It isn’t exactly a secret that the Jets have major issues at the cornerback position. Virtually every analyst discussing the team’s defense has made the point since the spring.
In the game against the Dallas Cowboys, Gregg Williams unveiled a new strategy to try and work around the issue.
Next Gen Stats keeps track of the average cushion wide receivers get at the snap. Of the five receivers with the largest average cushion of Week 6, three played for the Cowboys. It certainly seemed like a strategic decision by the Jets. It wasn’t just something we saw because the Jets led by multiple scores for most of the second half. The team was doing it early in the game.
It was done to an extreme considering some of the the game situations.
This is a third down play, and Trumaine Johnson and Darryl Roberts line up three yards behind the sticks.
More than that, they actually backpedal at the snap.
Here’s another third down play with a big cushion.
Again they both backpedal well past the sticks to maintain a big cushion.
These guys are virtually conceding receptions to covert third downs.
I think I understand Gregg’s mindset. He’s dealing with very limited corners. No matter what he does, these guys just aren’t good enough to cover the entire route tree. They are going to give up completions. What Williams is doing is choosing which completions he’s willing to surrender.
Anything short is going to be open. He’s willing to surrender it, even if it means allowing that conversion on third down. He can’t take everything away working with corners this limited so this is what he’s willing to give the opposition.
The plays that wreck games are the big completions over the top. He’s positioning his guys so that those plays will not be open.
This isn’t the way Williams typically plays, but personnel dictates what you can do. This is vintage “bend but don’t break” coverage. The defense is willing to give up positive yardage in small chunks if that’s the cost of avoiding the big play. If a team needs 70 yards for a touchdown, getting it all on one play is the most efficient method. Executing 10 plays of 7 yards a pop is more difficult. Even if it’s open, it’s tough to do things right that many times in a row. Eventually the quarterback will throw inaccurately. A lineman will miss a block, resulting in a sack. A receiver will slip or drop a pass.
Once the offense gets into the red zone the space to operate becomes condensed with so many bodies and so little room. It makes things tougher to have offensive success.
These are also simple cornerback assignments. Even shaky NFL corners can typically execute them.
How did it work?
This season only Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady have more completions for 20+ yards than Dak Prescott. The Jets limited him to two such completions.
Only Mahomes has more completions for 40+ yards. Dallas didn’t have a passing play for more than 23 yards against the Jets.
(Of course Amari Cooper’s absence must be noted in this.)
Going forward it will be interesting to see whether this strategy carries into future games or whether it was a one time deal for Williams. It might be the best way for the Jets to hide their lack of talent at the position. In an ideal world, you’d have guys who could cover the entire field. Since the Jets don’t, it might be for the best. Covering one part of the field and taking away the most damaging routes beats getting burnt everywhere.