The New York Jets will have to work around these mismatches against the Cleveland Browns
For the New York Jets, it’s time to flip the page and focus on the Cleveland Browns.
Cleveland has a well-rounded roster that features plenty of talent on both sides of the football. In particular, the Browns are loaded with quality players in the trenches. Their offensive and defensive lines give opposing coaches a lot to think about.
Looking at how the Jets match up with this Browns team, there are three player-versus-player matchups that stand out to me as large mismatches in favor of Cleveland – and all three are in the trenches.
RDE Myles Garrett vs. LT George Fant
Myles Garrett is the heart and soul of this Browns team. Arguably the best pass rusher in the NFL, Garrett can single-handedly wreck your offensive gameplan.
Since 2018, Garrett ranks third in the NFL with 53.5 sacks. That includes a career-high 16.0 sacks in 2021.
Garrett opened up the 2022 season with a two-sack performance, earning both of them against Panthers rookie tackle Ikem Ekwonu. He also tied for second among all NFL edge rushers with 6 total pressures.
Garrett plays most of his snaps on the right side of the defensive line, where he typically matches up with the opponent’s left tackle. In Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers, Garrett played 41 of his 45 snaps on the right side (91%). He played 86% of his snaps on the right side in 2021.
This means that Garrett’s primary opponent on Sunday will be George Fant.
If Fant were still playing at the level that he did in 2021, this would be an intriguing matchup between the Jets’ best pass-blocking offensive lineman and the Browns’ best player. Fant was an excellent protector last year.
But in the 2022 season opener, Fant had an ugly performance in which he was consistently beaten by Ravens edge rusher Justin Houston.
If you can’t handle a 33-year-old Houston… then good luck with Garrett.
The Jets need the old Fant back this week – the one who allowed the third-lowest pressure rate among left tackles in 2021 at 3.0%.
LDE Jadeveon Clowney vs. RT Max Mitchell
Handling the left-side edge for Cleveland is Jadeveon Clowney. He played 42 of his 44 snaps on the left side in Week 1 (95%) and played 92% of his snaps on the left side in 2021.
This means Clowney will primarily match up against Jets right tackle Max Mitchell.
As we broke down on film, Mitchell had a surprisingly competent NFL debut against the Ravens. While Mitchell had his ups and downs, he wasn’t terrible, which was surprising for a fourth-round rookie who was tossed into the starting lineup just a few days before the opener. It was a promising game.
The problem for Mitchell in Week 2 is that Clowney is tailor-made to exploit him.
Coming out of Louisiana, one of the most common criticisms of Mitchell’s game was his lack of size and strength. His 307-pound frame is relatively light for a 6′ 6¼” offensive tackle. On film, his lack of strength was clear.
Clowney may not have the corner-bending flexibility to be an elite sack artist, but he is loaded with explosiveness and raw power. Few defensive ends pack a more ruthless punch than Clowney. It’s easy to picture him having a field day by bull-rushing Mitchell over and over.
With both of their tackles facing a mismatch this week, the Jets won’t be able to help everyone who needs it. Last week, the Jets leaned their tight end help toward Mitchell’s side, as TE1 Tyler Conklin played 64% of his snaps on the right. But Fant couldn’t handle himself in one-on-one situations, and with Garrett coming up this week, it will be significantly tougher to trust Fant on an island.
Who do you give more help to this week? There’s no good answer, as whoever is not being helped is going to be in a rough spot. It’s a pick-your-poison situation.
The Jets will have to live with one or both of Fant and Mitchell being in a David-versus-Goliath matchup on every play. That is, unless they want to keep two eligible receivers in protection, leaving three guys running routes against a talented secondary that allowed the second-fewest yards per pass attempt last season – which would be unwise to attempt.
How Fant and Mitchell fare in their respective matchups will be the greatest X-factor of this game. If Garrett and Clowney take care of business and fully maximize their mismatches, the Jets are going to have a rough time. But if the Jets’ bookends can rise to the occasion and hold their own, good things will happen for Joe Flacco and the offense.
RG Wyatt Teller vs. LDT Sheldon Rankins and LDT Solomon Thomas
The Browns’ run game is the engine of their offense. Right guard Wyatt Teller is the engine of that run game.
Teller has developed into a star road-grader for the Cleveland offensive line. He was Pro Football Focus’s No. 1 run-blocking guard in 2020 and No. 4 in 2021. In Week 1, he placed No. 5.
Teller will do battle against a pair of Jets defensive tackles who have a history of struggling against the run: Sheldon Rankins and Solomon Thomas. Both of these guys line up on the left side of the defensive line, which will leave them in plenty of matchups with Teller.
The Jets had Rankins and Thomas rotating at the left defensive tackle spot in Week 1. Rankins played 29 of his 30 snaps on the left and Thomas played 19 of his 20 snaps on the left.
In 2021, Thomas was the lowest-graded run defender at PFF out of 129 interior defensive linemen. Rankins placed 120th.
Thomas and Rankins were decent as a run defenders in Week 1, but they were far down the list of contributors to a surprisingly excellent run-stopping performance by the Jets defense. They should still be considered liabilities against the run until proven otherwise.
The Jets’ run defense was the greatest silver lining from their season-opening loss. However, the Browns figure to challenge that unit in a much different way than the Ravens did. Baltimore favored running to the outside in Week 1. Cleveland likes to run between the tackles more frequently, which means the defensive tackles will be more crucial than they were last week.
If the Jets are going to stop an elite rushing attack for the second consecutive week, they will need Rankins and Thomas to avoid getting curb-stomped by the outstanding Teller.
Wyatt Teller Pancake Tracker: 🥞 pic.twitter.com/0Zw2MllNsZ
— Cory (@realcorykinnan) September 12, 2022