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The New York Jets offense is built to thrive against these defenses

Matchups are everything in the game of football. It’s never as simple as merely comparing the raw talent level of two squads. A given team could be tailor-made to clobber one team but perfectly constructed to be destroyed by another.

Without further ado, let’s get into some of the best and worst matchups for the New York Jets on their 2022 schedule. Today we’ll be starting with a few of the Jets’ most favorable matchups on the offensive side of the ball. Later on, we’ll get into their worst offensive matchups and their best/worst defensive matchups.

Detroit Lions’ run defense

When looking at potential mismatches for the Jets offense, the first thing I’m looking at is run defense. The productivity of the Jets’ passing game is largely TBD, but the future looks bright for the run game. New York is armed with a full unit of good zone-blockers on the offensive line, two highly elusive running backs, and even some reliable blockers at tight end.

Detroit struggled mightily to stop the run in 2021. The Lions let up the fifth-most rushing yards per game (135.1), the fifth-most rushing touchdowns (19), and the 12th-most yards per carry (4.4) while ranking 31st in rush defense DVOA.

One specific area where the Lions had major trouble was in the power running game. Detroit gave up a 75% conversion rate in power-running situations (rush attempts on 3rd/4th down with 2 yards to go or less), which ranked second-worst in the NFL. That helps explain why their DVOA was so much poorer than their raw stats. Their situational run defense was poor.

In Week 1 of the 2021 season, the Lions played the San Francisco 49ers, whose offense closely resembles that of the Jets. San Francisco ran all over the Lions, running for 131 yards and two touchdowns on an efficient 4.7 yards per carry. The 49ers scored 41 points in a win.

The Lions did not do much to improve their run defense this offseason. They did not make any notable splashes in free agency or the trade market, and most of the primary defensive contributors from last year’s woeful unit are returning.

Perhaps second overall pick Aidan Hutchinson will help, but other than that, the Lions’ most notable defensive additions this offseason were Chris Board and DeShon Elliott, two backups from the Ravens.

Two of Detroit’s worst run defenders were defensive tackles Michael Brockers (42.7 PFF run-defense grade) and Levi Onwuzurike (39.3), who are both set to return in key roles this season. That spells trouble for the Lions considering that the strength of the Jets’ run-blocking lies with their interior trio of Laken Tomlinson, Connor McGovern, and Alijah Vera-Tucker.

Tomlinson had a successful game at left guard against the Lions in that aforementioned 49ers victory. He helped San Francisco rack up 77 yards on 16 carries to the left side (4.8 yards per carry).

Brockers, who primarily played on the right side of the defensive line and thus frequently matched up against Tomlinson, had one of his worst run-defending games that day. His 44.2 PFF run-defense grade against the 49ers ended up as his fifth-worst mark of the year out of 16 games.

It wasn’t the first time that Brockers struggled against Tomlinson and the 49ers’ wide-zone offense. The former Ram saw plenty of Tomlinson during his days in Los Angeles.

Back in 2020, Brockers posted PFF run defense grades of 45.7 and 45.4 in his two games against San Francisco, which ended up as his fifth and fourth-worst marks out of 15 games. Tomlinson, meanwhile, had run-blocking grades of 82.5 and 76.3 in his two games against Brockers’ Rams, which ended up as his fourth and sixth-best marks out of 16 games.

Tomlinson is Brockers’ nemesis. If he can keep that dominance going in 2022, the Jets should be able to rack up a boatload of short-yardage conversions and highlight-reel runs behind No. 75.

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Green Bay Packers’ run defense

The Jets’ road trip to Green Bay looks like one of the most daunting dates on their 2022 slate. And, yes, for many reasons, it certainly is a difficult matchup for New York.

But the Jets do have one advantage, and that’s their rushing attack against the Packers’ run defense. This is where the Jets will have to take control of the game to seize a road upset.

Green Bay ranked 28th in rush defense DVOA last season and gave up the third-most yards per carry of any team in the NFL (4.7). However, because their offense was so good, the Packers were lucky enough to rarely have this weakness exploited. They faced the fourth-fewest rushing attempts per game (23.2) thanks to Aaron Rodgers putting opponents into big holes.

