The Carolina Panthers have some dangerous mismatches against the New York Jets
Let’s keep things balanced and take a look at the matchups that weigh heavily in Carolina’s favor.
Panthers WRs D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson vs. Jets right cornerback
Bryce Hall will be the Jets’ starting left cornerback. He received first-team reps throughout the entire offseason and exclusively played cornerback on the left side of the field, lining up on that side for 100% of his preseason snaps.
It is a mystery who will be starting for the Jets at right cornerback. Bless Austin was the shoo-in to play that role for months until the Jets surprisingly released him as part of their 53-man roster cuts.
Whoever that player is, it’s going to be a low-investment rookie. Fifth-round pick Jason Pinnock, sixth-round pick Brandin Echols, and undrafted free agent Isaiah Dunn are the candidates.
That starter will be seeing plenty of Carolina’s top two outside wideouts – D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson.
Moore and Anderson each line up on both sides of the field at a nearly even split, so both Hall and the Jets’ other starting cornerback will face each of them frequently.
The Panthers watched Moore and Anderson develop into one of the league’s best receiving duos last season. They were one of only two duos of wide receiver teammates to each eclipse 1,000 receiving yards, joining D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett of the Seahawks. Moore ranked 11th in the league with 1,193 yards while Anderson placed 15th with a career-high 1,096 yards.
One of the most productive wide receiver pairings in the league against a late-round (or undrafted) cornerback making his NFL debut? That’s the dictionary definition of an enormous mismatch, folks.
Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey vs. Jets LBs Jamien Sherwood and Hamsah Nasirildeen
Christian McCaffrey is one of the best receivers out of the backfield in NFL history. His career average of 52.4 receiving yards per game stands as the best by a running back in the Super Bowl era (since 1966).
The Jets’ young linebacker group is most likely going to be one of the greatest weaknesses on the team, if not the biggest. Two rookies – Jamien Sherwood and Hamsah Nasirildeen – are expected to play important snaps while Jarrad Davis is sidelined for at least the first five games of the season.
Not only are Sherwood and Nasirildeen rookies who lasted until the third day of the draft, but they are in the midst of converting over from the safety position. They are going to endure some strenuous growing pains as they are thrown directly into the fire to begin their careers.
Expect McCaffrey to welcome Sherwood and Nasirildeen to the league with a handful of big plays in the passing game.
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Panthers RT Taylor Moton vs. Jets edge defenders (Run game)
Right tackle Taylor Moton is one of the best players at his position in the league. His overall Pro Football Focus grade of 81.6 last season ranked fourth-best among right tackles.
Moton is a key cog in Carolina’s run game. He facilitated much of Christian McCaffrey’s success when the star running back was healthy.
From 2018-19 – a span in which Moton and McCaffrey each started all 32 games – the Panthers averaged 6.1 yards per carry on rushes directed to the right tackle’s outside shoulder, ranking fifth-best in the NFL.
The Jets have question marks at their left defensive end position. Shaq Lawson projects to fill in for Carl Lawson as a solid starter at right defensive end, providing good production both against the pass against the run. However, it’s unknown what the Jets will get on the left side.
Bryce Huff and John Franklin-Myers are the top candidates to get snaps on the left edge. Franklin-Myers is a more natural fit on the inside at defensive tackle, although he is capable of making noise off the edge and got first-team reps at left defensive end following Lawson’s injury. Huff is a more natural fit for the position but is more unproven.
Both Huff and Franklin-Myers offer high ceilings as pass rushers, but they are also both questionable run defenders. Huff had a 46.6 run defense grade at PFF last season, ranking at the 11th percentile among qualified edge rushers. Franklin-Myers’ 57.1 run defense grade ranked at the 42nd percentile among qualified interior defensive linemen.
In the passing game, Huff and Franklin-Myers might be up for the challenge of Moton’s elite pass protection. The run game is a different story. Moton should have plenty of success creating movement on the right edge.
Panthers DT Derrick Brown vs. Jets LG Alijah Vera-Tucker and RG Greg Van Roten
Panthers defensive tackle Derrick Brown had a merely decent rookie season after being selected with the seventh overall pick (61.0 overall PFF grade, 43rd percentile among IDL). Despite that, he seemed poised for a second-year breakout similar to the one that Quinnen Williams enjoyed with the Jets last year.
Brown struggled mightily over the first few games of his career before quickly finding his footing. From Weeks 1-5, Brown ranked 71st among interior defensive linemen with four pressures (0.8 per game). From Weeks 6-17, he ranked 16th with 30 pressures (2.7 per game).
The Auburn product plays both sides of the defensive line. In the preseason, he was deployed with a 52%/48% left-right split.
That means Brown will see plenty of both Jets guards – left guard Alijah Vera-Tucker and right guard Greg Van Roten.
Vera-Tucker is an outstanding prospect with a good chance to forge a standout NFL career, but this game will be his first live action in the NFL after he missed all three preseason games. He could have some rust to shake off in addition to the usual acclimation process that rookies go through.
Van Roten is arguably the weakest link on the Jets’ starting offensive line. While he is not terrible – earning an overall PFF grade of 63.0 last season that ranked 38th among the league’s top 60 guards in snaps played – he is definitely the guy that defenses will be targeting.
If Brown is the same player he was on an overall level last season – the guy who ranked at the 43rd percentile among IDL in terms of PFF grading – he may not cause much trouble for the Jets. But if he can build on his improved finish to 2020 and take the second-year jump that many top-10 picks take, he could be a game-wrecker.
Panthers EDGE Brian Burns vs. Jets LT Mekhi Becton
While this is not a mismatch from a talent perspective – both players should rank in the top-10 at their position this season – Brian Burns is the type of rusher who tends to give Mekhi Becton problems.
Studying Becton’s rookie-year numbers, I discovered that he tended to struggle the most in pass protection against rushers who have above-average length (over 33.5 inches) and usually rush from a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end alignment.
Burns fits that bill. His 33⅞-inch arm length ranks at the 62nd percentile among edge rushers all-time, and in 2020, he lined up in a hand-in-the-dirt position on 62% of his defensive snaps. Carolina pushed that number beyond 80% in some games, showing that they can mold his usage to fit the opponent.
Becton had a dominant preseason for the Jets against the Giants and Packers’ backups, allowing one pressure over two starts and grading out as the league’s top left tackle in pass protection at PFF over the first two weeks of the preseason.
However, Becton had a rough time against the top-tier competition he faced on the practice field. Carl Lawson dominated him throughout training camp and he had issues with Green Bay’s Preston Smith in joint practices.
Becton needs to prove that his practice field struggles were a fluke and that he will look more like the player that Jets fans saw in his limited preseason action. If his practice struggles were a sign of things to come, then high-level rushers like Burns – who is arguably the most talented rusher Becton will face this season – could eat him up.
Burns typically rotates between the left side and the right side fairly evenly, so he will likely not be matching up with Becton for much more than half of the game. That might be all Burns needs to do some colossal damage, though.
This will be a tremendous early test for Becton. He has all of the talent necessary to completely shut down stars like Burns on a consistent basis. We saw him play at the level of an elite tackle in spurts as a 21-year-old rookie – including shutdown performances against big names like Justin Houston and Melvin Ingram – and he then performed at an elite level consistently throughout the six offensive series he played in the preseason.
Burns is the type of rusher who gives Becton problems and is a star. Will Becton rise to the occasion and prove that he is on his way to stardom? Or will Burns set Becton’s quest for a second-year breakout off to a rough start?
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