Despite ample talent in the receiving corps, man coverage continues to befuddle the Jets
It’s hard to complain too much after the New York Jets‘ commanding 27-10 victory over the Packers at Lambeau Field.
However, there are many Jets fans working themselves into a tizzy over the team’s struggles in the passing game. To many, the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of quarterback Zach Wilson. He followed up a 14-for-21, 210-yard performance against the Dolphins with a 10-for-18, 110-yard effort in Green Bay. In neither contest did he throw a touchdown, although he avoided any turnovers, as well.
To be an educated fan, it’s important to understand what’s on the quarterback’s shoulders and what’s not. As Michael Nania detailed earlier, there is no doubt that Wilson struggled in this game. That being said, his receivers could not gain any separation against the Packers, and it largely left Wilson with poor options.
Going back to last season, the Jets have had a man coverage issue for a while. As talented as the receiving corps is, Elijah Moore and Corey Davis both struggle more against man. Garrett Wilson, who until now had been the Jets’ best receiver vs. man, got his “Welcome to the NFL” moment when he was completely shut down by Packers CB Jaire Alexander, one of the best man corners in the game. Alexander cooked Wilson to the tune of zero catches on four targets with three pass breakups.
This season, Garrett Wilson’s cumulative stats vs. man coverage read 19 targets, 11 receptions, 147 yards (13.4 per target), one TD, and 2.63 yards per route run, which is in the 71st percentile among 69 qualified receivers.
However, his average depth of target against man is just 7.4 yards, which is 62nd out of 69. It’s possible that the Jets are running him in the quick game to try to get YAC opportunities (he’s in the 70th percentile with 5.8 YAC/reception vs. man) and beat man coverage that way. However, Wilson has yet to show that he can beat man coverage downfield, at least in the way he’s been used thus far.
Elijah Moore’s numbers, meanwhile, are very stark: he is catching only 28.6% of his passes against man, the third-lowest total among receivers. Moore has had just seven targets against man, hauling in two receptions for 30 yards. That yardage total is tied for the fifth-lowest among WRs. Moore’s 0.44 yards per route run vs. man is the fourth-worst mark.
The main saving grace for Moore is that his average depth of target against man is 19.1 yards, emblematic of the go routes that the Jets seem insistent on throwing to him. Such deep passes tend to be lower-percentage propositions, anyway, but Moore’s putrid yards per route run number indicates that almost none of those deeper passes have worked despite the man coverage.
It’s possible to point to Moore’s numbers as substantiation for his discontent over his lack of targets. After all, he was far better against man coverage in 2021, landing in the 52nd percentile among receivers with 1.85 yards per route run (which was actually similar to his rate vs. zone, which was 1.80).
Still, even last year, Moore was second-worst (only to Deebo Samuel, interestingly) with a 43.3% reception rate vs. man. However, last year, Moore averaged 6.3 YAC/reception (82nd percentile) against man, which was part of how he made his catches count.
The Jets’ ostensible No. 3 receiver, Corey Davis, is tied for 34th among qualified receivers with 10 man coverage targets, on which he has just four receptions for 46 yards. Davis’s 0.72 yards per route run against man is in the 13th percentile among receivers.
Interestingly, among tight ends, Tyler Conklin is in the 65th percentile with 1.52 yards per route run vs. man coverage. He’s caught seven of his nine targets against man, but his drop resulted in an interception (against the Steelers), and he’s also fumbled. His 8.2 average depth of target is 16th out of the 37 qualified tight ends. He’s an intriguing quick option when covered man-to-man, especially with a 5.4 YAC/reception average that’s in the 62nd percentile.
C.J. Uzomah has not been used too much in the passing game this year. However, it may be a good idea to get him out in man coverage at times, too. Last year, Uzomah caught 11 of 15 man targets (68th percentile in catch rate) for 211 yards (seventh among 38 TEs) and five touchdowns (tied for first) at 19.2 yards per reception (second). It’s not a large sample size, but Uzomah was dominant when he was targeted in man coverage last year. Perhaps this is an overlooked aspect of his game.
Also interesting to note is that Breece Hall has been targeted 10 times in man coverage, nabbing four receptions for 124 yards. Obviously, that number is heavily skewed by his one 79-yard catch-and-run against the Dolphins, but 45 yards on the other three receptions isn’t too shabby, either. Since drops and poor throws have contributed to the low catch rate, rather than lack of separation, it appears that Breece Hall is another option to beat the Jets’ man coverage issues.
Outlook vs. Broncos
The Broncos have strong cover corners. Patrick Surtain II, last year’s Sauce Gardner, has permitted just a 47.9 quarterback rating in man coverage (82nd percentile), while Ronald Darby (59th) and K’Waun Williams (55th) are also above average. Surtain has allowed just four of 11 man coverage receptions for 41 yards despite a 15.0 average depth of target.
The good news for the Jets is that none of the Broncos’ corners have played a lot of man coverage. Surtain has played just 21.6% of his cover snaps in man, which ranks in the 24th percentile among CBs. Darby and Williams aren’t much higher at 25% and 23%, respectively. It appears that the Broncos play a lot of zone coverage behind their aggressive 3-4 front.
The bad news is that the NFL is a copycat league. The Packers put a book out on the Jets with Jaire Alexander locking up Garrett Wilson. The Broncos have the corners to once again lock up the Jets’ receivers. It will be up to Mike LaFleur to overcome that with his scheme.
As mentioned above, both Jets’ tight ends have the capability to get involved against man coverage. Perhaps getting them more involved in the passing game is a good idea. The Jets already increased their use of 12 personnel last week, so making both tight ends two-way threats can put strain on a defense that will already most likely be focused on stopping the run.
Furthermore, putting Elijah Moore in the slot rather than Garrett Wilson may help both guys. If the Jets want to run go routes, Wilson has a larger catch radius and better skill against man coverage, the Packers game notwithstanding. Meanwhile, putting Moore in the slot will allow him those YAC opportunities against man coverage. Even though Wilson may be more talented than Moore YAC-wise, having Wilson outside and Moore inside may better maximize both players’ talent together.
The Jets do have the personnel to beat man coverage more effectively than they did last year. However, the Broncos’ 24-0 beatdown last year still haunts the Jets, as well as the two shellackings at the hands of the Patriots, next week’s opponent. This is something Mike LaFleur will need to work on. Nathaniel Hackett worked with Matt LaFleur previously and knows the Shanahan-style playbook well, so it will be another interesting matchup.
Can LaFleur find ways to put his playmakers in better positions to win in man-to-man situations? It’s one of the primary keys to unlocking the full potential of this Jets passing game.
Next Article: Grading every Zach Wilson throw vs. Green Bay Packers
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