Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Against Lamar Jackson, Gregg Williams, Marcus Maye and the New York Jets found out how impossible it is to replace Jamal Adams.

Robby Sabo

FLORHAM PARK, NJ—They barely figured it out against the Miami Dolphins. The obvious bend-but-don’t-break defense that featured a ton of two-deep looks with Marcus Maye and Darryl Roberts forced Ryan Fitzpatrick to scramble a ton and lead his team to seven successful field goals.

The Baltimore Ravens posed a different threat, a completely uncontainable animal. It ultimately led to the entire New York Jets organization discovering the impossible task that is replacing Jamal Adams.

Lamar Jackson toyed with the opponent. The probable league MVP threw for 212 yards and five scores while also scampering for 86 yards on eight attempts in the dominating 42-21 victory that sent Adam Gase’s squad to its ninth victory.

A great part of the fault lies within the personnel. Edge players in this league aren’t useful by way of pass-rushing only. These guys need to showcase the ability to play in space, move on the edge against the run as well. And, unfortunately for the Jets, they haven’t employed a legit edge player since John Abraham. The likes of Jordan Willis and Kyle Phillips lumbering outside against Jackson read-options made it appear as though the JV challenged the varsity squad.

The other part of the equation deals in the reality that this organization finally discovered what life is like without Mr. Adams.

Naturally, this defense relied upon Adams too heavily. Due to the personnel deficiencies—especially on the edge—Gregg Williams formed a defensive identity around the strong safety. It flew in the face of the conventional defensive wisdom, that is playing from the trenches out. But Williams had no choice; it was his unit’s best chance of success.

From numerous strong safety (and defensive back) blitzes to incredibly disguised zone coverages, the defense finally built an identity around Adams as the centerpiece (with help from Maye and Brian Poole).

And hey, this man can handle it. Football is what his soul responds to time and again. Getting back to the practice field in full on Wednesday while knowing he will play against the Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday has the President ready for the next chapter in his football-playing life.

“It’s just what I do, man,” Adams said after Wednesday’s practice. “It’s my first love at a young age. I’m from a football family, always been around the game, loved it since Day 1. It’s my love and passion. It’s part of my life, it’s not my life, but it is part of it.”

The feel around Florham Park this week serves as a long cry from Cincinnati. The Jets lost to the winless Bengals and Adams was a no-show. It happened for a good reason, as Adams’s ankle forced him to showcase a fraction of what his usual abilities allow. Williams understood the strategy must be adapted against Miami, and it worked, somewhat. Against Baltimore, he knew the bend-but-don’t-break two-deep look had no shot. So he went with a desperate hail mary.

The result? The Jets now fully realize the sheer impossibility that is replacing No. 33.

Marcus Maye is no Jamal Adams in coverage

Marcus Maye is a wonderful free safety. What he does at centerfield a the NFL level could never be downplayed. But unlike the Dolphins game—that saw Maye and Roberts both interchange certain safety responsibilities—Maye attempted to replace Adams as the strong safety, the focal point of Williams’s 2019 defense.

It failed miserably.

Maye quickly realized how difficult it is to play this strong safety spot in this defense. It’s difficult to take on a variety of responsibilities—man coverage, flat responsibility, tight-end focus, edge run support, two-deep zone, etc.

How often is Adams ever beaten in man coverage? Never to maybe… rarely. On a few occasions Thursday night, Maye had some issues. And listen, Marcus Maye is a hell of a football player. This just goes to show everybody just how special a Jamal Adams is in today’s landscape.

On the following play, Maye is head-up with tight end Mark Andrews. He cannot keep his feet once the play turns into backyard football.

As usual, the trenches are the first big problem. The lack of pressure on Jackson is culprit No. 1. No defender can be expected to keep up with a weapon for that long, especially after the QB breaks the pocket.

But the point still hits home: Jamal Adams sticks with Andrews here.

Next, Maye is, again, is in the strong safety spot, in the slot on a wideout this time.

Toast… and it’s tough to get on Maye. In fact, nobody should get on Maye. Placing him in this spot is a rough idea, but it was the Jets’ best shot defensively.

The number of times Adams has been beaten in man-to-man coverage in his career can be counted on one hand.

Missing Adams’ run support

Not employing league-average edge players is a crippling thing in the NFL. Not having Jamal Adams back them up as the best edge run support safety is a death sentence.

On the Ravens’ second play from scrimmage, Jordan Jenkins is fooled by Lamar Jackson’s excellent ball-handling skills. He’s sucked in, crashes too far down, and Baltimore’s QB scampers for a nice chunk.

When it’s tough to decipher who the eventual ball-carrier will be, staying home on your individual responsibility is the only course of action.

Here, Jordan’s responsibility was the edge, the quarterback, and it’s obvious in Greg Roman’s zone-scheme. Only a talent like Adams can cover up mistakes such as this.

It’s not only the edge at play. No. 33 also plays linebacker-level duties at times.

On this one, Maye is essentially playing backer next to the lone ILB in the 3-3-5 nickel. He must key in on the offensive linemen and not fall for any misdirection stuff happening in the backfield.

As you can see, it’s far too late by the time he knows Mark Ingram has the ball and is walled off. Adams doesn’t fall for this stuff.

Listen, Marcus Maye was placed in a bad situation last Thursday. The guy is a centerfielder, not a strong safety. Gregg Williams felt as though his team’s only shot was to move back to his team’s identity—which focused on the strong safety—instead of leaning on a bend-but-don’t-break solution.

Putting Darryl Roberts at free and Maye at strong was his move. Now, everybody knows, including the New York Jets (and Maye), it’s impossible to replace Jamal Adams. A special player like that—who can literally do everything on the field and play any position—is irreplaceable.

“I love to be here obviously, I love to be a part of this organization,” Adams said. “It’s my calling. These guys drafted me, and I’m here playing football, doing something that I love to do. They made my dream come true so I always give back and will always continue to be me. I’m never gonna change.”

Jamal Adams needs to be here for the long-haul. A special talent like this can never be taken for granted, despite the dire needs elsewhere.

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]jetsxfactor.com