The Perils of Complexity – Gang Green Nation

It’s not hard to see where things can go wrong when a defensive playcall is straightforward. Last year, Jets fans complained about Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich’s 2021 plan being vanilla.

With a new season, returning players have a year under their belt. The Jets also added a number of new players during the offseason. Some are beginners, but many of them are more experienced players. This can probably help the team make more complex calls on defense.

Complexity has its own problems, however, as Devin Duvernay’s second touchdown on Sunday showed.

The Jets ran a version of pattern-matching coverage on the play.

What is pattern matching? It’s not quite man. It’s not quite the zone. It’s a combination of both. Most of the time, the player takes the receiver who enters his zone at the start of the game and then covers him man-to-man for the rest of the game.

It’s an attempt to get the best of both worlds. In man coverage, a defender can be taken out of position by movement before the snap or by traffic immediately after the snap. In zone coverage, a defense is vulnerable to a numbers game if the offense sends three receivers into two zones. Pattern matching avoids these pitfalls.

The receiver assigned to each defender depends on the route combination.

Now on to the game. I’ll start with the caveat that I wasn’t in the caucus so that’s my best guess. Even if I’m wrong on a few details, the general concepts I’m discussing here apply.

Perhaps the most important aspect of pattern matching is that it allows the defense to compare against four vertical routes, regardless of alignment. If four receivers are deep, the outside corners take the outside receiver. Inside safeties take inside receivers. Defenses typically number receivers and/or routes based on the side of the field they field. External receivers can be receiver number one, and internal receivers can be receiver number two. Their matches are reflected in the image.

Of course, the offense might not span four receivers. This is a scenario where pattern matching can be really effective. In a pure zone built to defend four deep receivers, the lower parts of the field are vulnerable.

However, since this defensive playcall only divides the deep end into quarters on a vertical four-way play, it can also protect the short end of the field.

DJ Reed in the red circle would likely have a shallow route to the outside on a game without four verticals. He has the number 1 receiver on the same side of the field if there are four verticals.

The teal circle has the second shallow receiver from outside on Reed’s side (or the third receiver from outside on the other side if the offense charges the other side of the field).

The purple circle has the outermost road receiver on its side, and the yellow circle has the second receiver from the outside.

And if there’s no outside breaking route to his side, Reed can just play man cover against whatever guy he’s lined up against at the time of the snap.

That’s what happens. The Ravens load the other side of the field with receivers. The guy lined up against Reed snaps his fingers in and DJ follows.

You will see Reed continue to follow his guy. I also noted the purple circle defender taking the shallow outside receiver and the two safeties who still have deep inside responsibility.

Reed just doesn’t have much of an influence on the game. Remember, he’s responsible for defending deep first, then out second. He’s not equipped to handle a crosser, so CJ Mosley in the yellow circle is there to help him. Reed’s man is now the second-furthest shallow receiver on the outside, so he becomes CJ’s responsibility (yellow circle).

There is also a cruiser coming from the other side of the formation. Reed having left the side of the field, Quincy Williams (teal circle) is the only defender left to take him.

Mosley and Williams busy leave Mark Andrews open. Lamarcus Joyner, one of the deep safeties has to lead on him.

However, Duvernay cuts through the field. With Joyner driving on Andrews, Jordan Whitehead is left alone on Duvernay. He was presumably expecting help from Joyner.

One on one is not the match you want.

It’s a touchdown.

Going back to some of our previous points, being too simple can hurt a defense. But there are pitfalls to being complicated. You can confuse the attack, but you can also confuse your own players. Everyone should be on the same page.

And while this type of coverage can bring out the best elements of the man and the area, sometimes it can bring out the worst. You could end up with a safety like Whitehead facing a wide receiver like Duvernay.

Of course, sometimes you just need to take your hat off to the opponent for calling the perfect play and executing it perfectly.

Sharon D. Cole