The Jets defense was pretty good last year. New York allowed 29 touchdowns in 2015, tied with the Broncos for the fourth fewest in the NFL. But the Jets allowed a ton of long touchdowns: on average, those 29 touchdowns scored by opposing offenses came from 23 yards away.
That may not mean much to you in the abstract, but only three other defenses (Ravens, Vikings, Rams) saw allowed touchdowns from, on average, at least 20 yards away; by contract, the other 31 teams allowed touchdowns that gained, on average, 16.22 yards. One reason I initially thought the Jets defense fared poorly in this statistic is because of the team’s historically great run defense, and that’s partially true. The Jets allowed only four rushing touchdowns last year, and they came from 1, 1, 2, and 18 yards away.
But if you look at only passing touchdowns, the Jets defense still allowed the longest average touchdown at 26 yards (even worse than the Saints!), compared to an NFL average of 19 yards. The Jets allowed 15 touchdown passes of 20+ yards last year, tied with New York’s other team for the most in the NFL.
What was the reason for those long touchdowns? I went back and re-watched all 15 touchdowns, and tried to assign blame. In most cases, it was pretty easy.
- Odell Beckham Jr. had a 72-yard touchdown; that was the result of a mix-up in the secondary, and a bad angle by safety Marcus Gilchrist allowed Beckham to turn a short pass into a long gain.
- Later in that game, Marcus Williams, subbing in for an injured Revis, was overmatched as Hopkins simply outmuscled and outran Williams for a 20 yard touchdown catch down the sideline.
- Raiders running back Taiwan Jones caught a pass behind the line of scrimmage and then broke tackles (using that word very loosely here) from Demario Davis, then Marcus Williams, then Gilchrist and then ran passed a diving Sheldon Richardson for a 59-yard touchdown.
- Travis Benjamin burned Antonio Cromartie (who perhaps was expecting inside help from safety Jaiquawn Jarrett, but Jarrett was not in a great position to prevent the catch) on a simple go route to catch a 50-yard bomb from Johnny Manziel.
- Earlier in the Oakland game, Michael Crabtree caught a pass over the middle (on a deep in route, with Cromartie beginning the play in coverage on him) and then broke tackles from Cromartie and Davis, and then later by Marcus Williams, to turn the gain into a 36-yard touchdown.
- And still in that Raiders game, Andre Holmes beat Cromartie deep down the right sideline for a 49-yard touchdown on a 3rd-and-2.
- Marcus Mariota caught a 41-yard touchdown pass against the Jets on a trick play, in a game where the Titans were trailing 27-0 with 20 minutes to go. Antonio Andrews lined up in shotgun as the quarterback, with Mariota flanked out wide. Calvin Pryor was in coverage on Mariota, but fell, allowing Mariota to run free for an easy pitch and catch.
- In an even more meaningless touchdown, DeVante Parker caught a 33-yarder with 5 seconds left and the Dolphins trailing 38-14. The touchdown came on a medium-length pass, but involved missed tackles from both Cromartie and then Gilchrist.
- Allen Hurns badly burned Cromartie for a 30-yard touchdown in the final seconds of the first half in the Jaguars game. Hurns did a simple double move and Cromartie bit, allowing Jacksonville to cut the lead to 14-10.
- Bills running back Karlos Williams caught a 26 yard touchdown on a play where he began lined up in the backfield that took a very long time to develop. The culprit was Demario Davis – a run-stuffing linebacker – who was completely lost in coverage.
- Donte Moncrief caught a short pass on Cromartie, and used his strong run after the catch ability to turn it into a 26-yard score. He ran a short route but was too quick for Cromartie, who turned the wrong way on Moncrief’s initial fake to the outside.
- Ryan Mathews ran a simple wheel route that Demario Davis – yes, him again – simply could not cover. It turned into an easy 24-yard lob for a score.
- Another trick play touchdown against the Jets came from Houston. With Alfred Blue in the backfield, he slowly drifted to the right at the start of the play, while the quarterback threw a pass behind the line of scrimmage to the left sideline to Cecil Shorts. That was a lateral, and Shorts then threw across the field to Blue, who was streaking down the field. Cromartie was the edge defender and should have stayed with Blue, but instead stuck with the tight end who was cutting from right to left across the field.
- Finally, Blake Bortles and Bryan Walters connected for an easy touchdown late in the game. Buster Skrine was in loose coverage, and undercut the route thinking he could intercept the pass, but misjudged it.
That’s 15 long touchdowns. The final responsibility tally? I’d assign blame to 20 players for those 15 touchdowns, with Cromartie taking responsibility for 7 of them, Davis for 4, and Gilchrist and Williams with 3 each. Cromartie and Davis are gone, while Gilchrist and Williams will return.
Will the Davis/Cromartie replacements provide an upgrade? Erin Henderson and first round draft pick Darron Lee will replace Davis, though there are questions marks on both Henderson (more of a run stuffer) and Lee (more of an athlete/blitzer) in coverage.
On the other hand, Williams will be part of the group replacing Cromartie (along with Dee Milliner, among others). That means Williams and Gilchrist are still around, and their play will go a long way towards determining how good the Jets secondary is this year. Williams did show flashes last year, and was an undrafted rookie in 2014, so there’s still hope for improvement. He’s had a rough start to the pre-season, though. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine him doing worse than Cromartie did in the full-time role last season.