The Jets cannot rest on their laurels, even against an underachieving Packers team
This Sunday’s tilt between the New York Jets and Green Bay Packers features two teams heading in opposite directions.
Although they sport identical 3-2 records, one is coming off a crushing defeat against a seemingly inferior opponent, while the other just beat a divisional rival for the first time in over two years.
Still, the quarterback matchup in this game makes the Packers heavy favorites. Aaron Rodgers is a four-time MVP, including two-time reigning, while Zach Wilson is a second-year quarterback still finding his bearings. The locale of the game at Lambeau Field gives the Packers an added edge.
However, the Jets have some receipts to cash in. The Packers could have chosen to take the automatic bye week following a trip to London. Instead, they figured they could roll over the Jets at home and decided to forgo the bye. That’s motivation right there for a team that just showed Tyreek Hill what happens to those who disrespect them.
This is going to be a prove-it game for the Jets. The national media gives them no credit for their three victories because of the quarterbacks they came against. Never mind that the Jets also played three games with a backup QB: beating Jacoby Brissett, Kenny Pickett, and Skylar Thompson rubber-stamps the preseason narrative that the Jets will once again be bottom feeders.
New York’s defense has a tall task ahead of it. Rodgers may not have Davante Adams anymore, but he’s still a lethal weapon. He gets the ball out of his hands quickly and diagnoses defenses with surgeon-like precision. Meanwhile, A.J. Dillon and Aaron Jones form a lethal one-two punch in the backfield. There’s no resting on their laurels in this game.
This matchup drew FOX’s top broadcast pair in Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen. Let’s take a look at the numbers and discuss what the Jets can do to try to contain this offense and prevent a breakout. After all, that’s what large segments of the country expect to see on Sunday.
Load the box
In the past, defenses would play two-high coverages against Aaron Rodgers, respecting the ability of Davante Adams to take the top off a defense and the speed of Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Despite the potential of Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs, that deep threat does not currently exist. This shows in Rodgers’s deep passing statistics.
Through five games, Rodgers is throwing deep (20+ yards downfield) on 13.1% of his attempts, per Pro Football Focus, ranking 15th out of 35 qualified QBs. However, he has completed just 27.3% of these passes at 8.0 yards per attempt, ranked 31st. His passer rating on deep throws is 56.8, ranked 27th. Even accounting for Christian Watson’s terrible drop of a sure deep touchdown in Week 1, Rodgers is struggling on deep passes.
It’s easy to look at this as an aberration that will correct itself as the season goes on. To a certain extent, that may be the case, as Rodgers’s worst career passer rating on deep throws is 85.2, registered in 2016. However, there’s a pattern developed with Rodgers: his passer rating was always well above 100 on deep throws when he had a true deep threat, such as Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, or Davante Adams. However, in the years following the Nelson/Cobb heyday and prior to Adams’s breakout as a true star in 2018, Rodgers had his most pedestrian seasons throwing deep, registering passer ratings of 95.7, 85.2, and 90.4 on such throws from 2015-17.
On the other hand, the Packers have a two-headed monster at running back. Aaron Jones is one of the most difficult backs to tackle in the NFL, ranking eighth with 3.98 yards after contact per attempt and sixth with 0.327 missed tackles forced per rush. His 6.4 yards per attempt is second in the NFL.
Of the two backs, A.J. Dillon appears to be the easier one to tackle, at least on paper. He’s averaging 3.9 yards per carry, with just 0.095 missed tackles forced per rush and 2.67 yards after contact per attempt (41st). However, Dillon is tied for 16th in the NFL with 15 first-down rushes of his own, perhaps indicating that he is the Packers’ preferred short-yardage back.
Given the combination of a strong running game and the lack of a consistent deep threat, it makes sense to play close to the line against the Packers. Bringing Jordan Whitehead down into the box, or at least closer to the line, will help in run defense.
Of course, Rodgers is capable of making a defense pay at any time. However, the Jets have a pair of corners who are playing at a Pro Bowl level. D.J. Reed has given up the third-lowest passer rating among all cornerbacks, permitting just a 39.8 number. That means that quarterbacks are essentially grounding the ball when they throw it in his direction, as a passer rating in that instance is 39.6. Sauce Gardner ranks 12th among corners in that same category with a 62.3 mark, and he is tied for the league lead with four pass breakups.
