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The Jets Have a Carl Lawson Sized Hole on Defense

NFL: New York Jets at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Last week we discussed the core of the Jets base defense. Play calling is situational, however.

On a first down on the 30 yard line halfway through the first quarter, it is a pretty good bet that the Jets will be running some sort of soft Cover 3. Things can change once we get to third down.

I think if they had the choice, Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich would prefer to rush four and play coverage frequently. Sometimes the realities of your roster force you to adjust.

In that piece on the Jets defense linked above I discussed why Carl Lawson was so important to make the scheme work. The same could be said on third down. This is where you want to get after the quarterback.

I think Lawson’s injury has likely changed the playcalling on these third down situations. It doesn’t seem like Saleh and Ulbrich trust that the Jets can generate a pass rush without their prized free agent addition. This has led them to go against their possibly more conservative sensibilities.

In the first forty minutes of the Jets’ loss to Denver on Sunday the Broncos had eight passing plays called on third down. The Jets blitzed on half of them.

You might be thinking, “Don’t the Jets have Quinnen Williams? Isn’t he supposed to pick up the slack with Lawson out?”

The answer is yes, but it isn’t always easy for Quinnen. The math of the offensive line makes it difficult for him. Imagine a play where the defense has four pass rushers. If you conduct a comprehensive and detailed analysis of football offenses, you will discover the offensive line has five players. That means the offense is always going to be able to double team one pass rusher. That player will frequently be Quinnen.

However, blitzing six as the Jets do on this play guarantees that Quinnen will get a one on one to feast on. The five offensive linemen and a back who stays in to block all are one on one.

Advantage Quinnen.

Blitzing also improves the math. It’s basic. If you rush four, you need one out of four pass rushers (25%) to win his assignment and get to the quarterback. If you rush five, you only need one out of five (20%).

John Franklin-Myers shows how much he likes that math as he generates a pressure to force an errant pass.

Any sort of call has inherent strengths and weaknesses. With the Jets, these weaknesses are rather pronounced. You have to remember how little the team invested at the cornerback position this offseason. The plan was clearly to not ask much out of these corners. The defense was built on giving them fairly simple assignments in small zones while Lawson got to the quarterback.

Extra pass rushers don’t just fall out of the sky. Every blitzer you send is taken out of coverage. That means the guys in the back of the defense have to cover more ground. Brandin Echols has held up fine playing a small deep zone and keeping things in front of him. When you ask him to run down the field in a man to man situation, with a receiver like Courtland Sutton, it is likely to be a big penalty if the blitz doesn’t get home.

And trying to generate a pass rush through blitzing leaves a defense vulnerable in other ways. Part of the idea behind blitzing is to try and catch the offense by surprise. If you send somebody they aren’t expecting, they might get a free run at the quarterback. You would normally expect Michael Carter II to cover the slot receiver while Marcus Maye plays a deep zone on third down.

However, on this play Carter is blitzing while Maye has man coverage against the slot receiver.

If the blitz doesn’t get home, you’ve got a really bad matchup on your hands. I have seen Maye get roasted for his coverage on KJ Hamler here, but I’m not sure how fair it is. This is Maye’s fifth season. How many times have you seen him match up on a wide receiver? It just isn’t in his skillset. If the Broncos picked up this blitz, it was almost guaranteed to be a big completion against Maye.

How well did these blitzes work out for the Jets? You actually know the answer. These were the four blitzes on eight plays. Twice they worked out well. Twice they did not.

Without Lawson the Jets are trying to manufacture a pass rush. It’s a high risk, high reward game.