With the NFL Draft and free agency having come and gone, we’ll break down all sorts of fantasy-relevant questions entering the 2018 season. Up next is a look at whether one of the NFL’s perennially stout run defenses will continue to force opponents to take to the air.
Identifying which defenses thrive at stopping certain types of offenses is integral in all facets of fantasy football. Once upon a time, FantasyLabs’ Adam Levitan created the term ‘funnel defense.’ This phrase is meant to denote defenses that are exceptionally good at stopping the run, but accordingly tend to ‘funnel’ the offense’s production to the passing game.
Todd ‘Stop the Run’ Bowles
Jets head coach Todd Bowles spent the better part of his first 15 years in the league as a secondary coach. This included stops in Green Bay, Cleveland, Dallas, Miami, and Philadelphia before finally becoming the Cardinals defensive coordinator in 2013.
Opposing offenses struggled to get much of anything going on the ground against Bowles and the Cardinals in 2013-2014.
- The Cardinals defense finished No. 2 and No. 7 in DVOA in 2013 and 2014, respectively, under Bowles.
- 2013’s unit finished as the league’s respective No. 5- and No. 1-ranked defenses in pass and rush DVOA, respectively, while 2014’s defense ended the year ranked No. 14 and No. 6 respectively.
- The Cardinals were the only team to finish as a top-three defense in fewest DraftKings points per game allowed to running backs in both 2013 and 2014.
Miraculously, the Cardinals managed to function as the NFL’s premier run defense without completely falling apart in the secondary. Bowles obviously deserves some credit, although this same phenomenon occurred in 2015-2017 with James Bettcher at defensive coordinator.
It’s vital for front sevens to have talented players when attempting to stop an opponent’s run game, but even the league’s most talented group of six stalwarts won’t be able to load the box as well as eight mediocre journeymen. With all due respect to the talented linebackers and defensive linemen that have recently played for the Cardinals or Jets…
Bowles-Led Defenses Have Struggled Without an Elite Cornerback
Having a receiving threat that warrants the attention of two defenders is an easy way to open up an offense’s rushing attack. Conversely, possessing a cornerback capable of erasing a No. 1 receiver is the easiest way to devote extra attention to the run.
Patrick Peterson has been one of the league’s top-tier cornerbacks for almost the entirety of his seven-year career, while Darrelle Revis managed to give the Jets one last encore performance in 2015. Revis’ career passer rating allowed from 2007 to 2015 was 60.4, while quarterbacks had a rating of 104.2 when targeting Revis in 2016. His replacement, Morris Claiborne, finished last season as Pro Football Focus’ 100th-ranked corner out of 121 qualifiers.
Unsurprisingly, Bowles’ typically stout rush defenses have faded without the presence of a high-end No. 1 cornerback.
Possessing a great No. 1 corner doesn’t automatically produce a great run defense; Jalen Ramsey and Josh Norman couldn’t prevent the Jaguars or Redskins from finishing last season among the league’s top two reverse-funnel defenses. Still, Bowles has proven incapable of putting together an above-average defense without a top cornerback, and the 2018 Jets might not have the same caliber defensive line that helped keep the run defense afloat over the past two seasons.
The Jets Might Possess the League’s Worst Pass Rush
The Jets spent first-round picks on Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson, and Leonard Williams, and they rewarded the franchise with one of the league’s most-formidable defensive line trios in 2015. Williams finished last season as PFF’s No. 21 overall interior defender, but the former two stalwarts will start next season on the Vikings and Packers, respectively.
Not having a pass rush isn’t exactly new for the Bowles-led Jets, and they’ve paid the price upon facing the game’s best offensive lines.
- Jets vs. top-10 units in adjusted sack rate (12 games): 4-8 win/loss, 26.6 points, 359.3 total yards, 257.8 passing yards allowed per game.
- All other games (36 games): 16-20 win/loss, 21.8 points, 330.6 total yards, 231 passing yards allowed per game.
It’s tough for any defense to stop the game’s best passers, but the Jets have consistently fallen short due in large part to a pass rush that’s ranked 21st, 32nd, and 25th in adjusted sack rate in 2015-2017, respectively. Overall, the Jets have a league-low 55 sacks over the past two seasons.
The Secondary Remains an Issue
It’s tough to see any of the Jets’ offseason additions having a Peterson- or Revis-level impact. Trumaine Johnson worked as the No. 1 corner for a very good Rams pass defense in 2017, but graded out as PFF’s No. 68 overall cornerback and allowed at least 50 receiving yards during each of his five shadow dates last season. The Jets curiously drafted just one defender in the first five rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft.
The Jets are presently one of just 10 teams with a 2018 win total of 6.5 or lower from BetOnline. Bowles and defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers haven’t historically demonstrated the ability to guide an under-talented defense to above-average heights, and the team’s inability to upgrade their defensive line or secondary in the offseason should leave investors of opposing fantasy offenses salivating come Week 1.
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Pictured above: Todd Bowles
Photo credit: Chuck Cook – USA TODAY Sports