ESNY Film Room: New York Jets' Todd Bowles Continues Stubbornness Of Defending Run First
Oct 9, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles looks on from the sidelines against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 31-13. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Even when taking on the pass dominant Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Jets HC Todd Bowles continued his run-first mentality on defense.

Put aside those New York Jets fans who wear their emotions on their sleeve. Even the general football enthusiast can’t understand what second-year head coach Todd Bowles is doing. 

The casual onlooker doesn’t understand what he’s doing when it comes to in-game management and decisions. Punting the ball away to a beastly offensive team like the Pittsburgh Steelers down 11 points with just seven-plus minutes to go is all the evidence needed to solidify that statement.

But forget that for a moment. Forget the Jets unsettling record of 1-4 through five weeks. It’s not where they want to be, no doubt, but it wasn’t totally unexpected. This schedule is one that’ll have any average human on bended knees praying to the football gods for much-needed mercy.

What’s so scary is how stubborn Bowles has been.

This stubbornness is leading to players being placed out of position everywhere on the field. It’s leading to New York looking uncompetitive in games that should be much, much closer (based on personnel).

Todd Bowles continues to throw a defense out there that heavily overplays the run.

We’ve been discussing it since the dreaded trip to Kansas City in Week 3. For some crazy unknown reason, Bowles undermatches his defensive personnel. He allows a nickel look to stay on the field against a 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB look in every situation. This is troubling when a Travis Kelce or Jimmy Graham represents the tight end. Guys like Calvin Pryor, David Harris, and/or Darron Lee cannot keep up with the elite tight ends of the NFL.

Kelce torched these out-of-position Jets defenders in Week 3 and, even more troubling, Graham did the same thing in Week 4.

In Pittsburgh, this past Sunday, it didn’t take long for Ben Roethlisberger to abuse Bowles’s ancient defensive philosophy of making sure the run game is accounted for first and foremost.

Admittedly, this look isn’t as terrible as some of the sets we’ve seen in past weeks. But where the complete mystery comes is why the personnel is a nickel on the field.

The Steelers are in a 3rd-and-7 situation. They’ve come out in a snug 4 WR set with a single back next to Big Ben in the gun.

Why in the world is both Harris and Lee on the field together?

Instead, the personnel should consist of six defensive backs in this situation. It’s a severe passing down which means a dime or quarter look should be on the field challenging Todd Haley and the Steelers to run the ball.

There should be a look like this:


First and foremost, Calvin Pryor cannot play deep safety. In this situation, even though Bowles wanted two safeties over-the-top, the presnap look was designed in a way that had both Harris and Lee bluffing a blitz and Pryor lined up as the single-high safety.

By the time Pryor looked to get over-the-top on Marcus Williams‘s side, it was far too late. He doesn’t have the speed to do this. Therefore, he’s severely playing out of position, out of his league in this scenario.

The Jets only rushed four and still couldn’t defend the deep ball. There was no reason to bluff the single-high safety when Pryor has trouble playing a deep half while lined up in a standard spot.


The revised dime look above (in the ESNY graphic) puts Pryor in the box, where he should be, and allows Antonio Allen, a much quicker safety, to play alongside Marcus Gilchrist in passing situations.

In the 4th-quarter, another example of Roethlisberger shredding the Jets heavy pass defense came to light. With Pittsburgh coming out with a 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB set, Bowles responded as he always does, with a nickel (4 DL, 2 LB, 5 DB).

Playing some sort of zone, Markus Wheaton abused Erin Henderson on the crossing route with Buster Skrine staying home on his side:

The conclusion is simple: the beat goes on week after week. Offenses come out in three receiver sets and the Jets continue to matchup with two linebackers on the field. This is something we routinely saw in the 1980s. It’s not something that works in today’s league.

New York ranks 31st in the NFL in pass defense with a robust 302.4 yards allowed per game. Unfortunately, that’s not the disturbing stat. The Jets run defense is second in the league, surrendering just 68.4 yards a game.

The reason these numbers are so lopsided doesn’t come down to personnel. It comes down to coaching.

Bowles isn’t daring the offense to run the ball. His personnel groupings are always heavier than what the offense is equipped with on the field. There is no out scheming or imagination.

By no means is this an excuse for the horrid pass coverage the likes of Pryor and Harris display. It’s simply the truest idea of today’s league — a league in which personnel groupings need to have more imagination than what the Jets are showcasing.

Forget the Jets looking for better players to stop the pass. It’s start with the head coach. It begins with Todd Bowles putting his players in a better position to succeed.

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]