It’s the defense that has the most to look out for
After the dust settles around the New York Jets, the media and fans will realize that there’s a game to be played on Sunday.
The Jets, coming off a crushing defeat to the New England Patriots, take on the Chicago Bears at home. The Mike White-led Gang Green attempt to start a new chapter in their season, one in which their passing game is actually competent and wide-open receivers get the ball.
While that side of the ball is going to get all of the attention nationally, it’s on the other side where a trap game can really present itself against the Bears. The Jets live and die by their defense, and there’s a good reason to have confidence in the NFL’s sixth-best unit by DVOA (while having faced the fourth-most difficult offensive slate).
This is a tricky matchup, though, and New York should not be so sanguine about its ability to stonewall the Bears. What do the Jets most need to overcome to beat their 3-8 NFC opponent?
RB David Montgomery vs. Jets’ linebackers and safeties
The Bears placed Khalil Herbert on injured reserve, and he will certainly be missed in their 10th-rated rush attack by DVOA. Among 42 backs with at least 75 rushing attempts, Herbert is third with 3.98 yards after contact (YCO) per attempt and sixth with 0.47 rush yards over expected (RYOE) per attempt, according to Pro Football Focus.
However, the Bears’ now-starter, David Montgomery, is no slouch. While his numbers are not as impressive at 2.89 YCO and -0.34 RYOE per attempt (both 28th), Montgomery also has 32 missed tackles forced on 132 rushing attempts, giving him 0.242 missed tackles forced per rush attempt, the 10th-best mark among those backs.
This leads us to the Jets’ tackling, which was putrid against New England in all facets of the game. It’s amazing that the defense allowed only three points (nine if Nick Folk had not missed two field goals) despite 10 recorded missed tackles against the Patriots, per PFF, a number that feels low compared to what was seen on film.
Despite the fact that most of those missed tackles (8) were in the passing game, 9 out of the 10 still came from the Jets’ linebackers and safeties. C.J. Mosley and Jordan Whitehead were the primary culprits, and those two players are often the Jets’ keys in run support.
Furthermore, Montgomery is a legitimate threat out of the backfield. His 1.20 yards per route run ranks 12th among backs, and his 204 receiving yards are 15th despite just 21 targets, which is significantly lower than many of the backs ahead of him in receiving yards. Therefore, the Jets’ poor tackling can be a deeper issue in the passing game, as well. Quincy Williams and Kwon Alexander have been repeated culprits in this area, in addition to their weaknesses in coverage.
Due to his work in both the run and passing games, Montgomery has earned a 79.1 elusiveness rating from PFF, the 12th-best among backs. The Jets cannot underestimate him. They must wrap up.
WR Darnell Mooney and TE Cole Kmet vs. Jets’ secondary
There are two different mismatches here, but we’ll lump it together as the Bears’ two primary threats in the passing game vs. the Jets’ coverage.
As good as Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed are, neither of them is likely to be covering Kmet or Mooney on a down-by-down basis (unless the Jets shift Sauce onto the tight end, which they did against the Ravens’ Mark Andrews in Week 1 and at times against Buffalo).
Darnell Mooney runs 60.9% of his routes out of the slot, the 11th-highest number among 66 qualified receivers (min. 35 targets). That means he will likely be matched up against Michael Carter II, the Jets’ slot corner, for a lot of the game.
Carter II is a strong corner overall, but he is also only 5’10” without a large wingspan. This means he can be beaten on contested catches, as we’ve seen time to time this season against guys like Pat Freiermuth and Mark Andrews. Although Mooney is only 5’11”, he’s been excellent on contested catches this season, catching 5 of 6 targets for an 83% catch rate, which leads all receivers.
Although it’s a small sample size, it’s worth noting for the Bears, who don’t have great weapons to use on the outside. They need to garner whatever advantage they can get.
With regard to Cole Kmet, the Jets allow 56.0 yards per game to tight ends, per Football Outsiders, which is ranked 24th. Although their DVOA against tight ends is still excellent (-8.9%, 10th-best), there is some yardage to be had there. C.J. Mosley, the Jets’ linebacker who is often lined up on tight ends either in man or zone coverage, has had his struggles in coverage this season, as has Jordan Whitehead.
Meanwhile, after a quiet start to the season, Kmet has become a monster in the last four games, recording five touchdowns in that span. Kmet ranks ninth among 32 qualified tight ends (min. 25 targets) with 11.9 yards per reception, and he’s tied for second with those five TDs. Kmet is also tied for 14th with 5.0 YAC per reception, also something to look out for with the Jets’ linebackers’ struggles in coverage. Overall, Justin Fields has a 102.9 passer rating when targeting Kmet, 12th-best among tight ends.
The Bears are going to need to utilize their weapons to win this game. Cole Kmet is a good one against a Jets team that can be had with the tight end.
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QB Justin Fields vs. Jets’ run defense
The Jets did a good job containing Lamar Jackson’s running in Week 1, limiting him to just six rushes for 17 yards, a 2.8 yards-per-carry clip. However, in the weeks since, we’ve seen several quarterbacks with varying levels of rushing talent cause issues for Gang Green’s defense.
Jacoby Brissett had 6 rushes for 43 yards (7.2 YPC). Although Mac Jones had just 7 rushes for 19 yards (2.7), he had an important 12-yard run on third down in which the Jets lost containment. Josh Allen had 9 rushes for 86 yards (9.6) and 2 TDs.
Justin Fields is a Lamar Jackson-like animal, and if he does play, as the Bears are currently indicating, he can be a menace for the Jets. Although Jermaine Johnson has the speed and length to chase down running QBs, as seen on his five-yard chase-down sack of Josh Allen, Fields is significantly faster than Allen.
Among 32 non-RBs with at least 10 rushing attempts, Fields ranks fourth with 3.98 yards after contact per attempt. His 32 missed tackles forced are first, and his 26 yards of 10+ yards are second to Jackson’s 27. Think about this: Fields has 66 rush attempts – and 55 first downs. He’s a monster with the ball in his hands and singlehandedly has the NFL rethinking what a “good quarterback” means.
Once again, every single one of the Jets’ tacklers are going to be asked to do their job, and perhaps often in the open field. As seen on the punt return TD that ended the Jets-Patriots game, taking proper tackling angles is not a strength of any part of the Jets team.
The biggest hope the Jets have is that Fields does not play. He revealed that he is dealing with a significant AC joint injury, and these ordinarily take about 3-4 weeks to recover from. However, he practiced on Wednesday and the Bears claim he’s a go. Trevor Siemian, Fields’s backup, was around the Jets for long enough that he’d hardly strike fear in their hearts, but Fields is a game-changer.