The Jets had an odd defensive game in their 42-34 win against the Colts. They forced turnovers galore, got a couple of key red zone stops, and made plays when they needed to. Despite those accomplishments, they still allowed far too many points to a depleted, talent-deprived offense that dropped a bunch of passes. What happened?
Let’s take a look at the numbers!
- The coverage numbers include only legitimate targets into the general area of a receiver/defender; throws in which a defender in coverage was directly involved the outcome. Throwaways and deflections at the line are excluded.
- The stats for each individual are that of the quarterback’s passing numbers when targeting the individual’s matchup. A player could receive coverage credit even if a teammate finished the play. For example, against Denver this season, Morris Claiborne tipped a pass in this direction that ended up being intercepted by Marcus Maye. I credited Claiborne with that interception.
- Penalties and pass breakups counted are only those accumulated in coverage. Penalties/PBUs picked up on blitzes, or penalties tackling another player’s responsibility, are not included. PBUs and INTs in the box score are not exclusive to one another.
- “Burns mitigated by opponent miscue,” or “miscues” (M) are included in charting to attempt to knock defenders who benefited from an egregious error by the offense (drop, horrible throw) and give perspective to the validity of their raw stats. A defender can still register an interception or incompletion to his credit on a miscued play.
First, here’s a look at each targeted player’s total numbers in coverage against Indianapolis.
Next, let’s take a look at the coverage numbers broken down by individual player-vs.-player matchups and man coverage vs. zone coverage. Opponents who saw targets lined up both inside and outside are listed twice.
Some takeaways from the numbers:
- Make no mistake - the Colts offense did everything it could to make life easier for the Jets secondary. Drops were abound, one of them leading to a pick six (though Jamal Adams made a good play on that snap and I did not credit him with a miscue) and most of them on potential first downs.
- Morris Claiborne had tight coverage on Ryan Grant and made a nice play on the ball to create the Avery Williamson interception, and also showed nice hustle and awareness to collect the eventual pick six created by Adams. However, he had a rough day otherwise, as he was bailed out on two drops, one of them a should-be 50+ yard gain for a potential touchdown, and allowed a few other first downs including a touchdown. He’s had a nice start, but is starting to really tiptoe the line.
- Darron Lee continues to stay quiet. He was late getting to the sideline on a first down allowed out of the backfield, but picked off his third pass of the year and stopped a few plays short.
- Rough day for Adams. The pick six play was a nice job taking advantage of a mistake, but otherwise, it was worst day in coverage in terms of yield. He was beat twice on the Colts’ first scoring drive in man coverage, first by Eric Ebron for 18 yards and then by someone named Mo Alie-Cox for 34 yards. It looked like shades of 2017, as Adams first was overpowered and tripped and then got overagressive and beat over the top. On the bright side, if in a bad game he still made as many plays as he did, that’s a great sign.
- Darryl Roberts and Parry Nickerson struggled in relief and were major reasons for the Jets’ struggles in this game. They combined to allow 3 touchdowns, while they were lucky not to be targeted for a few more potential big plays. All 3 of those looked to be in zone coverage, where both players had issues with their reactivity and Nickerson in particular seemed to have some problems understanding his assignments. The Jets are going to be in big trouble with these two playing extended reps as long as Trumaine Johnson and Buster Skrine are out, even though those two have struggled. The Vikings receivers are absolutely not going to drop passes like the Colts did. Roberts is simply a backup-quality outside corner, while Nickerson is going through his harsh rookie bumps you’d expect from a sixth-round pick.
Let’s start off with a bit of a goofy play at the end of the game. This is the final play from scrimmage run by the Colts, with the Jets up two scores.
Todd Bowles pulls a rabbit out of his hat and drops 333-pound Mike Pennel into coverage. He actually does somewhat of a decent job covering the initial crossing route towards the middle but obviously has no chance to react and break on the next crosser, Chester Rogers, who takes the short pass and scores as Nickerson is caught way out of position cheating inside for some reason.
