As we’ve been doing for several years now, we’ll break down the Pittsburgh Steelers’ opponent each week, telling you what to expect from a scheme and individual standpoint. This year, Jonathan Heitritter and I will cover the opposing team’s defense. I will focus on scheme, Jonathan on the players.
Continuing things with the New York Jets’ defense.
ALEX’S SCHEME REPORT
JETS’ RUN DEFENSE
A perhaps surprisingly stout group overall. On the year, they’re allowing just 3.7 YPC, tied for the sixth best mark in football despite facing strong rushing attacks in the Bengals, Browns, and Ravens (their first four games are against the AFC North, a very wild schedule quirk). They’ve allowed ten runs of 10+ yards, average overall, but they’re a stout group in the middle and don’t allow a lot of big plays.
New York is a 4-3 front with the strength of their defense in the middle. Quinnen Williams, Sheldon Rankins, and #94 Solomon Thomas flashed to me on tape, though I’ll let Jonathan expand on that below. Statistically, veteran LB C.J. Mosley leads the team with 30 tackles. No one else has more than 18. He’s an all-situations player for them, playing 100% of the team’s snaps this season.
Generally, they’re a tough group to run on between the tackles and teams have mad more success with their toss and perimeter run game though again, their overall run defense has been pretty stout. Every yard will have to be earned this weekend. Running between the B gaps will be a challenge.
They do work an over front to the strength of the formation and don’t respond much to shifts or motions. There’s good speed and pursuit from this defense and the d-linemen chase screen plays hard. But their linebackers can take the cheese on window dressing and pre-snap motion and that could help create run lanes inside.
Overall, this defense has been statistically unproductive, tied 26th overall allowing 27 points per game. That’s in large part due to their situational football issues. New York has the 31st ranked third down defense allowing teams to convert 51.3% of the time. If there’s a week for Pittsburgh to get its third down offense on track, it’s this Sunday.
JETS’ PASS DEFENSE
It feels like for years, the Jets have been searching for a pass rush. They still are. Only five sacks this season with their DE/EDGE guys accounting for just 2.5. Gotten most of their pressure/sacks from the interior and they do collapse the pocket well. But five sacks aren’t enough three games in. Carl Lawson missed all of last year with injury and though he has just a 1/2 sack this season, he does lead the team with five QB hits. So he is getting home more than the basic numbers suggest.
Rush and coverage go together and they’ve only picked off two passes this year, one by a slot corner, one by a safety. They do have a lot of plucky and physical slot guys led by #4 D.J. Reed while safety Lemarcus Joyner has always been a hitter.
Some other numbers. On the year, their secondary has kept a lid on things, giving up just seven passes of 20+ yards this year, tied for fifth best in the league. They trust their four-man rush to get home, a low 18.1% blitz rate (27th) but their pressure rate is appreciably higher, 23.8% (19th). Not great but better and you always want that pressure number to be higher than their blitz rate.
Schematically, here’s what you need to know about this defense. Zone-based scheme with their four man rush, man-based scheme when they pressure. Lot of Cover 2, Cover 4, and Cover 6, dropping seven into coverage, and a ton of Cover 1 (man-free) blitzes when they send pressure. Very few zone blitzes. Examples of their man-pressure system.
Because they don’t often blitz, they run a lot of stunts and games, particularly with their RDT and RDE. So Pittsburgh’s front five will need active eyes. They will show overload and creative looks on third down with a healthy amount of simulated pressure too in order to stress protection.
When they play Cover 6, the boundary side CB is the cloud (flat) defender.
They also gave up a shovel pass TD to the Bengals last week (though called back by penalty) so I’m betting Matt Canada uses that a lot this week.
Last note. Their LBs have disciplined eyes and don’t fall prey to playaction. So that could be tough to run against them even if Pittsburgh’s ground game gets going. Here’s two examples:
Jonathan’s Individual Report
The Pittsburgh Steelers lost on the road last Thursday in a divisional matchup with the Cleveland Browns, sputtering on offense after seeing some life in the unit erupt to the tune of back-to-back 75-yard TD drives in the first half.
Pittsburgh will look to sustain more success on the offensive side of the football this week as the New York Jets come to town, rounding out their scheduled matchups with the AFC North after playing the Ravens, Browns, and Bengals the first three weeks of the season. The Jets sit in a similar position at Pittsburgh at 1-2 after losing by double digits to the Ravens and Bengals but won a close one against Cleveland a couple weeks ago. Their defense currently ranks near the middle of the pack, allowing the 15th most total yards in the league through three weeks while coming in at 16th in pass defense and 14th in run defense.
The top player on New York’s defensive front is DT #95 Quinnen Williams. The young, talented interior defender’s career got off to a bumpy start but has since gained traction as one of the emerging superstars at the defensive tackle position. He’s posted 13 sacks and 17 TFLs the last two seasons and is off to a strong start in 2022 with 1.5 sacks. He is a strong and powerful presence on the interior while also possessing the quickness to beat blockers across their face and utilized his hands to shed blocks and collapsed the pocket.
