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Why Jeff Ulbrich’s plan for the NY Jets DL is unwise


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New York Jets defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich revealed a plan for the defensive line that might not be the wisest approach.

By Michael Nania  06/02/2022

Speaking to the media on Wednesday, New York Jets defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich revealed how he plans to distribute snaps amongst the team’s defensive linemen.

Ulbrich said that “30 to 35 snaps” is approximately the maximum total that he wants any of the team’s linemen to play per game, citing the “level of fatigue that is associated with how we play.”

“We don’t catch blocks, we don’t read blocks; things are on our terms,” Ulbrich said. “And when you play like that, when you play with your hair on fire, and you play with the energy and the strain that we demand of them, asking them to play any more than 35 snaps I think is detrimental to their health and to the quality of play.

It would be much too extreme of an approach if the Jets really do end up sticking to that hard limit of 35 snaps per game.

Look, I get the thinking here. The Jets want their defensive linemen to play fast, aggressive, and downhill. That is a taxing playstyle. More rest can be beneficial when you play that way.

But a 30-to-35-snap limit is going way over the line. At that point, your best players are yielding far too many snaps to lesser talented backups. Rest is only worth so much – it is not worth trading 15 Quinnen Williams snaps for 15 Nathan Shepherd snaps. You are making your team worse by distributing reps in this fashion. The cost outweighs the reward.

Going with a rotation-heavy approach is perfectly fine in regards to your second and third-tier players. But you cannot be handcuffing your stars like that. They need to be on the field for a high percentage of the snaps.

It’s Ulbrich’s exact estimation of “30 to 35 snaps” that bugs me. I would completely understand if he just generally stated “we want to rotate our guys a lot” or something of that nature, but this specific number is ludicrous and I needed to let it be known how bizarre it would be if the Jets adhere to it.

Let’s put it into perspective how incredibly extreme it would be if the Jets truly did limit all of their defensive linemen to no more than 35 snaps per game.  How extreme is a 30-to-35 snap limit for defensive linemen?

The Jets defense was on the field for 1,189 snaps last year, or an average of 69.9 snaps per game. This means that if a player averaged 30 snaps per game throughout the season, he would have played about 43% of the snaps, while an average of 35 snaps per game would make up a snap ratio of about 50%.

It’s worth noting that the Jets defense did play a lot of snaps last year (because they were bad), but the numbers don’t change much even if you look at teams that played fewer snaps. The Bears defense played the fewest snaps of any team with 62.2 per game. At that rate, 30 snaps would be 48% and 35 snaps would be 56%.

Come on. You’re really going to play Quinnen Williams, John Franklin-Myers, and Carl Lawson for only about half of each game?

This would be a drastic decline for all three of these players.

Williams averaged 40.9 snaps with a 59% ratio in 2021, and in 2020, he averaged 45.2 snaps with a 64% ratio. Even those numbers were relatively low for a top-tier defensive tackle like Williams. Many of his similarly-talented peers have snap ratios of over 70%, or sometimes even 80%.

Critics like to compare Williams’ production unfavorably to Tennessee’s Jeffery Simmons, but guess what? Simmons averaged 54.8 snaps on an 85% ratio last year. He got substantially more chances to make plays than Williams did. On a per-snap basis, they produced at basically the same level. Williams had a sack once every 102.2 snaps (6 on 613) while Simmons had a sack once every 103.6 snaps (9 on 932).

Williams should be playing more, not less. He’s a star-caliber talent who has been coughing up too many snaps to substantially less talented players. Now he is going to be yielding even more snaps to backups? That’s not a smart move, especially when you consider that the Jets don’t have much defensive tackle talent behind Williams (especially when it comes to run defense).

Franklin-Myers averaged 44.8 snaps with a 64% ratio in 2021. After a solid year and with a cap hit of $12.5 million in 2022, you’re telling me that he is going to see his snap count sliced to the point where he plays no more than about 50% of the snaps in any game this year?

Lawson averaged 45.2 snaps with a 68% ratio in 2020 for the Bengals. Sure, he is coming off a major Achilles injury and a slight cut to his snaps at the beginning of the year would be wise to help him ease back into action, but a dip to “30 to 35 snaps” is still too much.

Even in the 2019 season, coming off a torn ACL in 2018, Lawson averaged 38.1 snaps with a 57% ratio, and he had a very productive season. By the end of 2019, Lawson was averaging 44.4 snaps and a 68% ratio over his final five games.

