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Let’s Look At The Jets Defense

What scheme do we play and who else can help the Jets

Football Player Mark Gastineau

In our ongoing effort to improve the Jets roster we turn our attention to the defensive side of the ball. The free agent market has been severely picked through but there are still some players available that could help the Jets in the upcoming season.

For the purposes of identifying players who fit the Jets defensive scheme you first have to understand the defense the Jets will run. While the defenses will be switched up on occasion the Jet will run primarily a 4-3 under defense with cover 3 used in the secondary.

4-3 Under defense

The 4-3 under defensive system is a variation of the normal 4-3 defense which is 4 down linemen and 3 linebackers behind them. The traditional 4-3 defense is a single gap defense which means that every player in the 4-3 has a gap that is their responsibility. It has two defensive ends with one player as a 5 tech which means he is playing the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle. The other DE is outside the shoulder of the last man on the line which usually means the TE on the strongside. The strongside of the formation is always to the side the tight end is on.

The first defensive tackle will line up on either the nose of the center or in most cases on the shoulder of the center to the weak side of the offensive line. The other defensive tackle will play off the shoulder of the guard on the strong side of the formation or what is commonly called the 3 tech.

The Mike (middle LB) will play either over the center or in the gap between the center and guard to the strong side of the formation. The Sam LB will play as an off ball LB either directly over the TE or on his inside shoulder. The Will LB will play as an off ball LB outside the 5 tech on the weak side. This is the most basic of alignments but everyone runs a variation of this 4-3 setup.

The picture below is a version of the 4-3 under defense which basically shifts the Sam LB to the line or a step off the line making almost a 5-2 alignment. This is one variation from the traditional 4-3 defensive scheme. You can see that each player has one of the gaps which is his responsibility. This is a strong run stopping defense but also a defense that can be effective in rushing the passer if you send all 5 men plus a Blitzer.

On the back end the defense will primarily run a cover 3 type zone defense. The image below is courtesy of “Inside the Pylon” and gives a basic insight into how the defense is run.

The free safety and the two outside corners simply divide their areas up with each taking a third of the secondary with the 2nd level of the defense taking away most underneath routes. In most “11” formations the outside corners will play off man coverage against the outside receivers who run vertical routes. The strong safety is usually in run support but has the ability to drop back or even cover a single player (like a tight end) at times. This defense can adjust coverages quickly by moving into cover 4 or exchanging coverages with different personnel packages on the field.

It is a defense that historically helps prevent big plays but needs a solid pass rush to be effective. It tries to force underneath throws and dump off passes in the flat to avoid a sack. It utilizes player speed to race to the ball forcing minimal gains because of the coverage and limited time to throw.

When looking for players in this defense you want quicker/faster linebackers that have coverage skills and good anticipation abilities to read offensive play formations, then get to the ball immediately once it is thrown. Of course you still want LBs who are strong against the running game to quickly read the play and make their run fits.

You want corners who have the speed to stay in man coverage but also the size to make plays on the edge of the defense against the run or short passing game. When Seattle played their version of the cover 3 they looked for bigger corners with speed but also long arms (32”+) which helped in coverage along with aiding in solid tackling.

The Seattle defense made a big/slow safety in Cam Chancellor into a star since it allowed him to play as another Will linebacker with coverage abilities. Chancellor was a 6’ 3” 232 lbs safety with 4.69/40 speed, but since he played in that short zone position as a strong safety he made a huge impact and was a leader on the “legion of boom.”

This is why the Jets drafted Jamien Sherwood (6’ 1 1/2” 216 lbs) 4.76/40 with 34” arms. NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline described Sherwood as:

Large, explosive safety with a physical game. Terrific run defender who is aggressive and takes on bigger opponents. Takes good angles to the action, attacks ball handlers, and works to finish plays. Athletic, has excellent length, and flashes ability in zone coverage when facing the action. Picks up coverage assignments in the middle of the field and works well with cornerbacks. Lacks next-level recovery speed. Slow transitioning with opponents in man coverage and does a lot of face guarding.

They also drafted Hamsah Nasirildeen (6’ 3 1/4” 215 lbs) 4.52/40 with 34 1/4” arms. Tony Pauline describes Nasirildeen as:

Tough safety with nice size who is best playing in the box and between the numbers. Explosive run defender who squares into tackles and easily brings opponents down at the point of attack. Quick to read and diagnose, stays with assignments, and displays a good head for the ball. Works well with cornerbacks to bracket receivers in the middle of the field. Displays no burst and limited quickness. Not smooth flipping his hips and struggles making plays in reverse. Consistently beaten during coverage drills at Senior Bowl practices.

