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Third Down Adjustments

New York Jets v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

When you’re trying to find tendencies on an opponent, you have to look at specific situations. What a defense calls on first down isn’t going to tell you much about what it will do on third down. Distances matter too. What a defense does on third and short doesn’t necessarily tell you much about its third and long tendencies.

Let’s take a look at how the Falcons scored a touchdown by figuring out what the Jets were doing defensively the first three times Atlanta had a third and long.

On this first third and long the Falcons have three receivers to the right of their formation. There are only two Jets defenders in this area.

Now there is a deep safety over the inside receiver so it is possible this is a matchup in man coverage.

Still that wouldn’t be an easy cover. Something seems amiss. In the NFL when something seems amiss, it usually is. It seems likely one of the potential blitzers at the line of scrimmage is going to drop and help out the safety.

Indeed CJ Mosley drops at the snap.

Because Mosley is dropping from the middle of the field, he has inside leverage and is positioned perfectly to take away an inside breaking route.

An outside route or pass would have been a much more difficult cover from where Mosley was aligned.

Rewinding a bit, the Falcons set their protection to the right of the formation anticipating the need to pick up Mosley as a blitzer. This leaves them vulnerable to the left side as Sharrod Wilson blitzes and Quincy Williams loops around to that side.

Williams eventually gets through as the Jets have more rushers on the left side of the offensive formation than the Falcons have blockers.

Now we all know there was a penalty here that was a controversial call. On the whole, however, I think on this play the execution was good for the Jets and bad for the Falcons.

On the next third and long play, the Falcons again have three receivers to the right of the formation with only two Jets defenders.

Again we can probably presume somebody showing blitz will drop into coverage.

This time, however, the deep safety is not aligned over the inside receiver. There is neither the illusion he will play in man coverage nor is he in a position to help on a vertical route.

Again Mosley drops (along with Williams this time). He again is in position to take away an inside breaking route.

However, a hypothetical throw to the outside would be vulnerable.

The Falcons run a screen here that the Jets stop, making the blocking assignments close to irrelevant.

Now let’s move to the third time Atlanta had a third and long. This one had consequences.

Here the Jets disguise their look a bit. Michael Carter II follows wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus in motion as though he has man coverage.

However, Carter blitzes off the snap.

Before we go any deeper, I want to give a lot of credit to Atlanta running back Mike Davis here. He is lined up on Matt Ryan’s left side. The offensive line protection is also focused on the left side after the blitz came from there last time. Davis does a great job working to his right to pick up Carter.

Now back to the routes. Carter blitzing again leaves the Jets with two defenders against three receivers on the right side of the field.

Here the deep safety is on the left hash so he can’t provide any help.

So we know somebody who was threatening blitz again has to drop from the middle of the field. In this case it is Bryce Huff.

Huff isn’t exactly a natural cover guy to begin with, but without any safety support he is totally exposed to any throw to the outside.

It’s possible this play was what is known as a sight adjustment. That means the quarterback and the receiver both adjust the route postsnap in response to the defense.

Hayden Hurst seems like he might be angling his body upfield running a different route. He also doesn’t have much of a break. He just kind of turns around when he sees the coverage.

Ryan also makes sure to put the ball on the outside shoulder away from Huff.

There are advantages to having youth, but a play like this can show the beauty of having veteran players. The more experienced quarterbacks and pass catchers can process things like this quicker. You can add complex concepts like sight adjustments more regularly.

Of course Arthur Smith and the Falcons coaching staff also might deserve credit. Somebody might have spotted this in the press box and gone over with it on the sideline with the players for the next time the situation arose.

It’s also possible the coaches just called this play anticipating the vulnerability, and none of this had to do with a sight adjustment.

What can we say about this from the Jets’ perspective? This is a high risk-high reward call. If Carter gets the sack, you’re a genius for blitzing a player they never would have expected. If the blitz doesn’t get home, you’re a fool for exposing Huff in coverage.

Last week against Tennessee the Jets called a number of high risk blitzes that left them just as exposed in the back of the defense. Those just got home and were deemed smart.

For the coaches, I will say that it did seem like the call fooled Atlanta up front. Only a great read and blitz pickup by Davis prevented this from being a sack.

At the same time, I do have to question any call that leaves a pass rusher like Bryce Huff so exposed in coverage. Even if he did have that help from the safety, this call could have been a little less dangerous. Here you are essentially conceding a touchdown if the blitz doesn’t get to the quarterback. The Jets coaches clearly didn’t seem to spot this vulnerability.

But ultimately Atlanta has to get some credit here. They picked up on a tendency and figured out how to exploit it.