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.
Very good analysis, I had no idea man coverage was such a big problem for the Jets receivers. I was concerned about the lack of production from wide receivers, but I wrote it off as the Jets not maximizing the receivers’ talents. Maybe they are running the wrong routes for their talent. But it is up to LaFleur to find a way to help them get open. The problem, as you pointed out in a comment, is that winning tends to gloss over problems. I think back to the ’86 Jets who started 10-1 and Paul McGuire said they were the worst 10-1 team he ever saw. I guess as long as they were winning no one had any problems.
This was an issue for the Jets last year, and it was one reason they were looking for a top-end receiver in the offseason. It’s ironic that Deebo Samuel was on that list, though, when his catch rate against man coverage was the lowest among all receivers. Still, maybe the Jets would’ve been better off this season with a guy like Tyreek Hill, who cooks man coverage. I think Garrett Wilson will develop in this area, as he has already shown signs of it this year.
The receivers are definitely running the wrong routes for their talent, especially Elijah Moore. It makes no sense to send a 5’9″, 180-pound receiver on go routes. He should be running crossers, overs, etc. over the middle. Even if he goes deep, it should be on posts or other routes that give him a chance to set up the defender.
Winning always heals all wounds. The 2010 Jets were one of the worst 9-2 teams I’ve ever seen, at least from the QB spot. I didn’t realize that the ’86 Jets were like that (before my time), but it tracks with the fact that they lost their next five.
Thanks Rivka, a good piece in tandem w/ Nania’s article on WR roles.
I keep saying that we will need to solve this problem sooner than later, as teams pack the box to stop the run game. Having great CB’s who can man-cover only makes it easier to stack the box (see Revis).
I also continue to say that our offense does not look like the West Coast Offense we are supposed to be running. Having Moore run “go” routes on 33% of his patterns is ridiculous and not part of a WCO. WCO is about layered pass options w/ the QB in motion (bootlegging often) and lots of TE passes.
Where is this?
And, it’s an easier offense for a QB to get into rhythm w/ short passes. If a team is playing our receivers in man coverage there should also be yards for Zach to use his legs while their backs are turned.
I don’t know if Green Bay stacked the box, though. Miami did, and look how the lanes opened up. Denver has an average run defense. If they do stack the box, though, the Jets need to be creative to get their guys in space. Wilson and Moore are both great YAC guys; scheming them up in the quick game or on screens should get the yardage in other ways. I agree 100% about the West Coast offense and the fact that the Jets have not run it enough. Most fans have been calling for the quick game since Week 1 and complaining about the lack of it since Cleveland’s opening drive went right down the field that way.
In Michael Nania’s quarterback review, I did not see many “man beaters” being called by the Jets, but I’m not sure–drags, crosses and rubs, stuff like that. Also, I think the tight ends and running backs were barely part of the passing game. As I understand it, the Broncos’s LBs are liabilities on pass defense…I feel like the Jets have the pieces to address this by sifting TEs through the line and getting their RBs in the flat.
But they could’ve done that against the Packers, too. Why weren’t they ready for the Packer’s game plan? Were they caught off guard or is it going to be harder to fix than I think?
That’s definitely a good point. I’ve written several times that the Jets need to work over the middle more. The patterns you mentioned are largely middle of the field. For some reason, despite the fact that both Wilson and Moore are YAC guys with middle-field skills, the Jets seem intent to work the outside. I can only speculate that it’s because Zach is not the tallest guy in the world and has difficulty seeing the middle of the field, but that’s a big problem, as it’s become a major issue for guys like Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray.
Regarding the TEs and RBs, I think that this might work best against Denver. I’m assuming that the Jets were using both to help in pass protection this past week, or that the RBs were covered. There was the occasional checkdown that Zach could have taken, but not too often. Robby Sabo pointed out that the later-game RPOs were what got the tight ends open on those plays. I know there’s the concept of keeping some of your punches for the second half, but I think those plays should have been unveiled far earlier. The Packers’ LBs struggled mightily to keep track of Saquon Barkley and also cover the middle vs. the Giants. The Jets can cause the same sorts of issues for Denver’s LBs and also take some stress off their WRs on press man.
Well done. It was evident from the broadcast they were having trouble getting open. I think the passing game is still a work in progress and they are figuring out where all of these pieces best fit. I would also like to see more snaps for Berrios. Zach is very comfortable with him and he does have a knack to get open. Zach will benefit from just hitting some completions.
I trust LaFleur, he’s still working this offense, he’ll find some ways. I also think Zach will have a break out soon enough.
I’m not sure about Berrios’s overall ability to get open, but I do think he would have done a better job getting open on third down than Garrett Wilson did this past week.
I’m not entirely sold on LaFleur yet. He’s done some good things, but he needs to figure out how to scheme the Jets’ receivers open in man coverage, or at least utilize the tight ends to help keep the ball moving.
Consider me sold. They are 4-2 and have only started the same offensive line twice. They pounded the ball down GB’s throat in the 4th qtr when the Packers KNEW they were going to run the ball. Hall looks like the best offensive rookie in the draft class, and they have a bunch of new guys.
It’s funny nobody would have predicted 4-2 yet people aren’t sold yet. Has he had some moments he would like back? Sure. Please tell me which coach in the league doesn’t? I’ll wait.
The Jets’ WR’s need to beat man coverage or they aren’t good enough. If this team is going to be a consistent winner they can’t rely completely on scheme. They have to make some plays.
Fair enough. The success of the run game and the late-game beatdowns in the last two weeks are definitely feathers in LaFleur’s cap. I’d just like to see him with a solid plan through four quarters rather than waiting until late. In the games against Baltimore and Cincinnati, the Jets didn’t get the opportunity to hang tough and open their full bag of tricks at the end. The defense has played better since those games, but that kind of thing can happen again.
Agree they looked terrible in those games, Flacco had a lot to do with that, not to mention the OL in shambles. I do think they could start better, not sure if that’s a prep thing or execution or both, but the flip side of that is he seems to be very good “in-game.”
I guess my thing with him is more, I like his vision, and what he seems to want the offense to be, which I feel is a work in progress. But, I believe in him, and think he will improve as well. He’s only a second year coordinator.
I hear what you’re saying. He’s shown a lot of good things. It’s just that you watched Mike McDaniel over the first three weeks with Tua and then compare that to LaFleur… but I suppose having those two WRs will make most offensive play-callers look good.