How the Jets Should Have Defensed Lamar Jackson’s Record-Breaker!
Simply put, the New York Jets had no answer for stopping Lamar Jackson from breaking Michael Vick’s NFL single season rushing record for quarterbacks. The read and react Jets scheme was a flashback to the days of Ray Nitschke and Artie Donovan, prompting me to think the New York defensive coaches instructed an intern to pick up a coaching book at the library which had been out of print for five decades.
Reviewing all the misreads and miscues of the ’61 Titans…uh…the 2019 Jets against Baltimore is too much of an undertaking (an apt word which can be directly associated to the defense’s dying performance). So, let’s just break down Jackson’s record breaking run.
The Ravens have been successful running power plays from this and other Pistol formation looks. The Jets defense, for Jackson’s pre-snap read, shows a version of a 4–2–5 set with a defensive back aligned with the center, six yards deep.
As the diagram shows, New York is in what can be summed up a balanced defensive set. The extra defensive back’s alignment can be read as being on either side of the ball. The defensive end (standing up in the above picture and notated in the diagram by a surrounding white square) is Jackson’s read key for his record-setting QB run. The EMOL (End Man on the Line of Scrimmage) defender is going to have his own read player. In this case it is the offensive tackle. If the tackle down blocks to the inside defender, the defensive end is normally instructed to crash down the line to help in tackling the running back. However, against a read option offense, which is a prominent part of Baltimore’s offensive scheme, the end may — in coachspeak, hold his water — and stay in his assigned gap and keep tabs on the quarterback who may keep the ball and run outside.
Prior to the snap, the H-back aligned in the slot motions in front and continues past the quarterback. Jackson receives the snap and the fullback and the H-back become the pulling blockers for the potential sweep play, depending on the quarterback’s read of the EMOL. The Jets defensive end uses squeeze technique, slightly shuffling down the line of scrimmage (LOS). His momentum down the LOS essentially puts him in ‘no man’s land’ — allowing Jackson to pull the ball from the running back and let his lead blockers clear the pathway to surpassing Vick.
The diagram of Jackson’s run is an example of how Baltimore is utilizing their talented tight ends as H-backs who block, leaving the interior line for inside run blocking. The picture of the start of the play shows how flat-footed the linebackers and the defensive backs are against the Ravens.
Here is one solution to the Jets defensive woes against Baltimore. Let’s start with Jackson’s read key. The player was non-committal as he squeezed slightly down the line of scrimmage — essentially taking him out of the outside contain assignment as well as leaving him late to the party had Jackson handed the ball to the running back. Georgia, Alabama and other collegiate defenses will pressure the quarterback-running back mesh point by having the read player running directly at the two offensive players to hasten the QB’s decision-making. It cuts down on the angle to tackle the quarterback and doesn’t allow him to make a move to the perimeter. It’s a starting point for the defense to play assignment football.
Assignment football isn’t something NFL defenders particularly favor as it cuts down on the ‘me time’ for big hits, etc. To lessen the impact of a Lamar Jackson, though, there is going to have to be such an effort by defensive coordinators and players.
To back up the play of the attacking defensive end, others must also be given particular assignments. Per the above diagram, there is a necessity for the secondary to rotate when the H-back motion begins. The extra defensive back and the free safety need to come down for run support. Adjustments can be made for which player crashes down and which would slow play in the event of a play action pass to one of the pullers (who are eligible receivers as well).
The inside line backers would have to move into their run fits, to assist in tackling the running back or to keep tabs on the quarterback should there be a companion QB-follow type play — something which the Ravens have run with Jackson this season.
Just as the Ravens would address ways to attack the defensive counter scheme being described, defenses will have to come up with many alternatives to slow down the effectiveness of talented run potential quarterbacks such as Jackson, Buffalo’s Josh Allen and Arizona’s Kyler Murray.