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2020 Opponent Scouting Report: Jets Defense; mostly former Colts

New York Jets v Buffalo Bills Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Overview

On September 27th, 2020 the Indianapolis Colts will host the New York Jets. In this Week 3 match-up, I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may attack our Colts.

The Colts vs. Jets is a classic NFL matchup. The two teams have met 74 times since their most famous, initial meeting in Super Bowl 3. Our Colts currently lead the all time series 42-32, but long gone are the days of Joe Namath’s Super Bowl guarantee and Peyton’s excellence. In their past five contests the Jets are 4-1 against our Colts. The Colts one win came in a 41 to 10 shellacking in 2016. Outside of that win, recent history favors the opponent.

Let’s see what we can expect in week three.


Defense:

Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is among the most controversial coordinators in NFL history. The famed scapegoat architect of the New Orleans Saints “Bountygate” scandal, Williams is perhaps the most infamous NFL coach to never be convicted of a real crime. Between his lengthy suspension following that scandal and his well known abrasive personality, hiring Williams to call your defense comes with certain problems that are likely mitigated by just staying out of his way. His relationship with Adam Gase has come into question but for now they seem to be making it work.

For all of the shade I threw at Adam Gase yesterday, it’s tough to do the same with Williams. The numbers don’t look good right now. but the tape tells a different story. Let’s get into the specifics of Williams defense and why I think this Jets defense will be, at worst, a middle of the road unit by the end of the season.

The basics:

Williams’ defense has historically been a 4-3 base. Obviously that’s not a super important designation to make in 2020, but no one says “We run a base nickel” so we still talk about it. Having said all of this, the 2020 Jets look far more like a 3-4 team than Williams traditional 4-3 system. You’ll most often see the fourth pass rusher in a two point stance on one of the edges.

Basic alignment

Here the Jets defense comes out in its base alignment. The Bills have two backs and three receivers on the field. The Jets will often drop into a zone if they aren’t blitzing, but they blitz kind of a lot.

Corner depth

Defensive back depth has long been a Gregg Williams defense talking point. In some instances it will allow corners and safeties the ability to drive on balls thrown in front of them. Other times, like in the clip above, two out routes ran to the same side of the field, one shallow and one at 10 yards, will pull the play side linebacker up and create a throwing lane for the quarterback to pick up a fairly easy first down completion.

Another side effect of this pre-snap depth is the fact that deep, game changing passes are, at least in theory, more difficult to hit.

Tricky

I probably should have shown you this clip last, I could still move it but this clip is named “Jets D clip 3...” and I can’t change that so I’ll need you, the reader, to imagine you already know how much Gregg Williams likes to blitz.

Before the snap the Jets show blitz with six defenders. This wouldn’t be out of the norm. Instead after the ball is snapped four of the defenders showing a blitz before the snap drop into coverage and if you’re wondering where that third pass rusher came from on the left side of the screen, that’s a corner!

I probably should have mentioned how much Gregg Williams loves blitzing defensive backs. I found some old stats from Williams’ time with the Los Angeles Rams those numbers aren’t relevant at all when talking about these Jets but the long and short of it is, nobody wants to send his DB’s screaming toward the backfield more than Williams.

Told you it wasn’t weird for them to send six

The Jets send all six men showing blitz. They don’t get the sack but it goes in the books as a positive play for the defense. I do believe that a veteran quarterback like Philip Rivers will be able to get the Colts offense into a better play than Josh Allen did for the Bills on this one. Unless Gregg Williams is terrified of Rivers ability to beat his blitz (he’s not) then we will see my theory tested on Sunday.

They aren’t even trying to hide the corner blitz

When a defense sends a linebacker on a blitz it’s common to see a safety start creeping down into the box to fill the void in the field that is created by his rush. Pro-tip to “impressing” your casual football-fan friends: while watching a game with them, watch for a safety to start creeping up and smugly mention that they’re “sending a backer” and your friends will think you’re basically Peyton Manning (they won’t but they might stop inviting you to watch games with them).

Anyway, here the Jets drop a safety right on top of the corner and have the corner show blitz. Often throwing behind the blitz is a good way to beat it, but the safety was already covering the receiver before the ball was even snapped. This is another adjustment that I hope Rivers will be able to make that Allen just wasn’t able to do.

The Jets defense under Gregg Williams isn’t passive, it isn’t simple and regardless of the talent on his roster he’s going to keep his foot on the gas to try to keep the pressure on the offense. So far the numbers haven’t looked great for this defense, but after watching both games so far, I think they’re a better unit than most seem to think and Gregg Williams, once again, will get a lot of credit at the end of the season for getting the most out of a undermanned defense.


Defensive Line:

The Jets like to rotate defenders in general so I’ll give you the names of all seven defensive linemen who have logged snaps so far this season. The man with the fewest logged snaps is former Cincinnati Bengals 2017 third round pick Jordan Willis, and even he’s managed to play nearly 24% of the teams snaps after not playing in week two.

