How Lorenzo Mauldin was Jets’ X-Factor in win over Ravens

The Jets got a much needed win on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, snapping a four game losing streak and improving their record to 2-5. With the Browns, Dolphins and Rams ahead, they’ll have a great opportunity to climb back to .500.

The defense, which has struggled all season long, only surrendered nine points to the Ravens with one of their best players in Muhammad Wilkerson sidelined. As the Jets resorted back to many 3-4 looks similar to what helped them succeed in 2015, Todd Bowles’ unit looked much better.

A good portion of that improvement was thanks to the effort of Lorenzo Mauldin, the former third round pick who had been suffering from a sophomore slump. How did Mauldin regain his pass rushing momentum yet again? Let’s take a deep dive.

The first thought many are probably thinking would be this: “Mauldin did not record a sack.”

That would be correct, but the box score does not tell the entire story. He registered two quarterback hits and four other pressures, resulting in six pressures on just 33 pass rushing snaps (PFF Premium). That’s a disruption rate of 18.2%, a very high number.

Coming off of a rookie season that saw him record 28 total pressures and four sacks, the expectations were high for him coming into 2016. While he gained weight in the offseason to become a three down defender, he lost some of his explosiveness and bend off the edge.

The biggest problem was his lack of playing time though. Until Sunday he never had a game with 20 pass rush snaps. With the trio of Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams for games 2-6, the Jets staff clearly felt the best option was to have them all on the field as much as possible. With Mauldin struggling against the run, this left him out of the equation until Sunday when Wilkerson was sidelined.

Pass rushers need to get in a groove, especially edge players that rely on keeping offensive tackles guessing their next move. And even since his days at Louisville, Mauldin has been a player who gets better as the game wears on, playing with a high motor that wears offensive linemen out.

While they have plenty of assets and money invested into their front four, Bowles and company should not get away from the 3-4 looks that propelled them to a win on Sunday. Richardson needs to stay on the interior, where he breaks into the pocket at an alarming rate. Moving him further from the ball is only hurting the team as a whole, no matter how bad the staff wants him, Wilkerson, and Williams on the field together.

Due to solid drafting in years one and two, Mike Maccagnan has given the coaching staff the ability to build a competent rotation due to depth. Jordan Jenkins has been a very impressive two down run stopper as a rookie. The Jets have five defensive tackles that can all win from the five, three, and one tech alignments.

What they can’t get away from is rotating a pass rush on the edge during passing downs. The Ravens were 3-of-14 on third downs on Sunday in a game that saw Mauldin and Mike Catapano each (finally) eclipse 20 pass rushing snaps. The Jets did not win with flash but rather pushed the offensive tackles back, often making Joe Flacco throw (off target) from his back foot.

The Jets are in a great spot to make a push for a .500 record. Losing Geno Smith for the year and being forced to go back to Ryan Fitzpatrick is a frustrating issue, but the defense has carried the journeyman quarterback plenty of times.

Getting Mauldin back in the mix and in a groove might just be the key for another Gang Green run.

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