Jets Hope To Improve League-Worst D By Keeping Best Linemen Off The Field For Half The Snaps
Under Head Coach Robert Saleh and Defensive Coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, the Jets play a 4-3 base defense. Finding four quality down linemen who can get after opposing quarterbacks while also maintaining their integrity against runs is hard enough, but if you heard what Ulbrich said after Gang Green’s organized team activity session on Wednesday, they’re going to need more.
Many more. For Ulbrich declared that the Jets’ game plans this season will limit each lineman to no more than 30-35 snaps per game. Considering the Jets averaged about 70 defensive snaps per game last season, such a cap would keep the team’s best players off the field for half the snaps.
The Jets’ thinking is that such large specimens can’t possibly give full effort with heavy workloads, so lengthy periods of rest is needed to keep them fresh. What a load of garbage. As my son Jack sarcastically tweeted, imagine how much better Rams star Aaron Donald would have been if he was load-managed to 30-35 snaps per game instead of playing approximately 89.5% of L.A.s defensive snaps last season, per pro-football-reference.com. He might have been unblockable. (Oh wait, he already was.)
Never mind that the Jets are already allocating about $44.5 million in salary cap space to their projected front four of Carl Lawson, Quinnen Williams, Sheldon Rankins, and John Franklin-Myers, a very hefty sum. The drop-off in talent once you start going deep into the depth chart is bound to have an effect on the team’s performance. You’re going to get diminishing returns. So sure, let’s sub in Nathan Shepherd for Williams for half the game and watch him commit more egregious personal foul penalties. That’ll help the cause.
Why do the Jets so often think they can reinvent the game? Hasn’t the last decade of misery provided sufficient evidence of what they’re doing wrong to get with the program of modern NFL football? It’s bad enough that General Manager Joe Douglas trades up in Drafts to select players at non-premium positions like guard and running back and that Saleh thinks his club can stay in games by running a ton on early downs. Now they’re under the delusion they can improve a league-worst defense by keeping some of their best players off the field.
Saleh supposedly learned this heavy d-line rotation trick when he was the 49ers Defensive Coordinator from 2017-2020. Well, the one season where those clubs had success was in 2019 and guess what? Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner, and Arik Armstead all played the full 16 games and over 75% of the team’s defensive snaps for the league’s second-ranked defense in yards allowed (eighth in points surrendered).
The following season, the 49ers were hit by a devastating deluge of injuries, a chunk of which occurred during a Week 2 affair against the Jets at Met Life Stadium. Bosa and fellow lineman Solomon Thomas were among the casualties. Did that one game spook Saleh?
Of course, the Jets have been cursed by injuries for many years, but can those really be traced to fatigue from overuse? Lawson, who was expected to provide the lethal edge rushing production this franchise hasn’t seen since the days of John Abraham, never made it out of training camp last season, felled by a torn Achilles during a joint practice with Green Bay.
Once Lawson is back to 100%, he needs to be out there for a lot more than half the defensive snaps. Same goes for Williams, who will be playing for a second contract, and Franklin-Myers.
The Jets have some nice depth pieces on the line, with sophomore Bryce Huff and rookie Jermaine Johnson on the edge plus veterans Thomas and Vinny Curry available to provide short-term boosts. But barring injuries, that’s all it should be. Short-term boosts.
If the Jets somehow keep the game close in the opener against Baltimore, the last player I want to see chasing Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson on a key third down is Shepherd.