Gregg Williams Anthony Barr
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

Despite reports and even words coming from Adam Gase’s mouth, it’s important to not fully buy into the New York Jets sticking with a 3-4 defense.

Robby Sabo

Don’t buy into the New York Jets 3-4 hype.

It’s an obsession for some. Demanding answers post-Gregg Williams is a necessity that must be shared to the world of Jets fandom. Will the feisty defensive coordinator tow his historical line by converting the longtime 3-4 New York defense into his familiar 4-3?

According to Adam Gase, he won’t.

Stop it, stop it, stop it; please, for the love of the football gods, stop it.

It’s not important. This is the first aspect that must be drilled into Jets land. Wiliams is a 4-3 guy who feels no shame in sprinkling in the 3-4 Okie or Eagle. He’s done this throughout this quarter-century career as an NFL defensive mind.

Next, consider the current personnel. While, yes, too much has been made about Leonard Williams fitting the 4-3 (3-technique) more smoothly than most of the variables the 3-4 offers, the current personnel does fit the 4-3 better.

There’s no question Darron Lee is way too small as a 3-4 base inside linebacker. There’s no doubt the Jets don’t employ a true starting 3-4 nose tackle. Henry Anderson most definitely fits the 3-4 base as opposed to the 4-3 with Leo ahead of him. Strangely enough, he’s not currently employed and is more of a pure subpackage interior rusher.

Where’s this better fit exactly?

Most crucial is the recent news surrounding the Jets free agent desire.

According to Connor Hughes of The Athletic, Mike Maccagnan and his fellow front-office suits are high and very much in on free agent Anthony Barr.

Let’s intelligently break this down.

Barr, 26, is absolutely worth throwing money towards. The four-time Pro Bowl linebacker would most likely earn every penny (within the parameters of a reasonably-priced contract).

The issue? He’s a second-level linebacker.

Darron Lee, Avery Williamson, Anthony Barr—it’s a trio of second-level linebackers that fit the 3-4 worse than Mia Khalifa writing about sports. Unless unforeseen plans are in the works that’d send either D-Lee or A-Will packing, the fit is obviously incorrect.

Much has been discussed surrounding Barr’s pass rushing.

Sure, the dude can rush the passer. Evidence suggests that very notion. According to Pro Football Focus, Barr led all linebackers with a 13.8 pass-rushing productivity percentage in 2018, putting forth 23 pressures on just 94 pass-rush snaps.

Coming into the 2014 NFL Draft as the ninth-overall selection, he projected as an edge man. In fact, he amassed 23.5 sacks as a 3-4 outside linebacker over his final two UCLA campaigns.

Great. Wonderful. There’s just a nagging issue with the entirety of the idea that the Jets are solely in on Barr as a 3-4 edge man. There has to remain a fallback option.

His actual body of attempts at the pro level can’t constitute complete confidence as edge only. With more attempts comes a tougher time of actually getting to the quarterback.

Ninety-four pass-rushing attempts a year ago, 122 total attempts in 2016, and 116 in 2017 are numbers far from legitimate. It’s a sample size rarely worth noting. His number of 94 over the course of 16 games equates to just 7.625 pass-rushing attempts per contest. The average true edge rusher is so far above that number it’s not even worth mentioning.

Sorry. Anthony Barr cannot be signed to big money with the express purpose as a full-time edge man. It just doesn’t make football sense. It’s why the entire 3-4 base notion is silly.

There’s a reason the Minnesota Vikings used him at SAM in the 4-3. If he was a truly dominant rusher, he’d be a household 4-3 defensive end at this very moment. His 6-foot-5, 255-pound frame is nearly identical to Khalil Mack’s 6-foot-3, 247-pound prototype.

New York Jets

Something of note is afoot. It always circles us back to the idea of a hybrid—making sure both bases can be used on a whim.

Earlier in the offseason, the notion that the 3-4 of 4-3 is only critical during offseason shopping was penned. It’s only important as per making sure the right pieces to fit both are acquired headed into the summer.

It holds true today and the interest via Barr, if true, hammers that nail further into the Earth.

If anything, Barr fits Williams’s SAM spot flawlessly. Routinely, he’d come down on the line in the 4-3 Under look, essentially playing the edge. This isn’t to make the claim he can’t man down a 3-4 outside linebacker role. He absolutely can. But it’d be extremely irresponsible to dish out premium dollars to a guy who’s never done it consistently at the professional level along that one-track 3-4 mindset.

Flexibility is at play here.

I wouldn’t put it past Gase and Williams to actually announce 3-4 simply to bury the lede or throw folks for a loop. It’s questionable that the returns on such a sly investment would warrant anything of great value. On the other hand, what’s the harm in adopting such a move? There’s not one negative to the idea.

Wherever Williams has roamed featured the 4-3 on paper. He’s even twice taken 3-4 units and transformed them during one offseason (Cleveland Browns in 2016, Buffalo Bills in 2001). Why in the world would he suddenly commit to a 3-4 now at the ripe age of 60, especially with 4-3-specific-fitting pieces like Leo and D-Lee in tow?

Don’t buy the hype. The organization may be claiming 3-4 at the moment. They very well may even stick to the 3-4 on paper. They might even love Anthony Barr as a true 3-4 outside linebacker.

What can’t be avoided is the football certainty that something else is at play. The defensive holes will be plugged in to fit both the 3-4 and 4-3 and it looks like the information has started with the four-time Pro Bowl 4-3 SAM.

Expect 4-3 principles (including subpackages) to dominate any hint of 3-4 during the entirety of Gregg Williams’s New York Jets tenure.

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