The New York Jets have been gifted one last shot, and they cannot waste it
By virtue of a gift from the football gods, the New York Jets remain in the thick of the AFC wild card race despite their four-game losing streak. Thanks to holiday weekend losses from the Patriots, Raiders, and Dolphins, the Jets now have a 92% chance of making the playoffs if they finish 2-0, per FiveThirtyEight. Prior to Saturday, that number was only 53%.
If the Jets finish 2-0, they just need one Patriots loss (vs. MIA or @ BUF) or two in-conference Chargers losses (@ IND and @ DEN) and they would be in the postseason at 9-8.
It goes without saying that the Patriots scenario is more likely, and thus the one that Jets fans should be most focused on. The Chargers scenario could be taken out of the picture by the end of today if the Chargers defeat the Colts on Monday Night Football.
Okay, enough playoff-scenario talk. Now that the Jets have gotten some help, the biggest key in all of this is… you know… actually winning their own games. That is much easier said than done for a team that has lost four consecutive contests, including an utterly embarrassing 19-3 home loss in its last outing.
If the Jets are going to get the two victories they need, these five struggling players need to step it up.
RG Nate Herbig
Nate Herbig was a surprisingly solid blocker over his first few starts of the season after filling in for Alijah Vera-Tucker. Recently, though, he has arguably been the Jets’ worst offensive lineman.
Herbig is going through a rough patch in both phases.
In pass protection, Herbig has coughed up 10 pressures over his last two games, the most of any guard in the NFL over that span.
As a run-blocker, Herbig is getting bullied. Over the past three games, the Jets’ running backs have logged 14 carries that were directed to either side of Herbig (either the right A-gap or the right B-gap). Those carries netted only 48 yards, or just 3.4 per carry. More importantly, 38 of those yards came after contact while just 10 of those yards came before contact, which means the Jets are averaging a measly 0.7 yards before contact per carry when running behind Herbig over the last three games.
Herbig is a backup, so nobody is expecting him to be a dominant road-grader. But he is capable of playing much better football than this. He is playing like one of the worst starting guards in the league.
LG Laken Tomlinson
Both guards are a major issue in the run game right now. Running in Laken Tomlinson‘s direction has been even more futile than running in Herbig’s direction.
Over the last two games, the Jets’ RBs have been given 11 carries that were directed to either side of Tomlinson (either the left A-gap or the left B-gap). Those carries netted only 25 yards, an average of 2.3 yards per carry. Of those 25 yards, 19 came after contact and just 6 came before contact, giving the Jets an average of 0.5 yards before contact per carry when running behind Tomlinson.
Let that sink in: The Jets paid $27 million in guaranteed money to a guard who is giving his teammates a half-yard of running room before they get touched.
In pass protection, Tomlinson is involved in far too many botched protections. Seeing blitzers run unblocked through one of Tomlinson’s gaps is too common a sight, especially considering he is an eighth-year veteran who was playing in a similar offensive scheme before joining the Jets.
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C Connor McGovern
Connor McGovern is pretty reliable in the run game, but he is prone to some ghastly moments in pass protection. McGovern was doing a solid job of minimizing his mistakes throughout most of the season, but right now, McGovern is in the midst of a stretch where his pass-pro blunders are popping up at a disastrous frequency.
Over the past three weeks, McGovern has allowed 10 pressures, the second-most in the league among centers over that span. That includes four QB knockdowns (2 sacks and 2 hits). McGovern allowed 13 pressures over his first 11 games.
That total of 10 pressures might actually be underselling the true number of defenders McGovern is allowing into the backfield. As we mentioned with Tomlinson, there have been a lot of unblocked rushers coming free into the Jets’ backfield recently, and they often come up the middle (which is the worst place for an unblocked defender to come from). It is always tough to pinpoint blame in these situations without being in the meeting room and knowing the play-call, but these things often fall on the center, who, along with the quarterback, plays an integral role in setting the protections.
The Jets’ interior offensive line trio needs to be better as a collective unit. Each player has had his own individual woes, but, ultimately, it’s about coming together and working as one. They all need to do a better job of complementing one another and working in unison.
RB Michael Carter
Michael Carter is in the midst of a sophomore slump. It’s a slump that has been brewing since the start of the year, but it has stooped to shocking lows in recent weeks.
Over his past five games, Carter has rushed for 66 yards on 25 carries (2.6 yards per carry). Yes, the Jets’ blocking has been poor, but Carter isn’t doing a good enough job of outperforming the blocking by creating his own yardage. Carter is averaging only 2.1 yards after contact per carry over his past five games, which ranks 55th out of 56 qualified running backs since Week 11.
Carter is not breaking tackles as often as he used to. As a rusher, he has only forced three missed tackles over his past five games. That is an average of 0.120 per carry, which is less than half of his rookie-year average (0.265). Zonovan Knight has been running behind the same line and is still finding ways to make plays on his own: He’s forced 25 missed tackles on 65 carries over his past five games (0.385 per carry).
Another overlooked issue for Carter is his pass-blocking. Carter has been charged with allowing 9 pressures this season, which is the second-worst total among running backs. He is tied for the position lead with 3 sacks allowed.
Carter’s blocking has been especially poor in recent games. He has allowed a pressure in three consecutive games, which is a career-long streak. This is another area where Knight is outperforming Carter; it’s a small sample, but Knight has not allowed any pressures over 16 pass-blocking snaps this year. (Carter has played 48 pass-blocking snaps this season.)
Carter shares in the blame for both the Jets’ rushing woes and their pass-blocking woes. Whether or not he cleans things up is an underrated X-factor in determining how the Jets finish out their season.
CB Michael Carter II
While the majority of the Jets’ problems reside on the offensive side of the ball, the defense is capable of playing sharper football than it has over the past few weeks.
Arguably, no Jets defender has taken a steeper dive over the past few weeks than Michael Carter II.
The Jets’ slot corner was having an excellent season through 11 games. Over his last three games, though, opposing teams have begun to go after him, and it has led to great results.
Across the Detroit and Jacksonville games, Carter II was targeted 13 times. He allowed 9 catches for 108 yards and 5 first downs.
In Buffalo, Carter II committed two penalties that yielded first downs, and he was extremely lucky not to be victimized for more than that. Two of the passes thrown in his direction resulted in drops. On another play, Stefon Diggs beat Carter II for what may have been a long touchdown, but Josh Allen missed the pass.
A return to form by Carter II would help the Jets’ defense get back to looking like an elite unit rather than just a good one.
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