In what areas are the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers evenly matched?
It’s Labor Day, which officially means that the New York Jets are less than one week away from their season-opening clash with the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte.
Today, we’ll take a look at some of the matchups in this contest where the two teams are fairly even.
Jets slot CB (Javelin Guidry or Michael Carter II) vs. Panthers slot WR Terrace Marshall
The Jets and Panthers are both set to start an inexperienced player in the slot. Carolina’s offense projects to utilize second-round rookie wide receiver Terrace Marshall as its primary slot receiver. New York’s defense will start either fifth-round rookie Michael Carter II or second-year undrafted free agent Javelin Guidry at nickel cornerback.
While both players in this matchup will be inexperienced, both of them will also be coming off of highly intriguing preseasons.
Marshall had a fantastic preseason. He ranked third in the NFL with 181 receiving yards, grabbing nine passes over three games. The LSU product lined up in the slot on 65% of his routes run.
Carter II and Guidry each had an excellent preseason campaign. Their overall Pro Football Focus grades of 76.9 and 85.2, respectively, were the best marks of the preseason among all qualified Jets defenders. The duo provided lockdown coverage, combining to allow one first down completion over 72 snaps in coverage.
Both Carter II and Guidry lined up in the slot on 93% of their defensive snaps.
It remains to be seen who the Jets plan on starting between Carter II and Guidry, but regardless of who gets the nod, this matchup should be a highly competitive one between two players with the potential to become long-term building blocks.
Jets WR Corey Davis vs. Panthers RCB Donte Jackson
In my piece highlighting matchups in the Jets’ favor, I identified Corey Davis against Panthers rookie cornerback Jaycee Horn as a potentially huge mismatch. Rookie cornerbacks tend to struggle mightily, and last year, Davis destroyed big cornerbacks like Horn.
Davis will only see Horn for about half of the game, though. Carolina keeps its starting cornerbacks tethered to one side of the field while Davis rotates between both sides fairly evenly.
Horn is the Panthers’ left cornerback. On the right side will be Donte Jackson, a solid fourth-year starter whose build lends him to having success against Davis.
In 2020, Davis produced 11.8 yards per target when matched up against cornerbacks who stand at six feet or taller (Horn is 6-foot-1, 205 pounds). He averaged only 6.9 yards per target against cornerbacks who stand under six feet (Jackson is 5-foot-10, 180 pounds). For reference, the 2020 league average for wide receivers was 8.2.
Jackson had a good season in 2020, his third year in the NFL after being drafted by the Panthers out of LSU in 2018. He allowed a passer rating of 78.5 on throws into his coverage. That placed him at the 86th percentile among qualified cornerbacks.
Davis is a better overall player than Jackson, but Davis’ lack of explosiveness against smaller corners last season balances out this matchup. This duel will be a great opportunity for Davis to come straight out of the gates and show that he can improve his productivity against smaller, quicker cornerbacks.
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Jets LB C.J. Mosley vs. Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey
However, when McCaffrey finds himself matched up with C.J. Mosley, fans will be treated to one of the most elite matchups on the field.
McCaffrey’s prowess as a pass-catcher is well-documented. In his last healthy season (2019), he caught 116 passes for 1,005 yards and four touchdowns.
Mosley has been one of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL when healthy. From 2014-18, he ranked third among linebackers in passes defended (35) and third in interceptions (9). He helped Baltimore rank top-8 in receiving yards allowed to running backs in four of his five seasons as a Raven.
In Robert Saleh’s 4-3 defense, Mosley’s coverage impact should only increase compared to his output in Baltimore’s 3-4 unit. He will be asked to cover more ground and take on a greater range of responsibilities in coverage, which should expand the number of opportunities he gets to maximize his coverage talent.
Mosley lost 19 pounds to prepare for his role in Saleh’s defense, dropping from 250 to 231. His increased mobility was apparent throughout training camp and the preseason as he racked up pass deflections left and right.
McCaffrey and Mosley have met once before, going head-to-head in Week 8 of the 2018 season while Mosley was with Baltimore.
The two stars had a competitive battle. While McCaffrey beat Mosley for a 6-yard touchdown reception, he finished the game with only 11 receiving yards on six targets. That’s an average of 1.8 yards per target, which still stands as the worst mark of his career.
Mosley can also counter McCaffrey in the ground game.
McCaffrey is one of the most elusive runners in football, ranking sixth among running backs with 49 missed tackles forced as a rusher in 2019. Meanwhile, Mosley is one of the league’s most consistent tacklers at the linebacker position. Since 2016, he has a 12.9-to-1 ratio of tackles to missed tackles, ranking seventh-best among qualified linebackers over that span.
When McCaffrey faced Mosley’s Ravens in 2018, he averaged only 3.2 yards per carry, his second-worst mark out of 16 games that season. He did rush for an 11-yard touchdown, however.
McCaffrey will likely scorch the Jets’ young linebackers, both through the air and on the ground. It is crucial that Mosley limits the damage by keeping McCaffrey quiet whenever they match up. He is New York’s only answer to Carolina’s two-way star.