Pre-Snap Blitz Recognition
You have to admire how New York Giants defensive coordinator (and former Ravens secondary coach) Steve Spagnuolo came out slinging against the Baltimore offense last Sunday. He often dropped safety Landon Collins into the box and deployed his corners on blitzes to disrupt the Ravens’ blocking scheme. He also dialed up plenty of Cover 0 pressures (playing man across the board without fear).
What made the all-out blitzes really work was the delayed action in the pre-snap stage. The defensive backs that Spagnuolo sent would charge their gaps right before the snap, and Joe Flacco failed to recognize those blitzes in time.
There is no doubt that the Jets will follow the same script, especially given head coach Todd Bowles’ aggressive tendencies. If anything, the Jets do a better job with their disguise and use of exotic fronts than even the Giants.
It appears that Flacco will play on Sunday. If he does, he’s going to need to get to the line early to force the Jets to declare their blitz. This is the type of game in which checks and hot reads need to be part of the plan to deal with a relentless blitzkrieg.
Blitz Beaters, Line Shifts, Max Protect
It’s not just the frequency of the Jets’ blitz, it’s the variety as well. As I mentioned, they run a lot of different combinations – overloads, traditional zone blitzes, double A-gap pressures. And they mix line games (stunts, exchanges) for good measure. In a Monday Night matchup against the Cardinals, the Jets even featured 300-pound Sheldon Richardson as a standup ILB to bring pressure up the middle.
In just his second game as the OC, Marty Mornhinweg has to figure out a way to counter with the amoeba-like formations and sets that NY features. The Cardinals’ Bruce Arians adjusted to the Jets’ all-out assault by shortening Carson Palmer’s drops and using more max protection (keeping a tight end and a back in the backfield to help block). In addition to those moves, Mornhinweg needs to fan the line out left or right to pick up the overloads.
Ultimately, if the Raven WRs can’t defeat man coverage (which the Jets ride or die with), even the best protection schemes won’t make a difference. Back-shoulders, stop routes, and intersecting crossing patterns need to be dialed up.
Break Out Kenneth Dixon
If last week was any indication, rookie tailback Kenneth Dixon is getting closer to being at full force. His acceleration and open-field ability is much needed for an offense that lacks improvisation when plays break down.
It was interesting to see Mornhinweg split Dixon out wide on a wheel route down the right sideline against the Giants last week. Dixon should get more opportunities against a Jets’ ILB crew that has struggled to defend backs on isolation routes over the middle this season.
For instance, Le’Veon Bell had a field day as a pass-catcher against the Jets two weeks ago. Obviously, Bell is one-of-a-kind, but there is merit to a plan of attack that features Dixon’s speed in space against the NY backers. Even with David Harris looking more likely to return to action, Dixon needs to be involved more in the game plan along with Terrance West, who has been a surprise contributor as an underneath target.
Prepare for the Spread
Even with quarterback Geno Smith taking over for Ryan Fitzpatrick, defensive coordinator Dean Peas has to account for a spread attack against the Jets. After all, with NY offensive coordinator Chan Gailey running the show, the Jets have operated in a lot of four-wide formations – even with Eric Decker being out of the lineup.
In these sets, receiver Quincy Enunwa is a matchup problem. Although he looks more like a tight end, he’s a big receiver who can stretch defenses vertically. When Decker was in the lineup, Enunwa made more of an impact on inside routes from the slot. The Jets may look to get him going again on inside patterns, especially to match up against the smaller Tavon Young.
This is the type of game that calls for more mixed nickel and dime packages featuring Anthony Levine. Levine got some reps last week against the Giants and did a solid job of keeping Will Tye in check. He brings the size and athleticism to match up with Enunwa.
To this point, Pees’ approach of using mostly four-man pressures and relying on his down front to get after the QB has worked alright. Although the pressure hasn’t been there from the front, the defense as a whole has been better in coverage and the defense has limited big plays.
Last week was a much different story though. Even without blitzing, there were too many coverage breakdowns on the back end to justify running a less aggressive rush. For weeks now, the straight four-man fronts haven’t gotten the job done. It’s time for Pees to start changing up his rush approaches, and he can do it without completely exposing the secondary.
The Jets struggled to deal with the Cardinals’ stunts and line games last week when they exchanged their tackles and ends. Similarly, Pees needs to run more exchanges (TE stunts) featuring Timmy Jernigan, who is at his best when he is able to gain a mismatch or he’s unleashed as a free runner.
In addition to running more line games, Pees should look to run some overloads against the Jets’ open pass sets. When they go empty or four-wide, there will be some opportunities to attack the edges.
The Marshall Plan
Although I mentioned how dangerous Enunwa is, make no mistake: Brandon Marshall remains the man in this offense. And there is no way that he can break apart the Baltimore pass defense like Odell Beckham Jr. did a week ago.
The safeties were consistently late or completely out of position defending OBJ. Marshall is a different beast who can hurt you over the top or over the middle as a slot target, but regardless, there needs to be a safety or extra defensive back shaded to his side at all times.
The Jets do a good job of scheming Marshall open on crossing routes and quick-hitting smoke screens. He’s also dangerous on back-shoulder sideline routes (assuming Geno Smith can make the throws). The Baltimore defensive backs need to limit the damage he does in the open field and limit his one-on-one opportunities.
If cornerback Jimmy Smith is able to go in this contest, he should take on some shadow responsibilities, especially to deal with Marshall from the slot.
Bottom line: You must make the other Jets’ receivers beat you.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch
The Jets have been tormented all year by the deep ball, although it appears that the great Revis is back to form after a shaky start. Revis is one of the most technically sound corners in the game. He understands how to use the sideline as an extra defender, and he remains disruptive when the ball is in-flight.
Wallace has been exactly what the doctor ordered for Baltimore. Although the offense as a whole hasn’t made many big plays, he’s been the recipient of the few plays they’ve made and he’s also drawn PI penalties. Wallace’s ability to get a release at the line (which he did a masterful job of against the Giants) will be the key to how he fares against the future Hall of Famer.