The Jets have the weapons to get into an offensive rhythm in today’s game
Don’t forget about the New York Jets‘ receiving corps.
Heading into today’s Dolphins-Jets divisional tilt, much has been made of the elite Tyreek Hill-Jaylen Waddle duo. There’s a good reason for that: the pair have been a nightmare for opposing defenses, and the Jets have been porous over the middle in the early going.
Still, there will be two offenses battling for supremacy in this game, and the offensive talent on the other end isn’t too shabby, either. Joe Douglas did an excellent job of shoring up the Jets’ offensive skill positions in the offseason, and the combination of Breece Hall, Michael Carter, Garrett Wilson, Elijah Moore, Corey Davis, and Tyler Conklin can do plenty of damage on their own end.
Given the difficult task set before the Jets’ secondary, the team can do their defense a favor by hitting early and often on the offensive side of the football. The Dolphins have demonstrated some key weaknesses in the early going that the Jets can be primed to exploit. Let’s take a look at the ideal gameplan.
Pass over the middle
Last week, offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur clearly decided to ease Zach Wilson back in by playing a conservative, run-first offensive strategy. After throwing the ball 50+ times in two of the Jets’ first three games, Wilson had 36 pass attempts against the Steelers, while Breece Hall and Michael Carter combined for 26 rushes. That’s closer to the splits that the Jets were looking for prior to the season.
However, this week is the time to open it up more like the first three games. Miami’s defensive splits are very stark: they rank fourth in the league with a -23.4% run defense DVOA, while they are 31st with a 33.6% pass defense DVOA. That’s an incredible split that the Jets have the weapons to capitalize on.
Chief among the Jets’ targets should be Xavien Howard if he plays. Long considered one of the best corners in the game, age and injuries seem to be catching up to Howard. As Michael Nania detailed, teams have gained 269 yards on 21 targets in his direction (12.8 yards per target). He has allowed the fifth-most yards (269) and second-most touchdowns (4) of any cornerback in the NFL, giving up one touchdown in each game. Plus, Howard is ninth in missed tackles (4) and ninth in penalties (3).
Even if Howard doesn’t play, the rest of Miami’s corners haven’t done much better.
Nik Needham (9.9 yards per target), Kader Kohou (9.1), and Keion Crossen (18.0) are all giving up well more than the league average among corners of 7.9 yards per target. Meanwhile, the Jets’ receivers rank sixth in the NFL with 751 receiving yards.
The Jets also have a chance to eat the Dolphins’ safeties alive in coverage, particularly when manned up.
Jevon Holland is a highly athletic ball hawk, but he has been beaten a couple of times in man coverage this season. Although the sample size is small, Holland has allowed both of his man coverage targets to be caught, both on short passes (the average depth of target is 2.0 yards). Notably, he has allowed 19 yards after the catch, something that the Jets can exploit with Breece Hall, Michael Carter, and Tyler Conklin.
Meanwhile, Brandon Jones has struggled in both man and zone. Overall, Jones has allowed the sixth-most yards (129) and fourth-most YAC (72) among all safeties. In man coverage, he’s allowed 31 YAC on 4 receptions for a high mark of 7.8 per reception, which is a number that the Jets can exploit. In zone coverage, Jones has allowed another 41 YAC on 8 receptions (5.1/reception).
Michael Carter (6.8), Braxton Berrios (5.3), Tyler Conklin (5.1), Breece Hall (4.9), Garrett Wilson (3.8), and Corey Davis (3.3) have all demonstrated the ability to gain additional yards after the catch, and Elijah Moore showed his potential in this area last year (4.7), as well. That includes a 141-yard performance against these Dolphins in which he gained a season-best 64 YAC.
Mike LaFleur should scheme up his receivers in space over the middle, something he did well in the fourth quarter last week and showed flashes of in the first three games.
As a team, the Dolphins are the seventh-worst in the NFL with 10.0 yards per play allowed on passes over the middle. The Jets must exploit this to win the game.
AVT back to RG
Alijah Vera-Tucker deserves five gold stars for his performance against the Steelers. With the Jets’ tackle position decimated by injury, AVT stepped into the left tackle spot without a word prior to the game and performed admirably, allowing three hurries and no sacks. Vera-Tucker had previously played left tackle in college.
With Duane Brown‘s return this week, left tackle is covered. However, Rich Cimini speculated that the Jets will keep Nate Herbig at right guard and move Vera-Tucker to right tackle, a position he’s never played before.
— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) October 8, 2022
I can understand the rationale here. Nate Herbig held up reasonably well in pass protection last week, allowing three pressures and no sacks. Following Max Mitchell‘s knee injury and subsequent placement on IR, Conor McDermott is the next man up at right tackle. He allowed two pressures on 24 snaps filling in for Mitchell last week, and his career 8.7% pressure rate and 2.2% sack rate are astronomical, well beyond the level of an NFL tackle.
Still, the Jets need to weigh the benefits of having AVT at his natural position vs. the risks of playing McDermott. They do have Cedric Ogbuehi and Mike Remmers as right tackle options, but they don’t seem inclined to use either guy just yet. AVT was playing at a Pro Bowl level at his natural guard position, and he’s a mauler in the run game. He was Pro Football Focus’s eighth-ranked guard and first-ranked run-blocking guard through three weeks.
The Jets desperately need some push inside against the aforementioned excellent Dolphins’ run defense. The Jets can chip at right tackle, but they can’t replace Vera-Tucker’s run-blocking inside. I would keep AVT at guard unless the turnover at tackle continues.
Run at Jaelan Phillips
Dolphins edge rusher Jaelan Phillips is known far more for his pressure and sacks than for his run defense. The Dolphins have excelled in run defense this season, beginning with Zach Sieler, their highly underrated defensive tackle. However, Phillips has been a liability in this area, recording five missed tackles for a 50% missed tackle rate after recording a 21.6% miss rate last season.
Furthermore, according to Sports Info Solutions, Phillips accounted for -0.41 points added above average in 2021 — a stat that calculates a single player’s impact on each play.
Phillips is ranked 32nd among 65 qualified edge rushers with a 5.4% stop rate, and Emmanuel Ogbah is 45th at 3.8%. However, Phillips’s missed tackle rate makes him the best defensive lineman to run at.
Quick hitters vs. Cover 0
The Dolphins like to run Cover 0 on third down. We’ve seen how it can devastate the likes of Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson. However, that is in large part because Allen does not like to throw short and Jackson does not have the receivers to beat man coverage.
The Jets have struggled against man coverage at times, but some of that seems scheme-related. Getting back to the Dolphins’ struggles over the middle and with giving up YAC, Cover 0 can ideally be beaten with a quick hitter into the pressure. The Jets will just need to be careful to slide their protection and keep the free rusher on the front side, making a throw easier.
Garrett Wilson, who has the best route success rate among wide receivers versus man single coverage, per PFF, should be Zach Wilson’s No. 1 target over the middle in those situations.