Our second film breakdown of the Weapons Check series deals with rookie linebacker Darron Lee, out of Ohio State University. Lee, played mostly with the second unit, but did make his presence known during the game. Since defense is more reactive, it’s hard to grade Lee’s performance on a preset rating scale, similar to the ones dealing with players on offense. We’ll break down some plays, and see how Lee is adjusting. Unfortunately, preseason games aren’t privy to coaches camera, therefore these film breakdowns are not comprehensive by any means.
The first play we analyze is a group tackle by the Jets. Darron Lee doesn’t seem to get official credit for this tackle, but he’s a big reason the runner was stopped. Lee displays his biggest advantage on this play, which is speed. He beats the guard to the outside, preventing the offensive lineman from gaining leverage on this play. If Lee is slower, then this play works much better because the offensive lineman would be right in the path of Lee, but the speed helps him evade the block. Lee also shows great closing speed on this play, which is something that stands out with him on tape from college. While it is not a display of extreme athleticism, it is definitely good to see the extra burst from the linebackers on defense. While he doesn’t get much credit on the play, it looks like Lee makes the biggest impact on this stop.
This is not a successful play for Lee, nor the Jets. The reason this play is here has nothing to do with the run either. What is important about this play happens right before the running back takes the ball to his left. The Jets run a double A gap blitz through the same gap, banking on the first defender to create spacing for the second blitzing player coming behind him. From a defensive standpoint, think of the first blitz-er acting almost as an offensive lineman as the worst case scenario, trying to open up the hole for the runner behind him. The Jets run this blitz to perfection here, as Lee has a direct path to the RB (and if it was a passing play, then the QB) but the RB makes a quick cut that gives him some space. Remember, this is the second string unit, so it does not have stalwarts such as Mo Wilkerson, Leonard Williams, or Sheldon Richardson. The right side of the defensive line gets pushed back, creating an escape route for the RB. Lee doesn’t do anything else on the play, but the execution of the blitz was very good.
Statistically, this is probably the best play of Darron Lee’s night. Subjectively, it’s probably one of his worst plays of the night. Remember the last A-gap blitz on the previous play, well it’s very much the same concept, but a C-gap blitz on this play. On this play, the lead blitz player acts the same as before and takes out a blocker with Lee tasked to follow him. However, the guard for the Jaguars recognizes this blitz pattern, and hands over his responsibility to the center, and then engages Lee, stopping him in his tracks. Lee isn’t going anywhere on this play, but Chad Henne gifts him a sack by essentially falling right in front of Lee. Lee does his task by falling on top of Henne, but this is not a good play by Lee. Rather, the right side of the defensive line makes great penetration into the backfield (unlike the last play), therefore flushing Henne out of the pocket on a 3rd and long.
The tackle on the running back might just be Lee’s best play of the night. At the onset of this play, Lee is mirroring the RB, thus it’s his responsibility to stop him. Lee absolutely annihilates the C-gap on this play, and blows up the play in the backfield. What is most impressive about this tackle? The closing speed. The RB is a about a step away from the right hash mark, and Lee is a good two yards away from him, but Lee makes the tackle before the RB has hit foot on the hash mark. Last year, this is a play where the RB absolutely makes it to the outside for a few yards. The Jags have this play set up pretty well, and if not for Lee’s tackle, they have blockers out in space for every Jet in the area, except for the single high safety.
There is a penalty on this play, negating this tackle. However, since it’s preseason, it’s more important to see the ability here than the result. This is a simple run to the left, with the offensive line sliding to the left. The LT is supposed to slide out, and then seal off the LB from getting to the RB. If the LT does his job, there is a decent hole for the RB to run through here, but Lee shows off his speed and beats the LT inside, blowing up the play. There was a lot of chatter about the size of Lee and how blockers will over-power him, but people are under estimating the impact of speed on the game. These blocking assignments are rooted in timing, and Lee’s speed throws off this timing. If Lee is a hair slower, the LT on this play comes around and blocks him off. There are plays were Lee will be over-powered (The sack play being an example) but his speed adds such a dimension to the defense, that it’ll disrupt the blocking schemes of an offense.