Now that he’s out of the way lets talk about everyone else; We’ll start with Quinnen Williams. First I don’t understand how anyone could ever hate this guy, I mean maybe if he steals your girlfriend or something but from his public persona, I would love to hang out with this dude for a day (on his dime of course, he was selected third overall in the 2019 NFL Draft).

I love this video, not just because of the funny moments at the beginning “I’m going to go home and play with myself... that came out weird”, “bless you, thank you” but the moments at the end when he’s signing autographs for the kids and talking to them like he’s one of them. Quinnen Williams just seems like a warm, joyus, fun person and this week I hope Quenton Nelson drives him into the ground over and over again.

That said he probably won’t be able to do it on command as Williams has looked really good so far in year two. On top of consistently filling rushing lanes the big man has two sacks and a forced fumble so far. Watching Williams and Nelson battle will be fun, but I don’t expect Nelson to come out completely unscathed.

Colts fans should probably remember the name Henry Anderson. Jim Irsay once referred to him as a building block of the Indianapolis Colts defense. In April of 2018 Chris Ballard traded Anderson to the Jets for a sixth round pick in that years draft. The Colts went on to select Deon Cain in the sixth round that year. Ballard said the move was mostly due to Anderson’s odd fit in the teams defense moving forward. Part of me believes there was something else, maybe it was a personality issue, I’m not sure because I still believe Anderson would have been, at absolute worst, a good rotational player in a one gap system. If it truly was about fit, and that’s all I have to go on at this point, it stands as my least favorite roster move of the Chris Ballard era. This Sunday Anderson will rotate heavily and if I had to guess will want to show Ballard that he made a mistake two years ago.

Second year defensive end Kyle Phillips has played just under half the Jets snaps while 34 year old nose tackle Steve McLendon has played on nearly 42% of the time. Defensive tackles, Nathan Shepherd (solid last name, no relation) and Folorunso Fatukasi (don’t make me say it) have rotated in close to 35% of the time.

The Jets defensive line rotation is deep and outside of two big plays have been solid against the run.

Just two down linemen

This play highlights why I think these guys are far better than the 182 yards they allowed against the San Francisco 49ers in week two. Steve McLendon eats this double team and Nathan Shepherd knifes into the backfield, making them wish they had doubled him too. What results is a relatively free flow to the ball for the linebackers on the play side. Before the snap this front looks like it should be wide open for the ground game, instead the Jets stop it for a loss.

Two down linemen again

This time it was Shepherd’s turn to take on the double team while McLendon got penetration. These two occupied three offensive linemen while disrupting the ball carriers path and allowing their teammates to come make a tackle.

Four guys with their hand in the dirt

Jordan Jenkins, number 48, is listed as an outside linebacker on the Jets roster. Here he lines up with his hand on the ground. Once the ball is snapped Jenkins walks the left guard back, gets off the block and makes the stop with the help of a penetrating Quinnen Williams. This Jets defensive line is full of solid run defenders.

Williams and McLendon again

Quinnen Williams made seven time pro-bowler Trent Williams consider retirement on this play. Trent Williams was unable to get the reach, meanwhile the guard was busy trying not to die at McLendon’s hand and the right guard should have his Madden awareness rating dropped all the way to 12 as he literally ran past a mostly unblocked Quinnen Williams to help chip an OLB the running back had already taken care of.

49ers offensive line issues aside, this Jets defensive line has some talent and they are really good taking away rushing lanes. The guys playing behind them have some issues, in large part because the Colts have yet to trade them one of ours.


Linebackers:

The Colts didn’t trade Tarell Basham to the New York Jets, instead they claimed him off of waivers after a highly disappointing 25 games as a Colt. In all Basham has had a better career with the Jets than he was likely to have with the Colts as Indy needed him to develop into a productive pass rusher, something that he just can’t be.

Outside of the former Colt, I really don’t know how they rotate so many guys but here we are. I’m just going to give you the list of names and then we’ll talk about a few of them before we get to the clips. The names to know: Neville Hewitt, Harvi Langi, Jordan Jenkins, Alec Ogletree and Avery Williamson.

Hewitt, who is listed as an inside linebacker, has only been off the field for two defensive snaps so far this season. It’s safe to say we’ll see him on Sunday. Langi played in most of week one but saw his snaps drop dramatically in week two with the practice squad call up of Ogletree and Williamson’s return from injury.

Hewitt, based on what I’ve seen has been fine. He won’t ever be confused for a great linebacker but the Jets could certainly do worse at the position. Langi and Ogletree don’t seem to be very good at professional football. To be fair to Ogletree he’s only played 34 snaps, my sample size was limited but things don’t look good, at all. Williamson has only played 17 snaps and outside of one play I would be lying if I told you I noticed him at all. Historically he’s been productive as a tackler, one would assume that will continue with more opportunity.

