New York Jets’ cornerbacks pass their biggest test of the season
Ever since the New York Jets‘ season-opening loss to the Carolina Panthers, the team’s young cornerback unit has been the most pleasant surprise on the entire roster. Bryce Hall, Brandin Echols, Michael Carter II, and Javelin Guidry have been surprisingly solid throughout the year.
But until Week 8, the unit had yet to be tested by a truly phenomenal group of opposing wide receivers.
Halloween offered up the high-flying Cincinnati Bengals as the greatest challenge yet for the Jets’ corners.
Quarterback Joe Burrow was on a roll, entering the game with a 114.1 passer rating over his previous five games.
The Bengals’ wide receiver unit was the driving force of Burrow’s success, led by first-round pick Ja’Marr Chase.
Chase was the talk of the NFL after a 201-yard performance on the road against an elite Baltimore secondary in Week 7. He had set an all-time NFL record with 754 receiving yards through his first seven career games.
Sitting behind Chase on Cincinnati’s wide receiver depth chart are Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, who are each averaging over 50 receiving yards per game in their careers. They join forces with Chase to form one of the best wide receiver trios in football.
New York’s corners were up to the task.
It was not a perfect outing for the unit – Brandin Echols allowed a 2-yard touchdown to Chase and Bryce Hall allowed a 10-yard touchdown to Boyd – but even when taking those two scores into account, this was still the best performance that any cornerback unit has had against Cincinnati in 2021.
Altogether, the Jets’ corners allowed six catches on 12 targets for 71 yards and three conversions (2 touchdowns, 1 first down). That is the fewest yards and fewest total conversions allowed by a cornerback unit against Cincinnati this season.
Check out how the performance of New York’s cornerback unit against the Bengals compares to Cincy’s other seven opponents:
- Jets: 71 yards allowed
- Steelers: 86 yards
- Packers: 120 yards
- Lions: 133 yards
- Bears: 151 yards
- Vikings: 171 yards
- Jaguars: 272 yards
- Ravens: 326 yards
The Bengals came into MetLife Stadium having dropped 209.8 yards per game on the heads of opposing cornerbacks. Gang Green’s unit allowed barely more than a third of that mark.
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Most notably, Chase finished the game with three catches on eight targets for a season-low 32 yards. He did have a couple of drops, but Echols and Hall both did a great job of preventing Chase from beating them over the top or after the catch. They kept Chase in front of them and halted him from making the game-breaking plays that have established him as a superstar.
Chase averaged 70.1 air yards (yards gained from the line of scrimmage to the point of the catch) over his first seven games, gaining at least 38 air yards in each game.
The Jets held Chase to 9 air yards.
Cincinnati tried to test Brandin Echols. Chase played 64% of his snaps on the left side of the offense, which put him across from Echols’ alignment as the defense’s right-side corner.
Echols responded fairly well. He finished the game allowing two catches on six targets for 11 yards over 38 snaps in coverage.
One of those two catches was a 2-yard touchdown by Chase, and Echols also had a holding penalty against Tee Higgins in the end zone. Chase also dropped two passes against Echols’ coverage.
Overall, though, the Jets’ rookie sixth-round pick still stood his ground decently. Echols made an elite play early in the third quarter as he stayed on top of Higgins on a third-and-6 go-route deep shot, tracking the football and breaking up the pass to force a punt.
Bryce Hall allowed two catches on four targets for 36 yards over 38 snaps in coverage, giving up one touchdown and one first down.
Across Chase’s 18 snaps lined up on the right side of the field – opposite Hall’s left-side alignment – he was targeted against Hall just once, and Hall broke up the pass in the end zone on a slant in man-to-man coverage.
The one touchdown allowed by Hall was far from egregious. Hall was playing with inside leverage against Boyd on an in-breaking route. The pass rush did an abysmal job and gave Burrow all day to throw. Burrow extended the play to Hall’s side and Boyd was easily able to snap back toward the sideline and away from Hall’s inside positioning. It is hard to imagine any cornerback making the stop in that situation.
Even the other catch allowed by Hall was nowhere near awful. Hall provided air-tight coverage on a deep shot but Higgins made an incredible diving catch for 26 yards. Plus, the replay showed that the ball may have bounced off the ground (the Jets did not challenge).
Michael Carter II had another shutdown performance in the slot. He played 32 snaps in coverage and was targeted only one time, a 21-yard completion allowed to Boyd. That’s all Carter II gave up. He consistently executed his assignments to take away any receivers in his area as a potential option.
Javelin Guidry made a cameo appearance with five coverage snaps. All he gave up was a 3-yard completion to running back Samaje Perine, which was stopped short of the first down marker.
While this Jets cornerback unit doesn’t have a flair for the dramatic – it has yet to record an interception or force a fumble – that takes nothing away from how marvelous it has been. These cornerbacks have been winning their battles and preventing big plays at a tremendous level of efficiency this year.
Considering how young they all are, things should only get better from here – especially now that they have passed their biggest test.