New York Jets’ cornerbacks stand out in season opener
The most maligned position group on the New York Jets‘ roster throughout the offseason was easily the cornerback unit. Joe Douglas and company elected not to invest any premium assets into one of the team’s weakest positions, opting to bet on a bevy of young players who were either drafted on the third day of the draft or not drafted at all.
Douglas’ exceedingly green cornerback room became even more inexperienced when he and the team decided to part ways with projected starter Bless Austin as part of 53-man roster cuts. Austin’s total of 16 career starts was greater than all other players in the unit combined (9).
The Jets did not draw a favorable season-opening opponent for their juvenile cornerback room to compete against. Carolina’s trio of D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, and Terrace Marshall should finish as one of the better units in the league this season. Moore and Anderson were one of only two duos of wide receiver teammates to each eclipse 1,000 yards in 2020.
This looked like a recipe for disaster. But football can be a weird game. It has a way of taking the image of how we think things are going to play out and then completely flipping it on its head.
That is what went down in Charlotte on Sunday. The weakest position on the Jets’ roster convincingly won its battle against one of the strongest positions on Carolina’s roster – just like everyone expected.
Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold threw 15 passes in which a Jets cornerback was the primary defender, according to Pro Football Focus. Nine of those were completed for a measly 77 yards (5.1 per target), four first downs (29% of passes), and zero touchdowns.
The average of 5.1 yards per target allowed by New York’s cornerback unit was the third-best mark of any cornerback unit in the NFL in Week 1, trailing only the 49ers (5.0) and Eagles (4.4).
Here are the coverage numbers of the four Jets cornerbacks to play against the Panthers:
- Bryce Hall (LCB): 37 coverage snaps, 1/2 passing for 9 yards and 1 first down
- Brandin Echols (RCB): 29 coverage snaps, 3/5 passing for 26 yards and 1 first down
- Michael Carter II (SCB): 20 coverage snaps, 3/5 passing for 17 yards and 1 first down
- Javelin Guidry: (RCB): 12 coverage snaps, 2/3 passing for 25 yards and 1 first down
The starting trio of Hall (outside left), Echols (outside right), and Carter II (slot) was excellent. They combined to allow 7-of-12 passing for 52 yards (4.3 per target) and three first downs (25% rate).
Guidry struggled a bit as the Jets’ fourth corner, handling a new role as he played right cornerback instead of the slot role he manned in 2020 and throughout the 2021 offseason. Over a limited number of snaps, he let up a 27-yard first down to D.J. Moore and should have given up another big first down but lucked out as Moore dropped an easy catch over the middle.
Hall held the fort down tremendously as the Jets’ left cornerback and No. 1 player at the position.
Playing a team-high 37 snaps in coverage and staying on the field for all 64 defensive snaps (with all 64 coming on the left side of the defense), Hall allowed a nine-yard first down to Christian McCaffrey in the first quarter and never gave up another the catch over the rest of the game. His average of 0.24 yards allowed per cover snap ranked seventh-best among the 64 cornerbacks to play at least 30 snaps in coverage.
Echols was the Jets’ right cornerback and No. 2 player on the depth chart, playing 46 defensive snaps (72% of the snaps). All of his snaps came on the right side of the defense. He gave up a 13-yard first down to D.J. Moore on a back-shoulder throw in the first quarter and never yielded another chain-mover in the game over four ensuing targets.
Carter II was challenged often in the slot. When lined up in the slot, he saw a target once every 3.8 snaps in coverage, which ranked as the fourth-most-frequent rate among 38 qualified slot defenders in Week 1.
But the rookie made Carolina pay for testing him. He allowed a passer rating of 66.3 across five targets in his direction, ranking sixth-best among slot defenders.
The greatest aspect of the unit’s performance is how fundamentally sound it was. The four cornerbacks combined for zero penalties and zero missed tackles. They were one of only five cornerback units to accomplish that in Week 1.
In addition, the Jets’ cornerback unit was one of only two to combine for zero touchdowns allowed, zero penalties, and zero missed tackles. The other features the most expensive cornerback duo in the NFL – the Miami Dolphins’ unit headlined by Xavien Howard and Byron Jones.
Will the Jets’ young cornerbacks continue to play at this elite of a level all season? Probably not. Ups and downs are to be expected for a group whose oldest player is Hall at 24 years old.
Regardless, it is extremely promising to see the Jets’ youthful cornerback group show such a high production ceiling in its very first game – especially considering the quality of the opponent they faced. It is already clear that this unit is indeed capable of performing at a high level.
The question is, how long will it take them to reach the point where they can play this well on a consistent basis?
Most likely, that point will not come in 2021. Patience is key – but Carolina was undoubtedly one heck of a great way for this group to get things started.
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