To beat Jaguars, the Jets must scrap the gunslinger version of Zach Wilson and bring back the quick-game version
Going into the Detroit Lions game, it was clear the New York Jets needed an aggressive, deep-bombing version of Zach Wilson to win. That was the best way to beat the Lions’ defense based on their schematic tendencies and strengths/weaknesses.
As it turns out, Wilson and the Jets did play an aggressive brand of football against Detroit. The results were mixed. Wilson hit a handful of deep shots but his overall consistency was poor.
To some, Wilson’s performance against Detroit may have been viewed as something that can be used as a springboard. They might argue the Jets should continue allowing Wilson to build upon the aggressiveness he showcased against Detroit.
There is credence to those ideas. If the Jets were playing the right team, they could definitely try to have Wilson build on what he did against the Lions.
Unfortunately, the Jets’ upcoming opponent is not the right team to utilize an aggressive style against. A switch-up will be necessary.
This Thursday night against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Jets will need the polar opposite version of Zach Wilson. The Jacksonville defense is a much different unit than the Detroit defense Wilson just faced. Its tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses are the reverse of Detroit’s.
The deep-bombing Zach Wilson must take a back seat this week. It’s time for the return of a quick-passing, game-managing Zach Wilson.
Getting it out quickly is the recipe for beating Jacksonville
Whereas Detroit is most susceptible to deep, long-developing passes, Jacksonville is most susceptible to short, quick passes.
Let’s start by discussing the schematic differences between these two defenses. Detroit is a man-heavy defense that loves to run Cover 1. The Lions rank third in man coverage rate (40.9%) and fifth in Cover 1 rate (32.9%), with Cover 1 being their most-used coverage. This style aids in stopping the run and defending quick throws but it invites the opponent to throw the ball deep.
Jacksonville plays a much different brand of football. The Jaguars are only 18th in man coverage rate (24.7%) and use Cover 1 much less frequently (18.7%). Their favorite coverage is Cover 3, which they use 34.3% of the time (12th). Overall, the Jaguars are a softer, more zone-heavy defense that likes to take away the deep passing game but is vulnerable in the short game.
The Jaguars’ talent distribution emphasizes their schematic preferences. They get respectable production from the cornerback position, led by a promising second-year player in Tyson Campbell. This helps their deep-passing defense. Jacksonville actually leads the NFL in passes defended this season at 81, so these guys can play the ball pretty well. They will do a much better job of contesting Wilson’s 50-50 deep shots than the Lions did.
However, the Jaguars’ natural susceptibility in the quick game (as a result of the scheme) is greatly accentuated by their league-worst coverage skills at linebacker and safety.
Jacksonville is home to the NFL’s leader in yards allowed at three different positions. ILB Devin Lloyd leads all linebackers with 645 yards allowed, SS Rayshawn Jenkins leads all safeties with 412 yards allowed, and 3-4 OLB Josh Allen leads all edge defenders with 124 yards allowed. ILB Foyesade Oluokun is not far behind Lloyd, ranking eighth at the position with 495 yards allowed.
These are the guys New York will want to attack. This is contrary to the Lions’ defense, which features league-worst cornerbacks but respectable coverage underneath.
The weaknesses at linebacker and safety have translated to poor production against quick throws. Jacksonville is allowing 0.23 EPA per attempt on passes that are released in under 2.5 seconds, which ranks third-worst in the NFL. They are also allowing the most yards per attempt on quick throws (6.9).
Once again, this is the opposite of a Detroit defense that has been carved up by long-developing throws but is actually very good at stopping quick throws.
Wilson must alter his mentality this week in comparison to the Detroit game. He needs to speed up his internal clock and prioritize getting the ball out quickly, allowing his playmakers to make things happen in the underneath range against Jacksonville’s woeful linebackers and safeties. Holding the ball and looking for deep shots was the right approach last week, but this week, it’s time to get back to the distributor role we saw him play against Buffalo.
Poor tackling after the catch is the main reason Jacksonville’s linebackers and safeties give up so many yards. Jenkins is second among all safeties with 22 missed tackles while Lloyd and Oluokun are tied for seventh among linebackers with 16 missed tackles. Overall, as a team, the Jaguars have missed the second-most tackles in the NFL (143). Wilson needs to exploit Jacksonville’s inability to finish plays in the open field.
Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur must do his part in setting up Wilson for success. LaFleur’s goal should be to build a game plan around effective quick-game concepts that put the Jets’ playmakers in favorable positions to make plays after the catch.
Specifically, the Jets should look to get their tight ends heavily involved.
Covering tight ends is a major problem for the Jaguars. Jacksonville has allowed the most yards per attempt (9.3), the most EPA per attempt (0.53), and the fourth-most yards per game (61.4) on passes to tight ends.
Getting Tyler Conklin and C.J. Uzomah involved is a must for Zach Wilson.
Overall, I would expect the Jets to employ a much different approach for their passing game this week. Look for Wilson and LaFleur to attack the Jaguars’ linebackers and safeties, aiming to get the ball out quickly and move down the field efficiently rather than explosively.
This is worrisome because Zach struggles over the middle typically. Hopefully he can change course and take advantage of the poor defense.