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New York Jets: Touch Football

The defense isn't getting its touches. That's a problem they'll have to tackle to succeed.

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Jets pass defense isn't very good. That much seems obvious.  It rates poorly against the rest of the NFL by nearly every objective measure.  It has given up a terrible passer rating of more than 116 by opposing quarterbacks, good for second worst in the NFL.  It has given up more big plays (40+ yards) than any team in the NFL.  It has given up more yards per pass attempt than any team in the NFL.  That all sounds really bad, and it is really bad, but it could perhaps be explained by just a relatively few plays where the coverage has broken down on the back end, resulting in long touchdowns.  If that is all that is going on then perhaps the pass defense is only a simple fix or two and better communication away from getting much better in the near future.  If only that were the case.

If it were only a matter of a select few really bad breakdowns then you would expect that on most plays the Jets secondary would be covering the opposing receivers fairly tightly.  Is that how it has looked to you when you are watching the games?  That isn't how it has looked to me.  It has looked to me like Jets defenders are rarely anywhere near close enough to their assignments to make a play on the ball.  But that is a subjective judgment, perhaps reflecting perception warped by the disappointing start to the season.  Is there, I wondered, statistical proof that the Jets secondary is rarely in position to make a play?

Enter the Smackdad original defensive touches metric.  Perhaps somebody else tracks this, I can't say for sure.  In any event I'm taking the wholly reasonable and logical position that what I am not aware of clearly does not and cannot exist.  Call this the Smackdad Principle.  Since I am not aware of anyone else who tracks this, I'm claiming it as a Smackdad original.

Defensive touches are simple to calculate.  Add up all passes defended and interceptions and voila!  A simple metric for how many times the defense gets its hands on the ball.  Now, there are the fluke plays where the defense tips the ball and the pass is still completed.  However, since that scenario is relatively rare, and since I am unaware of anyone who tracks such a thing, by virtue of the Smackdad Principle it clearly doesn't exist, and therefore can be safely ignored.

Defensive touches are a good statistic to measure how often a secondary's coverage is good enough to disrupt a pass.  Clearly not all good coverage results in a defensive touch; sometimes the pass is just too perfect even for great coverage.  Likewise the coverage can be good but the pass is so bad nobody can touch the ball.  Coverage can also be very good for a while, but eventually break down due to the passer getting too much time to make a throw.  All these factors make defensive touches a somewhat rough metric for measuring coverage, but over time the better teams at coverage should still end up disrupting passes with a defensive touch more than the worse coverage teams.

That brings us to the 2016 New York Jets.  The coverage seems to be bad when watching the games, but what do the statistics say?   Well, as it turns out, defensive touches tell a tale.  It is a tale of much woe, of wailing and gnashing of the teeth, of passes flying all over the place with nary a defender in sight.  In short, it is even worse than it looks when viewing the games live.

The New York Jets in 2016 have fewer defensive touches than any other team in the NFL, by a wide margin.  The Jets have a grand total of nine defensive touches through four games.  To put into perspective just how awful that number is, the next worst team in the NFL, the Jacksonville Jaguars, has 14 defensive touches.  The average NFL team has 22 defensive touches, disrupting passes at more than double the rate of the lowly Jets.

How bad is nine defensive touches in four games?   It's worse than horrendous.  Remember that terrible 2014 Jets pass defense?  Unsurprisingly that defense did not rate well in defensive touches, compiling  a total of 60 defensive touches and ranking 30th in the NFL in that metric.  That awful 2014 Jets pass defense had 15 defensive touches in its first four games.  This 2016 Jets pass defense has nine.  How awful is nine?  If the Jets were to continue at this pace for the entire 2016 season they would finish with 36 defensive touches for the season.  The lowest number of defensive touches recorded by any NFL team in the last ten years was 49, by the 2013 Oakland Raiders.  No other team in the last decade has recorded less than 55.  The Jets are on pace for 36.   Defensive touch statistics, particularly passes defended statistics, are difficult to come by beyond a decade or so.  However, given the wide disparity between the Jets current pace and the full year figures for the past ten years, it is not a stretch to guess that if the Jets continue on their current path they will end up with fewer defensive touches than any team in the pass friendly era, likely by a wide margin.  That's how dreadful the Jets pass defense has been.

Just a couple more points for perspective.  There are currently four NFL individual players with more passes defended than the entire Jets team.  Also, so far this year Darrelle Revis has a grand total of zero defensive touches.  Revis has never gone more than four games without a defensive touch in his NFL career, and has never until now gone more than three games in a Jets uniform.

It is sometimes difficult to describe what we are seeing on the field.  Is the pass defense really that bad, or is it just a handful of broken coverages that have skewed the averages?  Defensive touches perhaps help to answer that question in a way that is backed up by hard numbers and not just our sometimes flawed perceptions watching the games live. To put it succinctly, the Jets pass defense is in general simply not in position to  make a play on the ball. They are far worse at this than any other team in the NFL.  It is almost as if they are playing a different game altogether.  Whatever game the pass defense may be playing, it apparently is a non-contact sport.  Touch football?  The Jets would rather not.  The pass defense just seems completely out of touch.