3 daunting matchups for the NY Jets defense on the 2022 schedule

The New York Jets defense will be overwhelmed against these offenses

Matchups are everything in the game of football. It’s never that easy to just compare two teams’ sheer talent levels. A given team might be tailor-made to beat one team but perfectly engineered to be destroyed by another.

It’s time to wrap up our series analyzing some of the best and worst matchups for the New York Jets in their 2022 schedule. After taking a look at some of the Jets offense’s best and worst matchups, followed by a look at some of the Jets defense’s best matchups, we’re closing today with a look at some of the worst matchups for their defense.

Running game of the Baltimore Ravens

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve been told over a million times this offseason that the Jets will likely struggle to stop the run this season. Out of the four main aspects of the game (Pass Offense, Rush Offense, Pass Defense, Rush Defense), New York clearly has the worst prospects.

Quite obviously, this means that any team that can run the ball effectively appears as a poor matchup for the Jets defense.

But we can get more specific than just looking at all rush production. There’s a particular type of running team that’s particularly good at exploiting the New York defense.

The Jets’ 4-3 defensive line plays with a one-gapping mentality. This means that their defenders’ main priority in most games is to simply fire the ball, go downhill and shoot through a certain gap.

While this strategy can significantly increase the defense’s pass rush potential, it comes at the expense of patience and discipline in the running game. Players are less concerned with plugging gaps and more concerned with getting into backcourt as quickly as possible.

Attacks based on gap-blocking concepts in the running game are designed to exploit this type of approach. Power, trap, draw, wham – any of these run game concepts (and concepts of a similar nature) will penalize defensive linemen for being too aggressive.

Unlike zone runs, gap runs are designed to attack a specific gap. This makes them the perfect counter for one-gapped defensive lines. The offense can easily target a specific spot on the defensive line, allow defenders to move away from that spot, and then run to the space they left.

In 2021, the Patriots defeated the Jets (in both games) with these running concepts. Draw games have been a huge killer due to their slow evolving nature. New England had a lot of fun just letting the Jets charge downhill and letting the offensive linemen use the momentum of the defensive linemen against them. While this strategy allowed the defense to get deep into backcourt, it also meant the offense could dictate with precision Where The linemen wanted to go, giving the RB an easy legibility.

Enter the Jets’ nightmare matchup: the Baltimore Ravens.

Everyone knows that the Ravens have been the NFL’s leading rushing attacker for the past three years. The real problem for New York is the fact that Baltimore achieves all of its rapid successes while being the league’s most gapped team.

According to Pro Football Focus, the Ravens offensive line gap-blocked 80.3% of their run-blocking snaps in 2021, which was by far the highest rate in the NFL. The second place team (New England) had a 69.8% odds and the league average was 42.0%.

In 2021, as the Jets faced offenses that ended the season with a gap-blocking frequency above the league average of 42.0%, the Jets took a 0-8 lead. They went 4-5 against teams that used gap-blocking concepts less than the league average.

Baltimore loves to let their offensive linemen go. Pulls are problems for a one-gapped defense. When a defensive lineman’s momentum carries him downhill, he’s extremely vulnerable to an offensive lineman going sideways to seal him out of play.

The Ravens will likely invoke a boatload of trap plays against the Jets to take advantage of that discrepancy. Traps are plays where the offense intentionally leaves a particular defender unblocked for a pulling offensive linemen to come over and pick him up. These blocks are particularly effective against one-gappers, whose aggression makes it difficult for them to spot trap play and then respond appropriately.

NFL planners weren’t too kind to the Jets when they picked the Ravens as their season-opening opponents. New York’s greatest weakness comes upon the team best equipped to exploit it. Buckle up.

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Running game of the Cleveland Browns

We turn our attention to another AFC North team that boasts a running game perfect for beating the Jets.

The Browns had an elite running game in 2021 and led the NFL with 5.1 yards per rush attempt. Like Baltimore, they’re another gap-promoting team (though not to the same extent, of course). Cleveland’s offensive line ranked 8th per PFF in the NFL with a gap blocking frequency of 50.2% in 2021.

Add to that the Browns have one of the elusive running back duos in the league in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Chubb could be the NFL’s most dangerous running back per game, having averaged an incredible 5.3 yards per carry in his career and just hit a 5.5 mark in 2021.

New York’s running defense could potentially hold its own against strong teams outside the zone. Their collective team speed on defense, especially coupled with their run stop improvements in secondary (DJ Reed and Jordan Whitehead), could allow them to do well against teams that like to run the ball towards the edges.

But against downhill, gap-blocking teams like Baltimore and Cleveland, the Jets’ favored style makes them very vulnerable, and they just don’t have the front-seven beef to make up for that.

With the Ravens and Browns awaiting the Jets in Weeks 1 and 2, we’ll quickly find out if the Jets can refute the popular belief that their central defense is ripe for harvest.

New England Patriots offensive line (both phases)

The Jets will rely on the pass rush to lead their defense in 2022. Even as they fight the run, the Jets can still thrive defensively if they forge a successful pass rush.

Opposing attacks with poor offensive lines will be beneficial to the Jets. A good pass rush can mask any defensive weakness. So if the Jets can catch an offensive line they can hit from the bottom down, they should look forward to a fun game on defense, even if there are other areas where opposing offense has an advantage.

But if the Jets come up against a good offensive line capable of calming their pass rush, it’s likely to be a long day for the defense.

The Patriots have long been making elite offensive line units annually, and there’s no indication it’s going to stop anytime soon. In 2021, the New England offensive line received the fourth-best pass blocking efficiency rating of any unit in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. The Pats have four of their best linemen returning in 2022 and also added first-round pick Cole Strange.

Also, we talked a little earlier about the Patriots’ run-blocking being a mismatch for the Jets.

As previously noted, the Patriots’ offensive line deployed the NFL’s second-highest gap-blocking frequency of any team in 2021 at 69.8%. They love this style of rushing and proved they can use it to crush the Jets with two smash hits last season. In their two games against New York, New England averaged 4.4 yards per carry and hit 6 rushing touchdowns.

Adaptability is key

If the Jets are to defeat any of these three teams in 2022, the defensive coaching staff will need to show some adaptability. The defensive coaches have been rigid and predictable throughout the 2021 season, rarely changing their philosophies even as opponents consistently beat them with the same concepts from Week 1 through Week 18.

The 2021 season has created a clear blueprint for defeating the Jets defense. The teams will follow them the same way they did last year. The Jets have to throw curveballs to surprise them.

While a lack of talent played a major role in the Jets’ 2021 defensive woes and this year’s Jets defense appears to be more talented than last year’s, it can still be easily shredded if coaches don’t adapt and continue to apply the same strategies on a weekly basis. Predictability is a recipe for disaster in the NFL.

Having a core philosophy is great, and sticking to it is even better—but only to a point. At some point, you have to be willing to change things up a bit so your players can better compete against opponents that are designed to exploit your primary playstyle.

Jeff Ulbrich is under scrutiny in 2022 after running the third-worst defense in the Jets’ 63-year history (29.6 PPG). Above all, he will be judged on how well he prepares his squad to compete against those three mismatches mentioned above.

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