Look out for these lesser-heralded New York Jets players to have crucial roles vs. New England
As the New York Jets move forward without Breece Hall and Alijah Vera-Tucker, all eyes are on the rest of the team’s headliners, as they will be expected to pick up the slack. Can Zach Wilson step up? Can Garrett Wilson and Elijah Moore spark the passing game? Can Quinnen Williams and Sauce Gardner continue to lead a dominant defense?
But there are 53 men on a football team. It’s never all about the stars.
Here are three lesser-heralded Jets players who will have a crucial role in this Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots.
FS Lamarcus Joyner
After a disastrous first three weeks of the season, Jets free safety Lamarcus Joyner is settling in. Joyner has been a reliable last line of defense over the Jets’ four-game winning streak.
Compare Joyner’s production over his first three games to his previous four:
- Weeks 1-3: 2 TD allowed, 0 INT, 0 pass breakups, 4 missed tackles, 2 penalties
- Weeks 4-7: 0 TD allowed, 3 INT, 2 pass breakups, 0 missed tackles, 1 penalty
Joyner is likely going to be featured heavily against New England due to the tendencies of Patriots quarterback Mac Jones.
Jones has been one of the NFL’s most aggressive deep throwers this year. He has thrown 20.4% of his passes over 20 yards downfield, which is the highest percentage among qualified quarterbacks. Jones is faring well on those throws, ranking eighth-best out of 36 qualifiers with an adjusted completion percentage (which accounts for drops) of 47.6%.
Joyner is well-prepared to face this type of quarterback. Over his four-game hot streak, Joyner faced three of the top-8 quarterbacks in deep-pass frequency: Mitchell Trubisky (2nd / 19.5%), Brett Rypien (4th / 17.4%), and Aaron Rodgers (8th / 13.5%).
Shutting down Jones’s deep game is key, as it is the only part of the field where he has been effective this season. Take a look at his ranks in each range among 36 qualified quarterbacks:
- 20+ yards downfield: 8th in adj. comp% (47.6), 14th in yards per attempt (14.7)
- 10-19 yards downfield: 36th in adj. comp% (45.0), 32nd in yards per attempt (8.4)
- 0-9 yards downfield: 18th in adj. comp% (83.0), 26th in yards per attempt (5.8)
- Behind line of scrimmage: 27th in adj. comp% (91.7), 30th in yards per attempt (4.0)
New York will likely need Joyner to defend more deep passes than he has in any game this year. If the Jets get the Joyner they saw from Weeks 1-3, Jones will cash in with at least one or two game-changing bombs. But if the Jets get the Joyner from the past four weeks, they will take away Jones’s only reliable weapon.
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CB Michael Carter II
Jones is having his best success this season when targeting players who lined up in the slot. On these throws, Jones is averaging 0.23 EPA per dropback (11th of 38 QBs) and 9.5 yards per attempt (3rd).
On all other passes, Jones is much less effective. When targeting someone who did not line up in the slot, Jones is averaging -0.17 EPA per dropback (39th of 40 QBs) and 7.2 yards per attempt (19th of 40 QBs).
*EPA = Expected Points Added
This means the Jets will need an excellent performance from their slot corner, Michael Carter II.
Here’s the great news for New York: Carter II is suited to counter Jones’s tendencies when targeting slot receivers.
Jones loves to attack down the field with his slot weapons, and Carter II is doing a fantastic job of preventing downfield completions out of the slot.
Jones has an aDOT (Average Depth Of Target) of 11.3 when targeting slot receivers this season. That ranks third-highest among qualified quarterbacks. In other words, his average pass to a slot receiver travels over 11 yards past the line of scrimmage. Comparatively, the league average to slot receivers this season is only 8.6.
Meanwhile, Carter II has allowed his opponents to gain only 54 yards through the air on 21 receptions allowed out of the slot. Carter II ranks seventh-best among 36 qualified slot cornerbacks with an average of 2.6 air yards allowed per slot reception.
Carter II must continue to keep everything in front of him on Sunday.
Look for Carter II to match up often against wide receiver Jakobi Meyers, who is New England’s leader in all major receiving categories. Meyers does a lot of his damage out of the slot. He leads New England in receptions (11), targets (16), and receiving yards (165) out of the slot. Of those 16 slot targets, 12 were thrown by Jones.
ST Justin Hardee
New England’s return units have been effective this season. The Patriots rank fourth-best in kickoff return DVOA and sixth-best in punt return DVOA.
DVOA = Defense-adjusted Value Over Average
New York’s coverage units are ready to neutralize New England’s return game.
The Jets’ need to defend kickoff returns is negated by the touchback-producing ability of Greg Zuerlein, who ranks fourth-best in the NFL with a touchback percentage of 86.2%. Zuerlein has launched 25 touchbacks on 29 kickoffs, meaning the Jets have only defended four kickoff returns in seven games. Those returns only averaged 26.5 yards.
Special teams coordinator Brant Boyer can trust his kickoff coverage unit to hold up, but still, the Jets can use as many touchbacks as they can get from Zuerlein on Sunday. Don’t give New England any chances to break off a long return.
New York’s punting unit is ranked fifth-best in the NFL based on DVOA. Third-year punter Braden Mann is having a strong season while the punt coverage unit is doing good work.
Special teams ace Justin Hardee is the engine of the Jets’ coverage units. Hardee is tied for the NFL lead with eight special teams tackles this season.
Against a Patriots team that is having a solid season in the return game – and is historically known for succeeding on special teams every year under Bill Belichick (a former special teams coach) – New York needs its special teams star, Hardee, to make sure New England does not gain an extra edge in the game’s unheralded third phase.