Some defenses want to “play fast”

The Jets seem to want to play slow. Alec Ogletree looks like he was shot out of a maple tap (yes, I just linked you to that, I’m not sure people realize how slow a tapped maple can be and that would ruin my Ogletree joke). Obviously you would like to see Hewitt not get reached by the center and then you would like him to get off the block and then you would like him to at least be in a position to slow the running back down but he was none of those things.

Henry Anderson went inside, Quicy Wilson (27) set a super soft edge, safety Bradley McDougald (30) was predictably blocked by a larger tight end and the rest is history. The Jets needed their linebackers to make a play here and they couldn’t do it.

Good thing they have Quinnen Williams

Ogletree is taken out of this play by his poor movement skills and the softest block a 190 pound receiver can throw and Hewitt ends this play 7 yards down field from the original line of scrimmage. I can’t even argue that Hewitt was so far away from the ball carrier because he was “maintaining his gap” because he clearly was doing no such thing. I believe the man you see hurling himself to the ground instead of cleanly taking on the fullback is Kyle Phillips. Phillips has played exactly one down this season and this is what he did with it.

Marcus Maye (20) and Quinnen Williams combine to make this stop in the backfield.

Help isn’t coming

I’ve watched this play probably a hundred times and I can’t figure the assignments out. I’m not sure if Avery Williamson (54) overruns his assignment or if safety Marcus Maye is supposed to fill faster than he does here.

Ultimately the 49ers did a good job gaining good angles on their defenders on this play which allowed a nice gain. The good news for the Jets is that WIlliamson at least fought off his block and joined in on the tackling effort.

Yikes

On this play Alec Ogletree looks like if I’m playing Madden and user controlling the inside linebacker because I’ve decided I’m tired of playing defensive end. I, like Ogletree, get completely lost, take bad angles and end up going back to playing defensive end because I don’t give up 55 yard runs when I play defensive end.

You guys remember when Michael Jordan did that thing where he made a free throw with his eyes closed and it was the coolest thing in the world? Well Alec Ogletree tried to play this down with his eyes closed too and it was only cool if you’re a 49ers fan.

These Jets linebackers leave a lot to be desired. Until Avery Williamson works all the way back from a torn ACL, Hewitt and Ogletree will somehow have to overcome their weaknesses and even then they’re relying on Avery freaking Williamson to be the savior of the position group. At this point the Jets might be desperate enough to offer another second round pick for Zaire Franklin (this is a joke, no one is giving us a day two pick for Zaire Franklin, relax).


Defensive Backs:

If you thought you had heard about some former Colts before, whew buddy, I’m about to blow your mind!

First I’m going to start with the guys that have never played for the Colts: Safeties Marcus Maye and Bradley McDougald. Corners Blessuan Austin and Brian Poole.

Former Colts include Quincy Wilson, Nate Harriston and Pierre Desir. Wilson left last weeks game with a concussion and his status is unknown for this weeks game. As a Colts fan I doubt he plays. Nate Hairston was cut and resigned by the Jets before the season began. He played in week one but didn’t log a snap in week two, might be something to watch for this week. Desir does have an interception and has played most of the teams snaps but don’t confuse that with playing well.

Much like the linebackers, the scheme (blitzes causing pressure) will need to cover up their deficiencies at corner. McDougald has his moments against the run and Marcus Maye is easily the Jets best established defender.

Notice the depth on 3rd down

This is a feature of Gregg Williams defense and because the corner was a fraction of a second late in his break, this 3rd down is converted pretty easily.

This one might be tough to see

But that’s safety Marcus Maye not biting on celebrated route runner Stefon Diggs’ outside fake before undercutting the route and nearly getting an interception. Maye is solid in all aspects of his game and I expect to see him all over the field on Sunday.

Maye with the sack

This wasn’t a great play but it was great effort. Maye got off of the running backs block to bring down the quarterback. I really meant it when I said I expected Maye to be all over the field.

Maybe this is why he didn’t play in week two

On third and seven Nate Hairston tackles Stefon Diggs long before the ball arrived. In the famous words of every student section, ever, you can’t do that.

This play was almost impossible to defend

Given the play call those corners didn’t stand a chance with the way those routes were designed and run. That said, the Colts could look to exploit the Jets cover one blitz packages in the same way.

The cupboard isn’t as bare at DB as it seems to be at linebacker for these Jets. Marcus Maye should be a solid starter for years to come and their corners stand to benefit from the pressure generated by Gregg Williams aggressive blitz packages.


Final Thoughts:

The Jets are lacking talent at several spots on the defense but Gregg Williams will pull more out of this group than he has any right to. I’m certain of one thing and that is the fact that the defensive line is capable of playing well against the run, I’m far less certain that if Jonathan Taylor makes it to the second level that the Jets linebackers will even be able to touch him as he runs by.