This is an experiment in slower GIFs to showcase Lee’s ability with more clarity. If there is a problem viewing these slower paced plays or if you feel that a regular paced play makes for better viewing, please let me know in the forums. Since defense is harder to dissect, a slower paced film helps people understand the intricacies better, in my opinion.
On this play, the right side of Jacksonville’s line slides left. The left side of the offensive line blocks their man one on one. Since the right side TE and Tackle slide , this leaves the RG free to engage the LB in the open. The Jags would presume in this case, the OLB to the left has to contain the run, therefore would run to the outside lane (which he does), and ergo a huge hole should be open right up the middle. Bruce Carter shows off his speed by simply beating the RG to the hole, robbing the guard of any leverage and stopping the play. This is another timing play that would work on slower LBs, but fails here because the offensive line’s timing is thrown off. Bruce Carter makes the tackle on this play. Darron Lee is tasked with containing the edge, and he does a good job in getting to the edge, forcing the RB to re-route inside.
Bruce Carter is a former second round pick of the Dallas Cowboys, and was once regarded as a possible first round pick. He is mainly known for his speed at LB, so the coaching staff is certainly trying to speed up the middle of the defense. Carter reportedly ran a 4.39 forty yard dash in college, before he suffered an ACL injury. At the combine, Carter ran a 4.57 forty yard dash, but he was still recovering.
Edit: This section was edited due to a mistake. The original post wrongfully labeled Lee as the tackler on this play, instead of Carter. Thank you to thatboyjack on our forum for catching the mistake.
The best of Lee, the worst of Lee. This is a short yard run, where the Jets crowd the line and bring their linebackers on a blitz. Lee slips through the gap, and has a clear shot at the RB, showing off his elusiveness. The Jets have single high safety with man coverage across the board, and everyone else is running towards the ball, so they sold out for the run. The RB has room to the outside on this play, and there is a decent chance he can get to the edge on this play, if Lee does not enter the vision of the RB. However, Lee’s presence forces the RB to reverse course, which makes Lee miss the tackle. However, this change in course led the RB to run right back into where the Jets had strength in numbers, so in the grand scheme of things, it was a good play.
Remember at the start of the article, it was stated that it’s almost impossible to grade defensive players because it’s a reactive game? This would be a good example as to why. Lee’s main priority in this case is to either tackle the runner (in which case, he fails) or prevent him from getting outside (which could explain his over-zealousness to get ahead of the RB, and would mean a success), but it’s hard to tell without knowing the call. This is also the same on pass coverage, where a TE might run right past him on a play. This could either indicate a zone defense for the LB (in which case, fine play) or missed coverage on man defense (terrible play), thus creating a high vulnerability to assumptions when trying to grade them.
This play is here to just show Lee covering a TE. There aren’t many plays that show him in coverage, and the ones where he was in coverage, the route isn’t clear with the TV camera angle. This is one of the few angles on TV that showed him in coverage and he seemed to handle himself fine on this play. The TE on this play doesn’t run a complicated route, and sits down in the middle of the field as if it was zone coverage, even though the defense played man coverage. Lee doesn’t really lose separation when the TE takes a step outside, and he’s right next to him to jump the route if the pass was thrown to the TE.
Darron Lee is not a perfect prospect by any means. Perfect prospects go in the top 5 of the draft. However, Lee is a great prospect that adds much needed speed to the defense. This breakdown shows that while there are occasions where he gets held up by stronger blockers, he can wreck havoc by disrupting the timing of blocks. Lee displays excellent closing speed, and on numerous occasions, shot through the gap before the offensive lineman was ready to block him. There are times where he will be taken out of a play because he wasn’t able to bull-rush an offensive lineman, but he makes up for those with his ability to blow up plays in the backfield. We can’t analyze his coverage skills until the season starts with the All-22 camera angles, however the scouting reports glowed about his coverage skills because he’s a converted safety. He looks like a much welcome addition to the Jets defense.
Please read our report on Jalin Marshall from Preseason Game 1, here
Please provide feedback on the article, and discuss this article on our forums, here. I would love to hear feedback on the slower GIFs, to see if it’s a good idea or not, moving forward.