Mekhi Becton’s Carl Lawson struggles are likely not a sign of things to come
Many New York Jets fans are afraid that Mekhi Becton‘s constant losses to Carl Lawson in training camp are a bad sign of what is to come in the regular season.
Fear not. As I found in a recent study of the correlation between Becton’s rookie-year pass protection performance and the traits of his matchups, Lawson’s build and skill set makes him a huge mismatch for Becton. His consistent dominance of the youngster is to be expected.
The good news is that the Jets’ 2021 schedule lacks many Lawson-esque edge rushers.
Using what I learned from my study, I scanned Becton’s slate of potential matchups in 2021 and found that the schedule should hand him a bevy of opponents who have traits that tended to correlate with positive results for Becton last year.
Let’s take a look at Becton’s slate of potential opponents in 2021 and see how their traits line up with Becton’s strengths and weaknesses.
Becton’s most correlative traits
I found that the two traits which correlated the most with Becton’s pass-protection success were arm length and stance preference (standing up or hands in the dirt).
Arm length had the second-greatest correlation of the traits I analyzed. Against four rushers with arms shorter than 33.5 inches, Becton gave up two pressures on 126 protection snaps (1.6% rate). He allowed 18 pressures on 267 protection snaps (6.7% rate) against everyone else.
Note: the 2020 NFL average for allowed pressure rate among offensive tackles was 5.3%.
The strongest correlation belonged to stance preference. Against seven rushers who lined up in a 3 or 4-point stance at least 75% of the time throughout the 2020 season, Becton allowed a pressure rate of 7.3%. He allowed a pressure rate of 1.9% against the other five rushers.
Based on his production last year, those are the keys for success against Becton – long arms (at least 33.5 inches) and a play style built around hand-in-the-dirt rushing (doing so at least 75% of the time).
Here is a look at the arm lengths and stance preferences (in the 2020 season) of the 17 projected starting right-side edge rushers on the New York Jets’ schedule.
|9||IND||K. Paye (R)||33||91|
|11||MIA||J. Phillips (R)||33.3||44|
|15||MIA||J. Phillips (R)||33.3||44|
This slate is built to Becton’s advantage
Of the 17 rushers listed above (counting divisional rivals twice), eight hit the arm length benchmark, slightly less than half. A measly five predominantly rushed from a hand-in-the-dirt stance, which is the most important trait to take down Becton. Just three hit both benchmarks.
It is also worth noting that, at least based on these two traits, Becton’s 2021 schedule is considerably more favorable for than the slate he faced last year.
|Matchups with arm length of 33.5+||8 of 12 (67%)||8 of 17 (47%)|
|Matchups with 3pt/4pt stance % of 75+||8 of 12 (67%)||5 of 17 (29%)|
Becton’s 2020 slate of opponents was largely made up of rushers who were built to defeat him – long, physical defensive ends – and he still put together a strong rookie season. This year, he is set to spend most of his time against smaller, speedier outside linebackers, whom he mostly shut down as a rookie.
Let’s dig into some of the most and least favorable matchups on Becton’s schedule.
Chase Winovich, Patriots (Weeks 3 and 7)
Chase Winovich has 32.8-inch arms and stands up almost all of the time.
Becton faced Winovich in the Jets’ season finale last season and played well, allowing one pressure on 22 snaps in protection (4.5% rate). He posted a pass-blocking grade of 73.0 that ranked 10th-best among left tackles that week.
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Bud Dupree, Titans (Week 5)
Bud Dupree has short arms (32.6 inches) and almost never lined up with his hands in the dirt this past season with the Steelers. That should continue as he heads to the Titans, who also run a 3-4 defense.
Dupree is coming off of a season in Pittsburgh that was not as impressive as his total of eight sacks in 11 games might suggest. He had a Pro Football Focus pass-rush grade of 61.2 in 2020, third-worst out of the 14 non-rookie matchups on Becton’s schedule.
The Jets’ matchup with the Titans stands out as a difficult one because of Tennessee’s incredibly talented offense, but many have overlooked the edge that New York might have on Mike Vrabel’s defense. That unit is almost as porous as the offense is explosive.
Zach Wilson could have a shot to go toe-to-toe with Ryan Tannehill in a shootout if Becton can consistently keep his blindside clean by stonewalling Dupree.
Shaquil Barrett, Buccaneers (Week 17)
Obviously, this is not a favorable matchup in the sense that Shaquil Barrett is not a good player. He is a star.
Barrett is simply tailor-made with traits that correlated with success for Becton last year. He has very short arms (32.3 inches) and is strictly a stand-up rusher. His lack of weight (251 pounds) and height (6-foot-1) also plays into Becton’s hands.
