Mixed bag for New York Jets defense in Minnesota
The New York Jets defense’s performance against the Minnesota Vikings can best be described as “meh”. It ultimately wasn’t terrible thanks to an improved second half, but it still wasn’t good – especially by their own lofty standards.
According to Pro Football Reference, the Jets’ total defensive EPA (Expected Points Added) against Minnesota was -5.1, their worst number since posting a -17.9 mark against Cleveland in Week 2.
That is a stark decline from their previous eight games, when their average defensive EPA per game was +7.0. For reference on how dominant that is, it’s more than double the Dallas Cowboys’ league-leading average of +3.4 this season (the Jets are fifth at +2.1). The NFL average per game is -3.4, so the Jets’ -5.1 against the Vikings is slightly below the league average.
Minnesota finished with 27 points and 287 yards of offense. As for the point total, the defense deserves some slack as the Vikings had two field goals where the drive began on the Jets’ side of the field, so the defense is really only at fault for 21 points. However, those came across three grueling 74-plus yard touchdown drives that ate a combined total of 17 minutes and 10 seconds off the clock.
The yardage total seems good at first glance, but those who watched the game know that the Jets often got lucky as Kirk Cousins and the Vikings botched a handful of potentially huge plays through the air. Additionally, the Jets failed to generate a turnover, which they badly needed to offset an unlucky tipped interception on their opening offensive drive.
New York allowed 20 points in the first half (6 of those on a pair of field goals that started in Jets territory), highlighted by two back-breaking touchdown drives that each lasted over 10 plays and six minutes. The Jets bounced back in the second half, allowing only 7 points and forcing five punts.
The defense’s second-half rebound was nearly enough to pull off the victory, as the Jets’ offense was utterly dominant at moving the football in the second half (351 yards in the second half when including penalties), but red-zone woes proved costly as the Jets could not translate those yards into the points they needed to erase a 20-3 deficit.
There was some good and some bad in this ho-hum defensive outing. Let’s get into it.
Quinnen Williams had a mismatch against a lowly Vikings interior offensive line. He took advantage of it. Williams finished with four total pressures (one sack, one hit, two hurries) and four stops in the run game; two of those went for a loss. He threw in a pass deflection.
Don't let it get lost amidst an otherwise underwhelming Jets defensive performance:
Quinnen Williams took full advantage of his mismatch against Minnesota's OL. Had a *dominant* performance. pic.twitter.com/52HAC9zASj
— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) December 5, 2022
Carl Lawson collected 4 pressures on 28 pass-rush snaps (14.3%) in a nice performance. He had a key sack in the second half. Perhaps it is fair to say he should have done more against Minnesota’s backup left tackle, but he played well.
Lawson and Williams tied for the team lead in pressures with four apiece. Four other players contributed two pressures each: John Franklin-Myers, Bryce Huff, Sheldon Rankins, and Quincy Williams.
Overall, the Jets pressured Kirk Cousins on 36.8% of his dropbacks, which ranked 11th-highest among 30 qualified quarterbacks in Week 13. That makes this a solid outing for the Jets’ pass rush, so I think they deserve to be in the positive column, but the defensive line had an opportunity to be more dominant than it was against this Minnesota offensive line. I expected more considering the opponent. With that said, they still did a good job.
Justin Jefferson had his moments, but the Jets held him to numbers that are well below his usual standards.
Jefferson caught 7 of 11 targets for 45 yards and 1 touchdown. It is his third-lowest receiving yardage total this season – his average is 106.4. Jefferson did also draw two holding penalties, although even if you toss in those 10 yards, he still barely crossed the halfway mark of his season average for receiving yardage.
The numbers would have been gaudier if Jefferson snagged a well-thrown deep bomb from Cousins and if Cousins threw the ball more accurately throughout the game. Regardless, it seemed like the Jets’ corners were up to the task against Jefferson. While they did not shut him down, they did not get embarrassed, either.
