Not even two weeks after parting ways with Adam Gase, the New York Jets have found their new head coach: Robert Saleh, formerly the San Francisco 49ers’ defensive coordinator, will take over the vacant position. The Jets have therefore landed one of the most promising young coaches in the league, and went back to a defensive-minded coach after the failed Gase experiment.
While the eventual fallout of the hire remains to be seen, let’s take a look at it from the New England Patriots’ perspective. After all, the Patriots will face Saleh and his Jets twice per year moving forward.
One of the most popular head coaching candidates comes to the AFC East
Before agreeing to become the Jets’ next head coach, Saleh had received quite a lot of interest from around the league. In fact, six of the seven teams in search of a new HC either did interview him at least once or planned to do so: besides New York, the 41-year-old also was on the Atlanta Falcons’, Detroit Lions’, Jacksonville Jaguars’, Los Angeles Chargers’ and Philadelphia Eagles’ radars (i.e. on all but the Houston Texans’).
The Jets being able to land him despite all the interest he received from other teams speaks for the speed of their process — they brought him in for a second interview before others even had a chance to talk to him — and for what they had to offer. New York has a potential franchise quarterback on a rookie deal, and is among the most potent teams in the league in terms of projected salary cap space and draft capital.
The Jets land one of the most promising defensive coaches in football
Seeing Saleh get this level of interest was not a surprise considering that his defenses in San Francisco have been among the better in the league since he took over as the team’s coordinator in 2017. During the 2020 season, for example, the 49ers ranked in the top half of NFL defenses despite suffering some major injuries along the way: San Francisco finished fifth in yards (314.4) and 14th in points (22.2) given up per game.
The unit also finished the season in the top-10 in the major advanced statistical categories. Despite going up against the competitive NFC West and playing a first-place schedule, Saleh’s defense finished the 2020 season ranked sixth in DVOA (-9.9%), eighth in EPA per play (-0.013) and ninth in success rate (43.6%). All in all, the Jets are getting one of the most promising defensive coaches in football.
Saleh will bring a new-look defense to New York
Speaking of Saleh’s defense, it is based on different schematic principles than those run by former Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. While Williams’ scheme was more about generating heat through multi-faceted looks and exotic pressure packages, Saleh is coming from the old Seattle school of defense: while he did use a variation of looks, his units in San Francisco were all built in principle around a Cover 3 zone scheme.
Saleh and the 49ers, however, did add plenty of variation to this base look. They used match calls to incorporate man-to-man principles against certain offensive players, for example, and also ran their fair share of buzz calls out of two-deep safety looks. Along the way, Saleh called some Cover 2, Cover 4 and Cover 6 — all while mixing in the occasional Cover 1 call as well.
Up front, meanwhile, Saleh’s units were operating out of a base 4-3 under look — something the Jets also did at times under Williams albeit with more of a variation in both front and coverage behind it. However, that does not mean Saleh’s defenses were easier to decipher or attack: his groups were using plenty of pre-snap disguise and variation as well, even though it all ties back to the one-gap principles he brought with him to San Francisco.
Three head coaching vacancies are still left on the Patriots’ 2021 schedule
On the same day the Jets hired Saleh, the Jacksonville Jaguars announced Urban Meyer as their new head coach. With two head coaching jobs now filled, four more remain open — and the Patriots will play against three of them in 2021. They also will face Saleh’s Jets twice and go up against Meyer’s Jaguars.
With that said, here’s how the three searches still ongoing stand:
- Interviewed: Joe Brady (Panthers OC), Jim Caldwell (former Lions and Colts HC), Marvin Lewis (Arizona State Co-DC)
- Interview requested: Eric Bieniemy (Chiefs OC), Brandon Staley (Rams DC)
- Interview planned: David Culley (Ravens assistant HC/WR coach), Leslie Frazier (Bills assistant HC/DC), Tim Kelly (Texans OC)
Los Angeles Chargers
- Interviewed: Joe Brady (Panthers OC), Brian Daboll (Bills OC), Jason Garrett (Giants OC), Arthur Smith (Titans OC), Brandon Staley (Rams DC)
- Interview requested: Eric Bieniemy (Chiefs OC)
- Interview planned: Matt Eberlus (Colts DC)
- Interviewed: Eric Bieniemy (Chiefs OC), Todd Bowles (Buccaneers DC), Joe Brady (Panthers OC), Nathaniel Hackett (Packers OC), Raheem Morris (Falcons interim HC), Arthur Smith (Titans OC)
- Interview requested: N/A
- Interview planned: N/A
All eyes are now on the Jets’ quarterback position
With the head coaching vacancy filled, and with general manager Joe Douglas staying put, the biggest question left in New York is this: What will happen with Sam Darnold? While it would not be a surprise to see the team move on from its former first-round investment, Saleh and new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur will eventually be part of that decision making process.
If the Jets hold onto Darnold, however, it would eliminate one team from the quarterback race in this year’s draft. New York is currently slated to pick second overall behind the Jaguars — a team that is expected to pick Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence with pick No. 1 — and the club could either trade down with a quarterback-needy team, or stay put and allow the available top prospects at the position to slide by them.
Either way, the Jets keeping Darnold and not drafting a QB in Round One would be good news for a team like the Patriots in need of a new long-term solution at the most important position in the sport.