Gregg Williams
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

The New York Jets defense now has an identity and a unique style. It’s all thanks to Gregg Williams and Jamal Adams.

Robby Sabo

FLORHAM PARK, NJ—Stale. Boring. Completely inevitable (that the opposing offense would march down the field). This is how the New York Jets defense could be described for most of the 2019 season, especially over the first month and change.

Not anymore.

Gregg Williams and Jamal Adams have completely transformed this unit. Victories against the New York Giants and Washington Redskins over the last two weeks help prove that point.

Nobody, not even the most rabid Jets fan, will confuse the Jets defense as an elite unit. Relenting 332.4 yards per game (13th) and 25.5 points per contest (24th) would never snag such endearing thoughts. But what Williams has done, slowly but surely, is provide this 11-man unit a true identity, one that it carries into every week.

He did it by highlighting the strengths in order to eliminate the weaknesses. Quite simply, the Jets defensive identity is two-fold:

  1. Disguised, exotic zone coverage
  2. Defensive back blitzing

Leaning on the safeties, Brian Poole and the interior of the defensive line has shown this team the light. That, combined with disguised coverages and defensive back blitzes galore, in order to make up for the team’s horrid four-man conventional rush, is giving opposing offensive coordinators fits.

Disguising Coverages

A tremendous example of leaning on the middle of the defensive backfield is what happens presnap. While Williams would always tinker with extreme disguises, this identity really took hold against the Giants.

Often, the mad defensive mind will place both Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye in the box. This means a Cover 0 presnap look takes shape for the quarterback to read.

Here’s the rub: it’s not Cover 0. It’s not even close.

In this example against the Washington Redskins, both Jets safeties are firmly in the box. Adams, near the bottom of the screen, is dancing around while toying with an edge rush.

The result is a Cover 3 Cloud with Bless Austin joining both safeties as the deep thirds. This look has worked wonders against both Daniel Jones and Dwayne Haskins. Jones did throw for four scores, but for much of the first half, these disguised zones worked like a charm. It wasn’t until Williams threw some man coverage in the mix in which Jones started eating up the Jets secondary.

Obviously, showing Cover 0 isn’t the only way to disguise.

The next example is a man-zone play. Williams looks to create a man-to-man illusion presnap, only to move to a Cover 2 Buc (with Brian Poole playing the Buc zone).

The Jets defensive coordinator loves the Cover 2 Buc principle, and without C.J. Mosley, utilizing Poole as the third defender deep is one of his favorite looks.

Defensive Back Blitzing

Nobody blitzes more than Jamal Adams. (No safety blitzes more than No. 33, that is.)

Thanks to a weak edge-rushing collection and horrid four-man conventional pass rush, Williams sends his strong safety to the quarterback more than anybody in the NFL.

Another man whose pass-rushing prowess is starting to appear is Brian Poole, who’s among the league-leaders in blitzing at the cornerback position.

On this play, Williams throws both Adams and Poole on the edge and, amazingly, the team didn’t even blitz. It was only a four-man rush, all told.

The reason Williams can afford to pull off so many DB blitzes is due to the identity of the team. Zone coverage is what they love. Zone coverage is what they do.

Trumaine Johnson is a great reason zone has taken a stranglehold of the unit. Due to his lack of speed (and overall production), any man-to-man look would have Johnson burnt. (See Week 1 and John Brown.)

Despite the increased play on the outside (Bless Austin, Arthur Maulet), the defense remains a zone-dominated unit.

Next up is another DB blitz, yet it isn’t a blitz at all, again. Both Adams and Poole come off the edge while the Double A-gap show drops into coverage.

Williams rolls with another Cover 2 Buc look with Austin and Maye serving as the deep-halves.

Communication, Individual Responsibility

Talent and scheme, alone, is never enough. A defensive unit can only truly get rolling if the details are in place. This means communication and individual responsibility.

When playing zone coverage, these Jets defensive backs are communicating and remaining 100 percent disciplined. The following example showcases a two-deep look in the red-zone.

The left half of the zone coverage is a beautiful display of communication and wherewithal.

Maulet’s responsibility is firmly in the flat. Poole’s in charge of the mid-hook zone. Maye is the over-the-top deep half, which most likely means corner.

Maulet’s first read is the most outside weapons. Once he runs the slant inside, he knows to pass it on to Poole, especially if his second or third read starts invading the flat.

It’s exactly what happens and these three remained completely connected the entire time.

Later, on the same possession, the trio shut another concept down in virtually the same coverage.

Poole (and Austin at the top) understand cushion is fine in the situation, a third-down. But watch Maulet and Maye’s positioning against the corner. They bracket the route to perfection.

In terms of stellar individual play on Sunday, Rutgers corner Bless Austin stood out. Questions remain when he’s asked to man up a speedy wideout, but when he’s part of a zone look, the kid is showcasing incredible talent at the NFL level.

Watch Austin’s flat responsibility on this one:

Austin, out of the flat, first tends to read No. 1. If No. 1 is the only man coming at him, meaning read No. 2 and 3 don’t, he can get depth and help downfield.

What’s interesting about this play is that read No. 2, the tight end, looked as though he was staying home to block. In such a situation, the flat responsibility man would get depth.

Austin didn’t. He read the tight end’s late release, got out of his break quickly and made the tremendous submarine tackle.

Other individual call-outs include Steve McLendon dissecting a running back screen and James Burgess Jr. scraping close to the defensive end while demolishing the offensive lineman who dared to block the man (as seen in the full video above).

Nobody will label the Jets defense a dominant unit. It’s an impossibility of the highest order thanks to the deficiencies at EDGE and corner, and partly due to today’s offensive-driven rules. That doesn’t take away the fact this defensive coordinator has put forth a tremendous job this season.

Thanks to Gregg Williams, with Jamal Adams leading the way, the New York Jets defense has come together in a tidy way. They’ve firmly established a true identity.

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