The Jets should take their chances on the deeper ball and play their preferred single-high look with a run-first mentality.
Lay off the blitz
After watching Wink Martindale’s blitz-happy Giants defense contain Rodgers in the second half last week, there would be an understandable temptation to get after the quarterback with extra rushers. However, Rodgers is generally at his best against the blitz. He diagnoses it and gets the ball out before the defenders can get there, giving his receivers YAC opportunities against fewer tacklers.
Rodgers has been blitzed on 27.1% of his dropbacks, the 15th-most out of 36 quarterbacks. His 101.1 passer rating against the blitz is 14th best. The number to look at, though, is his time to throw: Rodgers gets the ball out in 2.26 seconds when blitzed, the fourth-quickest in the NFL. His 9.3 average depth of target on those throws is tied for 10th, meaning that he can find the best one-on-one matchup created by the blitz and get the ball there at some depth.
Rodgers’ numbers when not blitzed are more interesting. He’s been sacked the sixth-most times without a blitz with 10 takedowns. His 26.3% pressure-to-sack rate is the eighth-highest in these situations. His 2.51-second time to throw is still very quick (7th), but his 5.8 average depth of target is the lowest among all QBs. That means that he’s getting the ball out short when not blitzed, but when that short throw is not there, he can be sacked.
The Packers’ signal-caller is one of the most efficient QBs in NFL history and avoids mistakes like the plague. However, that same risk aversion can lead to sacks.
Target the right side of the OL
Rodgers has been sacked 11 times this season, tied for the 12th-most among all QBs. The distribution of blame is quite stark, though. According to PFF, out of his 40 pressured dropbacks, Rodgers is responsible for just two pressures and one sack, a 5.0% rate that is fifth-best among QBs.
Of the remaining blame assignation, 30% goes to the right guard, 30% to the right tackle, and 10% to the inline tight end. All of those numbers are among the top five across all QBs. Elgton Jenkins has a 6.1% pressure rate at right tackle, in the 25th percentile among all tackles and well above the 5.2% league average at the position. Royce Newman, the right guard, has a 6.3% pressure rate, in the 22nd percentile and even more bloated compared to the 4.5% league average for guards.
As explained earlier, Rodgers gets sacked the most against a standard four-man rush. John Franklin-Myers is coming off a game in which he registered seven total pressures, including a sack and four QB hits. Franklin-Myers played 164 of his 170 snaps on the left side of the defensive line (primarily left defensive end against the right tackle), and he feasted against the inferior competition offered by Greg Little. JFM has to be licking his chops for this game.
Bryce Huff has played just 24 snaps in his two active games, but he’s made them count from the left edge position. Huff has seven pressures for an absurd 29.2% pressure rate. Meanwhile, when Huff is on the field together with Carl Lawson and Quinnen Williams, good things happen for the Jets.
When Quinnen Williams, Carl Lawson and Bryce Huff are on the field at the same time (via TruMedia):
6 QB hits
— Zack Rosenblatt (@ZackBlatt) October 10, 2022
Meanwhile, the Packers have eased left tackle David Bakhtiari back into the lineup on artificial turf. However, Lambeau Field has natural grass, making it likely that Bakhtiari will see a fuller workload. Bakhtiari has missed many games over the last couple of seasons due to knee injuries. However, in his three partial games played this year, he’s given up no sacks on a 4.3% pressure rate, which is better than the league average for tackles. Still, Lawson is coming off a monster game against the Dolphins, and he can take advantage of a tackle still finding his footing.
The Packers’ receivers show some stark differences in their ability to gain yardage in man and zone coverages. Against man, the trio of Randall Cobb, Allen Lazard, and Romeo Doubs rank 29th, 37th, and 82nd, respectively, in yards per route run. However, against zone, Cobb and Doubs improve to 14th and 27th, while Lazard drops to 57th.
That’s not to say that the Packers’ receivers can’t compile some yardage against man coverage. Lazard has 121 yards against man, the 15th-most, and Cobb has 16.8 yards per reception against man. However, compared to the number of routes they run against man coverage, neither guy has been particularly impressive in their yardage output. Playing a more aggressive man coverage when Rodgers is trying to get the ball out quickly will force the receivers to win off the line.