New York Jets defense saved by a surprise pairing
With a litany of key contributors sidelined due to COVID-19 and various injuries, the New York Jets defense that took the field against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 16 looked like a unit you would see in a team’s final preseason game (a sentiment echoed by CBS play-by-play announcer Spero Dedes).
New faces were everywhere. Four different defenders made their first start of the season. Three players played their very first defensive snaps of the entire 2021 season.
Staying true to the “next man up” mentality that prevails in team sports across the world, the Jets’ defense was able to survive thanks to a handful of backups and scrapheap pickups who seized their opportunities and had standout games.
Against a Jaguars offense ranked 32nd in scoring (14.5 points per game), the makeshift New York defense did a decent job, limiting Jacksonville to 21 points and coming up with stops in key situations (although the total of 21 points is tied for the Jaguars’ second-best of the year).
Two called-upon players in particular had excellent performances that were instrumental in helping the Jets stay afloat: safeties Will Parks and Jason Pinnock. Each making their first start of the season, Parks and Pinnock proved to be the unlikely backbone of the Jets’ defense.
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Scored by Pro Football Focus with overall grades of 82.3 and 80.1, respectively, Parks and Pinnock graded out as the Jets’ two best defensive players of the game at PFF.
Parks was making his Jets debut after being claimed off waivers just five days earlier. He had only played in one game all season, appearing exclusively on special teams for the Dolphins in Week 13. These were his first defensive snaps of the season.
Pinnock was drafted by the Jets as a cornerback in the fifth round of this year’s draft. Prior to the Jaguars game, Pinnock had only played 27 defensive snaps in nine appearances, making emergency appearances at safety in which he tended to struggle. A lengthy, physical press corner at Pittsburgh, Pinnock was intended to be a developmental outside corner for the Jets.
The fact that either player was thrust onto the field to start at safety for the Jets is a microcosm of how nightmarish of a year it has been for the Jets regarding the durability of their defense. But on this afternoon, Parks and Pinnock gave New York a performance that any team would love to have from its safety duo on any given Sunday.
Parks (playing strong safety) and Pinnock (playing free safety) were targeted a combined four times. They allowed just one of those passes to be completed for one yard (the pass did not result in a first down or touchdown) while recording two pass breakups.
Parks dropped into coverage on 37 snaps and allowed 1-of-3 passing for one yard with a pass breakup. Pinnock played 45 coverage snaps and was targeted just once, breaking up a potential deep completion from Trevor Lawrence to Marvin Jones.
In addition to their lockdown coverage, Parks and Pinnock refrained from making any other backbreaking mistakes. Neither player committed a penalty or missed a tackle. The duo combined for eight tackles (four apiece) without a whiff and 135 defensive snaps (71 for Pinnock, 64 for Parks) without prompting a yellow piece of cloth to be chucked onto the turf.
Pinnock also provided great run support. He made two stops on Lawrence rush attempts from inside of the Jets’ five-yard line that held Jacksonville’s quarterback short of the end zone. On the second of those, Pinnock forced a fumble (although it was unfortunately recovered by a Jaguars offensive lineman in the end zone for a touchdown).
Parks, 27, likely doesn’t have a future as a starter in New York. He spent four-plus years as a backup safety in Denver and had a cup of coffee with the Eagles last season. A solid backup is probably his ceiling.
But Pinnock, 22, may have shown the first glimpses of what he could become at the safety position. While he was intially drafted for his potential as a cornerback, his play against Jacksonville suggested he may have a future at safety.
The Jets need all the help at the safety position they can get, so they would be wise to give Pinnock two more starts back there to see what he can do before the regular season closes. Getting three starts of tape on Pinnock at safety would give the Jets valuable intel that can help them decide how to attack their upcoming defensive overhaul this offseason.
Of course, neither two more good starts nor two more bad starts will dictate Pinnock’s NFL future – that’s far too small of a sample to discern anything concrete – but for now, it’s at least promising for the Jets to know that they do have another young safety prospect with some upside.