The Jets defense has had many struggles in the infancy of the regular season, one of which is the inability to stop the run. They are giving up 134 yards rushing per game, which is a significant increase from last year’s numbers. What’s interesting about this year is that they haven’t had issues against all types of runs. They’ve done pretty well against Lead and Power run concepts from what I’ve seen, but their issues have risen against inside and outside zone.
One problem with this is that just about every team runs inside and outside zone nowadays, as they are the most popular run concepts in the league. I’ve talked about those two run concepts before, and what they do is get the defense moving laterally with the offensive linemen executing down blocks before attacking the defense up the inside of the offensive line. The Jets’ issues were on display against the Patriots, as well as other teams such as the Raiders and Ravens, in the fourth quarter.
On this play, the Patriots came out in 12 personnel, which is one running back and two tight ends. The Jets countered this with a seven-man box and the deep safety Jim Leonhard (36) coming down late which made it eight defenders against eight Patriots gaps. But one thing that is important to note is who these eight defenders in the box are. The Jets used seven defensive backs on this play, with five of them in the box to defend the run.
As we analyze this play, the use of five defensive backs in the box against the Patriots’ 12 personnel will become an issue because of the disadvantage in size that the Jets put themselves in by using this package. At the snap of the ball, the Patriots offensive linemen and tight ends take a lateral step to their right and set up to block the outside zone run concept. On the backside, tight end Aaron Hernandez (81) releases into the second level to block a defensive back, while right tackle Nate Solder (77) blocks the backside defensive end. Right guard Brian Waters (54) and center Dan Connolly (63) combination block the nose tackle. Connolly is the one who initially blocks him, before disengaging and releasing into the second level to block linebacker David Harris (52). Harris does a good job handling the cut block at the second level by Connolly, by using both hands to push the block down and get his feet over. Once Connolly releases, Waters cut blocks the defensive tackle, taking out the possibility of the nose tackle making a play on the ball carrier down the line of scrimmage. This is tough for the nose tackle because even though he is supposed to be able to handle trash at his feet, he is combo blocked and is in trouble from the outset.
On the playside, guard Logan Mankins (70), tackle Matt Light (72) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) down block on the remaining three over-aggressive defenders. Unfortunately for the Jets, two of those three are defensive backs going up against offensive linemen because tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) is able to handle the defensive end one-on-one. The personnel issues come into play here for the Jets, as the two defensive backs are outmatched by the two Patriots offensive linemen. Based off their defensive package, the Jets were likely expecting pass because of the two tight ends and Twin set of receivers to the right despite 12 personnel usually being a run-oriented personnel grouping. However, it was not a pass, and they were in trouble at the snap.
On this play, both Mankins and Light were uncovered, which means that they were able to combination block with their play-side teammate before releasing to the second level to clear the path. However, with the nose tackle on the back-side cut blocked and the play-side defensive end out of the picture, they are free to get to the second level and create an alley for running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis (42). The alley is created in between Mankins (70), Light (72) as well as wide receiver Wes Welker (83) who crack blocked safety Jim Leonhard (36) after he let go of his block on cornerback Kyle Wilson (20). Wilson ends up getting outside of the run, but takes too wide of an angle and takes himself out of the play.
On this outside zone run concept, Green-Ellis reads the outside hip of his left tackle Light (72) and can keep going outside or make a cut and get up the seam. With the outside neutralized and a seam open inside, he plants his foot in the ground and cuts inside. The Jets’ inside defenders are walled off by Welker and Mankins, whilst the other defender, linebacker David Harris (52), has not covered the ground to make a play on the ball carrier. Last, the deep safety is not filling any hole and is late getting over. Despite being the last guy in the defensive secondary and making sure that nothing gets past him, he should be more aggressive playing this run.
These zone run concepts, inside and outside zone, have been the issue for the Jets all season. The reason it appears to be an issue for them is because of lack of gap control, inability to disengage off blocks, and poor personnel packages. The lack of gap control has hurt the Jets this year because they have been over-aggressive in pursuit, which is why this play works very well against them. It takes advantage of the over pursuit with the offensive linemen blocking down toward the sideline, which creates holes for the running back to hit on the backside.
Also, the inability to disengage off blocks, also known as stack and shed, has been an issue for the Jets and a contributing problem is that the personnel has been poor. As highlighted earlier, the Jets had the numbers to counter the gaps presented by the Patriots offense but the wrong players. Despite the fact that tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez had success in the passing game against them, they should have expected the running game because the Patriots were playing with a lead and trying to milk the clock. They must do a better job on all of these things, otherwise they are going to be in a lot of trouble on defense. Because once the running game is doing well, the passing game becomes a significant problem as the playbook opens up.