defense of course. They are by far the best run Defense in the league. They are number 1 in DVOA (which weights opponents), number 1 in "stuffing" the run (Football Outsiders) and are holding opponents to a league low of only 3.0 yards a carry. The last time an NFL defense held opponents to 3.0 yards for the season was the 2010 Steelers, which were a beast of a team against the run. A large part of this is how stout the defensive line has been but the Jets are also 2nd in the league in fewest 2nd level yards given up per carry (5-10 yards from scrimmage). The truth is that there has been a systematic focus on stopping the run at all levels of the defense, and it has really worked....against the run.
Pass Defense - Rushing the Passer
But let's talk Pass Defense, this is a passing league. The first thing to make clear is that despite the Rex Ryan all-out-blitz aura, and despite being 4th in the league in sacks, the Jets are worse than league average in producing pressure WHEN rushing the passer. We always heard in the lower sack Jet Defense Rex years that it isn't sacks, its pressures. I crunched the PFF numbers painstakingly and used the PFF Pass Rush Productivity formula which credits QB hits and hurries 3/4, and the Jets are merely 18th in the league in putting pressure on the QB, per rusher. They produce a (formula) pressure score of 7.9 per rusher, the league on average produces a pressure score of 8.3 from what I can tell with 10 teams holding a score over 9.
numbers hand-gathered and crunched, there could be error
So the Defensive guru Rex who is known for dialing up the pressure and figuring out how to get to the QB is actually producing below average results despite some nice Interior linemen performances. John B. was the first to point out that part of this is that the Jets this year are blitzing their DBs less than the Jets have in the past, as a follow up I did some digging and found it wasn't just DBs that were not being sent this year, it was ILBers as well that are not blitzing, something that may even be a bigger part of the story.
percentage of pass plays rushing, by position
Since the glory days of 2010 ILBer blitz frequency has fallen nearly 50% and DB blitz frequency has fallen 60%. The shape of the Defense has changed a great deal in the Rex Era. The trend that Pettine was credited for last year, calling off the dogs, generally has been further employed.
In fact my rough numbers indicate (using PFF pass rush totals and ESPN opponent pass attempts) that the Jets rush only the 19th most defenders per pass attempt in the league. They simply rush the passer with few men than league average, and are producing fewer pressures per rusher than is the league average. [edit: had to edit this point on pass rush frequency because when cross-checking the PFF numbers I found conflicting data] Against the pass they have adopted more of a cover-first mentality. The problem is...without the pressure they can't by and large cover.
Jets Pass Defense Performance 2009 - 2013 thus far, inverted rankings so "32" is 1st in the league
If you think about it, in the back 7 or 8 only Cromartie and Wilson have been NFL standard cover guys. And it comes from how Rex has built this defense. They chose not to draft a cover safety. They have decided to move a defensive linemen in Coples to OLBer and fill in with either pass rush specialists (like Barnes, now gone) or very old (Pace) or inadequate (McIntyre) players. And a serious hole in the Jets pass Defense is in the middle, at Inside Linebacker. Rex isn't blitzing them as frequently, he's asking them to cover, but they are being torched in the short passing game. Teams don't have to run on the Jets, they have figured out that they can just toss it in the shorter zones and thrive on the linebackers. Putting aside our OLBers, our ILB tandem is the easiest to complete a pass on in the NFL. Harris "leads" NFL ILBers in completion percentage allowed at 94% of targets completed (18 out of 19 passes), and Davis is not much better at 7th (worst) in the league at 82.8% (25 out of 29) - PFF 50% statistics. Some of this is not just Harris slowing down; it has been the very unlikely assignments Rex and Thurman have given Harris, in particular, for instance, in the Atlanta game where he was given impossible covers, but the fact of the matter is that as the Jets have attempted to balance the newness of many of the defenders, the inability to effectively pressure the QB, and the coverage weakness of most of its personnel the bend but don't break defense has come to have more break than bend in it.
These are hand done stats so there may be some error, but the trends are there. The real point is that as much as fans want to get on a DB when they get beat the problems with the Pass Defense actually lie far deeper. Our personnel is not geared towards coverage, and we don't have a pure shut-down corner luxury that we have had in the past - few, few teams do. We are asking our ILBers to cover spaces and receivers they are not skilled enough to do, and our safeties just cannot provide the extra dimension of coverage to help our corners - either by skill set or by play call. It will be interesting to see how Rex works to adjust to the league which has made an adjustment to how he is going to play, and if Jet adjustments affect the dominance of our Run Defense. It may be that simply at the level of personnel on Defense this team was just built wrong for Pass Defense, that moving Coples to OLBer, largely ignoring cover safety and not fortifying the rest of the LBer crew with more adaptable defenders may have produced too much strain for coverage, especially if the Jets can't get after the passer more effectively -- something people hoped Coples and others would do. This year he is 40th out of 40 3-4 OLBers in PRP score with a 3.9, the worst 3-4 OLBer in the league in pressuring the QB; last year he was the 5th best 3-4 DE in pressuring QBs with a PRP score of 8 (25% snaps).
Not much is lost in the big picture in that this year has always been a set the table year for 2014. We knew the Defense was going to look great, even dominant at times, but that it also was going to give up big, game changing plays. And by league standard we are not terrible, we are floating around the middle 1/3 of the league. We are simply terrible by Rex Ryan Jet Pass Defense standards. Can Rex piece it all together enough, just enough to make a push to a 8-8 season, or perhaps even better?
Below is a look at how the Jets have played by QB ratings allowed in their 2013 games (blue) next to that team's QB rating for the season as of now (red). Next to the team names is their current (opponent weighted) DVOA ranking for pass offense giving a sense of how they've fared by another number. There unfortunately is a trend of teams getting better and better against us via the pass - 3 games in a row they have bettered their season average - perhaps in part due to film study, perhaps in part due to some Jet injury (recently Wilson, Cromartie, Milliner, Barnes). The next 6 opponents are also shown.