Nobody in the NFL does what Ulbrich is proposing the Jets will do

Not only would this limit be an enormous change for the Jets’ top stars, but it would be a completely unheard-of strategy in the current NFL.

There were 132 defensive linemen who averaged at least 35.0 snaps per game in 2021 – an average of 4.1 players per team. Every team in the league had at least one player surpass the mark. All but one team (Buffalo) had at least two, and 30 teams had at least three.

This idea seems to be very much Ulbrich’s doing, as Robert Saleh did not employ such a strategy during his days as the 49ers’ defensive coordinator. During San Francisco’s dominant 2019 season, Saleh had DeForest Buckner at 50.6 snaps on a 79% ratio, Nick Bosa at 48.6 snaps on a 76% ratio, and Arik Armstead at 48.5 snaps on a 75% ratio.

Another key point in this equation is the fact that the idea of resting defensive linemen is already ingrained in the sport of football. Every team’s defensive linemen get plenty of rest. Teams know these guys need more rest than players at other positions and the sport is built around that.

No defensive linemen in the NFL plays every snap or even close to it, whereas many cornerbacks, safeties, and linebackers do play 100% of the snaps on a weekly basis. Even the most heavily-worked defensive linemen in the league are resting for about one-fifth of the snaps or more. While a snap ratio of 70 to 80 percent may be relatively high for the position, it still includes plenty of rest. Great players don’t need to sit for half of the game to get adequate rest.

The philosophy of heavy rotation pertains to the non-star players. Your stars need to be playing as many reps as they can handle.

The Jets should not stick to the numbers that Ulbrich laid out

Setting a hard cap of 35 snaps per game for a defensive line that features three top-end players in Williams, Franklin-Myers, and Lawson is flat-out silly in my opinion. There is little clear-cut evidence that cutting a defensive lineman’s snaps makes them play better or keeps them healthier. Look no further than Williams, who played better on a larger workload in 2020 than he did on a smaller one in 2021.

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btw, most of the top defenses have this same philosophy even if it doesn't always play out in practice for them. The Pats and Bills which were both top 5 defenses last year employ the same practice on their defensive line and you can, in fact, find threads on their fan forums complaining about it..

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Truthfully, the Jets D was horrible last season and I recall this was happening then. I remember Saleh saying we need to limit snaps for DL because of what we ask them to do. Had it worked, nobody would be questioning this, but it didn't.  It was evident, especially late in games the D was gassed, even with this rotation. The Jets should be playing players like Q until they can't  stand up. What would go a long way to keeping the D fresh is if the O could sustain some drives which was another thing this team was not very good at.

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33 minutes ago, jeremy2020 said:

btw, most of the top defenses have this same philosophy even if it doesn't always play out in practice for them. The Pats and Bills which were both top 5 defenses last year employ the same practice on their defensive line and you can, in fact, find threads on their fan forums complaining about it..

They rotate players, yes, but the star players seem to be playing more snaps than the backups

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36 minutes ago, jeremy2020 said:

btw, most of the top defenses have this same philosophy even if it doesn't always play out in practice for them. The Pats and Bills which were both top 5 defenses last year employ the same practice on their defensive line and you can, in fact, find threads on their fan forums complaining about it..

Playing 30-35 snaps per game for their DL are you sure thats accurate?

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Yeah, seems like a strange way to go considering the defense should already be off the field for half the game (unless your offense blows like the Jets last season). I was always under the impression that these were elite athletes. 

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14 minutes ago, slats said:

Exactly, Ulbrich is another guy around here with a unearned bullseye on his back. 
 
Think back to the 2021 offseason. The Jets let Harry Anderson, Jordan Jenkins, Brian Poole, Terrell Basham, Langi, Austin, etc., all go, and their primary additions, Carl Lawson, Joyner, and Curry were out essentially all season. Then other pick-ups like Jarred Davis and Sheldon Rankins really didn’t pan out. The defense was also ignored in the draft until the fifth round, and Ulbrich was basically asked to operate with a couple late picked rookies at CB with little to no pass rush available - which is supposed to be the lynchpin of the entire operation. Not only that, but the guy was installing a new system. Fans were all on board ignoring the defense and focusing on the offense (me included), but the result wasn’t a huge surprise. 
 
