I think play calling is one of the easiest things to criticize in football, and it isn’t always fair. People tend to view any play that works as a good call and any that doesn’t as a dumb call.
It frequently isn’t that simple. Sometimes a play is well thought out and appropriate for the situation. Then a player messes up, and the play fails. Conversely, there are calls that are ridiculous for a game situation that look good because the team executes.
During Miami’s comeback, a number of people questioned some of the Jets’ defensive calls. I typically like to avoid jumping on that bandwagon for the reasons I mentioned above.
After getting a chance to review the footage and having a few days to think about it, I must reluctantly agree with some of the criticisms of two critical defensive calls for the Jets. Both came on third downs in the fourth quarter.
On the first, Kenny Stills was running a corner route. Buster Skrine was covering him man to man. Skrine is circled.
The Jets decided to bring Marcus Maye from the middle of the field as a blitzer.
This left Skrine vulnerable. You might wonder why I would say that since Stills was running a route outside, and Maye vacated the middle of the field. It has to do with the way Skrine was positioned. Because Maye was blitzing, there was no help in the middle. Skrine thus had to position himself between Stills and the middle of the field. Without Maye to help, Skrine would have been a sitting duck on an inside breaking route if he wasn’t positioned this way. This in turn did leave Skrine vulnerable to an outside route. If you are going to be vulnerable to one of the two, you’ll choose the outside route since a pass to the sideline in this instance is more difficult than one in the middle of the field.
Still if Maye was in the middle of the field, Skrine could have positioned himself between Stills and the sideline to take away the corner route (hypothetical positioning demonstrated by the line in the picture below) because Maye would have been there to help on any inside route.
I know things get a little tricky with the picture below because it looks like there are two Marcus Maye’s on the field. I made a lifelike drawing of Maye hypothetically playing deep safety on this play. The real Maye was blitzing. You’ll just have to trust me on this one.
Let me throw a few disclaimers out here. If the blitz gets home, we are probably praising this play call. Additionally, regardless of Skrine’s leverage here, the blitz is not excuse for him allowing too much separation here. He may have been positioned against the inside route, but he has to do a better job staying with Stills.
With all of that said, Maye is just so rock solid at the back of the defense that I do have an issue with taking him out of there in a key spot. Taking away the deep middle is where his value primarily lies on passing downs at this point, and this play call did not allow him to do his thing. That’s where I have the problem. The play resulted in a touchdown that cut the Jets’ two touchdown lead to one touchdown.
Another third down defensive call also proved pivotal.
On this play, the Jets loaded the front to disguise a blitz.
One of the big things about this play was that the Jets wanted the Dolphins to think Darron Lee was blitzing even though he wasn’t.
Buster Skrine actually blitzed from the slot, while Lee dropped into coverage. If the Dolphins were confused up front, it could be the best of all worlds. Skrine could get a free run at the quarterback. The blocker assigned to Lee would be blocking nobody, and the Jets would add some extra security to this play by dropping Lee since they would have an extra player in coverage.
Unfortunately, the Dolphins picked this up. The guard originally blocking Lee took Kony Ealy, and the tackle originally set to block Ealy slid and picked up Skrine. Lee was in coverage in the circle, but he ended up with Jarvis Landry.
Landry was running a route to the middle. In this situation, Lee’s only chance was to get his hands on Landry and disrupt the route. Landry’s route is shorter than five yards so this would be legal. Lee whiffed, however.
Again, I have some disclaimers. If this blitz worked well, everybody would be praising it. To some extent, blitzing Skrine made some sense. If a player is struggling in coverage, just take him out of coverage.
I also don’t think you can totally let Lee off the hook here. I will say this. On the second viewing, Lee played a much stronger game than I thought originally. He made more plays than I remembered and wasn’t the liability I believed he was originally on Sunday. I would even say he played a good game.
I also understand Landry is a difficult matchup, but playing linebacker in this league means you have to obstruct shallow crossers. Dolphins linebackers did it all day. Lee has to do a better job here.
That said if we are looking for a defensive play that maximizes the chance to success, I don’t think Lee matched up against Landry would fit the bill. That is where I think the call deserves criticism. Everything makes sense in theory. You throw a confusing front out there. You blitz a guy struggling in coverage. You drop an extra defender for security. The whole was less than the sum of the parts, though. This wasn’t the best call the Jets could have made in that situation.
You could say it for both plays.