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Third Ups and Downs

NFL: NOV 14 Bills at Jets Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I mentioned earlier in the week that some of the complaints about the Jets leaving Stefon Diggs one on one last week against Buffalo might have been misplaced. Mainly this was so because the defense couldn’t execute on plays where Diggs got extra attention.

There is one specific instance, however, where I would criticize the coaches for their call. It came late in the second quarter of Sunday’s loss. On a third down play from the red zone, the defensive call left Javelin Guidry on an island against Diggs. Diggs beat him for a touchdown.

The reason for my criticism goes beyond the result or even the mismatch. It just seemed like a very ill-conceived call.

By that point in the game, Buffalo had one previous third down play in the red zone. They aligned Diggs on the left side of the formation and took a shot to the end zone with him one on one against Brandin Echols.

Further to this, Guidry had entered the game one play earlier. On that play, Buffalo had done the exact same thing. Diggs was on the left side of the formation. He was one on one against Guidry. They went after him and almost got a touchdown.

It isn’t really a secret what Buffalo is going to want to do here. The only other time they were in this situation they went to Diggs. The previous play they went to Diggs. A backup corner is in the game. They’ll love nothing more than to match up their best receiver against him.

My issue isn’t even so much that the Jets left Guidry one on one against Diggs. Playing defense in the NFL requires mixing things up and sometimes gambling you can get away with unfavorable matchups. My bigger problem is how the Jets telegraphed things.

Here you see the Jets load the area near the line of scrimmage with defenders.

This is a pretty common move on a third down play as the Jets try to manufacture a pass rush with blitzes. This fills the area with potential blitzers. It can confuse the blocking scheme. The offense needs to figure out which players are rushing and which are dropping. Then the protection needs to be set accordingly.

However, while an approach like this can create confusion in the front of the defense, it simplifies the reads in the back of the defense. With all of these players loaded at the line of scrimmage, it becomes obvious presnap to Josh Allen that he’s going to have Diggs vs. Guidry one on one, and that’s a matchup he’s going to try to exploit.

Even if everybody drops back into coverage from the line, they aren’t going to be able to get back quickly enough to help Guidry. And since Allen already knows where he’s going before the snap, the blitz isn't going to get home. He can just flip the ball out and trust his guy is going to win this very favorable matchup. All of the disguise is going to produce nothing.

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Moving on, the Bills were also able to exploit some alignment issues for the Jets.

Here Buffalo has an alignment of three receivers close together, but there are only two Jets defenders in the area.

In a numbers disadvantage, somebody is going to end up open.

This was so easy for Buffalo that it’s difficult to say whether the Jets simply lined up incorrectly or whether they were trying to disguise their intentions again. Either way, Buffalo took advantage of the defense in a similar way we saw Atlanta do back in London.

On this third down play, the Jets loading the line of scrimmage again gives away man coverage. Man coverage is susceptible to horizontal routes setting picks on defenders. That’s what the Bills do here.

The Bills did their homework preparing for this game. Previously we saw them beat the Jets similarly to how Atlanta did in London. This time they went to an almost identical concept to one the Colts ran on a third down when the Jets had telegraphed a blitz one week earlier.

Now if you’re looking for a positive here, you might remember in this article full of callbacks that I mentioned last week the Jets were giving away their blitzes by having CJ Mosley line up in the B gap and rush the passer. Mosley was blitzing an inordinate number of times from that alignment.

On this play Mosley was in the B gap.

Buffalo is expecting him to blitz. They set their blocking assignments to pick him up.

Mosley drops at the snap, though, which leaves room for Quincy Williams as a blitzer to potentially get home.

The best case scenario here for Buffalo is they have a back pick up Williams. Perhaps it would work, but it’s easier to beat a running back block than an offensive lineman block. In this sense the Jets schemed a more favorable matchup. The protection was built for four offensive linemen to take the four defensive linemen. The fifth offensive lineman was assigned the most likely blitzer. That was Mosley, perhaps due to his tendency to blitz from the B gap. The running back was left for Williams. So the Jets broke their own tendency and created a more favorable matchup. It was ultimately fruitless because the Bills had the perfect play for the man coverage the Jets tipped with their alignment, but this was a positive.

On this note, let’s end with on third down play that had a happy ending.

Again Mosley is in the B gap.

Again the Bills design their protection to have Mosley picked up with an offensive lineman.

Again Mosley drops, and this time he takes away a crossing route Josh Allen is looking at.

The play ends in a sack.

At least one adjustment was made on Sunday because the Jets’ other tendencies left them exposed on the critical third downs.