It’s time for these three New York Jets leaders to have their breakout game
As broken down in exquisite fashion by Jets X-Factor’s Vitor Paiva and Rivka Boord, the New York Jets match up well against the Cincinnati Bengals. New York’s roster is built to both expose Cincinnati’s weaknesses and counter Cincinnati’s strengths.
This leaves the door open for three of the Jets’ most talented players to have their breakout game of the 2022 season.
LT George Fant
George Fant was one of the Jets’ best players in 2021 – I have even argued he was their best. His pass-blocking was incredibly consistent. There was rarely a game (if any) in which Jets fans came out of it thinking, “Man, George Fant had a rough game today.” Fant only allowed 18 pressures all year. His allowed pressure rate of 3.0% ranked third-best in the NFL among left tackles.
After such an impressive breakout year, the big question for Fant was whether he could replicate it. Was that performance an outlier or a sign of things to come?
So far, Fant has not been able to prove he can sustain what he did in 2021.
Fant had a brutal Week 1 against the Ravens in which he was consistently toasted by Ravens edge rusher Justin Houston. He gave up 4 pressures – already more than his season-high of 3 in the 2021 season. Fant proceeded to beat that total once again with 5 allowed pressures in Week 2, although he gets somewhat of a pass considering he was matching up against Myles Garrett.
If you’re keeping score at home, it’s only taken two games for Fant to come halfway toward matching his 2021 pressure total.
In fairness to Fant, it’s been a tumultuous year for him. He entered the offseason preparing to compete against Mekhi Becton for the left tackle job. Eventually, Fant won it without much of a fight, as the “battle” was declared over at the very beginning of training camp.
However, Becton soon suffered a season-ending injury. Fant was forced to move back to right tackle once the Jets replaced Becton with Duane Brown, who has only played left tackle in his career. Not long after that, Brown suffered an injury that landed him on injured reserve. This pushed Fant back to left tackle once again.
It’s understandable that Fant is off to a cold start when considering he has not gotten a chance to get comfortable this year. With that being said, that excuse can only last for so long. Fant is getting the opportunity to play at his preferred left tackle spot like he’s always wanted. Sure, the road to get there was rocky, but the fact of the matter is he’s exactly where he wants to be. It’s time for him to prove why that spot should belong to him for the long-term.
Fant draws a matchup against Bengals edge rusher Trey Hendrickson this week. With 27.5 sacks since 2020, Hendrickson has developed into one of the NFL’s most productive pass rushers, but like Fant, Hendrickson is off to a poor start. Through two games, Hendrickson has zero sacks and just three pressures across 67 pass-rush snaps.
Something’s got to give. Will Fant break out of his slump by taking advantage of the struggling Hendrickson? Or vice versa?
Getting back the 2021 version of Fant would raise the ceiling of this Jets offense to a whole new level. An ice-cold Hendrickson opens the door for that version of Fant to make his return this week.
EDGE Carl Lawson
Carl Lawson is playing decently for the Jets. He’s certainly not “struggling”. But New York is still waiting to see the game-wrecking pass rusher that ranked second in the NFL with 32 quarterback hits in 2020.
I thought Lawson played well in Week 1. Against Lamar Jackson and the Ravens’ run game, Lawson sacrificed his typical high-aggression approach to provide good discipline and run defense on the edge. He also had a few impressive wins as a pass rusher despite not going full-throttle for much of the game (in an effort to contain Jackson).
Loved Carl Lawson's discipline on this play. He was ready for Jackson and the Ravens. Did a great job containing the edge all game pic.twitter.com/BeLD8jjVe7
— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) September 13, 2022
Unfortunately didn't lead to a good result this time around but Carl Lawson (left) is going to cause a ton of damage this year with dominant wins like this pic.twitter.com/FMHGyj5hm1
— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) September 12, 2022
Week 2, though, was undoubtedly a disappointing one for Lawson. He had plenty of chances to pin his ears back and rush, but just couldn’t make things happen. Outside of a big half-sack in the fourth quarter (shared with Quinnen Williams), Lawson barely affected the game.
