New York Jets DT Quinnen Williams vs. Carolina Panthers LG Pat Elflein
The Carolina Panthers do not have a good offensive line. Outside of impressive right tackle Taylor Moton, their other four starters each offer subpar track records of production over the past two seasons.
This gives the New York Jets – who have an excellent interior defensive line – a massive mismatch that could cause constant problems for Sam Darnold in Week 1.
In fact, the Panthers’ offensive line as a whole is similar in quality to the one Sam Darnold played behind with the Jets last year.
Carolina is particularly weak in the middle. Pat Elflein, Matt Paradis, and John Miller have each performed at bottom-tier levels over the past two seasons.
The most enticing matchup for the Jets defense is Quinnen Williams against former Jets guard Pat Elflein, who projects as Carolina’s starting left guard.
Williams mostly works on the right side of the defensive line, opposite the opposing left guard. By my tracking, he faced the left guard on 47% of his pass-rush opportunities last season, easily his highest rate of the five offensive line positions (center followed at 31%). Williams also had his best success against left guards, posting a 16.1% pressure rate against them according to my tracking – also his best of the five offensive line positions.
Elflein has been a terrible pass protector in the NFL. Last season, he allowed the second-worst pressure rate among all qualified guards (10.0%).
Williams is coming off of a second-half run in which he showed the potential to become one of the three best defensive tackles in the league. From Weeks 7-17, he ranked second among interior defensive linemen in run stops per game (2.1), third in pressures per game (4.4), and second in combined run stops and pressures per game (6.5).
A player-versus-player matchup in the NFL can hardly get more lopsided than this.
New York Jets EDGE Shaq Lawson vs. Carolina Panthers LT Cameron Erving
If Carl Lawson were healthy, this mismatch would be even bigger than Williams-versus-Elflein (which, as I just described, would take quite an enormous mismatch). But even with Shaq Lawson in Carl’s place, this is a matchup in the Jets’ favor.
Shaq Lawson has created pressure at a strong level over the past two seasons. He had an 11.1% pressure rate in 2020 (73rd percentile among EDGE) and a 13.6% pressure rate in 2019 (81st percentile).
Lawson is primarily a right-side defensive end. He lined up on the right side for 92% of his defensive snaps last season.
That would pit Lawson against the Panthers’ starting left tackle, Cameron Erving.
Erving has been one of the worst-performing tackles in the NFL since the Browns took him with the 19th overall pick in the 2015 draft. With the Cowboys last season, Erving’s overall Pro Football Focus grade of 58.0 – by far a career-high – ranked at the 17th percentile among qualified tackles.
The prior season, Erving’s 44.8 grade for Kansas City was the second-worst among all qualified tackles.
New York Jets WR Corey Davis vs. Carolina Panthers CB Jaycee Horn
One of the big advantages that the Jets will have on offense is veteran wideout Corey Davis against rookie cornerback Jaycee Horn. This matchup has not gotten much chatter just yet, but it is likely a big edge in the Jets’ favor.
Davis rotated between both sides of the offense with the Titans last season and did the same with the Jets this preseason. Horn primarily stayed home at left cornerback this preseason. So, Davis should see Horn for about half of his time on the field.
Horn, the eighth overall pick in the 2021 draft, is a talented, long, and physical corner who will likely have a successful career in the NFL.
With that being said, history tells us that he is probably not going to play well this year. Rookie corners tend to put up brutal numbers early in their NFL careers.
Through the first 10 weeks of the 2020 season, rookie cornerbacks combined to allow 39 touchdowns, seven interceptions, 9.5 yards per target, and 1.60 yards per cover snap on throws in their direction. None of the 15 qualified rookie corners ranked in the top-50% among all qualified corners in fewest yards per cover snap allowed. That group includes first-round picks like Jeff Okudah and C.J. Henderson who were regarded similarly highly to Horn.
Davis will be a difficult task for the rookie in his first-ever regular season game.
Plus, the big-bodied Davis (6-foot-3, 209 pounds) was dominant against lengthy cornerbacks like Horn (6-foot-1, 205 pounds) last season.
In 2020, when targeted against cornerbacks who stand at six feet or taller, Davis gained 507 yards on 43 targets. That’s an average of 11.8 yards per target – for reference, the NFL’s leader in overall yards per target last season was Will Fuller at 11.7.
Davis was held in check by sub-six-foot corners, averaging 6.9 yards per target against them.
Playing against a rookie cornerback in his NFL debut who fits the physical description of the type of corner he tends to feast on, Davis has a great chance of going off in Week 1.
New York Jets OTs Mekhi Becton and Morgan Moses vs. Carolina Panthers run defense
The Panthers have constructed a strong edge pass-rushing duo in 2019 first-round pick Brian Burns and 2021 free-agent signing Haason Reddick. Burns developed into a star last season, tying for seventh among edge rushers with 57 pressures. Reddick tied for 11th with 56 pressures in Arizona.
Burns and Reddick will be a stiff challenge for the tackle duo of Mekhi Becton and (presumably) Morgan Moses in the passing game.
However, Becton and Moses have a sizable advantage in the run game.
Burns earned a run defense grade of 61.5 at PFF last season, ranking 33rd out of 62 qualified edge rushers (48th percentile). Reddick ranked 40th (36th percentile) with a 56.7 grade.
Becton and Moses could form one of the more intimidating pair of run-blocking tackles in the NFL. Moses’ 85.9 run-blocking grade last season ranked second-best among right tackles. As a 21-year-old rookie, Becton’s 73.9 run-blocking grade ranked 11th among left tackles.
Carolina has a bevy of run-stopping issues beyond their edge duo. Last season, the Panthers allowed the fifth-most yards per carry in the NFL (4.7). Their safety duo of Juston Burris (38.8 run defense grade) and Jeremy Chinn (47.7) – who are both set to return in their starting roles – was a massive part of those problems.
That is great news for Becton, who excels at getting out to the second level and picking off defensive backs to create enormous running lanes.
The Panthers’ pass rush has the edge over New York’s pass protection, but the Jets’ run blocking should shred Carolina’s run defense, starting on the edges with Becton and Moses.
New York Jets RBs Tevin Coleman and Michael Carter vs. Carolina Panthers LB Shaq Thompson
Carolina allowed the third-most receptions to running backs last season (93). Those struggles were largely on starting linebacker Shaq Thompson. He gave up 63 receptions, tied for the third-most among all linebackers.
Known far more for his run defense than his pass coverage, Thompson is set to reprise his role as one of the Panthers’ starting linebackers for the seventh consecutive season.
He will be tasked with covering a pair of solid pass-catching backs in Week 1 – Tevin Coleman and Michael Carter.
Coleman projects as the Jets’ primary receiver at the running back position. The former Falcon and 49er has been one of the more efficient receiving backs in the NFL throughout his career, boasting numbers of 7.2 yards per target, 1.30 yards per route run, and a 32.5% conversion rate.
Carter was a sneaky great receiver in college. He ranked at the 95th percentile among running backs with 1.95 yards per route run in 2020. Carter snatched 25 of 30 targets for 267 yards (8.9 per target), two touchdowns, and 11 first downs (43.3% conversion rate).
Look for these two to victimize Thompson once or twice – especially considering how much respect the Jets will build for their play-action game through the offensive line’s dominant run blocking.