New York Jets advanced analytics roundup: Defense
The New York Jets defense was outstanding in the team’s preseason-opening victory over the New York Giants. All three levels of the depth chart thrived as the Giants were held to 163 total yards and seven points.
Many Jets defenders stood out with impressive production from an advanced analytics standpoint, and the majority of them were young players.
Let’s take a look at some of the most tantalizing numbers recorded by Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich’s defense.
Lockdown performance from the rookie cornerbacks
Here are the coverage numbers posted by the three first-year corners:
- Echols: 14 snaps in coverage, 2 targets, 1 catch, 8 yards (1 pass breakup, 1 penalty for 17 yards)
- Carter II: 11 snaps in coverage, 1 target, 0 catches
- Pinnock: 11 snaps in coverage, 0 targets
Between the three, that’s a combined total of eight receiving yards allowed over 36 coverage snaps, a measly average of 0.22 yards per coverage snap. That rate is more than five times lower than the 2020 NFL average for cornerbacks, which was 1.15.
Echols did have a 17-yard pass interference penalty, though. But he made up for it with an outstanding pass breakup on a deep post route, and he did not allow any first downs outside of the penalty (the eight-yard catch he gave up was stopped short of the marker).
The rookies were not the only young cornerbacks to lock down the Giants’ receivers.
Slot corner Javelin Guidry played two defensive series and gave up zero catches over seven coverage snaps. He was targeted once on a slant over the middle and recorded a picture-perfect pass breakup.
Altogether, the quintet of Austin, Carter II, Echols, Guidry, and Pinnock combined to allow 1 catch on 4 targets for 8 yards over 50 coverage snaps – a 25.0% completion rate, 2.0 yards per target, and 0.16 yards per cover snap (0.50 if you throw in Echols’ penalty).
That is … downright phenomenal.
Do not put too much stock into these numbers, as this is an extremely small sample size and cannot be overvalued. Nonetheless, it is definitely worth noting that the Jets’ stable of young cornerbacks was nearly flawless from a production standpoint.
Saturday’s game was a promising start for the most scrutinized position group on the roster.
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The young pass rushers could not be blocked
Pro Football Focus scored the Jets defense with an 82.6 pass-rush grade. That was the second-best mark in the league during the first week of the preseason.
Players at all levels of the depth chart were getting into the Giants’ backfield with ease.
Bryce Huff looked like a star coming off of the edge. He recorded two solo sacks and added a quarterback hurry for a total of three pressures.
With Huff’s three pressures coming over 16 pass-rush snaps, he recorded a pressure rate of 18.8%. The 2020 NFL average for edge rushers was 9.7%.
Here’s the most important aspect of Huff’s performance – he showed that he might be capable of performing well over a large sample of snaps.
In 2020, Huff played better when he had a lighter workload. He posted a 3.3% pressure rate in games where he had more than 15 pass-rush snaps, compared to a 13.3% pressure rate in games where he had less than 15 pass-rush snaps.
Huff played four games last season in which he was asked to play more than 15 pass-rush snaps. He had three pressures across those four games – equal to the total he posted in the Giants game alone.
Sixth-round rookie Jonathan Marshall was also a domineering force. He recorded two pressures over a measly 11 pass-rush snaps for a pressure rate of 18.2%, more than double the 2020 league average for interior defensive linemen (7.0%).
Both of Marshall’s pressures were half-sacks. The second of those two resulted in a safety.
Jeremiah Valoaga quietly had a good performance. He led the Jets with four pressures, collecting them over 20 pass-rush snaps for a pressure rate of 20.0%. That rate tied Valoaga for fourth-best among 43 edge rushers with at least 20 pass-rush snaps in the first week of the preseason.
Safeties-turned-linebackers looked comfortable
The most important aspect of the young duo’s outing was the fact that they did not get exposed in coverage. Sherwood and Nasirildeen combined for 22 snaps in coverage without allowing a catch. They were only targeted once – a play in which Sherwood made an excellent leaping pass deflection.
Another positive takeaway was the pair’s tackling. They combined for seven tackles (Sherwood with 4 and Nasirildeen with 3) without being credited for a single missed tackle.
Jabari Zuniga represents the lone dud
Only one of the Jets’ key young defensive players had a thoroughly negative night – Jabari Zuniga.
The second-year edge defender had one of his signature silent games. He recorded zero pressures over nine pass-rush snaps and made zero tackles over three snaps against the run. Zuniga did assist on a tackle on a short pass completion, but he also missed a tackle in the run game.
It would be silly to bury Zuniga over his performance across a measly 12 defensive snaps in one preseason game, but this is a continuation of his massive rookie-year struggles. He has shown very little promise on a game-by-game basis. Zuniga had one pressure and one run stop over eight games last season (103 snaps).
Zuniga’s pedigree as a third-round pick in his second season can only get him so far. If he continues to do absolutely nothing on gamedays, his roster spot may be in jeopardy.