Robert Saleh’s New York Jets must maximize their biggest mismatch vs. Matt LaFleur’s Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers are 7.5-point favorites (per FanDuel) over the New York Jets for good reason. Despite his team’s somewhat disappointing 3-2 start, Matt LaFleur’s Packers are a well-coached, championship-contending football team until proven otherwise. Plus, Lambeau Field is an extremely difficult place to play. And did I mention they have a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback?
Robert Saleh’s upstart Jets will have their work cut out for them this week.
Jets X-Factor’s Rivka Boord broke down a few of Green Bay’s biggest advantages over New York. Saleh and the Jets’ coaching staff must finds ways to work around those mismatches in the Packers’ favor.
However, the Jets have some lopsided advantages of their own in this game. That includes an enormous mismatch between the Jets’ greatest defensive strength and the Packers’ greatest offensive weakness.
Jets’ cornerback unit vs. Packers’ wide receivers
Green Bay traded superstar wide receiver Davante Adams to the Raiders this offseason. Afterward, the Packers did not make much of an effort to replace him, leaving them with one of the NFL’s least intimidating wide receiver units on paper.
So far, little has happened to change the perception of Green Bay’s wide receiver unit. The Packers’ leading receiver is 32-year-old Randall Cobb with 249 yards, which places him 45th in the NFL. It’s currently the fifth-lowest mark in the NFL for a team’s leading receiver.
Cobb is followed by fourth-round rookie Romeo Doubs (213 yards) and Allen Lazard (209 yards) to round out Green Bay’s primary receiving trio.
Aaron Rodgers is struggling to perform up to his usual standards with this lackluster pass-catching group. Rodgers is averaging 231.4 passing yards per game, which is the lowest mark of his career as a starting quarterback. His efficiency is significantly down, too. Rodgers is ranked 10th in the NFL with a 95.8 passer rating after leading the league with a 111.9 passer rating last year.
Overall, the Packers’ wide receiver unit actually ranks a respectable 15th in receiving yards with 851. But for a team that has Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, that number is underwhelming. If they can only get to No. 15 with Rodgers, imagine where they’d be with a league-average quarterback.
Green Bay’s offense is ranked just 18th in total passing offense EPA (Expected Points Added). Once again, considering that the Packers have an elite quarterback and a highly-ranked pass-blocking offensive line (currently placed 8th-best in pass-blocking efficiency), that ranking is an indictment on the wide receivers. They are preventing Green Bay’s offense from reaching its usual elite production in the passing game.
Unfortunately for the Packers, New York is perfectly constructed to expose Green Bay’s issues at wide receiver.
The Jets’ cornerback unit has been elite this season. New York’s cornerbacks have combined to allow only 429 yards into their coverage, which is the second-best mark of any cornerback unit in the NFL (trailing Carolina’s 355).
New York’s cover men have accomplished that feat despite facing a schedule that includes Amari Cooper, Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Diontae Johnson, Tyreek Hill, and Jaylen Waddle. Johnson (11 yards), Chase (29 yards), and Waddle (23 yards) each posted season-lows for receiving yards against the Jets.
The outside duo of Sauce Gardner (LCB) and D.J. Reed (RCB) has been outstanding. When targeting either Gardner or Reed, opposing quarterbacks have completed 23 of 47 passes (48.9%) for 215 yards (4.6 Y/A), 1 touchdown, and 2 interceptions. That’s a passer rating of 51.3.
Gardner’s combination of length and fluidity make him an extremely difficult guy to beat in contested situations. The 6-foot-3 rookie is tied for third among all NFL cornerbacks with six passes defended.
The smaller Reed (5-foot-9) is buttery smooth in coverage and rarely allows his man to separate for a reception. Reed has allowed 11 receptions on 187 coverage snaps this season. His average of one reception allowed every 17.0 snaps in coverage ranks ninth-best out of 89 qualified cornerbacks.
Don’t forget about Michael Carter II in the slot. Carter II quietly takes care of business and simply does not get victimized for big plays. The Duke product has only given up 2 touchdown passes across 20 games in his career (593 snaps in coverage).
One of the two touchdowns “allowed” by Carter II was actually the fault of safety Jordan Whitehead for accidentally hitting into Carter II to allow a short Bengals completion to turn into a long touchdown, so for all intents and purposes, Carter II has only given up one touchdown in his career, which occurred last season. He hasn’t truly been beaten for a score this year.
New York’s corners have risen to the occasion against some tough opponents this year. This week provides a different kind of test. For the first time all year, the Jets’ corners will be expected to dominate.
The large talent gap between Green Bay’s receivers and New York’s corners creates an opportunity for the Jets to overwhelm the Packers in a part of the game that directly affects Green Bay’s best player – their quarterback. If the Jets’ corners can make Rodgers’ life hell by completely shutting down his wideouts, the Jets just might be able to neutralize him.
That’s what the Minnesota Vikings did in Week 1. Minnesota held Green Bay’s receivers to 103 yards on 12 receptions and Rodgers finished with a 67.6 passer rating in a 23-7 Vikings victory.
Without a dominant cornerback performance, things could get tricky for the Jets. We know how good Rodgers is, and in addition to that, Green Bay has a strong run game and an offensive line that can hold up well in pass protection. Plus, Matt LaFleur is a good coach who will find ways to scheme up offense.
So, if the Jets defense cannot take full advantage of its one huge mismatch, the Packers have more than enough advantages in other areas to put together a complete onslaught of the Jets’ defense. The wide receivers are what hold this passing attack back from elite status. If they win their one-on-ones against the Jets’ corners on Sunday, Green Bay will have everything it needs to cook up an explosive offensive outing.
But if the Jets’ cornerbacks lock down the receivers, it will create a positive domino effect that will allow the Jets to neutralize the Packers’ other advantages.
With confidence that their corners can hold up man-to-man, the Jets can feel comfortable enough to do two things: I. stacking the box to stop the run, and II. sending blitzes after Rodgers to ensure he is pressured, taking the onus off the pass rush to consistently win against a solid offensive line.
Another area where the Jets’ cornerbacks will be crucial is the takeaway department.
Rodgers has been far more susceptible to putting the ball in danger this season. With three interceptions on 168 passes, Rodgers’s 1.8% interception rate is more than double his 0.7% rate from the past four seasons (15 on 2,223 passes). Plus, Rodgers has three fumbles in five games, an average of 0.6 per game that doubles his average of 0.3 from the last four seasons (17 in 64 games). Rodgers’s combined total of 6 interceptions-plus fumbles is already one off from his 2021 total of 7.
The Jets’ defense is tied for fourth in the NFL with seven interceptions this season, so they are ready to take advantage of interceptable passes. Additionally, great coverage from the cornerbacks can buy time for the pass rush to get home and knock the ball loose from Rodgers’s grasp.
This game is in the CB unit’s hands
It’s time for Gardner, Reed, and Carter II to prove their dominance. They have exceeded expectations in games against top-tier competition, when Jets fans simply hoped they could survive. But can they live up to the expectations when they are sky-high?
For any player in any sport, proving you can go toe-to-toe against elite opponents is definitely an integral part of becoming great, but it is equally important to prove you can consistently beat up the lesser opponents you’re supposed to beat up.
The Jets need their corners to carry them on Sunday. “Good” sufficed when the opponents were megastars like Chase and Hill, but against this Packers team, the Jets need “outstanding”.
Let’s see if New York’s corners can rise to the occasion and completely smother Green Bay’s wide receiver unit.