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Safety Hazards

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at New York Jets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It is no secret the Jets have struggled on defense this year on numerous levels.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the struggles has been the team’s proclivity to allow big plays. No defense in the NFL has allowed more plays of 20 yards or more than the 64 surrendered by the Jets.

This is particularly troubling because of the style of defense the Jets run. The coaching staff has been quite clear about its “bend but don’t break” proclivities. Every defensive scheme has its strengths and vulnerabilities. The Jets’ system is built on not surrendering big gains. If that means it is easier for the opposing offense to pick up moderate gains, so be it.

Needless to say, it’s a big problem when a defense can’t prevent the types of plays it was specifically built to prevent. There are no scenarios where leading the league in big plays allowed can be viewed as a positive. However, there are defensive schemes built on higher risk concepts. These defenses might live with giving up big plays if they can also force big plays the other way, like turnovers. The Jets have few such plays.

There is no simple answer as to why the Jets defense has these issues. There have been an alarming number of breakdowns caused by players not knowing where to be.

A general lack of talent across the board is another obvious explanation. This manifests itself more in some places than others. The safety position is an area where poor play has especially stood out. The Jets are without both opening day starting safeties, Lamarcus Joyner and Marcus Maye. Both have suffered season-ending injuries. Joyner has been out since the first week. To be fair, the issues allowing big plays began with Maye in the lineup as the fifth year safety was having a difficult season.

The problems have been sticking out just in the weeks that have followed.

In some ways, the safety is kind of like an eraser. As the last line of defense, his job is to prevent bad plays from turning into catastrophes. Not every great safety fills up the statsheet. Sometimes you barely notice it when they clean up somebody else’s mess. When they fail to do so, however, it is glaring.

Take the opening touchdown of Sunday’s loss to the Eagles. CJ Mosley loses one on one against Dallas Goedert in coverage, but this play goes from big gain into touchdown because Ashtyn Davis whiffs on his tackle attempt.

This is the essence of turning a bad play into a catastrophe. Davis’ miss was the difference between a first and goal from just inside the 10 where the Jets defense has a reasonable chance to hold Philadelphia to a field goal and a touchdown.

On this play you can see Elijah Riley taking a bad angle and running into a block. He’s the last line of defense, and the play turns into a touchdown.

Here you see some of the same from Davis on what turns into a 36 yard run.

On this final play the Jets are in man coverage. Man coverage can be more difficult for defenders in the middle of the field than the outside.

An outside corner can play inside the receiver and push the receiver to the sideline.

A slot corner has a more difficult job since the receiver can theoretically run in either direction.

So on this play the Jets have Davis in the middle of the field. Why do they do this? Michael Carter II can play outside the corner, and Davis is in position to help if the route breaks inside.

Unfortunately for the Jets, there is no communication here as Davis takes Carter out, leaving the receiver to run wide open.

I’m not going to get on Elijah Riley for the play he failed to make. If we are going to be honest, he’s probably a practice squad level player who has beaten the odds just by making it to the NFL. He has been pressed into the lineup due to injuries and probably wouldn’t be seeing big snaps otherwise.

Davis, on the other hand, has simply been a disappointment. He is a third round pick who isn’t performing, and it is costing the Jets at the back of the defense.

As we approach the offseason, it is becoming clear that the Jets will have a glaring need at the safety position that will need to be addressed. If they want a defense that prevents the big play, they can’t get performances like this. Joyner and Maye are probably gone, and what remains isn’t good enough.