This year, two first round pieces were added at premium positions in Sauce and JJ. Then in free agency they added Reed, Whitehead, Martin, and Thomas. Much different scenario this season, with A LOT of bodies on the DL to make this rotational plan work. Why not see it in action and then criticize it? Personally, I don’t expect a hard adherence to the 35 snaps. Dude’s talking philosophy to the press and Michael Nania took the opportunity to write an article. Yay. 

Sure, but the philosophy is a bit of an aberration, no? I think it’s ok to criticize something that, upfront, doesn’t sound like a good plan. I think you can hold a healthy level of skepticism while still waiting to see how things play out. 

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Sure, if the game-script goes well and we've established the run on offense, won some early third down's on defense, then yea, this 30-35 (or 48-56% as the article says) could absolutely be a responsible/viable recipe.

But not every game is going to be like that.

I think this is one of those 'in an ideal situation'. 

But ehhh, F it, let's see what happens - can't be worse than last year?

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11 minutes ago, the Claw said:

Sure, but the philosophy is a bit of an aberration, no? I think it’s ok to criticize something that, upfront, doesn’t sound like a good plan. I think you can hold a healthy level of skepticism while still waiting to see how things play out. 

I don’t believe that 30-35 number to be a hard number, but I do expect a heavy rotation along the lines of teams like the Bills and Pats; neither of which had a single DL play 60% of their team’s defensive snaps last year. Game situations will certainly dictate players being on the field more than 35 plays some weeks. Maybe even many. They did last year, with JFM playing more than 60% of the team’s snaps. This is a brouhaha about nothing, imho. 

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42 minutes ago, slats said:

Exactly, Ulbrich is another guy around here with a unearned bullseye on his back. 
 
Think back to the 2021 offseason. The Jets let Harry Anderson, Jordan Jenkins, Brian Poole, Terrell Basham, Langi, Austin, etc., all go, and their primary additions, Carl Lawson, Joyner, and Curry were out essentially all season. Then other pick-ups like Jarred Davis and Sheldon Rankins really didn’t pan out. The defense was also ignored in the draft until the fifth round, and Ulbrich was basically asked to operate with a couple late picked rookies at CB with little to no pass rush available - which is supposed to be the lynchpin of the entire operation. Not only that, but the guy was installing a new system. Fans were all on board ignoring the defense and focusing on the offense (me included, to an extent), but the result wasn’t a huge surprise. 
 
This year, two first round pieces were added at premium positions in Sauce and JJ. Then in free agency they added Reed, Whitehead, Martin, and Thomas. Much different scenario this season, with A LOT of bodies on the DL to make this rotational plan work. Why not see it in action and then criticize it? Personally, I don’t expect a hard adherence to the 35 snaps. Dude’s talking philosophy to the press and Michael Nania took the opportunity to write an article. Yay. 

If we are to use last year as a measure,  Q played 59% of the defensive  snaps. Most of the super stars at that position play considerably more than that and it was a drop off from 2020 where he played 64% . I'm pretty sure this was more than the 35 that Ulbrich was talking about but maybe just closer to 40. I would really be disappointed  considering Williams was one of the few bright spots on the whole team if he played less in 2022.

What is really interesting  is Rankins who clearly was not very good had about 30 more snaps and JFM had the most by about 10% more.

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11 minutes ago, More Cowbell said:

If we are to use last year as a measure,  Q played 59% of the defensive  snaps. Most of the super stars at that position play considerably more than that and it was a drop off from 2020 where he played 64% . I'm pretty sure this was more than the 35 that Ulbrich was talking about but maybe just closer to 40. I would really be disappointed  considering Williams was one of the few bright spots on the whole team if he played less in 2022.

Aaron Donald is an anomaly. Outside of him, I think you might be surprised how many downs these guys typically play: https://overthecap.com/snap-count-history/ 

Plus the Jets added a lot of DL bodies this year, including two in the draft. They’re set up for a heavy rotation and will likely cut players who will see significant playing time elsewhere. 

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10 minutes ago, slats said:

Aaron Donald is an anomaly. Outside of him, I think you might be surprised how many downs these guys typically play: https://overthecap.com/snap-count-history/ 

Plus the Jets added a lot of DL bodies this year, including two in the draft. They’re set up for a heavy rotation and will likely cut players who will see significant playing time elsewhere. 

