Jets ‘Greatest Strength’ Manhandled as Colts Break Offensive Record

Nyheim Hines, Nathan Shepherd

Getty New York Jets defensive linemen Nathan Shepherd (#97) and Tim Ward (#51) watch helplessly as Indianapolis Colts running back Nyheim Hines runs for a touchdown in the first quarter on November 4, 2021.

For whatever reason, the New York Jets defense has not traveled well this season.

It was decent Week 1 in Carolina, although the team had no answer for Christian McCaffrey, but Jeff Ulbrich’s unit has been terrible on the road since then. Denver ran it down their throats, they couldn’t stop Cordarrelle Patterson and the Atlanta Falcons either, New England was a 54-point trainwreck and primetime in Indianapolis was a near carbon copy of Week 7.

Every road outing has been disastrous and there has been another theme that is evident in these losses. Something is broken within a unit that was supposed to be the Jets greatest strength.

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Jets Porous D-Line Strikes Again

No matter how poorly the 2021 season went, no fans would have thought that a major deficiency would be the run defense. With top-tier NFL run-stuffer Folorunso Fatukasi leading the way and players like Quinnen Williams, Sheldon Rankins, Shaq Lawson, John Franklin-Myers and Nathan Shepherd all on the roster, the expectation was that this group would never get manhandled as they have in back-to-back road games.

According to ESPN’s Rich Cimini, “the Colts rushed for 260 yards, including 211 BEFORE first contact.” He added that the franchise “averaged 7.0 yards per rush before contact for the game, their most in a game since ESPN first tracked contact [yards] in 2009!!!”

That means Indy broke a record in Week 9 — well, at least since they started keeping tabs on the statistic. Just think about that for a moment though, 211 rush without ever getting touched. Makes me wonder how many I could have totaled behind this brutish Colts O-line.

“Obviously it wasn’t good enough,” head coach Robert Saleh replied during the postgame presser, “especially when a team runs the ball the way they did… they’ve got an unbelievable offensive line, and obviously we weren’t up for the task.”

The Jets HC continued: “The run game is what’s gotten us two out of these last three weeks. Felt really good about the way we defended the run last week but when you can’t defend the run, good luck.”

Saleh noted that Ulbrich tried to come out more aggressive against the run in the second half but that backfired, springing a 78-yard touchdown run from Jonathan Taylor.

“[The statistics] tell me they were creating space,” he concluded, “when it comes to the run game it’s man versus man and obviously we’ll get a chance to go look at it and dissect it even better but obviously with the way we play there shouldn’t be that much space. So it’s either they were moving people or we just weren’t as — I don’t want to say disciplined — but we weren’t as gap-sound as we needed to be.”

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Player Grades Reveal Major Culprits

One interesting take I saw was from Robby Sabo of Jets X-Factor on Twitter. He stated that “the difference between the Jets first-team DL and second-team DL is *drastic*. Saleh believes in ‘beyond rotation’ upfront. In today’s game, it’s necessary. But are these hockey-style line changes hurting them too much?”

Going back to the preseason, I’ve questioned why players like Shepherd are getting so much burn. He consistently ranks in the bottom third on Pro Football Focus every week, but even the eye test is enough to determine that the backup defensive tackle gets shredded on a consistent basis. ‘Shep’ received a 29.5 defensive grade against the Colts with a 30.0 on run D.

Another player that cannot stop the run this season is Rankins. In Week 9 he continued that trend, with a 25.0 run D grade off 29 snaps. The other culprits according to PFF were Fatukasi himself (50.5 run D marks) and linebackers C.J. Mosley (25.3) and Jarrad Davis (26.2) who both had a horrendous night.

In the second level, no one had much success stopping the combination of Taylor and Nyheim Hines either with poor scores all around from the cornerbacks and safeties on the rushing side.

It’s hard to support the coaching staff when it comes to the D-line’s regression. Saleh and Ulbrich like their front four to attack the passer and play aggressively, but they seem to be overcommitting on simple screens or half-back gut-punches.

The game plan of how to beat this Jets defense is now known around the NFL and the coaching staff must display some ability to adapt. Otherwise, get used to allowing 30-plus points every week.

For what it’s worth, four players from the front seven did perform decently against the run according to PFF. Quinnen Williams was the top-graded Jet in this department at a 77.0 (six defensive “stops”), while Lawson earned a 69.1 on run D and Quincy Williams scored a 66.4.

‘JFM’ had his best outing since his extension, with a 64.1 grade on run defense and five quarterback pressures from a pass-rushing perspective — including one sack, one QB hit, three hurries and three defensive stops.

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