Key Jags injury opens golden opportunity for New York Jets to ground-and-pound their way to TNF glory
With the expectation of harsh weather conditions (100% chance of rain with 20-30 mph winds and gusts up to 55 mph) and a struggling quarterback under center, it’s obvious the New York Jets will have to run the ball effectively if they are going to defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars tonight.
On most days, the Jaguars would not be an ideal opponent if running the football is your primary goal. Jacksonville’s run defense is typically solid. The Jaguars rank 14th in rush defense DVOA and are allowing the 10th-fewest yards per rush attempt.
But a key injury for Jacksonville changes everything.
Defensive tackle Foley Fatukasi is going to miss tonight’s game with an ankle injury. His absence leaves a gaping hole in the middle of Jacksonville’s defensive line.
Jets fans are well aware of Fatukasi’s dominance in the run game. The Long Island native played four seasons with the Jets after they drafted him out of Connecticut in the sixth round of the 2018 draft, establishing himself as one of the best run-stuffing defensive tackles in football. Jacksonville rewarded him with a three-year, $30 million contract in March 2022.
Fatukasi has played in 12 of the Jaguars’ 14 games this season. He missed two games from Weeks 5-6 back in October, and those two games were enough to make it clear that the Jaguars’ interior run defense looks substantially different without their 318-pound behemoth.
In the two games Fatukasi missed, Jacksonville allowed 0.08 Expected Points Added per rush attempt on carries between the tackles. That is a terrible mark. It would rank 30th in the league this year if maintained over the full season. The league average on these rush attempts is -0.06.
When Fatukasi plays, the Jaguars are around league average at stuffing runs up the middle. In 12 games with Fatukasi healthy, Jacksonville allowed -0.05 EPA per rush attempt on carries between the tackles, which would rank 18th this season. That’s a 12-spot difference between their ranking with Fatukasi and their ranking without him.
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What makes the Jaguars’ performance in those two non-Fatukasi games even more troubling is the quality of the opponents they were playing.
Jacksonville faced Houston and Indianapolis in the two games Fatukasi missed. Those are the two worst rushing offenses in the NFL based on DVOA.
So, to sum it up, in the two games Fatukasi missed, Jacksonville allowed the two worst rushing attacks in football to run the ball up the middle with elite efficiency.
This is a salivating opportunity for the Jets’ run game to get back on track. The interior of Jacksonville’s defensive line is pillow-soft without Fatukasi. If New York cannot run the ball up the middle with success in this matchup, they never will.
Let’s take a look at two examples of how soft the Jaguars’ interior run defense can be without Fatukasi.
Here, Houston’s Dameon Pierce rumbles up the middle for 12 yards on a Foley-less Jaguars defensive front. Watch No. 95 get steamrolled by the double team – Jets fans know that Foley would eat up a double team far better than that.
On this play, Deon Jackson of the Colts is presented with a gaping hole to score from three yards out. Watch the center: he generates a ton of lateral movement against the 1-technique DT to open the running lane. Again, this is the type of play that usually would not happen if Fatukasi were placed in the same position.
Making matters worse for Jacksonville is the loss of another starting defensive lineman who can stop the run: No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker. He will miss this game with an ankle injury.
Walker is Jacksonville’s most active run-stuffer on the edge, leading the Jaguars’ edge defenders with 15 run stops. That is a very solid mark, ranking as the 22nd-most in the NFL among all edge defenders. His absence could open things up for the Jets’ outside running game.
Not only will the Jaguars’ run defense be depleted on the interior, but it will be softened on the edge, too. The Jets will have favorable opportunities to run the ball in whichever direction they please.
While Jacksonville will be missing two key pieces of its run defense, New York will be adding a key piece to its rushing attack. Wide receiver Corey Davis is set to return after missing the previous game. Davis is one of the best run-blocking receivers in the NFL, and the Jets’ rushing efficiency has been drastically better when Davis is on the field than when he isn’t.
No Fatukasi. No Walker. Davis is back. Rain. Wind. A quarterback who needs support from his ground game. A defense that needs the offense to do a better job of controlling the clock and protecting the ball.
The Jets have a chance to rediscover the ground-and-pound formula that powered their 6-3 start.
Next Article: NY Jets must exploit 2 huge mismatches vs. Jaguars OL
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