There have been all kinds of positive vibes surrounding the New York Jets following their 30-28 upset win over the Atlanta Falcons, and for good reason. The team has surprised most with its 3-2 start, and for the first time in three years there is reason to be optimistic about the rest of the season and the future.
However, there was one major concern to take away from Monday’s game. Tony Gonzalez was a huge problem for the Jets, and they could not find a way to cover him, short of committing blatant penalties. This is not the first time the Jets have struggled covering the tight end this season, and it could become a bigger problem going forward.
Gonzalez and the Buffalo Bills’ Scott Chandler are the two quality tight ends the Jets have faced this season. Gonzalez had 10 receptions for 97 yards while Chandler caught 5 passes for 79 yards and a touchdown. In today’s NFL, effective play from the tight ends is one of the best ways for offenses to move the chains on third down and convert in the redzone, and Gonzalez and Chandler were able to do that to the Jets.
The best coverage linebacker the Jets have is Demario Davis, but the team seems to prefer to have him cover the running back in passing situations, mostly because he has the speed to keep up. None of the safeties made their names is coverage, as Dawan Landry, Antonio Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett are all hard hitting, run stopping strong safeties. The Jets’ other inside linebacker, David Harris, is cut from the same cloth and often struggles against better athletes in coverage.
Against the Falcons, the Jets often chose to bracket Gonzalez with Harris and a safety, and they tried to get a jam on him at the line of scrimmage and prevent him from ever getting to his route. Unfortunately, that plan predictably led to a few pass interference penalties, giving the Falcons a first down anyway.
The Jets face a ton of good tight ends the rest of the season, including Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Heath Miller and Jordan Cameron, among others. Opponents will catch on quickly that the Jets struggle with these players, and expect them to be heavily targeted.
The Jets’ best option to prevent this is putting Davis exclusively on the tight end in passing situations. Davis is the only player on the roster with the combination of size and speed necessary to stay with these elite receivers, and he gives the Jets their best chance. The Jets will have to take their chances by pulling Davis out of responsibilities rushing the passer, stopping the run and covering the running back.
They can find other players to handle these duties in third down and other obvious passing situations, allowing Davis to give his undivided attention to covering the tight end. Providing safety help over the top will make a difference as well, as quarterbacks often simply throw jump balls to these players because they know the tight end will win.
The pass defense has been an issue for the Jets at times this season, and this aspect of it is a major concern. The Jets need to make adjustments in their schemes to do a better job covering tight ends, or they will continue to get burned.