NY Jets: How the new 4-3 scheme impacts the defensive line

NY Jets, Quinnen Williams
NY Jets, Quinnen Williams / Benjamin Solomon/Getty Images

When the NY Jets hired Robert Saleh to be their new head coach, it meant many changes were coming to the organization. This included everything from a new spirit and hope around the building, to a new structure of power.

What Saleh is also bringing is a new scheme on defense.

For over a decade, the Jets have been running a 3-4 defense. This scheme has brought the Jets an excellent run defense more often than not, as well as a secondary that was either great, or anything but.

So, as the Jets switch to a 4-3 defense, what changes will it bring to the defensive line? Let’s take a look.

Finally, the presence of an edge rush

One of the major issues with the Jets' old 3-4 scheme was the team’s lack of a pass rush. Since the departure of John Abraham following 2005, they never found a constant elite threat off the edge.

Already, things may be different for the Jets in 2021. All thanks to the addition of defensive end Carl Lawson. The former Cincinnati Bengal has been among the league’s leaders in pressures and will get the chance to capitalize on his burst with Gang Green.

The former Auburn product also highlights what the Jets are looking for at defensive end in their new system. They need players who can set the edge, get after the passer, and make opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable.

While the Jets may not have many players who fit the mold as well as Lawson, they certainly have options. John Franklin-Myers has the speed off the line to play both defensive tackle and end. The same can be said about veterans Ronald Blair and Vinny Curry.

It will be interesting to see how Jabari Zuniga and Bryce Huff are used at the defensive end, as they both have great speed and athleticism.

Zuniga struggled his rookie year in the 3-4 system, though he fits the 4-3 much better as a defensive end. Meanwhile, Huff fit the 3-4 outside linebacker role best and is undersized for a 4-3 defensive end.

Strong interior rotation

As defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers, Saleh employed a deep rotation along his defensive line. A strategy that, given his defenses were among the best in the league, certainly paid off.

Luckily, this is a strategy that Saleh is already bringing with him to New York.

As previously mentioned, the Jets brought in veterans Curry and Blair to add to their line and former Saints first-round pick Sheldon Rankins. New York also drafted Arkansas defensive tackle Jonathan Marshall, who is a freak athlete in his own right.

The additions of these three insert them into the already young and talented rotation the Jets had this past season. They will join the likes of Folorunso Fatukasi, Nathan Shepherd, Kyle Phillips, and more.

Oh, and one cannot forget their budding star, Quinnen Williams. Despite playing in just 13 games, Williams posted career-high numbers in sacks, forced fumbles, total tackles, and quarterback hits.

He even ranked 12th among 126 qualifying interior defenders per Pro Football Focus, establishing himself amongst the top interior lineman in the league.

Predicting the NY Jets starters

At defensive tackle, it will be Quinnen Williams. He is too talented not to be the best player along this front, and with the presence of Carl Lawson, he will no longer get all of the attention every single play.

At nose tackle, Folorunso Fatukasi will retain his starting spot. In a contract year, one of the league’s best run-stuffers will look to earn a big payday next offseason.

Along the edge, Lawson will be the Jets' top pass rusher. Lawson has a chance to be the Jets' first double-digit sack player since Muhammad Wilkerson in 2015.

As for who is the defensive end opposite of Lawson, that will be a heavily contested spot during training camp.

Franklin-Myers has a ton of upside, though is likely to be the first rotation player given his versatility. Therefore, leaving the right defensive end spot currently to Vinny Curry to start the season.

What this means for the NY Jets defensive line in 2021

On paper, the Jets have exactly what they want for their new 4-3 defense. A strong rotation along the interior of their defensive line — one that can move the pocket, and force opposing quarterbacks to move back, as the edge rushers close the pocket.

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Now, nobody should be expecting the Jets' defense, let alone the line to be on the 49ers' level. Yet, there is no reason why this unit should not be drastically better in 2021 under Saleh’s command.