There are not many gamedays on the NFL schedule. The lack of action has its pros and cons. One of the pros is it gives us plenty of time to go in depth with analysis.
I apologize in advance because this one will not be pleasant. The Jets' game against Oakland last season was the only loss the team had by more than one score. It was the worst defensive performance of the year. Jets head coach Todd Bowles said that the team's film review revealed over 20 missed tackles.
Perhaps the biggest culprit in the game was Marcus Williams. With safety Calvin Pryor hurt, Williams, a reserve cornerback, played 97% of the snaps. He saw some action at safety in place of Pryor but missed tackle after tackle resulting in big plays. Pro Football Focus counted six missed tackles from Williams.
One viewpoint after the game was that the Jets erred by playing Williams out of position. While Williams did play a fair share of deep safety in the game, it is difficult to conclude upon further review that this was the big problem. You can keep your eye on Williams on some of the failed opportunities on these plays.
On this one, you can see that Williams begins the play essentially in a slot role. He might technically be listed as a safety because he is following tight end Mychal Rivera, but he might as well be playing cornerback. The play starts with him lined up next to Buster Skrine.
On this play, Williams is in the slot and simply gets outmuscled. Then he misses an opportunity to make a tackle.
Here's a play where Williams is playing an outside cornerback spot. Then then whiffs on a tackle.
Here's one against fullback Marcel Reece. Again, one might say Williams is a safety here because he is one on one against a back, but he is lined up in a traditional cornerback spot. He just gets caught in traffic and misses another opportunity to make a tackle.
So what the heck was Todd Bowles thinking?
One of the things to note is that Williams was frequently playing "safety" only in the sense that he was matched up against backs and tight ends. On many of these plays (although not all of them), he was really lining up in the same place he would as a cornerback.
You can then understand why Bowles said a few days later, "His struggles didn’t occur at safety. They occurred at missing tackles. You can do that at corner, nickel or whatever the case may be. He missed some tackles just like everybody else."
What was the thought process? I would have to guess that Bowles wanted to put a good cover guy on the field against Oakland's backs and tight ends. The Raiders were a stronger passing team than rushing team so Bowles presumably wanted to put his best pass defense on the field.
Contrary to the, "Why would anybody be so stupid to do something like play a cornerback at safety?" line of questioning that followed, there did seem to be a rationale.
So did Bowles make the right call?
Just because there is a rationale behind a decision does not make it the right decision. We didn't see what happened in practice in the week leading up to the game, but the decision clearly did not work out. Bowles essentially admitted that the next week when Williams' snap count went down to 42% against Jacksonville despite Pryor still not being healthy.
The decision backfired big-time. It was not the best call the team could have made.
What lessons can we take from this?
You'd hope I dragged you back to this disaster of a game for a reason. You'd be right.
I think this type of game illustrates the value first round pick Darron Lee could potentially have if he pans out. The Jets opted for Williams' cover ability over tackling some of the other options could have brought. What the team hopes it has in Lee is a player who can thrive as a hybrid safety/linebacker. They want a guy who can do it all.
Take the Reece play shown above. What would have happened if Reece motioned back to the backfield? Williams would have had to follow him. Then you've got a potential matchup problem on a run play. You've got a cornerback who essentially needs to fill a linebacker role.
With a guy like Lee, you hope to be able to prevent the other team from creating mismatches like this. Lee hopefully will have the size to play linebacker but the cover skills and experience to hold up in coverage on the perimeter.
Again, we can't say whether Lee will actually be a good enough player to do all of this, but he could help keep his team out of this position.