New York Jets' 4-3 Defensive Front Is Rare, Yet Completely Nasty 2
Kevin Hoffman, USATSI

With Sheldon Richardson back in tow, Todd Bowles made the switch to a four-man defensive front for his New York Jets. It plays very nasty.

Todd Bowles faced a nagging problem a season ago during his rookie campaign. In his possession were four nasty individuals who made up his defensive line.

The problem was, his base defensive line consisted of just three individuals. He could never fully figure out a brilliant solution to get all four of them out there at once.

The first four games were easy when Sheldon Richardson was suspended. Muhammad Wilkerson and rookie Leonard Williams wrapped around Damon Harrison in Bowles’s familiar 3-4 defense. When Sheldon came back, all four rarely saw the field at the same time.

Later in the season, the team tinkered with Sheldon at the outside linebacker spot. It failed miserably. He simply wasn’t quick enough to maintain contain or get out on the edge when necessary.

Obviously, the New York Jets 2016 campaign started the same way 2015 did. Sheldon was suspended. The difference comes when realizing what Bowles did upon his return.

Bowles has implemented a firm 4-3 base defense that debuted on Thursday Night Football.

Not only is it here to stay, but the concept is so unique that it’s brilliant. It’s so brilliant that it’s nasty. It’s so nasty that it must be scaring the pants off the rest of the NFL.

The four men who make up the defensive line are all larger than life:

What’s interesting to note is that Steve McLendon was the man brought in to replace Snacks at nose tackle, yet is the smallest listed player of the four (though that number should easily be disputed). He, along with Big Cat, play the interior.

Big Mo and Sheldon are now lined up on the edge in base situations.

The brilliant part comes when realizing no other team in the NFL employs two gigantic defensive ends in a 4-3 quite like the Jets presented on Thursday night in Buffalo.

Look around the league. Every big 3-4 defensive end is usually lined up inside of the edge rushing linebacker (this side of J.J. Watt). When the more classic 4-3 is showcased, edge rushers are lighter and quicker. They can usually play in space and speed rush the offensive tackle.

In looking to get all four on the field at the same time, Bowles is gambling that both Wilkerson and Richardson can handle the edge at their plus size.

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Wilkerson is used to it. In 2015, to make sure Wilkerson, Sheldon and Williams all saw the field at the same time, Big Mo played the edge in sub packages.

The possibility of this unit moving exclusively to the 4-3 concept isn’t something new to us. Bowles’s pride as a versatile defensive mind, Big Mo’s familiarity with the edge, and the drafting of a light second-level linebacker in Darron Lee led us to believe we’d eventually see this.

Here’s how we shaped it up back in July:

The New York Jets…more of a 4-3 defense now? #NYJ

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Instead of that look, Bowles bypassed having any speed presence along the edge with Lorenzo Mauldin or Jordan Jenkins. He was also afforded the opportunity to play outside backer Mike Catapano at the WILL ahead of young Lee.

Make no mistake, though, this defense suits Darron Lee perfectly.

Ideally, an inside 3-4 linebacker is a bigger player. An outside 3-4 backer is essentially a speed rusher. Lee is neither of these things. Instead, he’s a free roamer who needs to be on the weak side of the second level. In the 4-3, he’ll have plenty of time and space to make plays. He’ll have even more time with four, instead of two big heavies in front of him.

Erin Henderson and David Harris are completely interchangeable parts at middle and SAM linebacker. And when Mauldin or Jenkins are needed for that speed along the edge, McLendon or Big Cat can be subbed out with Big Mo and Sheldon sliding inside.

This defense is equipped with loads of potential and an intense level of flexibility. As long as the back end holds up their end of the bargain, this front-seven will do serious damage in 2016.

They sacked Andy Dalton seven times in Week 1 and stuffed LeSeaon McCoy when the money was on the line in Week 2. The sky’s the limit for these beasts.

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Robby Sabo is a co-founder, CEO and credentialed New York Jets content creator for Jets X-Factor - Jet X, which includes Sabo's Sessions (in-depth film breakdowns) and Sabo with the Jets. Host: Underdog Jets Podcast with Wayne Chrebet and Sabo Radio. Member: Pro Football Writers of America. Coach: Port Jervis (NY) High School. Washed up strong safety and 400M runner. SEO: XL Media. Founder: Elite Sports NY - ESNY (Sold in 2020). SEO: XL Media. Email: robby.sabo[at]