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Will the Jets Play a Nickel Base Defense?

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The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

I think it is safe to say Todd Bowles likes defensive backs. He was a defensive back when he played. When he started coaching, he coached the secondary. Last year in Arizona, he made extensive use of packages with extra defensive backs on the field. I keep seeing people say Arizona lined up in a nickel package 70% of the time. I can't find where anybody found that figure, but I would believe it from looking at what the Cardinals did defensively last season.

I was wondering whether Bowles would do similar things with the Jets. It did seem possible that Arizona only handled things that way out of necessity because the Cardinals suffered so many losses to other parts of their defense. I think the Jets' spending spree in the secondary, making significant investments in four players, might end that question.

There is this idea that teams either run a 3-4 defense or a 4-3 defense. That isn't necessarily the case in today's NFL, though. Teams are constantly getting more creative and flexible. For example, a lot of people said that Rex Ryan was a 3-4 coach. There is some element of truth to that. The Jets did run traditional 3-4 sets. They also did a lot of other stuff. Take the year 2012. That season the Jets lined up in a 3-4 front more often than any other front according to the Football Outsiders 2013 season preview. They only lined up in a 3-4 25% of the time. That means they weren't 3-4 on three out of every four plays.

I have seen a few people questioning the Jets paying Buster Skrine so much money. Some people wonder whether he is worth the money based on his talent and track record. That is a legitimate concern, but I am not going to address it here. What I would like to address are the people questioning paying that kind of money to a number three cornerback. A contract around $6 million per year seems exorbitant for a nickel corner.

It sure does in the conventional use of the term. That's the guy who only comes onto the field on passing downs when the offense brings an extra receiver out. The idea is that he's a part-time player because the team runs a 4-3 or a 3-4 defense. What if the nickel guy isn't a part-time player, though?

The NFL is changing. You hear about how the passing game keeps becoming more and more important because of rule changes, and it is true. This is now a league where well over half the teams play over half their snaps with three or more receivers. The nickel is becoming more and more important.

On a team like the Jets, the nickel might just be a full-time player. A contract around $6 million per year isn't necessarily over the top for a full-time player, and that is what Skrine might very well be. The NFL becoming more of a passing league has to do with this, but there are other more Jets-specific reasons to think the Jets will be a full-time nickel team. There are three very big reasons in the trenches, Muhammad Wilkerson, Damon Harrison, and Sheldon Richardson.

On their defensive line, the Jets have three top notch defenders against the run. The defensive line has turned the run defense into a big strength. It is such a big strength that maybe the Jets can take a linebacker off the field and use an extra defensive back to make the pass defense better. The three guys up front are so good against the run that they can handle an outsized part of the run stopping load. Isn't the whole point of having a major strength to be able to deploy less resources in that area and provide reinforcements in another? Having such a strong run front gives the Jets the option to send more resources to defend the pass. That might mean playing five defensive backs on close to every snap.

Ultimately, a large part of the Jets' success will come down to whether their player evaluations were correct. It is also really important to understand the kind of team you want to build, though. You need to understand the roles that need to be filled and the skills your players need to have in order to utilize resources properly. The jury will be out for a while whether this new regime has what it takes to build a winner, but I understand what they are trying to do. I also see a real plan in place and the general manager and head coach on the same page. It looks like they wanted to beef up on the secondary and commit extra resources to defending the pass. The trends of the NFL and the talent on the defensive front allow them to commit less to the run.

With this in mind, we might see the Jets become a full-time nickel team.