When matched up against Jefferson, outside cornerbacks D.J. Reed and Sauce Gardner combined to allow 4 catches on 7 targets for 30 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 first down with 2 holding penalties. This is the same guy who just torched Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones (a very good player) to the tune of 6 catches on 8 targets for 95 yards, 1 touchdown, and 2 first downs one week earlier. What the Jets held him to is quite impressive.
Michael Carter II went in and out of the game due to a nagging injury but played well when out there. He allowed 2 yards on 4 targets in his direction, adding in one tackle for loss and one pass breakup.
The Jets allowed 119 rushing yards on 26 non-quarterback carries (4.6 per attempt). That includes two rushing touchdowns, coming from 4 and 14 yards out.
New York’s defense actually tackled a bit better in this game than it did in the previous two weeks, missing 7 tackles after averaging 10.0 missed tackles against New England and Chicago. The main problem was that the Vikings were gaining a lot of yardage before contact. Dalvin Cook collected over half of his rushing yards (47 of 86) before he was touched.
It seemed like the Jets were having trouble with some of Minnesota’s gap/power concepts in the run game. Those plays created some big holes for Cook.
Coverage at safety
Jordan Whitehead and Lamarcus Joyner had a rough game in the back end. They combined to allow 77 yards on 6 targets in their direction. Kirk Cousins gained 44.5% of his passing yards when targeting the safeties.
The safety duo’s biggest crime was a 38-yard catch that it allowed on a prayer heaved up by Cousins as he was smacked by Nathan Shepherd. Whitehead looked completely lost as he let Jalen Reagor, of all people, beat him for a game-changing catch. Minnesota scored a few plays later.
This swim move and hit by Nathan Shepherd, wow (what happens after… not so good) pic.twitter.com/nvjxTBZUVI
— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) December 5, 2022
As a side note, this is why stats for quarterbacks can be so misleading. This is not a good play by Cousins. On first-and-10, he chucks up a hot-air balloon into double coverage. This should be an interception – at the very least, it should be batted away. Instead, Cousins gets credit for an amazing play due simply to a big mistake by the defense.
Minnesota finished the game going 9-for-18 on third downs. They were nearly unstoppable in the first half, though. The Vikings converted 7 of their 11 third-down attempts in the first half.
Third down conversions were the key to Minnesota’s two long scoring drives in the first half. Across those two drives, the Vikings converted 6 of their 7 third downs, and on the one failure, they went for it on the ensuing fourth down and converted.
One of the main reasons for the Jets’ third-down woes across those two drives was the to-go distances of the third downs. Most of them were medium-to-short. The Jets did not force many long third downs. While they did a good job of holding up on first and second down to force third down, they were not generating big losses on the early downs to create difficult third downs.
On the Vikings’ two touchdown drives, their average to-go distance on third down was 4.3 yards. None of those third downs came with 10+ yards to go. Of course, that does not excuse allowing the other team to be nearly perfect on third down, but it’s difficult to consistently make stops on third down if every one of them is manageable. You need to force some long third downs every once in a while.
The Jets were slightly better at this in the second half, creating two third downs with 10+ yards to go (both were stopped), although five of the Vikings’ seven third downs in the second half were still with 7 or fewer yards to go. The good news is that New York did a better job of stopping those medium-to-short third downs, allowing the Vikings to convert just one of the five (though that was a touchdown catch by Jefferson).
Still, the Jets must do a better job of getting tackles for loss and sacks on first and second down to tilt the odds in their favor on third down.
Red-zone performance is what decided this game. We all know how bad the Jets’ offense was in this area – they scored a touchdown on just one of their six trips into the red zone. But what has not been discussed as much is the Jets’ red-zone struggles on the other side. Minnesota came up with seven points on all three of its trips into the red zone.
The Vikings’ third-down success is what prompted their red-zone success. On each of their three touchdown drives, the Vikings converted a third down in the red zone. The first two touchdowns were set up by a third-down conversion that occurred just one play prior to the score, while the third touchdown was a third-down conversion itself.
If you flipped the red-zone and third-down efficiency, this would have been a Jets blowout. New York was significantly better at moving the football, out-gaining the Vikings by 199 yards, but in high-leverage situations, the Vikings were clutch while the Jets were not.
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