Today we are going to take a look at the last three passes Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield completed against the Jets on Cleveland’s game-winning drive last week (aside from a shovel pass on the goal line). These plays tell a story we will explore later.
1st and 10; NYJ 45 yard line; 6:11 left in the fourth quarter
The Jets are pretty clearly showing the type of defense they are playing here presnap, and it is a conservative one, a Cover 3 zone.
There are number of clear indicators. There is the fact only one safety, Doug Middleton (orange) is deep. There is also the fact Morris Claiborne (red) is lined up on a side of the field with no wide receivers. When an outside cornerback is on a side of the field with no recievers, it is a clear sign of zone. If he was playing man, he would be lined up across from a wide receiver on the other side of the field. Trumaine Johnson (yellow) is opposite Claiborne. This look clearly shows Cover 3 with four defenders underneath.
At the snap, the Jets use Avery Williamson to bump Jarvis Landry before he gets into his route. They are trying to throw off the timing of Cleveland’s best receiver.
Unfortunately for the Jets, this delays Williamson from dropping into his zone or getting the proper depth, which leaves a huge passing window for Mayfield to find Rashard Higgins.
Mayfield finds the open receiver for 19 yards. This is just bad zone defense. Making contact with Landry just totally makes Williamson lose track of where he is on the field. He delays his drop, and doesn’t get enough depth to close the window.
3rd and 10; NYJ 26 yard line; 4:58 left in the fourth quarter
Here the Jets show an aggressive front that makes it looks like there are seven conceivable blitzers.
In reality, the Jets send five. They have three defensive linemen and Parry Nickerson from the slot. Surprisingly, they also send Trumaine Johnson on a corner blitz. He wasn’t one of the initial players showing blitz.
Two linebackers, Darron Lee and Avery Williamson drop into coverage, while four other defenders drop to the sticks on this third down play.
The problem here is that by blitzing Johnson, the Jets are vacating a lot of open field for Antonio Callaway.
Mayfield finds him for the first down. It’s too easy.
Jamal Adams was the defender who pushed Callaway out of bounds. He needs to make that tackle short of the sticks on third down.
With that said, I have heard some people hypothesize that the offseason can be the most dangerous time of the year for coaches, and this play might be a good example. When coaches have too much time on their hands, they overthink designing plays on the dry erase boards in their offices.
On this play, the Jets were trying to fool Cleveland’s protection scheme by faking pressure up the middle and then blitzing Johnson, the last guy you would expect to come after the quarterback in that spot. But it just wasn’t going to work. Johnson’s blitz was just too long-developing to have a chance. The Browns had plenty of time to see him coming, pick him up, and get the ball out.
I also think back to something former Jets defensive line coach Pepper Johnson said to Deadspin shortly before the start of the season which was critical of Todd Bowles’ defensive philosophy.
All right. Let’s get back to what happened with the Jets firing you.
I’m a strong believer of where the pass rush matches the coverage. This was one of the things that I could not get done with the Jets; I could not get the pass rush and the coverage together.
Because that wasn’t part of the philosophy of the secondary coach. And a lot of people didn’t understand that.
Right here the Jets were trying to get a free runner and force the quarterback to get the ball out quickly. And the coverage gives a receiver a free release to the sticks on a third down play.
1st and 13; NYJ 19 yard line; 4:47 left in the fourth quarter
After a penalty, the Browns faced a rare first and 13.
The Jets return to a basic Cover 3 zone look.
Nick Chubb releases into the flat and draws Darron Lee’s attention just long enough for Jarvis Landry to sneak into the hole in the zone and for Mayfield to find the window.
That was Lee’s coverage, but I think it’s tough to get on him. He didn’t leave much room to make that throw. We sometimes forget there’s another team on the field trying to win the game. That was high level offensive execution.
Now to the bigger story.
I took you through these three plays, but there is something bigger that bothered me about the Jets’ approach in these key situations.
Every NFL front office and coach staff sets out to build a winning team. Just wanting to win isn’t enough. They have to come up with a plan to win. What style will the team play? How will the team impose its will on the opponent?
A lot of the choices aren’t right or wrong. They come down to preference. Teams with diametrically different philosophies can both be successful.
The way a roster is constructed provides us with a window into a given team’s philosophy. That is true of the Jets.
Only the Houston Texans are spending more money on cornerbacks this year than the Jets. That is no accident. The Jets invested heavily at the cornerback position for a reason. They want guys who can hold up in one on one coverage.
Zone corners who get paid big bucks like Josh Norman tend to be few and far between. If you are using your cap space to spend lavishly at this position, odds are you want corners who can man up. It’s a lot easier to find a guy who can defend a small area of the field in zone coverage than it is to find a corner who can go one on one with an NFL receiver.
When the Jets signed Trumaine Johnson, I think there was a misconception that he was going to line up on an island and play press man coverage 30 times a game. That isn’t realistic for a number of reasons.
Last year Ian Wharton studied a number of corners and noted how strikingly difficult Xavier Rhodes’ workload was when Rhodes played 133 snaps in press man. That averages out to approximately 8 press man snaps per game.
It isn’t about doing it for all four quarters. You pay these corners because you believe they can be difference-makers on the handful of plays that decide a game.
The Jets are supposed to be built around this secondary. That investment is supposed to give the coaching staff confidence its guys can hold up one on one with the game on the line. It is supposed to free up other players to blitz the quarterback.
The Jets were facing a rookie who was seeing his first NFL action last week. If you lose because the rookie makes a great play, there’s no shame in it. You tip your cap and say, “Well done, kid. You earned this W.”
If that rookie is going to beat me, I want to force him to make a great play to do it.
I’m blitzing the kitchen sink with one on one coverage across the board. I’m forcing him to scan the field. I’m counting on that highly paid secondary to win one on one battles. But if somebody loses, I’m forcing the rookie to identify it quickly because he’ll be under duress from a big blitz. He’ll have to throw an accurate pass into a small window while under this pressure. Any window on a quick pass again tight man coverage will be small.
Baker Mayfield is a heck of a prospect. He did his job on Thursday. He might have been able to do it even had Todd Bowles’ defense got more aggressive with the game on the line. The Jets didn’t force him to make a great play to win the game, though. They allowed Mayfield to sit back in he pocket and pick apart their defense. They allowed him to dictate the terms of engagement.
This defense is supposed to be built around trusting its coverage guys one on one in key spots. Again, this is supposed to free up the coaching staff to aggressively call blitzes. But the only blitz the Jets had in this sequence actually took their best coverage guy out of coverage and gave the Browns an easy path to a successful play.
On Sunday another team was in a similar situation. The Bears were facing another rookie quarterback, Josh Rosen. Like Mayfield, Rosen had come off the bench and was seeing his first NFL action. With the game on the line, the Bears sent pressure at Rosen and forced him to make a great play against tight man coverage. You can see the result for yourself.
It’s one thing to go down because your best isn’t good enough. If the other guy makes a superior play, so be it.
The Jets didn’t go down with their best, and they didn’t force the opponent to make the superior play on Thursday. They managed to do these things while disregarding their own philosophy. Those facts are as frustrating as the loss itself.