New York Jets defensive line can keep feasting against Atlanta Falcons
The New York Jets‘ defensive line is enjoying an excellent start to the season. New York’s defense ranks fourth in sacks per game (3.3) and sixth in quarterback hits per game (7.0).
The primary four-man rush of John Franklin-Myers (LDE), Sheldon Rankins (LDT), Quinnen Williams (RDT), and Bryce Huff (RDE) has been stellar. Those four players have combined to produce a pressure rate of 12.0% this season. That ranks fourth-best in the NFL out of every team’s top-four leaders in pass-rush snaps.
Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich‘s defensive front will have a chance to keep the fire burning against a sluggish Atlanta Falcons offensive line in Week 5. As a team, Atlanta currently owns a pass-blocking grade of 53.7 at Pro Football Focus, which ranks 25th in the NFL.
Running through the Falcons’ offensive line from left to right, three players stand out as primary targets for the Jets’ defense.
Left tackle: Jake Matthews (Strength)
Veteran left tackle Jake Matthews is not one of the three liabilities on Atlanta’s line. He is one of two bright spots that the Falcons have going for them.
Now in his eighth NFL season, the 29-year-old Matthews continues to be a reliable presence on the blindside. He has not missed a start since his rookie season and has kept Matt Ryan clean in 2021, allowing only five pressures over 186 protection snaps (2.7% rate).
Huff has been a solid pass rusher with 11 pressures on 103 pass-rush snaps (10.7% rate), contributing to three sacks (one solo, two half) while assisting in creating a couple of others.
Lawson is struggling as a pass rusher. He only has three pressures over 83 pass-rush snaps for a pressure rate of 3.6%. That is well below his usual standards – his rate from 2019-20 was 12.2%.
However, Lawson has been excellent against the run, leading the Jets’ edge defenders with five run stops. He could beat up on Matthews in the run game, as Matthews has struggled in that phase despite his good pass protection. Matthews’ PFF run-blocking grade of 45.0 ranks fourth-worst among qualified left tackles.
Left guard: Jalen Mayfield (Weak spot)
Second-year left guard Jalen Mayfield is the weakest link on Atlanta’s offensive line.
Mayfield has been atrocious in pass protection. He has given up four sacks to lead all guards. His PFF pass-blocking grade of 20.5 is the worst among all qualified guards.
In total, Mayfield has allowed 15 pressures on 183 protection snaps (8.2% rate).
To boot, Mayfield is tied for the lead among guards with five penalties. Mayfield is not strong in the run game either as his 51.8 run-blocking grade at PFF ranks at the 20th percentile among qualified guards.
Quinnen Williams will line up across from Mayfield consistently. The right side of the defensive line – opposite the opponent’s left guard – continues to be his home as it has been throughout his career.
Williams has created pressure on 14.7% of his pass-rush snaps this season (14 of 95). That is the best rate among qualified left guards.
This is about as big of a mismatch as there could be between two starting players in the NFL.
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Center: Matt Hennessy (Weak spot)
The brother of all-world Jets long snapper Thomas Hennessy, second-year Falcons center Matt Hennessy is having a rough time in his first season as a primary starter.
Hennessy has allowed 10 pressures, tied for the fourth-most among centers. His allowed pressure rate of 5.4% is sixth-worst.
Jets nose tackle Foley Fatukasi is a good pass rusher for a player in his role and can create havoc against Hennessy in the passing game.
Fatukasi’s pressure rate of 7.1% ranks fifth-best out of 18 qualified defensive tackles who have played more snaps against the run than against the pass (this criteria essentially narrows down the sample to high-usage nose tackles like Fatukasi).
Hennessy has been about average in the run game, ranking 16th out of 32 centers with a 66.0 run-blocking grade at PFF. However, he has been unable to lead Atlanta to much rushing success up the middle. The Falcons are averaging only 3.6 yards per carry in the A-gaps – including only 0.7 yards before contact per carry.
Fatukasi is up to his usual antics as a dominant run-stuffer. He is tied for fourth among interior defensive linemen with 10 run stops.
Unless you are an elite run blocker – which Hennessy is not – Fatukasi is a mismatch for you. Few players create penetration, shed blocks, and finish tackles as he can.