Lawson currently has 5 pressures over 42 pass-rush snaps. That’s a pressure rate of 11.9%, which is solid efficiency for an edge rusher (2021 NFL average for EDGE: 10.2%) but not quite up to Lawson’s dominant standards. Lawson was up at 14.6% in 2020.
With 64 pressures in 16 games, Lawson produced 4.0 pressures per game in the 2020 season, which is a significant step up from his average of 2.5 through two games this season. Part of that dip is due to Lawson’s decline in efficiency, but it is also partially due to the fact Lawson is playing fewer snaps this season. Lawson is down to 34.0 defensive snaps per game this year (21.0 pass-rush snaps) compared to 45.2 defensive snaps per game (27.3 pass-rush snaps) in 2020.
One could argue that the Jets should be giving Lawson more reps. At the same time, though, it can be argued that Lawson should be producing more efficiently if he’s playing fewer reps. Getting more rest should allow him to have more juice on each snap. This is especially true in the early portion of the season while Lawson reacclimates after missing a whole season. Perhaps the Jets increase his snap count later in the season.
Robert Saleh believes Lawson is “warming back up” and that a breakout is coming soon.
Saleh said Carl Lawson is "warming back up."
Added: "I know there's another gear in there for him and it's coming."
— Ethan Greenberg (@EGreenbergJets) September 21, 2022
Against his former team, Lawson will be presented with a golden opportunity to have a breakout game. Lawson will match up with Bengals left tackle Jonah Williams, whose total of 10 allowed pressures ranks second-worst among left tackles this season. Williams is also tied for first among tackles with three sacks allowed.
This is the perfect chance for Lawson to hit that second gear Saleh is talking about.
WR Elijah Moore
Of the three players listed in this article, Elijah Moore is easily playing the best football right now. Moore isn’t performing badly at all. He’s just unlucky that he is not seeing a high volume of targets despite getting open at a solid frequency.
Moore has 90 receiving yards through two games, an average of 45.0 per game. While far from terrible, it’s not the production that fans hoped to see from the team’s projected No. 1 target.
However, Moore is delivering good results when the ball comes his way. He’s caught 8 of 12 targets with five first downs, three missed tackles forced, and zero drops. The 41.7% ratio of first downs to targets is an improvement over his 31.1% rate as a rookie. The same goes for his average of 0.375 missed tackles forced per reception, which beats his rookie mark of 0.116. To boot, he’s boosted his DVOA from -8.9% as a rookie (70th among WR) to +10.1% this season (27th among WR).
Cover3 and Elijah Moore sends Ward into a blender on a blaze out. pic.twitter.com/jnxyHP8xDi
— OBR Film Breakdown (@TheOBRFilmBDN) September 19, 2022
Once Moore gets to extrapolate those numbers over a larger volume of targets, he’s going to do some real damage.
Moore is getting open often. His moment in the spotlight will come. This is a Jets offense with a multitude of legitimate threats, meaning that each week will feature a different player at the forefront. Week 1 was Corey Davis’s time to shine (team-high 10 targets). Week 2 belonged to Garrett Wilson (team-high 14 targets).
Now, with Cincinnati set to key in on Wilson after his electric performance in Cleveland, it’s time for Moore to take over.
One of Moore’s most efficient rookie-year performances came in the Jets’ Week 8 win over this same Bengals team. Moore caught all six of his targets for 67 yards over just 18 routes run. His average of 3.72 yards per route run in that game remains his second-best mark out of 13 career games.
The Bengals game is what kickstarted Moore’s hot streak to close the year. Prior to that game, Moore was averaging 1.8 catches for 15.8 yards over his first five games. Starting with the Bengals game, Moore averaged 5.7 catches for 76.5 yards over his final six games.
Can Moore break out against Cincinnati for the second consecutive season?