Jamal Adams, Gregg Williams
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

The performance of New York Jets defender Jamal Adams on Sunday proves strong safety has entered valuable NFL territory.

Robby Sabo

FLORHAM PARK, NJ—The grace of Jerry Rice. The nastiness of Lawrence Taylor. The outrageous competitiveness of Tom Brady. The outright dominance of Emlen Tunnell.

Wait, what? Emlen Tunnell?

For the casual observer, that last one is a head-scratcher. What is this Tunnell and where is it?

For the diehard, it makes all the sense in the world. While the greatest safeties in NFL history are rarely mentioned with the quarterbacks, wideouts and running backs of the world, it doesn’t mean the position doesn’t hold importance. It always has; but what’s critical to understand is that, today, the safety spot has reached epic levels of importance.

Think about the NFL, today. Think about the rules. Thanks to a league that craves passing yards galore, stopping an opponent become nearly impossible. Three decades ago, it was nearly impossible to win a Super Bowl without at least deploying some form of rushing ability. In 2011, the New York Giants accomplished the feat after finishing dead last in the category.

Look north. Look to the New England Patriots. Tom Brady has made a legendary career of taking advantage of matchups, specifically, running backs and tight ends. It’s the new-age strong safety that shuts down those matchups.

In today’s game, a great argument can be made that strong safety is the fourth-most valuable position.

  1. Quarterback
  2. Left tackle
  3. Edge rusher
  4. Strong safety

Yes, even above an elite cover corner. Why? Well, elite cover corners are impossible to come by due to the rules. While, for the New York Jets, elite cover corners are desperately needed, the organization’s strong safety, Jamal Adams, is the best in the business, and he, along with Gregg Williams’s scheme, against the Giants, proved it.

Gregg Williams' Scheme

Imagine being Gregg Williams. The man is dealing with injuries to all four of is preseason inside linebackers, knows his corners can’t cover anybody (save for Brian Poole) and fully realizes his defense doesn’t threaten any offense with its four-man conventional pass rush.

What’s a defensive coordinator to do?

Well, for one, copy Williams’s game plan against Daniel Jones and the Jints from the team’s 34-27 victory in the Good Grief Bowl.

Williams called a ton of zone with disguise and replacements. He oftentimes had both Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye in the box presnap, only to have one rush and another dart to the single-high. And, oh yeah, defensive backs blitzed all game.

On the very first play of the game, both Adams and Maye start from the box. Poole blitzes, Maye replaces him and Adams finds himself at the single-high.

This was a continuing trend all day and, for the most part, worked. (Jones saw his most success against the rare man-to-man call.)

Jamal Adams' Dominance

Part of Williams’s scheme was to feature his safeties, the duo that is undoubtedly the strength of the unit. For example, not every safety can pull off the slick disguises Williams asks.

On Sunday, No. 33 put forth his most dominant NFL performance, at least in terms of the box score output. Make no mistake, Adams has been this dominant in prior games, but this one featured the big plays that take his name to the next level.

On the first drive, the Giants’ offensive line slides left on the play-action, leaving Saquon Barkley in a one-on-one situation with an edge-blitzing Adams.

No chance. As outrageous as it sounds, Adams may be the Jets best pass rusher.

More than pure talent, the kid’s versatility allows Williams to pull off an incredible number of interesting looks. On the following play, Adams lines up on the slot wideout, Golden Tate. Even with Poole in the game, Adams goes to the wide receiver.

Preferably, the slot corner should line up on Tate while Adams heads up the tight end. The man is so damn versatile that conventional wisdom is thrown out of the window.

When Adams is tested, he comes through.

Did you see the angle he took? Many safeties, especially strong safeties, will drift a bit in this scenario. It’s not easy to flow with the route cut, yet Adams does it flawlessly while taking the right angle with his inside hand ready to defend.

As good as the guy is through the air, he’s even more dominant against the rushing attack. On the following 4th and 1 situation, he times the snap to perfection and helps stuff the quarterback sneak.

Similarly to the first sack, the little things, the details (the timing of the snap, the get-off), is something Adams proudly showcases.

The area the former LSU product really shines is off the edge. This man is the best edge-setter in the NFL.

On this blitz, he finds himself unblocked. His superhuman effort stops Barkley in his tracks. Under regular edge-setting situations, he’s always fundamentally sound, taking on the blocker with his inside shoulder while pinching it down.

Finally, Adams put forth his most dominant highlight early in the second half. What he did to young Jones is something every football defender dreams of the night before a game.

“Gimme that,” President Mal said. Quite literally, every defensive player dreams of this play and the Jets’ best player made it a reality.

Over the last two weeks, this defensive unit hasn’t played well, yielding a total of 53 points to the hapless Giants and Miami Dolphins. But that doesn’t mean the defensive coordinator and strong safety are failing. Both of these guys are performing well.

What’s scary is the thought of Williams and Adams with a legitimate corner or two, inside backing crew and four-man pass rush. For now, however, the duo will have to continue patching it up on a week-by-week basis.

Jamal Adams is proving just how valuable the NFL strong safety is in today’s league, by leading an incredibly flawed unit, and Gregg Williams is doing everything he can to support him.

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