Robert Saleh Hired: Fresh Start and Big Changes for the 2021 Jets

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The New York Jets will find it very difficult to return to contention in the near future. However, last night, thanks to the Robert Saleh hire, they took a massive step towards starting off fresh after the 2-14 embarrassment in 2020.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the former 49ers defensive coordinator has agreed to become the Jets’ 22nd head coach. Not just that but he is also bringing San Francisco’s passing game coordinator Mike LeFleur as the new offensive coordinator at Florham Park. Mike, the brother of Green Bay head coach Matt LeFleur, is set to replace Dowell Loggains at the position.

With the moves on Thursday night, CEO Christopher Johnson effectively addressed the coaching/playcalling shortcoming from all of the Jets’ weaknesses this past year.

On defense, Saleh, a former coordinator on that side of the ball, could improve what was certainly an underwhelming defense with Adam Gase and Gregg Williams in charge throughout 2020. On offense, LeFleur promises to do a much better job distributing the play selection on the offense, having focused on the passing unit of the Niners’ offense, which typically ran through the running game.

Moreover, the very least that is expected by LeFleur is to provide a better game plan for the air raid and provide opportunities for Sam Darnold‘s top-notch weapons to be available to the young quarterback.

Many Jets fans were happy and even elated after hearing about the hire late on Thursday. An in-depth look proves that their happiness is all but justified. The Robert Saleh hire can help the Jets in a miraculous way, compared to their current state.

Robert Saleh Hire: What the Numbers Show

Robert Saleh was named the 49ers defensive coordinator in 2017 and completed a quick and impressive turnaround of a truly struggling defense.

When the Michigan native took over, San Francisco had the worst defense in the league. In 2016, the 49ers allowed 406.4 yards per game, by far the most in the NFL. Furthermore, they were the only team to concede more than 400 yards on average per game.

During his first year as the defensive coordinator, the Niners only climbed to 24th in yards allowed but the improvements were noticeable. A year later, Saleh led the 13th-best defense. That included allowing the seventh-fewest yards per rushing attempt for the second year in a row. All of that showed Saleh and his staff were capable of bringing sustainability to the unit’s solid display. Perhaps even further improvement was bound to come.

In the 2019 offseason, the 49ers drafted pass-rusher Nick Bosa second overall in the NFL Draft. With this move, they were finally able to reach the pinnacle of their success. When the Niners’ defense hit their peak, it was a huge reason why the club reached Super Bowl LIV.

Throughout its pennant-winning campaign, San Francisco surrendered the second-fewest total yards in the NFL. The standout department was the secondary, which, led by Richard Sherman, Jason Verrette, Jimmy Ward, and K’Waun Williams, was the most unbeatable in the league. In addition, the front line of the group received a useful boost by the likes of Bosa, Arik Armstead, and DeForest Buckner, to record 58 sacks – tied for fifth-best.

The defense didn’t back down even during a disappointing 2020 campaign for the 49ers. Despite finishing 6-10, Robert Saleh’s group was inside the top-5 yet again, allowing the fifth-fewest total yards. Saleh even managed to exceed his performance of 2019 against the run, climbing to sixth from 23rd in yards allowed per carry.

In his four seasons in the Bay Area, Saleh turned the worst defense in the NFL into one of the league’s premier offense-stopping units. His work in regards to the secondary might be more important to the Jets, considering their woes in that defensive backfield. However, he was just as good at stopping the opposing running game during his tenure with the Niners.

Robert Saleh Hire: New York’s Defensive Struggles

As already noted, the Robert Saleh hire promises to be very beneficial to the Jets’ defense. Despite the success of the defense against the run, the secondary and the pass-rush were much further in terms of quality. Fortunately, Saleh has a long history of being on top in the components where New York struggled this past campaign.

Overall, New York’s defensive group allowed the ninth-most yards, averaging 387.6 in conceded production per game. Although the offense had about as many issues as the defense, if not more, the problematic display of the unit led to coordinator Gregg Williams getting fired after two seasons in the Meadowlands.

Williams’ successor isn’t known yet. However, Saleh is going to have just as much influence on the functionality of the group. He has shown no qualms with raiding former his boss Kyle Shanahan’s coaching staff. so look for the move to possibly come from that staff.

The Jets’ secondary put on a historically underwhelming performance throughout 2020. That was despite the activity to bring in upgrades in that department. Firstly, Pierre Desir made a serious bid to go down as “The Worst Signing of the 2020 NFL Season”. Secondly, some of his replacements, like Lamar Jackson, didn’t get their careers off to a good start. Finally, the Jets’ trade of Jamal Adams left them with Bradley McDougald and Cal draftee Ashtyn Davis, both of whom failed miserably when accompanying Marcus Maye in the safety duo.

All in all, the Jets allowed the fifth-most yards, the eighth-most yards per attempt, and the third-highest completion percentage to opposing air raids. To say that those numbers are concerning would be quite an understatement. Needless to say, they need to be a top priority heading into 2021. From a coaching standpoint, there are few people better than Saleh to take care of passing defensive business, if any.

His job isn’t getting easier, though. Marcus Maye and Brian Poole, the lone bright spots in the passing defense’s shameful year, have their contracts expiring. If general manager Joe Douglas fails to re-sign them, or appropriately replace them, Saleh could face an even bigger deficit of talent than Williams and Gase. That would be a problem that could overshadow Saleh’s abilities so providing him a starting point is also very important.

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA – NOVEMBER 11: San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh looks on before the game against the Seattle Seahawks at Levi’s Stadium on November 11, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

Robert Saleh Hire: What Changes With Thursday’s Moves?

As it has been already discussed in different outlets, the Jets have brought in a very different team as opposed to what they had in Adam Gase, Gregg Williams, and Dowell Loggains.

The Robert Saleh hire and the subsequent addition of Mike LeFleur could be the source of a different approach where the Jets have failed in recent years. Saleh and LeFleur have a past that has seen them develop systems within their units that would have carried the 2020 Jets roster into a much more positive direction.

On defense, Robert Saleh will be able to extensively work with a problematic secondary. As that should be a priority, putting the focus there could bring more balance to the unbalanced Jets defense. His style would also spell prosperity to a pass-rush that seems somewhat on the right path. The Jets’ D-Line recorded fewer sacks than last year but climbed in the ranks.

Furthermore, Quinnen Williams finally showed a fraction of his potential. Only Jordan Jenkins‘s nine sacks last year were more than his seven this season since Gase and Williams took over. Saleh’s experience in San Francisco and the possibility of offseason additions should get him to feel comfortable using that pass-rush more aggressively.

On the offensive side, LeFleur could be exactly what the Jets’ offense needed. Even though he focused on San Francisco’s air raid, he was a vital part of an offense that enjoyed tremendous success on the ground and prioritized that faction. Depending on what players the Jets add, LeFleur should be flexible in shifting the play selection towards the unit’s strength.

It is unlikely for the Jets to compete next year unless they have an offseason to remember.

However, the Robert Saleh hire does provide coaching stability that would have benefitted the Jets in 2020, both in terms of performance and results. At the very least, Saleh will have this team not embarrassing the fans anymore, which is more than recent coaches can say.

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Teodor Tsenov is a writer in the NFL Department of Overtime Heroics. Teodor joined the media in March 2020, previously writing for Franchise Sports UK. Also a second-year International Sport Management student at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in Den Haag, the Netherlands. Originally from Sofia, Bulgaria.