This will be an extremely intriguing battle to watch. Barrett is a monster – he leads edge rushers with 157 pressures over the last two seasons – but Becton typically smothers players with his build and play style.
Bradley Chubb, Broncos (Week 3)
Bradley Chubb always rushes from a 2-point stance, which favors Becton, but his 34-inch arms (longest of any projected opponent on Becton’s slate) could neutralize the length advantage that Becton has on most opponents with his 35.6-inch grabbers.
Becton battled Chubb on a few plays in Week 4 of last season before exiting the game with a shoulder injury that was clearly causing him pain, and he looked excellent.
Trey Hendrickson, Bengals (Week 8)
Carl Lawson’s replacement in Cincinnati will go head-to-head with Becton in Week 8.
Trey Hendrickson was nearly exclusively a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end for New Orleans last season and will likely continue that in Lou Amaruno’s 4-3 defense.
As we are seeing with Lawson, Becton can have trouble with hand-in-the-dirt rushers.
However, Hendrickson has short 32-inch arms, which favors Becton.
The interesting factor here is that Lawson himself has short arms at 31.5 inches. Hendrickson is a close match to Lawson in terms of arm length and stance preference.
Hendrickson is also two inches taller than Lawson at 6-foot-4, and tall rushers like Myles Garrett and Clelin Ferrell gave Becton some problems last season.
There are a lot of similarities between how Hendrickson and Lawson match up against Becton. Both have some big advantages going their way, but they also have the huge disadvantage of short arms.
Lawson has been able to overcome his length disadvantage against Becton with his get-off, explosiveness, pad level, hand usage, and raw power. Can Hendrickson – who might merely be a “hustle guy” disguised beneath the numbers of an elite pass rusher – do the same?
Brian Burns, Panthers (Week 1)
Brian Burns will provide Becton with a big test to begin the season.
As a hybrid rusher (can stand up and bend down), Burns may not be the strict down-lineman that Becton typically struggles against, but he did primarily put his hand(s) in the dirt, doing so on 62% of his snaps.
In some games, Burns used a 3 or 4-point stance well over 75% of the time (the benchmark that caused Becton trouble last year). The Panthers can mold him to fit the opponent. This means that Carolina could have Burns play the majority of his Week 1 snaps with his hand(s) in the dirt to take advantage of Becton.
Plus, Burns has a solid amount of length with 33.9-inch arms.
Burns’ 86.9 pass-rush grade at PFF in 2020 ranked sixth-best among edge rushers and is the best mark among projected matchups on Becton’s schedule.
The toughest matchup of Becton’s season could come straight out of the gate.
Mario Addison, Bills (Weeks 10 and 18)
Mario Addison gave Becton trouble in Week 7 last season. With Addison as his primary matchup, Becton allowed four pressures on 35 protection snaps (11.4% rate) and posted a subpar PFF pass-blocking grade of 59.6. Of Becton’s 12 games in which he played extensively, that was his second-worst pressure rate and third-worst pass-blocking grade.
Becton did much better against Addison in Week 1, giving up two pressures on 41 snaps (4.9% rate) and earning a 75.9 pass-blocking grade. Addison’s experience advantage showed up in the second matchup as he was able to learn from the first battle and adjust.
Addison has 33.5-inch arms and lined up in a 3 or 4-point stance on 85% of his snaps last season.
Josh Allen, Jaguars (Week 16)
Josh Allen joins Addison as the only other rusher on the Jets’ schedule to hit both of the benchmarks we set for an increased chance of succeeding against Becton. He has 33.5-inch arms and rushed from a 3 or 4-point stance on 92% of his snaps last season.
The seventh overall pick of the 2019 NFL draft, Allen showed off top-end potential with 10.5 sacks and 49 pressures on a 12.6% pressure rate (the EDGE average was 9.7% in 2020) in his rookie season.
Allen was similarly effective to begin his second season, owning an 11.5% pressure rate through four games until a knee injury sidelined him for two games. Upon returning, Allen was clearly not at full health, as he posted a poor pressure rate of 6.8% over his next four games. He then missed the remainder of the season with the same knee injury.
Allen rotates between both sides of the defensive line, so Becton will only see him for about half of the game. Those matchups could be tough for Becton if Allen is healthy.
The table is set for Becton to have a breakout year. Even if he performs at exactly the same level as he did last season and does not improve at all, he should be substantially more productive simply because his lineup of opponents is a much better match to his skill set than the one he faced last year.
Of course, the hope is that Becton can hammer out his weaknesses and become a great enough tackle to where he crushes every type of player and does not have any sort of kryptonite. Battling every single day against Lawson – one of the best rushers in the league of the playstyle that Becton has trouble with – should help him accomplish that.