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Jeff Ulbrich and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad third down play calls

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v New York Jets Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images

Earlier we discussed how the Cowboys might have found and exploited some Jets tendencies on third and short plays. Play calling is more art than science. A coach needs to strike a balance between sticking to his team’s identity and becoming too predictable. Sometimes a tendency can leave a defense vulnerable as the Jets were in those third down situations.

The calls the Jets made were at least defensible. The Cowboys simply had better plays called, ones specifically tailored to beat what the Jets were doing.

Frequently play callers take too much grief when things go wrong. The failure simply comes from the players failing to execute a well constructed play.

Unfortunately for the Jets they had a number of third down plays where the defensive call simply made no sense. In a game that in many ways was decided by the Jets’ inability to get a key stop on third down, this might have been a deciding factor.

Let’s take a look at this third and seven in the second quarter. The Cowboys have four wide receivers on the field. The Jets incredible only counter with only three cornerbacks.

The Jets are in man coverage. This means you are covering a wide receiver, Jalen Tolbert, with a safety, Tony Adams.

You can’t expect a safety to be able to cover a wide receiver man to man. It’s an impossible assignment.

Things go about as well as you would expect.

There are coaches assigned to monitoring the personnel groupings the offense has on the field to make sure the defense matches with the correct personnel. This was so inexplicable that I figured the coach or coaches responsible for the Jets on this play completely messed up.

Then I came across another third down play later in the second quarter. The Jets have three cornerbacks against four wide receivers.

Now Adrian Amos is supposed to cover KaVonte Turpin, who has 4.3 speed.

I guess CJ Mosley is supposed to be there to help on a crossing route, but this matchup is brutal for the Jets.

When you give a veteran quarterback like Dak Prescott this matchup, you might as well just move the sticks before the snap.

We move to the goal line for another key third down snap.

At least the Jets finally get the correct number of corners on the field. On this play Amos is the high safety, and he shades to his left off the snap.

On some level this could be logical. CeeDee Lamb is lined up to this side of the field. He is Dallas’ top receiver. So is Cowboys tight end Jake Ferguson. Dak Prescott loves throwing to tight ends in the red zone. Dallas’ departed tight end Dalton Schultz led the Cowboys in red zone targets a year ago. Here’s the thing. Amos (red) really isn’t going to help cover either player.

Ferguson is double teamed (blue). Lamb is too far towards the sideline for a safety to provide much assistance (yellow). He also is being covered by Sauce Gardner, one of the league’s top three safeties.

The player he could help is Brandin Echols to the other side of the formation. As we are well aware, Echols is the weakest cover corner the Jets have on the field at this point. Maybe the team struggles against tight ends, but you’ve got a double team here.

Echols ends up committing a drive extending penalty.

You might ask how we know Amos didn’t make this decision on his own. It’s possible, but I’ll point to the leverage Echols is playing with. He’s inside the receiver positioning his body to make it more difficult to get to the middle of the field.

That’s a sign he’s not expecting a safety to be in the middle of the field to help him. Otherwise he could position himself to the outside and funnel the receiver to the middle of the field and that safety help. It would have been easier to cover that route, and the odds of success for the Jets would have gone up. Instead the drive continued, and a touchdown followed.

It’s really difficult to understand how this stuff happens, particularly the first two plays when the Jets had the wrong personnel on the field. On those either there were multiple failures to get the correct players on the field, or the Jets coaches have no idea putting a safety against a receiver is a bad idea. These plays all were poorly conceived and set the defense up to fail on some of the most important plays of the game.