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Game planning with Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams: Third down tendencies

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The way to figure out a coach’s tendencies is to look at how he reacts to similar situations over a multi-game stretch.

If you only watch one game, you might see an approach built to combat that specific opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. When you see the same things in the same situation against different opponents, it reveals what a coach wants to do.

With that in mind, I recently took a look at how Gregg Williams’ Browns defense handled opponent passing plays on third and fourth down with medium yards (between 3 and 7 yards) to go over the last six weeks of the 2018 season. I think these downs tell us a lot.

These are the plays that either extend drives or end them. A defense saves its best calls for these situations.

There isn’t a huge advantage to either side. They aren’t as easy to pick up for the offense as short yardage situations or as easy for the defense to stop as long yardage situations.

One major caveat applies. The Jets of 2019 will have different personnel than the Browns of 2018 had. Williams might tweak some of his tendencies to compensate.

With that said, the way he approached these plays will likely give us a window into his mindset...and the type of personnel the Jets might look to add this offseason.

Williams’ reputation for aggression is well-deserved.

The Browns sent at least 5 pass rushers on 8 of 18 opponent plays in this stretch, a high 44.4% blitz rate. Williams even sent a 6 man blitz in a Hail Mary situation.

Even this high blitz rate undersells the defense’s aggression. There were 3 other instances where the Browns rushed only 4 but simulated pressure by dropping one or both edge guys into coverage and blitzing an inside linebacker instead.

Corners are important.

As you might imagine, an aggressive diet of blitzes leaves corners exposed. I counted some variety of man coverage on 15 of the 18 plays. If this trend holds, the Jets will remain a man heavy team on critical downs. With two of the team’s top three corners hitting free agency (and not that good anyway), this is an under the radar big offseason need.

Versatility is valued in linebackers.

Williams liked to mix and match Gerald Avery (55) and Jamie Collins (51). The duo flipped between lining up at inside linebacker and an edge spot, especially Collins.

It is pure speculation, but could this give a versatile defender used to rushing the passer and dropping into coverage like Josh Allen a boost on the Jets’ draft board?

One guy stays deep middle.

While the Williams defense looked to bring pressure from all angles, there was one predictable thing. One safety was going to play the deep middle of the field. Damorious Randall was the single high safety in man coverage on 12 of the 18 plays and had deep responsibilities on some zone plays and one Cover 2 man play.

This is one of the few areas where Williams was not trying to fool anybody.

One would presume the Randall role with the Jets will belong to Marcus Maye.

There is frequent linebacker blitzing...with a tell.

There is a clear intent to put into the offense’s head that pressure can come from any angle. Joe Schobert alone blitzed 9 times from the inside linebacker spot on these 18 plays.

There was also a tendency that tipped what Schobert was doing. Essentially he did the opposite of whatever he showed presnap. On plays when he dropped into coverage, he tended to show blitz presnap.

When he blitzed it came without a presnap threat.

It isn’t clear whether Williams had Schobert do this intentionally or whether Schobert was freelancing. In any event, this is the type of tendency you’d like to see eliminated, especially in a defense that is trying to be unpredictable with its blitzes.

Anyway, one of the reasons I initially liked the Jets’ selection of Darron Lee in the 2016 Draft was how I thought he would fit in Todd Bowles’ scheme. A heavy blitzing defense that brings pressure from all angles frequently leads to breakdowns in protection. I felt a linebacker with Lee’s speed could take advantage blitzing and fly through those breaches when they happen up the middle.

According to PFF, Lee was only the 38th most frequent blitzer among off ball linebackers in 2018. Perhaps a heavier diet of blitzing in Williams’ aggressive defense can help unlock the player I was hoping to see.


These are, of course, the tendencies of only one situation, but the situation carries some of the most important plays of any football game. If nothing else it shows us how the defensive coordinator thinks through critical snaps. It might even offer us a window into the way his system and his defense will be built.