Right guard: Chris Lindstrom (Strength)
Chris Lindstrom joins Jake Matthews as the second solid starter on Atlanta’s offensive line, doing his best to make up for the struggles of those around him.
The third-year guard has already established himself as one of the league’s better right guards at only 24 years old. His 81.3 overall grade at PFF ranks second-best among right guards behind only Dallas Cowboys star Zack Martin.
Lindstrom is highly regarded in both phases. As a pass protector, he has given up just six pressures over 186 protection snaps this season (3.2% rate). In the run game, Lindstrom is highly trusted considering that 38% of Atlanta’s designed run plays were directed to either the right-side A-gap or right-side B-gap (either side of Lindstrom).
Sheldon Rankins will be Lindstrom’s primary matchup in this game. He has had a respectable season as a pass rusher with eight pressures over 110 pass-rush snaps (7.3% rate – the 2020 IDL average was 7.0%).
Right tackle: Kaleb McGary (Weak spot)
Rounding out the Falcons’ offensive line is Kaleb McGary. He joins Jalen Mayfield and Matt Hennessy as the third liability up front, although he has merely been below-average and is not quite as bad as Mayfield or Hennessy.
McGary is tied for 10th among right tackles with 11 pressures allowed. He has given them up at a 5.9% rate, which isn’t brutal considering the 2020 league average for tackles was 5.9%.
PFF scores McGary with a pass-blocking grade of 51.8, which is more ghastly than his allowed pressure rate considering it checks in at the 25th percentile among qualified tackles. This tells us that even though McGary only loses at a slightly below-average rate, his losses tend to be ugly.
McGary also struggles in the run game as he ranks at the 13th percentile with a 49.5 PFF run-blocking grade. Atlanta has averaged only 2.9 yards per carry on rushes directed to either side of McGary.
John Franklin-Myers will line up against McGary throughout the game. Franklin-Myers has played 67% of the Jets’ defensive snaps this season and has lined up on the left side of the defensive line on 98% of his 194 plays.
Franklin-Myers is one of the NFL’s best edge rushers off the left side. His total of 17 pressures when lined up on the left side of the defensive line is tied for fifth in the NFL this season. Von Miller, Cameron Jordan, and Micah Parsons share that fifth-place spot with him.
The stars have the best matchups
Jake Matthews will be a great test for the up-and-coming Bryce Huff, while Sheldon Rankins is an underdog against Chris Lindstrom.
But the Jets’ three best overall players on the defensive line – Quinnen Williams, Foley Fatukasi, and John Franklin-Myers – just happen to be drawing Atlanta’s three worst offensive linemen.
The table is set for the Jets’ brightest stars to put on a show across the pond.
The impact could be subtle
There is a chance that the dominance of the Jets’ defensive line over Atlanta’s offensive line could manifest itself in a way that does not result in tangible production or flashy plays.
The Falcons aren’t foolish. They know their offensive line will be overmatched if they ask it to hold up against the Jets’ defensive line for long periods of time.
Atlanta will likely rush the ball out to prevent the Jets’ pass rush from doing any damage. This is what head coach Arthur Smith did against the Washington Football Team’s intimidating defensive line last week. Matt Ryan released the ball in under 2.5 seconds on 72.1% of his pass attempts, ranking second-highest in the league behind only Ben Roethlisberger in Week 4.
If this happens, the Jets’ pass rush will likely not post the splashiest numbers, in turn drawing criticism for not making an impact.
But that intimidation factor is the very definition of impact. By forcing Atlanta into a quick-game, checkdown-heavy approach merely based upon the threat of what they could do, the pass rush will have severely limited the explosive potential of Atlanta’s offense without even doing anything.
Factor in that that the Falcons will be without starting wide receivers Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage, and they could be forced into running an extremely conservative offensive attack.
That is, unless they want to take the risk of asking their offensive line to go man-to-man with the Jets’ defensive line on long-developing passing plays with backup receivers running downfield routes (not to mention, against the Jets’ thriving young cornerbacks).
All of the pieces are in place for the Jets’ defense to enjoy a successful visit to London. Whether or not they capitalize on it all comes down to that pesky word that everyone loves to hang their hats on in press conferences: execution.
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