Williams will likely draw his fair share of double teams, thus allowing his running mate and former first round DL #98 Sheldon Rankins to do some damage in the middle. Rankins has been a disruptive player on the field when available, racking up 20.5 sacks and 30 TFLs prior to the start of 2022. The 6’2, 305lb defender is stout against the run and has the strength and leverage to walk back opposing blockers into the pocket while also having the burst off the snap to be a problem as a gap penetrator.
Behind those two, #94 Solomon Thomas hasn’t lived up to the billing of the #3 overall pick in 2017, but has become a quality rotational piece that provides some pass rush along with #97 Nathan Shepard who will get sprinkled in as a viable run defender.
On the edges, DE #58 Carl Lawson is back after missing the 2021 season after tearing his Achilles and appears to be back to his disruptive ways. The 6’2, 265lb edge rusher is a ball of muscle that plays with great power and leverage, terrorizing Alejandro Villanueva back when he was with the Bengals and Big Al played in Pittsburgh. He will look to get the best of LT Dan Moore Jr. who has played better in recent weeks, yet still isn’t a proven commodity in terms of consistent play.
Opposite Lawson is #91 John-Franklin Myers who just got the bag this offseason after posting six sacks in 2021. The 6’4, 288lb defender plays with a high motor on every snap and can be a handful for opposing offensive tackles, having the strength to walk back blockers into the lap of the quarterback but also the speed to challenge the edge and counter back inside. He’s a capable run defender and remains one of the more underrated defensive linemen in the league.
Behind Lawson and JFM is New York’s third first-round pick from the 2022 NFL Draft, #52 Jermaine Johnson. The 6’5, 262lb rookie tore up college football last season as one of the most disruptive players from a sack and TFL standpoint at Florida State and looks to continue that trend in the league. He is a skilled pass rusher but also a viable run defender that has showcased the flashes to point toward a productive NFL career in the near future. Also providing depth on the edge is #54 Jacob Martin who has been a quality situational pass rusher for the Houston Texans prior to this season and #72 Michael Clemons who is a strong, powerful rookie who will lay the boom.
At the second level of the defense for the Jets sits veteran LB #57 C.J. Mosley. The former Baltimore Raven finally put together a full season in a Jets uniform last season after ranking near the top of the league in tackles. The 30-year-old is a quality run stopper thanks to his pursuit and instincts as well as a pass coverage defender, having the athleticism to run with backs and tight ends.
Still, Mosley is susceptible to having his eyes get caught in the backfield, potentially getting him out of position on play action passes or jet sweeps.
New York signed #9 Kwon Alexander just before the season and he has acclimated himself well to his new home in the Big Apple. The 6’1, 227lb veteran ILB made several splash plays last season as an part-time starter with the Saints last season, posting 3.5 sacks, seven TFLs, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in eight starts. He provides good pursuit against the run and will arrive on the scene with bad intentions when it comes to being a big hitter. Behind Mosley and Alexander are #56 Quincey Williams who appears set to miss this game with an ankle injury, #36 Marcel Harris who is a LB/S hybrid and core special teamer, and backup #44 Jamien Sherwood
The man to watch in the Jets’ CB room is 2022 4th overall pick #1 Sauce Gardner. The 6’3, 200lb rookie has been touted as one of the safest prospects at the position in years, possessing the height, length, and speed to match up with some of the NFL’s best out the outside. He has faced some adversity thus far three games into 2022, allowing a near 77% completion rate for 120 yards and a TD according to Pro Football Refence. Still, he has done well when facing some of the league’s best like when he saw Ja’Marr Chase last week, allowing no catches on ten coverages snaps when matched up with the superstar WR.
Across from Gardner is FA signing #4 D.J. Reed who came over from Seattle this offseason and has paid dividends on that investment thus far, allowing a 46.7% completion rate while deflecting two passes. He also has proven to be a quality run defender, racking up a TFL and a forced fumble as a feisty defender who isn’t afraid to stick his nose into the fray. #30 Michael Carter II mans the slot for the Jets while #37 Bryce Hall and #26 Brandin Echols provide depth behind Gardner and Reed.
The backend of the Jets secondary is manned by #3 Jordan Whitehead and #29 Lamarcus Joyner. Both Whitehead and Joyner are undersized but bring quite the punch as hitters both in run defense and when contesting receivers in coverage. However, both Jets safeties are exploitable in coverage as Whitehead has allowed two TD catches in three weeks according to PFR and Joyner currently ranks 75th of 76 safeties graded at Pro Football Focus with a dismal 29.9 overall grade. Joyner has also been charged with two TDs allowed and has blown coverage on multiple occasions, getting out of position in the secondary and is prone to committing penalties that cost his team yardage.
Behind Joyner and Whitehead is #21 Ashtyn Davis who has seen hardly any time this season after being a ten-game starter in 2021 at free safety. #39 Will Parks and #22 Tony Adams also provide depth in the New York secondary.