Alijah Vera-Tucker, NY Jets, PFF Grade, Draft, Stats
Alijah Vera-Tucker, New York Jets, Getty Images

Jets-Eagles will be won in the trenches

Your eyes should always be gazing upon the trenches when watching a football game. With that being said, this Sunday’s New York Jets-Philadelphia Eagles matchup will be about as good of a game as any to remain fixated on the line of scrimmage rather than watching the ball.

Both New York and Philadelphia offer a multitude of talented players on the offensive and defensive lines. High-quality battles will be had on each side of the ball.

The Jets’ defensive line has led the team to the NFL’s 13th-best sack rate (6.2%) despite missing star edge rusher Carl Lawson for the entire season and starter Bryce Huff for much of the year. Pro Bowl candidate Quinnen Williams and $55 million man John Franklin-Myers have 6.0 sacks apiece and lead a group that compiled five sacks in a win over Houston last week.

New York’s offensive line is playing much-improved football as of late. Since promoting Laurent Duvernay-Tardif into the starting right guard spot over Greg Van Roten in Week 11, the Jets are rushing for a sterling 5.0 yards per carry.

Out in Philly, the Eagles’ defensive line has had a somewhat disappointing year as the team ranks 30th in sack rate (4.4%), but the unit has a couple of elite players at the top who have done their best to carry their struggling teammates.

Philadelphia’s offensive line is playing great. It is the engine behind the NFL’s No. 1 rushing attack (157.9 yards per game) and ranks 12th out of 32 units in Pro Football Focus’ pass-blocking efficiency.

If you want to see the player-versus-player battles that dictate the outcome of this game, direct your attention to these five matchups.

Jets EDGE John Franklin-Myers (#91) vs. Eagles RT Lane Johnson (#65)

After a career day in which he posted two sacks and an interception, John Franklin-Myers will be tested by one of the best right tackles in the business.

Franklin-Myers lines up on the left side of the defensive line, where he takes on the opposing right tackle. Three-time Pro Bowler Lane Johnson will be his opponent this week.

At 31 years old, Johnson is still going strong. With only 10 pressures and zero sacks allowed across 292 pass-blocking snaps this season, he ranks fourth-best among all qualified right tackles in PFF’s pass-blocking efficiency.

With Franklin-Myers currently tied for fourth among edge rushers with 39 total pressures off the left side of the defensive line, this is quite the marquee matchup.

Jets DT Quinnen Williams (#95) vs. Eagles LG Landon Dickerson (#69)

Quinnen Williams is putting together an excellent season. He is tied for second among defensive tackles in total sacks (7) and leads the position in defensive snaps per sack (65.9).

Williams primarily plays defensive tackle on the right side of the line, where he faces the opposing left guard. Landon Dickerson mans that spot for Philly.

A rookie second-round pick out of Alabama, Dickerson has struggled in pass protection. He ranks at the 25th percentile among qualified guards in pass-blocking efficiency, giving up the 15th-most pressures at the position (24) despite playing the 38th-most snaps (393).

However, Dickerson is quickly getting much better in protection after a rough start to his career. Since Week 6, Dickerson has climbed to the 73rd percentile in pass-blocking efficiency. He has allowed only 1.1 pressures per game over his previous seven contests after yielding 4.0 per game over his first four.

Dickerson will also challenge Williams in the run game. The rookie already ranks at the 75th percentile among qualified guards in PFF’s run-blocking grade (69.6).

This Alabama-on-Alabama matchup features two guys who should be fixtures at their respective positions for years to come.

Jets X-Factor Membership

Eagles DT Fletcher Cox (#91) vs. Jets RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (#72)

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif has sparked the Jets’ offensive line since joining the starting lineup in Week 11. He is providing consistency in both phases that Greg Van Roten could not.

Duvernay-Tardif’s most common matchup on Sunday should be 6-time Pro Bowler Fletcher Cox.

