An underperforming Jets star is prime culprit for lack of takeaways

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By: Michael Nania

Every Jets defender can share blame in the lack of takeaways, but one player might be the most responsible

While the New York Jets‘ defense is continuing to do a good job of preventing points, the unit has lost an important skill over the past five games since the bye week: forcing turnovers.

Prior to their Week 10 bye, the Jets had forced 14 turnovers in nine games. They forced at least one turnover in every game.

Since the bye week, the Jets have forced just one turnover in five games. That one turnover was a fourth-quarter interception by C.J. Mosley against Chicago at a point where the game was already decided, so the Jets have not forced a meaningful turnover since Sauce Gardner picked off Josh Allen in the third quarter of the Jets’ Week 9 win.

Shutting teams down on the scoreboard is great, but considering the Jets’ offensive struggles, it is essential that this defense helps the offense out by creating takeaways to put them in favorable positions to score. That was a big part of how the Jets were winning games over their 6-3 start. Since then, the lack of turnovers has placed further pressure on the offense to mount long drives, and the offense has not been able to pick up the slack.

Analyzing a defense’s ability to create turnovers is a tricky proposition. There is so much luck involved with taking the ball away. This is obvious on fumbles, where the ball can decide to bounce toward whichever team it wants. A lot of interceptions are luck-based, too. Think about how many interceptions are nothing more than fortunate bounces off tips or drops.

All a defense can really do is try to shift the odds in their favor by playing good football. Create pressure, clamp down in coverage, and things should go your way.

The Jets typically create plenty of pressure. They are excellent in coverage. So, what gives?

Ultimately, I think the Jets’ lack of takeaways over the past five games is purely due to bad luck more than anything. But if we want to point fingers, I would look toward one player first and foremost: Carl Lawson.

Why Carl Lawson deserves a hefty chunk of criticism for the Jets’ lack of turnovers

While the Jets do create a lot of pressure as a team, think about where their pressure typically comes from. New York’s three most effective pass rushers are Quinnen Williams, John Franklin-Myers, and Bryce Huff. Williams is an interior defender. Franklin-Myers and Huff line up to the quarterback’s right side.

More often than not, the quarterback can see those guys coming. While pressure that originates in the QB’s line of sight could absolutely still rattle him and force him into a mistake, it’s not as likely as pressure that comes off the blind side.

The blind side is supposed to be the defensive line’s primary source of turnover creation. It’s where you get those strip-sacks that the quarterback can’t see coming. It’s also where you get the type of pressure that the quarterback only sees out of the corner of his eye, speeding up his internal clock and prompting him to make a dangerous decision.

Lawson is the Jets’ blind-side pass rusher. He always lines up on the right side of the Jets’ defensive line, across from the left tackle. This is the guy who New York relies upon to cause havoc from a spot where the quarterback can’t see him coming.

And when your primary blind-side pass rusher is only a league-average player, it can be costly in the turnover department.

With 14 games in the books, it is officially time to label Lawson’s 2022 season as a disappointment. While it is a stretch to say Lawson is playing “poorly”, he is no better than average, and that is a steep decline from who Lawson used to be. Once an elite creator of pressure, Lawson is now a middle-of-the-pack pass rusher who is playing nowhere close to a special level.

Lawson has 38 pressures on 371 pass-rush snaps this season. That’s a pressure rate of 10.4%, which ranks 56th out of 108 qualified edge defenders (49th percentile). It’s a far cry from his 2020 season in Cincinnati when he collected 64 pressures (sixth-most among EDGE) on 437 pass-rush snaps and ranked sixth-best at his position with a 14.6% pressure rate.

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The Jets could have the best pass rush in the NFL right now if Lawson were playing at his usual standards. Their third-down pass-rush package is loaded with talent at the other three spots: Williams and Franklin-Myers are monsters on the interior while Huff is a beast on the opposite edge. Lawson’s mediocrity prevents the Jets from going four-for-four.

Imagine how many more strip-sack opportunities the other rushers would receive if Lawson was more consistent at flushing the QB toward them. Everyone would complement one another. It would be a beautifully destructive domino effect that leaves no escape for the QB. Dodge pressure from one spot, and it’s nearly guaranteed he will run into pressure from another spot.

With Lawson only playing like a regular dude, the Jets don’t get as many of these complementary sacks as they could. He doesn’t create many opportunities for Huff and Franklin-Myers to clean up after him, and the opposite also applies. Many of Huff and Franklin-Myers’s pressures tee up opportunities for Lawson to clean up if he can win to the inside, but Lawson isn’t there to clean up for them as often as he should be.

It’s not just about sacks and strip-sacks, either. It’s also about creating catastrophic pressure that results in a high likelihood of the QB throwing an interceptable pass.

There are various forms of pressure. Sometimes, “pressure” involves nothing more than the QB stepping up to avoid one edge rusher and then getting off a clean throw after that. Other times, “pressure” involves the entire pocket collapsing on the QB to force him into panicking and throwing up a hot-air balloon for the safety to pick off. With better play from Lawson, the Jets would be getting the latter form of pressure far more often than they currently are.

Again, let’s be clear: Lawson is not playing badly. He’s just playing decent.

But the Jets are not paying him a cap hit of $15.3 million to merely be decent.

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