Can Mike White and Co. replicate their success against the Colts?
There are mixed feelings around the New York Jets before tonight’s Thursday Night Football game against the Colts.
While some are confident, skeptics remain doubtful.
Sure, Mike White’s impressive performance brought hope back to Jets’ fans’ hearts, but that old, vicious feeling remains present in every Jets’ fan mind:
Can New York sustain any kind of success?
I honestly can’t remember the last time the Jets strung meaningful back-to-back wins.
Perhaps we would have to go back to the early part of the 2017 season, when Josh McCown was the quarterback and led the Jets to three wins in a row, getting to a 3-2 record.
With the team’s recent history in mind, there’s no hyperbole in saying White and company can do something special tonight.
A win on Thursday Night Football would mean playing meaningful games throughout November. For a fan base starving for joy, it would be a giant first step.
Still, the Jets need to beat the Colts first. And for that to happen, they must score (a lot of?) points.
The Colts’ defense is intriguing and offers the Jets’ players and coaching staff some interesting matchups.
I lay out three, in particular, that will be key to tonight’s game.
Coach vs. Coach: Matt Eberflus vs. Mike LaFleur
Mike LaFleur is the man of the hour among Jets’ fans. After being much-criticized from weeks one to seven, LaFleur was cheered for his aggressive approach against the Bengals despite playing with his backup QB.
Yes, LaFleur called a good first, scripted drive for the first time of the season, but it wasn’t the first time the Jets play-caller was aggressive to open up the game. The Patriots (Week 2) and Broncos games come to mind, as the Jets opened them up pass-happy but it didn’t work.
Nonetheless, it will be a different story against the Colts as LaFleur gets ready to face defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus.
The matchup is intriguing once we take into consideration the fact that veteran, experienced coordinators have taken LaFleur to school this season: Phil Snow, Bill Belichick, and Vic Fangio. Three experienced coaches correctly guessed what the Jets play-caller would try to do and successfully took it away.
With Eberflus now, LaFleur faces an experienced coordinator and a hot name on the last head coaching search cycle (the Jets being one of the teams that interviewed him).
Eberflus, 51, is a well-regarded coach around the league, responsible for turning the Colts defense around and quickly. Indianapolis was 30th in scoring defense prior to Eberflus arrival (2017) and finished in the top 10 in his first year (2018). The Colts are 14th in scoring defense this season.
After Mike White carved the Bengals’ spot-drop zone defense, it will be interesting to see if Eberflus can anticipate LaFleur’s tendencies and try to take away the underneath stuff.
Since the Colts’ defense is zone-oriented (highest Cover 2 team in the NFL in 2020), they would have to change up quite a bit the way they play.
More NFL defensive coverage rates…
Cover 2 — highest % of coverage snaps
— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) November 12, 2020
If LaFleur can guess the chess game correctly, the Jets offense will start with the upper hand for the second consecutive week, which would do wonders for Mike White and company.
Trench battle: Alijah Vera-Tucker vs. DeForest Buckner
Alijah Vera-Tucker has been nothing short of fantastic in the last few weeks. Both the game film and analytics point to Vera-Tucker turning into one of the league’s premier guards, but it feels like he needs to pass a major test first.
The test is here, and his name is DeForest Buckner.
Buckner, a former seventh overall pick in the 2016 draft, is at the peak of his career. Named first-team All-Pro last season, Buckner totaled 11 sacks in 2020 and already has four this year.
The former Oregon star plays the 3-tech position in Eberflus’ defense, meaning he will get a lot of one-on-one pass-rush snaps with Vera-Tucker.
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Despite Vera-Tucker playing well recently, he has yet to face a player with Buckner’s skillset. Buckner is a powerful and skilled pass rusher who can beat guards with bull-rushes or swim moves.
This matchup becomes extra-important considering the skillset of Mike White. He is a quarterback who needs to play the game from the pocket. If there’s constant pressure inside, his game will take a hit.
Vera-Tucker will need another impressive performance to ease his quarterback’s life.
On the perimeter: Elijah Moore, Denzel Mims vs. Xavier Rhodes, Rock Ya-Sin
The Colts’ cornerback approach is similar to the Jets’: cornerbacks don’t travel, they play sides. Rhodes is the right side cornerback and Ya-Sin is the left side cornerback – which means both will get a crack at Mims and Elijah Moore.
These matchups will become key to the game if the Colts play more man coverage than usual, daring Mike White to beat them over the top.
If that’s the case, Jets’ receivers will need to win their one-on-one battles.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case this season.
The Patriots and Broncos games come to mind as examples of New York’s pass catchers struggling to separate versus man coverage. Sure, the Colts’ cornerback duo is nowhere near as skilled as those two other teams, but Ya-Sin and Rhodes can play. Both are very aggressive, which has been the main issue for the Jets’ receiving corp.
Ya-Sin, a third-year player, seems to be in the middle of his breakout season.
I know he still has a few mistakes in coverage but if I told y’all prior to the year that Rock Ya-Sin would only have one reception allowed over 20 yards and 0 penalties in five starts, you would all call me crazy.
— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) November 1, 2021
Moore and Mims will need to be able to separate on the outside to create explosive plays. The Jets don’t want to get predictable with quick-hitters over the middle.
These three matchups represent the beauty and the curse of having a young team and coaching staff: if you win, it’s on them – which means wonders for the future. But if you lose, it’s also on them, which can raise some premature red flags.