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Too Many Breakdowns

NFL: New York Jets at Miami Dolphins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

It is one thing to not be as good as your opponent.

It is difficult to get upset with undrafted rookie cornerback (not that) Lamar Jackson for being repeatedly beaten by DeAndre Hopkins in the Jets’ Week 5 loss to the Cardinals.

What is frustrating is how frequently in 2020 Jets failures within games aren’t about talent. Take two of Miami’s three touchdowns on Sunday.

The Dolphins fake a handoff going left while tight end Adam Shaheen slips out from the left of the formation running to the right side.

Nobody ever picks Shaheen up, and Ryan Fitzpatrick has one of the easiest touchdown passes of his career.

What happened here? Based on what how the Jets played other receivers, it looks like man coverage.

Somebody was supposed to pick up Shaheen. Based on the presnap alignment, that looks like Bradley McDougald who totally bites on the run fake.

It’s also possible, however, that the Jets were supposed to switch assignments if Shaheen broke to the other side of the formation. It would be easier for Neville Hewitt or even Avery Williamson to pick him up if Shaheen’s route went to an area where one of those linebackers was alinged at the snap. Unfortunately they also bit on the run.

I’m not entirely sure which of the three was supposed to pick up Shaheen, but I am pretty confident in saying one of them blew this coverage in a big way. Play action and run-pass options are designed to force defenders to make the wrong decision committing to either the run or pass assignments. It worked here for Miami.

Fast forward to the second quarter. The Dolphins are once again in scoring range.

Mack Hollins comes goes in motion on this play. Brian Poole is following him.

You can see Brian Poole make a hand signal to Pierre Desir.

Desir acknowledges it.

My strong guess is that these guys are agreeing to switch assignments. With Hollins now lined up outside, Desir is in a much better position to take him.

Poole is in position to take Durham Smythe, originally assigned to Desir, who is lined up inside.

At the snap Smythe breaks outside.

Meanwhile both Desir and Poole focus on Hollins.

Smythe ends up wide open for another easy touchdown.

Is this Poole’s fault? Remember, before the snap he switched to Smythe. It’s not entirely clear he’s culpable, though. It’s entirely possible there was a rule built into the coverage that they were supposed to switch again if Smythe’s route broke outside since Desir would be in a better position to cover him.

My guess would be that Poole thought there was such a rule, and Desir didn’t. Without being in the huddle we can’t know which player was right. On a side note, the idea that defenders could potentially have to process two switches so quickly is a reminder of how complex schemes are in the NFL.

In any event, the results were not good for the Jets. This might be an undertalented team, but too many breakdowns aren’t because of talent.