Brian Bassett, TheJetsBlog.comWhat’s the biggest hole on the Jets roster? Cian Fahey of Football Outsiders contends that it is the outside linebacker position. Fahey cites the team’s top player at the position is a 33 year old Calvin Pace who had 10 sacks for the first time in his career in 2013.
Behind Pace of course is Antwan Barnes, who is recovering from an ACL that was torn during the 2013 season. Jermaine Cunningham is taking sub-package reps in Barnes’ place, but Cunningham is a reclamation project brought in from the Patriots. Garrett McIntyre has provided the team some depth and has had moments, but the consistency has been an issue. Beyond Tim Fugger, the Jets also drafted both IK Enemkpali and Trevor Reilly to fill in the team’s depth.
But in the end it all comes back to Pace for Fahey.
“Pace took the quarterback down 11 times last year—he had two half-sacks—and he didn’t beat a block on seven of those plays,” Fahey writes on Football Outsiders. “On those plays, he was either given a free route to the quarterback or the quarterback left the pocket and Pace brought him down behind the line of scrimmage.”
Calvin Pace has never been a speed rusher to beat a blocker around the edge for a quick sack. His value since coming to the Jets has been in setting the edge and turning the run back inside or making a sure tackle on a ball carrier when required — an important but thankless task. Regardless, his game has begun to erode in the past few seasons and when Barnes went down last season the Jets found a way to make use of him.
It’s is more than fair to assume he won’t put up the same sack total again in 2014, but he should be able to contribute all the same. The fact that Pace was unblocked in seven of his 11 takedowns indicates to me the stellar job that the defensive front is doing to set him up for such success. Pace has always been a player who has relied on his motor to reach the quarterback. Pace isn’t the sort of player who can hurry the quarterback, but with Mohammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Quinton Coples he doesn’t necessarily need to be.
Which brings us to the most glaring issue in the piece. We can debate whether or not Quinton Coples is or is not a true linebacker, but he is listed as such at both the Jets website and at Ourlads. The rush linebacker role in Rex Ryan’s scheme is something that can often appear like an end, but has the flexibility to start from a two or three point stance. Coples is better or more comfortable out of a three-point stance and thus elects to set himself up accordingly.
The simple fact is that he is an edge-rusher and is becoming a better edge-setter for the Jets after two years and could bring more athletic upside to Calvin Pace’s spot at some point when Pace starts to move out of the lineup.
To be fair though, we get why Fahey would overlook Coples. Last year didn’t start well for Coples . After fracturing his ankle in the preseason, Coples sat out the first two games of the season and appeared to have come back early, plainly struggling through Week 8. Through the first nine weeks (the time of the team’s bye), Coples had just one sack and seven QB hurries.
The healthier Coples became, the better his game was. After the bye in the last seven games of the season, Coples totaled five sacks and 16 hurries. Coples also got better against the run in the bargain, almost assuring us that he will see a lot of time for the Jets as a pass-rushing, run-stopping three-down outside linebacker in 2014.