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New York Jets 2021 schedule: Top 5 favorable defensive mismatches

Carl Lawson Jets Austin Jackson Dolphins
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These five particular matchups on the New York Jets’ 2021 schedule can be exploited by Jeff Ulbrich’s defense.

Week 1: Jets DT Quinnen Williams vs. Panthers LG Pat Elflein

After signing a three-year, $13.5 million deal with $6 million guaranteed, former New York Jets guard Pat Elflein is the favorite to start at left guard for Carolina. Elflein started six games at left guard for the Jets in the latter half of the 2020 season after he was released by the Vikings.

Elflein has been a poor pass protector throughout the course of his career. He has given up 121 pressures over 1,959 pass-blocking snaps, a rate of 6.2% that is well above the 2020 league average for guards (4.5%).

In 2020, Elflein yielded 24 pressures over 239 pass-blocking snaps, a rate of 10.0% that was the worst among 80 qualified guards. He was the worst by a wide margin, too – 79th-ranked Shane Lemieux (a rookie) had a rate of 8.4%. The 1.6% gap between Elflein and Lemieux is equal to the gap between Lemieux and 71st-ranked Brian Winters (6.8%).

Should Elflein win the Panthers’ left guard job, he will see a ton of former teammate Quinnen Williams, who is one of the best right-side defensive tackles in the league. Williams lined up on the right side of the defensive line (across from the left side of the offensive line) on 90.1% of his snaps in 2020. He ranked fifth among interior defensive linemen with 2.5 pressures per game when aligned on the right side of the defensive line.

A top-five interior pass rusher from the right side against the league’s worst pass-protecting left guard? This matchup is going to cause massive issues for Sam Darnold in his Panthers debut.

Week 3: Jets DT Folorunso Fatukasi vs. Broncos C Lloyd Cushenberry

The Broncos offense allowed the highest stuffed-run rate in the NFL this past season at 21%. They also converted a league-low 21% of their rush attempts between the tackles into a first down or touchdown.

A primary culprit in that output was rookie center Lloyd Cushenberry, who played all 1,076 of Denver’s offensive snaps on the season but mostly struggled. The third-round pick from LSU earned a run-blocking grade of 37.9 at Pro Football Focus, which was the worst among all 55 centers in the league to play at least one snap.

Folorunso Fatukasi has blossomed into one of the NFL’s most overpowering run-stoppers at the nose tackle position, earning the fifth-best run defense grade at PFF among qualified interior defensive linemen in 2019 and the second-best in 2020.

Cushenberry is an intriguing talent who has the potential to develop into a good player, but if his 2021 season features more of the same run-blocking struggles that his 2020 campaign did, Fatukasi should rack up the run stuffs on Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams.

Weeks 10/18: Jets LB C.J. Mosley vs. Bills RBs/TEs

Buffalo doesn’t have much pass-catching talent outside of the wide receiver position. In 2020, their running backs and tight ends combined for 864 receiving yards, which ranked 30th in the league.

Obviously, one would expect that the Bills’ RBs/TEs wouldn’t get many opportunities to catch the ball due to the team’s talent at wide receiver. However, the problem is that Buffalo’s RBs/TEs were not good on a per-opportunity basis.

With 11 drops and 96 receptions, the Bills’ RBs/TEs had a 10.3% drop rate, which ranked 31st in the league. They also ranked 22nd in yards per target (6.1) and 24th in the percentage of their targets that resulted in a first down or touchdown (30.5%).

C.J. Mosley is an excellent coverage linebacker. From 2016-19, he allowed a 0.8-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio on throws into his coverage – the 2020 NFL linebacker average was 3.5-to-1. He should be able to completely shut down Buffalo’s underneath passing game.

Weeks 11/15: Jets EDGE Carl Lawson vs. Dolphins LT Austin Jackson

Taken with the 22nd overall pick in the 2020 draft, former USC tackle Austin Jackson (a college teammate of Alijah Vera-Tucker‘s) had a rough rookie season with the Dolphins. He allowed 38 pressures over 543 snaps in pass protection, a rate of 7.0% that ranked 64th out of 77 qualified tackles.

Jackson’s primary matchup against the Jets will most likely be Carl Lawson, who makes his living feasting on left tackles off of the right side of the defensive line. Lawson lined up on the right side of the defense on 95.9% of his snaps last year.

Lawson compiled 63 pressures from the right side in 2020, which was not only the most among edge rushers, but 15 more than the second-ranked player (Trey Hendrickson). The 15-pressure difference between Lawson and Hendrickson was similar to the difference between Hendrickson and 10th-ranked Aldon Smith (34 right-side pressures).

That also gave Lawson the most right-side pressures among any defensive player, regardless of position. Aaron Donald ranked second with 59.

If Jackson cannot take a second-year leap and continues to sputter in pass protection, Lawson should eat him alive and cause nightmarish problems for Tua Tagovailoa. Pressure is key to stopping Tua – in 2020, he had a 99.3 passer rating when throwing from a clean pocket and a 45.6 passer rating when under pressure.

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Week 16: Jets safeties vs. Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence

Marcus Maye and Lamarcus Joyner have the potential to form a very good safety duo. Maye ranked as PFF’s No. 4 safety in 2020 with an 82.9 overall grade. Joyner will be moving back to his natural free safety position – he has a career PFF grade of 91.0 when lining up at the position.

Two smart, disciplined players who know how to play their role and win the mental chess match with the quarterback, Maye and Joyner each have a reputation of playing great football against rookie passers.

Over seven career games against rookie starting quarterbacks, Maye allowed 2-of-8 passes in his direction to be completed for 49 yards – just 7.0 yards per game.

During his two-year stint at free safety with the Rams from 2017-18, Joyner only played one game against a rookie quarterback, allowing zero yards against Josh Rosen. However, he did play three games against second-year quarterbacks, and in those games he allowed 3-of-7 passing for 18 yards (6.0 yards per game).

Trevor Lawrence is the only rookie quarterback that the Jets are likely to face on their 2021 schedule, although they could end up facing New England’s Mac Jones in Week 2 or Week 7. The other 2021 draft picks on their schedule (who will most likely only play if there is a severe emergency) are Tampa Bay’s Kyle Trask, Houston’s Davis Mills, New Orleans’ Ian Book, and Indianapolis’ Sam Ehlinger.

Maye and Joyner are stingy safeties who have excellent football IQ and rarely blow assignments. They’ve proven it through their consistent lockdown performances against youngsters. Look for them to stay perfect in coverage against Lawrence or any other rookies that they face.

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