The Jets had a certain type of player in mind and like Chancellor the Jets selected their players late in the draft, with Jamien Sherwood going in the 5th round # 146 and Hamsah Nasirildeen being too good to pass up in the 6th round #186. These players fit the profile of a box safety in a cover 3 defense and could be draft day steals just like Chancellor was believed to be for the Seahawks.

Who is left for the Jets as a defensive Free Agent who fits the Jet profile?

The Jets are rather thin at linebacker with a rookie or Blake Cashman penciled in as the starting Will LB. Cashman has been average at best when he has played but also has missed significant playing time because of injury the last two years. A couple of players the Jets could bring in if the price is right could be:

LB- De’Vontre Campbell 6’ 4” 232 lbs 4.58/40 speed

Campbell is a 5 year veteran who has had over 90 tackles each of the last 4 seasons with moderate coverage ability. He would be a solid if unspectacular signing who could probably be signed to a prove it contract. He could be a nice bridge for the Jets so they could see how the other players the Jets have penciled in as a Will LB look in the defense.

LB- K. J. Wright 6’ 4” 246 lbs 4.75/40

Wright is a smart player who anticipates the play well and would be a superior upgrade to the defense. He is perennially one of the top rated players at his position and would bring a world of experience to the Jets. He always plays faster than his speed and would be a wealth of information to our young players. He may be willing to sign with the Jets because of Robert Saleh’s presence as a skilled defensive coach. He may be more expensive than the Jets were willing to spend but would signal a “win now” attitude to the rest of the team.

The cornerback position is another area of need with some unproven players to get significant playing time should there be just a few injuries.

CB- Gareon Conley 6’ 0 1/4” 195 lbs 4.44/40 33” arms

Conley was the 24th overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft by Jon Gruden in Oakland but never panned out and then had some injury problems. Still Conley has the size and speed to excel as an outside CB in the cover 3 system and may be looking for a new start with a solid defensive mind in Robert Saleh. Conley is worth the middling price it would take to sign him and could be a revelation to the defense. It would be a prove it deal that would be a low risk gamble with a huge upside.

CB- Cordrea Tankersley 6’ 0 3/4” 199 lbs 4.40/40 32 1/4” arms

Tankersley has been a bust in the NFL so far as a 3rd round pick of the Dolphins back in 2017. He has the requisite size and speed to excel in the Saleh defense and may only need a chance in a new defensive system. It would be a minimum level contract with virtually no downside with the possibility of a home run.

CB- Akeem King 6’ 1 1/2” 215 lbs 4.43/40 31 3/4” arms

King would be another cheap, low risk signing who played in the cover 3 system in Seattle. He has all the measurables you are looking for to play in the Jets scheme and he is reaching his prime years at 28 years old.

CB- Jamar Taylor 5’ 10 5/8” 192 lbs 4.39/40 30 3/4” arms

Taylor is a little smaller than what the Jets probably want but he brings in 8 years of experience with 7 different teams. His last two teams were Seattle and San Francisco so Robert Saleh must know him fairly well. What he thinks of Taylor is anyone’s guess but he would slide into a rotation seamlessly with his knowledge of the defense. He would probably sign for the veteran minimum so that is also a plus.

I was hoping that the Jets would kick the tires on Breshaud Breeland but he was just signed by the Minnesota Vikings. There was also some hope that the Jets would sign Steve Nelson but that is probably not going to happen as Nelson wants top dollar and is worth it if he can get it. The Jets would rather not use a lot of capital at this point in the process but rather see what develops from their draft picks and free agents. Richard Sherman’s name has been bandied about because of his respect for Robert Saleh but he wants to play for a contender at this point in his career so this marriage is unlikely.

The Jets currently have a glut of players at safety and the defensive line so there is no need to look for players there. The Jets recently signed Ronald Blair as an edge presence; this move was anticipated by many here with his knowledge and the fact Robert Saleh has stated his like for Blair in the past. The only hold up to his signing was his health which hopefully is in good shape now.

It is uncertain if Joe Douglas wants to bring in any more players before training camp. I’m sure he has gotten some calls from GMs who want to trade players who might be on their way out with their team, hoping to get some draft capital back. Reason dictates that Joe will probably hold his draft picks and wait for some roster cuts before he makes a move. He has a lot of evaluating to do with his current roster and if he does bring in another free agent it might mean he is currently unhappy with the players or depth at that position. We shall see in the coming weeks.

That’s what I think.

What do you think?