Now in his 10th season, the 30-year-old Cox is still a workhorse but is not the playmaker he once was. He only has one sack in 12 games and is rushing at a less-than-stellar level as he ranks 14th at his position in pressures (28) despite ranking eighth in pass-rush snaps (328).

Cox has been hot-and-cold, and his individual performance has been integral to the team’s performance. He has five games this season with at least three pressures, and Philadelphia is 4-1 in those games. He has three games with zero pressures, and the Eagles are 0-3 in those games.

Duvernay-Tardif and Cox squared off back in 2017 while the former was a member of the Chiefs. Cox was held to one pressure on 31 pass-rush snaps, and Duvernay-Tardif himself pitched a shutout as he was credited with zero pressures allowed on 36 snaps in protection.

The Jets need a replication of that domination from LDT.

Eagles EDGE Derek Barnett (#96) vs. Jets LT George Fant (#76)

George Fant continues to string together great pass-protection performances in a surprisingly strong season as Mekhi Becton’s temporary replacement. Fant did not allow his first sack of the season until Week 12 and has allowed no more than two pressures in all but one of his games this season.

Fant will look to stay hot against Derek Barnett, who is Philadelphia’s primary edge rusher off the right side of the defensive line (opposite the left tackle).

Barnett is a former first-round pick who has shown over the years that he is capable of busting out for a huge game every once in a while, but he has never been able to consistently put it together. This year, Barnett has been inconsistent as ever.

Few edge rushers have been less productive off the right side than Barnett this year. He has gotten the fifth-most pass-rush snaps off the right side of any edge rusher in football (260) but ranks way down at 22nd with only 17 pressures on those plays.

Overall, Barnett only ranks at the 45th percentile among qualified edge rushers in PFF’s pass-rush grade (64.6).

The Eagles are 1-5 when Barnett is held to fewer than two pressures and 4-2 when he picks up at least two pressures.

In the 2019 Wild Card Game, Fant started at left tackle for the Seahawks against Barnett’s Eagles, and Barnett beat Fant for three pressures as he helped Philadelphia hold Seattle to 17 points (albeit in a loss).

Whereas the Jets need LDT to repeat history against Cox, they need Fant to reverse it against Barnett.

Eagles DT Javon Hargrave (#97) vs. Jets LG Alijah Vera-Tucker (#75)

Javon Hargrave is Philadelphia’s best pass rusher, leading the team with 38 pressures. He is ranked as PFF’s No. 3 pass-rusher among interior defensive linemen with a 90.6 pass-rushing grade.

Hargrave typically lines up on the right side, so he will see plenty of Jets rookie left guard Alijah Vera-Tucker.

While he has been consistently excellent in the run game, Vera-Tucker has been a roller-coaster in pass protection. Here is a look at his pressure totals allowed throughout the year:

  • First 3 games: 4.0 per game
  • Games 4-6: 0.7 per game
  • Games 7-9: 4.0 per game
  • Last 2 games: 1.5 per game

Right now, Vera-Tucker is hot, yielding only three pressures and zero sacks over his last two games. The goal is to keep that streak going through the end of the season so he can enter his second year having already established that he is capable of forging consistent production.

That lofty goal will be tested by one of the most terrorizing interior rushers in the sport.

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Michael Nania is one of the best analytical New York Jets minds in the world, combining his statistical expertise with game film to add proper context to the data. Nania scrapes every corner, ensuring you know all there is to know about everyone from the QB to the long snapper. Nania's Numbers, Nania's QB Grades, and Nania's All-22 give fans a deeper and more well-rounded dive into the Jets than anyone else can offer. Email: michael.nania[at]jetsxfactor.com - Twitter: @Michael_Nania
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Jets71
Jets71
9 months ago

Clearly the Jets’ DL is the focus of the defense, and these match ups are interesting but I worry about the LBs. How much of the Jets’ problems stopping the run is DL related vs. LB related?