The NY Jets have gotten off to a surprising 3-2 start this season, placing them firmly in the thick of the AFC through five weeks. The Jets are actually in possession of the top wild-card spot in the AFC, should the postseason start today.
With rookies and vets alike contributing to wins, the future is certainly bright. In spite of all the positive buzz, there is still a lot of room for this team to improve, especially on defense. A lot of this is owed to the puzzling defensive line rotation employed by Jeff Ulbrich.
This issue was amplified after the Jets' 1-2 start. During the Jets' Week 3 loss to Cincinnati, Quinnen Williams appeared to lose his temper with defensive line coach Aaron Whitecotton. The team has since rattled off two wins, but the defensive line usage by Ulbrich is still not allowing this team's pass rush to become fully realized.
Take Quinnen Williams, who is arguably the best interior defensive lineman in the AFC, for example. In spite of his phenomenal efficiency numbers, Williams had only seen the field for between 50-65% of snaps prior to Week 5.
NY Jets DC Jeff Ulbrich deployed a more favorable rotation in Week 5
This began to change in Week 5, as he saw around 70% of the snaps, although these extra snaps can be partially attributed to Jermaine Johnson (around 30% snap share) leaving with an injury. This forced Ulbrich to tighten up his defensive line combinations on the whole.
While it is nice to see this uptick in usage, it is still puzzling that he does not play more, especially when looking at Ulbrich's previous defensive tendencies.
When Ulbrich became the defensive coordinator for Atlanta after Dan Quinn was fired, he possessed a player very similar to Williams in Grady Jarrett. Ulbrich was tighter on his rotation in Atlanta, as Jarrett played roughly 75% of the snaps once Ulbrich began to call defensive plays.
Ulbrich and Saleh have said they view their depth on the defensive line as a strength, and the Falcons were undoubtedly thinner, but the Jets are getting lackluster production from several players playing a substantial amount of snaps.
Jacob Martin and Nathan Shepherd both see over 20% of the snaps per game. Shepherd has more penalties than sacks, and Martin has been quiet with only half a sack. Additionally, neither player is particularly efficient at generating pressure or stopping the run.
While Martin is being paid $4.5 million, this is not a reason to be stubborn. Plenty of players have been paid more only to disappoint and lose their roles. Just look at Kenny Golladay under Brian Daboll.
This issue becomes more perplexing due not just to the Jets limiting their stars on the defensive line, but also burying Bryce Huff in favor of these players. Huff has been scarily efficient in limited snaps.
It seems like every time he's on the field he is impacting the game. His pressure rate of 40% would be the highest in the league if he had enough snaps to qualify. Huff is not the only promising player being impacted by this rotation.
Jermaine Johnson has looked the part of an NFL defensive end to begin his career, showing a nice feel for rushing the passer while consistently setting the edge against the run.
Despite seeing under 35% of the snaps this season, Johnson has made 12 tackles along with 1.5 sacks. His high motor in addition to his overall skillset should make him invaluable to Ulbrich, yet he is being passed over for guys with lesser talent and production.
All is fine for now at One Jets Drive, but Ulbrich will face blame if the team begins to lose again. His usage rates have been downright perplexing to begin the season; Ulbrich needs to take a page out of Mike LaFleur's playbook and give the keys to his top players.