A specific weakness for the Packers was an inability to stuff runs at the line of scrimmage. The Packers picked up a “stuff” (rush for 0 yards or a loss) on just 12% of opposing carries, ranking second-worst in the NFL.

This deficiency should give the Jets an opportunity to consistently pick up healthy chunks of yardage on the ground, allowing them to stay ahead of the chains and create favorable down-and-distance situations for Zach Wilson.

Things aren’t exactly looking up for the Green Bay run defense as the Packers are running it back on defense. Each of their top-12 players in defensive snaps from last season will return and project to keep their same role.

Many of the run-stopping woes for the Packers occurred in the secondary. Three of their four worst run defenders (min. 500 defensive snaps) in terms of PFF’s run defense grade were defensive backs: cornerback Chandon Sullivan (37.6 grade), cornerback Eric Stokes (50.2), and safety Darnell Savage (50.7).

That’s a dangerous weakness to have against a wide-zone rushing offense. The wide-zone presents its running backs with a plethora of chances to make plays in space against DBs. If your DBs can’t make stops in the run game, they will get crushed by elusive RBs in a wide-zone scheme. And the Jets have two incredibly elusive backs in Michael Carter and Breece Hall.

Green Bay gave up a whopping 6.1 yards per carry on rush attempts directed to the edge (any carries labeled as “left end” or “right end” in the official play-by-play), ranking fourth-worst in the NFL. Carter and Hall must match or exceed that number on October 16 for the Jets to have a shot.

Baltimore Ravens’ coverage vs. TEs and RBs

The Ravens offense is a nightmare matchup for the Jets defense, but New York has a few things going its way on the other side of the ball. Chief among those are their potential matchup advantages in the passing game at tight end and running back.

Baltimore had a rough time covering tight ends and running backs in 2021, giving up the third-most receiving yards per game to tight ends (66.1) and the seventh-most receiving yards per game to running backs (43.7). Only the Seahawks and Jets gave up more combined receiving YPG to TEs and RBs than Baltimore’s 109.8.

Yes, the Ravens dealt with a lot of injuries last year, but most of the culprits for this weakness were starters that played the majority of the year and will be back in 2022. Check out the passer ratings allowed into the coverage of Baltimore’s top linebackers and safeties:

  • S Chuck Clark (623 coverage snaps): 112.1 passer rating allowed
  • S Brandon Stephens (459): 148.6
  • LB Patrick Queen (427): 107.1
  • LB Josh Bynes (269): 104.4
  • LB Tyus Bowser (218): 125.9

All five players remain on the Ravens today, and they all project to start in 2022 except for Stephens.

The Jets have a well-rounded unit of pass-catchers that features threats at every position. New York will certainly be throwing plenty of passes to the TE and RB positions this year. They have the necessary personnel to exploit Baltimore’s coverage deficiencies at linebacker and safety.

C.J. Uzomah is one player who has to be licking his chops for this matchup. The former Bengals TE had some fun against the Ravens last year.

In his first matchup against the Ravens, Uzomah caught all three of his targets for 91 yards and two touchdowns. In his second, Uzomah caught 5-of-7 targets for 36 yards and three first downs. The Bengals won both games, scoring 41 points in each.

Fellow Jets tight end Tyler Conklin also enjoyed a nice game against the Ravens last year as he caught 5-of-7 targets for 45 yards.

Breece Hall and Michael Carter will look to mimic the receiving success that many RBs had against Baltimore last year. Jonathan Taylor (116 receiving yards), Joe Mixon (70), D’Andre Swift (60), Kenyan Drake (59), and Austin Ekeler (48) all did plenty of damage through the air against the purple-and-black.

The Ravens should have been challenged with far more targets to RBs than they were. Baltimore faced the sixth-fewest targets to RBs of any team (5.6 per game) but still allowed the seventh-most receiving yards to RBs (43.7 per game). All told, they allowed an NFL-worst 7.7 yards per target to RBs.

Opponents left some meat on the bone here. There are a lot of yards to be gained against the Ravens by peppering your RBs with targets. Make their linebackers cover and success should follow.

New York might be wise to feature Uzomah, Conklin, Carter, and Hall as the primary sources of their aerial damage. Once the Jets force the Ravens to allocate more resources toward stopping the underneath passing game, that’s when Zach Wilson can strike with bombs over the top to Elijah Moore and company.

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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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