In this clip, we see the Colts score their third touchdown of the game, cutting the Jets lead to one score early in the fourth quarter. He sticks with his matchup in the slot towards the middle while the tight Eric Swoope sneaks into the back corner. Lee looked to be responsible for the hook zone, so it seems like Nickerson should have passed off that inside route and played the corner route.
This next play is the second touchdown of the game by the Colts. The Jets had just scored on a fake screen and downfield throw to a tight end, and the Colts come right back with the same concept.
I think Darryl Roberts is the main culprit here. He’s responsible for the deep area of his part of the field. He bites hard on the screen fake and the slot receiver blows by, leaving Marcus Maye alone with two wide open receivers. Andrew Luck simply gets to pick the throw he likes better, and he takes Ebron up the seam.
This play was the Colts’ first touchdown of the game, culminating a very quick 75-yard drive in 2:25.
It’s a simple cover 3. Claiborne inexplicably sits hard on Chester Rogers’ curl hoping to play the ball. He should have picked up Marcus Johnson and left Rogers to be picked up underneath by Nickerson. Instead, he lets Johnson run free uncovered as Nickerson was expecting him to be picked up.
Nathan Shepherd is a player who is possibly the lead candidate on the roster for least discussion among fans relative to playing time. And that’s for good reason, as he has struggled thus far to make an impact. However, I noticed one quietly key play from him.
On this play, Nickerson is toasted by Rogers up the seam. There is a ton of separation there for a big play to be made. Thankfully for the Jets, Luck can never arrive to the read, as following the play fake and screen pump fake, he is forced to scramble due to pressure by Shepherd. As you’ll see in the second half of this clip, he gets in a quality rip move on the right guard to penetrate the pocket.
Let’s look at the interceptions, starting with the pick six on the second play from scrimmage. Ultimately, this only happens because of a blatant drop by Marlon Mack, but Jamal Adams put in a strong effort on this play to take advantage of the mistake. Blitzing off the edge, he gets strong contact on Mack, who is blocking before leaking out for the pass. The timing between Luck and Mack is thrown off a bit by Adams’ pressure, as Luck hesitates a bit on the throw and places it slightly high and outside. Adams doesn’t overpursue looking for contact on the QB and quickly recovers to Mack, in perfect position to tip the loose ball to Claiborne.
It all happens because of a lucky bounce that might not even happen again should the Colts run this play 100 more times, but Adams’ effort and instincts helped maximize the results.
I did credit Claiborne with an interception in this game, but ironically it was not the play he scored a touchdown on. It was the play below - Claiborne opens up outside, but makes a nice recovery to the dig route by Ryan Grant to tip the ball up for Avery Williamson to grab.
While Darron Lee continues to be frustrating to watch in run defense, he continues to make up for it with efficient play in coverage and an improved frequency of big plays. Here, Luck makes a rare post-snap vision mistake. Lee lines up at outside linebacker and fakes a blitz before dropping into coverage. Luck doesn’t recognize it and tries to hit a crossing Rogers (who beat Nickerson), throwing it right into the hands of Lee, who makes a very athletic grab.
You want to see Lee round out his overall game to prove he can be a core piece long-term, but in the meantime, he’s making enough big plays and doing enough in coverage to balance out his weaknesses, something he was not doing over his first two years.
Here is a look at the team coverage numbers through six games.
On the whole, a big takeaway from me is the Jets have become an increasingly zone-heavy team. Trumaine Johnson’s absence has played a role in that, but they seemed to be going in that direction even when he was in the lineup.
It’s a good approach to play the bend-but-don’t-break mentality that has grown popular in the increasingly offense-friendly NFL, but it’s heavily reliant on forcing turnovers and winning the red zone. The Jets have done a solid job overall so far, but they need to get a lot better with their zone coverage to maintain above-average defensive play. Marcus Maye potentially missing more time is not going to help with that - it’s time for Todd Bowles to do some serious coaching with this unit.
Will Morris Claiborne’s luck run out against the Vikings?
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