New York Jets
Robby Sabo, ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

With rookies Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye leading the way, the 2017 New York Jets pass defense was more dominant than anybody realizes. To do what they did behind such a terrible pass rush was other-worldly.

Twenty-first in the National Football League in total pass defense over the course of 16 games a year ago. This is the not-so-flattering ranking the New York Jets defense found itself once Week 17 finished itself so finely.

Additionally, zero was the number Jamal Adams has carried over all offseason—as in zero total interceptions for the 2017 No. 6 overall selection. Young Marcus Maye finished with two interceptions while playing centerfield.

All of the finishing numbers and general viewpoints have led to the final narrative equaling a solid yet unspectacular year from the young safety tandem of Adams and Maye. It’s an incorrect thought.

The Jets rookie safety duo leading the pass defense was much more dominant than anybody could actually claim.

Pass coverage on its face is a hell of a thing. To stick a man one-on-one anywhere he roams on a field 120 yards long and 53 yards wide is a feat left for only the supremely athletic. To mix in the last decade of NFL madness that’s paved way to the heavenly quarterback and offensive passing numbers is insanity. It’s impossible to play pass defense today. If an offense executes a three-step passing attack to the best of its abilities, the defense has no shot.

This is the biggest difference between today’s NFL game and the one that came decades ago when defenses could shut down an offense on pure will alone.

As it concerns the Jets 21st ranked pass defense a year ago, it has nothing to do with the offensive-ladened rules. Instead, it boils down to the unit’s league-worst conventional four-man pass rush. Todd Bowles’ unit finished fifth to last with 28 sacks. Leonard Williams is a still a beast on the inside. He simply can’t overcome a double-team on every play while the edges are handled with ease by each tackle.

It doesn’t matter if Dick “Night Train” Lane, Rod Woodson and Ronnie Lott are all on the same back end. If their pass rushers can’t get to the quarterback, they have no shot of dominance. When looking at the Jets 2017 film, it’s beyond obvious this awful front presence hurt the development of Adams-Maye and the rest of the defense.

New York welcomed in Tom Brady and the New England Patriots for a Week 6 matchup following a surprise 3-2 start. After a hot start, Brady eventually found a way for the 24-17 win. While he only threw for 257 yards, the inability to get to the five-time champ doomed the coverage (sacked zero times in the game).

On the very first 3rd-and-passing situation, Bowles came with the pressure—something extremely common with this defense due to the fact the four-man rush rarely succeeds.

The famed New England Patriots offense completely shuts it down. Any trickery (the David Bass pivot from the ILB spot) while loading the left-side edge is stopped cold in its tracks.

The Chris Hogan haul via Brady on the slant off the rub pattern is just entirely too difficult to defend one-on-one.

The next example is much more classic. Bowles actually dares to go with the four-man conventional rush out of the nickel defense while playing Cover 2 behind it.

Although Demario Davis is clearly the back-end culprit, it doesn’t mean he’s at fault on the play. Any coverage scheme breaks down when the quarterback is untouched the entire time. This is especially the case with a Cover 2 out of nickel (with inside backers in coverage).

Kony Ealy allowing himself to get dominated on a little chip and Muhammad Wilkerson not staying in the A gap allowed Brady to step up with ease and drill Brandin Cooks on the extended dig.

The following example against the Matt Ryan-led Atlanta Falcons offense comes on a 1st-and-10 situation in which Bowles put on a run blitz. He sent Davis through the A-gap while dropping both outside linebackers. While it’s not traditional to generate much of a pass rush, the result is beyond embarrassing.

A Cover 3 is used on the back end, but by the time Ryan breaks the pocket, it’s entirely too late for the coverage. No NFL coverage can expect to cover efficiently this long.

Against the same offense on the play of the game—fourth quarter up by one point—the broadcast pits Jamal Adams as the culprit simply because he was the man in the screen covering Mohamed Sanu.

It couldn’t be further from the truth.

Watch as Adams and Marcus Maye shut down Ryan’s initial read: Sanu on the skinny post. The play is actually shut down by the Jets coverage. It only turns into the game-winning score due to poor pass-rushing play.

It’s nearly impossible for anybody (no less a safety) cover a wide receiver from sideline-to-sideline that long.

Lastly, even when Jets pass rushers are gifted a free-run at a quarterback, they fail to get it done. In the following example, the New Orleans Saints O-line severely screwed up. Jordan Jenkins found himself one-on-one with Drew Brees.

This is unforgivable. New York is rushing five. This means only six are back in coverage in a Cover 3-type look.

All Jenkins needs to do is break down and not allow Brees to get outside on him. Force him in with hands up and calm feet. Instead, Brees gets outside and drills Alvin Kamara on the crossing route (a pattern on a broken pocket that’s impossible to cover).

The Philadelphia Eagles win due to the idea they have over four legitimate one-on-one pass rushers. They rotate them in and out and can beat O-linemen on a consistent basis.

The Jets, on the other hand, don’t employ a single true pass rusher and may rank 32nd in the entire league in the area. Leonard Williams is talented along the interior, but the kid no shot when he’d doubled-teamed on every play.

If you think Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye and the rest of the Jets middle-to-backend of the defense warranted a B grade in 2017, think again. Bump it up at least a full letter grade due to the handicap that is the conventional pass rush of the New York Jets—a debilitating detriment that hasn’t been improved one ounce this offseason (hello Josh Sweat in the middle rounds of the NFL Draft).

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]