Hopefully if Q plays better than last season, they don't  cut back his snaps becaise they added someone who is not as good. BTW, Isn't  JJ supposed to play edge? The really isn't DT like Q plays.

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In my opinion this thread is an indication that Jet fans have very little to
complain about as we run up to camp.  Because if Saleh/Ulbrich can keep all 
the DLinemen in the 35 rep range that means we have enough "quality" depth that
the Dline performance isn't suffering.  Another example of fans looking for complaints
would be:

- The team is 3-4 deep at every offensive skill position (WR, TE, RB) and the OLine 
projects to be a top 10 unit.  So dig up the Becton is fat, lazy and doesn't care
about the team narrative

The biggest concern about the team at this point is Wilson.  Is he ready to take
the next step and be the QB "point guard" who can feed all the weapons he has at
his disposal?     

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55 minutes ago, slats said:

Exactly, Ulbrich is another guy around here with a unearned bullseye on his back. 
 
Think back to the 2021 offseason. The Jets let Harry Anderson, Jordan Jenkins, Brian Poole, Terrell Basham, Langi, Austin, etc., all go, and their primary additions, Carl Lawson, Joyner, and Curry were out essentially all season. Then other pick-ups like Jarred Davis and Sheldon Rankins really didn’t pan out. The defense was also ignored in the draft until the fifth round, and Ulbrich was basically asked to operate with a couple late picked rookies at CB with little to no pass rush available - which is supposed to be the lynchpin of the entire operation. Not only that, but the guy was installing a new system. Fans were all on board ignoring the defense and focusing on the offense (me included, to an extent), but the result wasn’t a huge surprise. 
 
This year, two first round pieces were added at premium positions in Sauce and JJ. Then in free agency they added Reed, Whitehead, Martin, and Thomas. Much different scenario this season, with A LOT of bodies on the DL to make this rotational plan work. Why not see it in action and then criticize it? Personally, I don’t expect a hard adherence to the 35 snaps. Dude’s talking philosophy to the press and Michael Nania took the opportunity to write an article. Yay. 

To be fair, Ulbrich wasn't doing particularly great where he was before, soooo....

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24 minutes ago, More Cowbell said:

If we are to use last year as a measure,  Q played 59% of the defensive  snaps. Most of the super stars at that position play considerably more than that and it was a drop off from 2020 where he played 64% . I'm pretty sure this was more than the 35 that Ulbrich was talking about but maybe just closer to 40. I would really be disappointed  considering Williams was one of the few bright spots on the whole team if he played less in 2022.

What is really interesting  is Rankins who clearly was not very good had about 30 more snaps and JFM had the most by about 10% more.

Not challenging you but rather than looking at % of snaps, a better measure might be total # of snaps.  2021 defense were out there an inordinate number of LONG drives extended over and over again by dumb penalties/missed assignments, plus frequent 3 and outs by our largely inept offense (except of course when Mike White was out there @T0mShane)

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15 minutes ago, derp said:

The question from Cimini: Is 30-35 snaps ideally a hard and fast rule?

The answer from Ulbrich: Yes, we see drop off in intensity after 30-35 snaps.

The Jets last year: regularly played guys more than 35 snaps.

Jets fans: wHY WoUldN'T YOu PLAy ThE BEsT pLayERs MOrE?

The offseason gets exhausting.

They see a drop off in the intensity of players after 30-35 snaps. They'd like to have backups across the board who going at 100% are better than the starters going at 80%. If the starter at less than 100% is better than the backups, they've shown they're going to play the starter until he's gassed enough that the backup is better. This is such a silly overreaction to a complete nothing burger from an interview.

I mean the game IS 80% mental and 40% physical, so this makes sense. 

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Keeping guys fresh on the DL is an organization philosophy. Joe D and Saleh believe that as well.

The 35 snaps limit is absurd though. Has Ulbrich followed that rule in the past? He didnt last year.

While I agree it is a ridiculous statement, I don't think it’s actually going to happen. So I’ll just ignore it. Seems like an exaggeration similar to a player saying “I’m going to give 110%”. 

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1 hour ago, slats said:

another guy around here with a unearned bullseye on his back. 

2021 Jets Defense allowed a record over 500 points, last in Points allowed per game, last in pass yards allowed, bottom 5 in rush yards allowed, and last in total yards allowed. 

Yes poor innocent Jeff Ulbirch. What on earth warranted this unjust criticism. 

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