One Bills defender was particularly successful against the New York Jets in 2022, and Mekhi Becton will be the man tasked with blocking him on Monday
The New York Jets had serious playoff hopes for much of the 2022 season. They owned a 7-4 record through 11 games and looked poised for a playoff push even after losing Breece Hall and Alijah Vera-Tucker.
While New York remained mathematically alive until Week 17, it can be argued that the team’s playoff hopes effectively died in its Week 14 loss to Buffalo. Coming off a heartbreaking loss to Minnesota, the Jets were 7-5 and still very much in the playoff hunt. But with a 20-12 loss to Buffalo, the Jets were on their first losing streak of the season and seemed to have lost all of their momentum.
More important than the loss on the scoreboard was the loss of QB Mike White, who had galvanized the offense since replacing Zach Wilson. White would miss multiple games due to a rib injury he suffered in Buffalo. The Jets lost both of the games that White missed – largely due to the struggles of Wilson, who was clearly a downgrade. White returned in Week 17, but he was still laboring from his rib injury and performed poorly as a result.
White’s rib injury did not necessarily occur on one singular play. Rather, it was the culmination of numerous big hits White absorbed throughout the Buffalo game. The Jets’ offensive line had an abysmal performance in Orchard Park, resulting in the loss of their best quarterback and the end of their playoff dreams.
Numerous Bills defenders were able to land shots on White in that game, but one caused damage more than any other: Greg Rousseau.
Rousseau led the Bills with four total pressures in Week 14, two more than any other player on the team. It was a consummate team effort for Buffalo’s pass rush, as six total players had at least two pressures. Rousseau was the engine, though, as he was only Bill with more than two pressures.
Two of Rousseau’s four total pressures were sacks. One of them was a strip-sack of Joe Flacco that Buffalo recovered. The other was a sack on White for a nine-yard loss, coming at a crucial juncture in the first quarter. The Jets had taken over at the Bills’ 48-yard line after stopping Buffalo deep in their own territory. Rousseau’s first-down sack pushed the Jets into second-and-19, and they eventually punted, wasting the excellent field position.
In addition to his four total pressures, Rousseau batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage. He was a nightmare for the Jets all game long. Rousseau caused more havoc than any other Bills pass rusher in a game that is best remembered for the immense amount of pressure that was allowed by the Jets’ offensive line.
It can be argued that Rousseau was Buffalo’s player of the game in a victory that crushed the Jets’ souls. This makes him one of the most important players for New York to stop in the teams’ upcoming Monday Night Football rematch.
And Mekhi Becton is the man who will take up the challenge.
Rousseau played left defensive end for the Bills last season, meaning he usually rushed against the right tackle. All 33 of his pass-rush snaps against the Jets came on the left edge, and for the season, he lined up on the left edge for 85.9% of his pass-rush snaps. Going into Week 1, Rousseau is currently listed as the starting left defensive end on Buffalo’s depth chart.
So, we’re going to see plenty of Becton-versus-Rousseau matchups on Monday night.
This is going to be a battle of two players who boast tremendous size and length for their positions. Becton, of course, is an imposing presence at 6-foot-7 and 363 pounds with 35⅝” arms (92nd percentile for OT). Rousseau is a tall and lengthy edge rusher with a relatively lanky build. Weighing 266 pounds (54th percentile for EDGE), Rousseau stands at 6-foot-6⅝ (96th percentile) with 34⅜” arms (80th).
It’s a strength-versus-strength duel. Both players have the length to match that of the other. This means hand usage will often determine the outcome of their battles. The accuracy and timing of their hand strikes will be vital, as neither player can win based on a pure length advantage alone – which they both can do against most other opponents.
Yes, Becton has slightly over one inch of arm length over Rousseau, but since Rousseau is much smaller and quicker, he will be able to get lower to the ground and create ideal leverage to stay underneath Becton and get his hands into Becton’s chest.
In addition, Rousseau boasts good speed to complement his length. Rousseau recorded a 40 time of 4.68, placing at the 77th percentile for edge rushers. With his combination of speed and length, Rousseau is a dangerous speed-to-power threat.
— Erik Turner (@ErikJTurner) June 7, 2023
What Rousseau lacks is explosiveness and short-area quickness. At the 2021 combine, Rousseau struggled in the explosiveness drills (47th percentile broad jump, 16th vertical jump) and agility drills (24th percentile shuttle, 13th three-cone).
So far, these concerns have translated to the NFL.
As for explosiveness, Rousseau is only slightly better than average. Per NFL Next Gen Stats, his average get-off time from the edge was 0.86 seconds in 2022, which is just a hair better than the league average of 0.88.
The agility concerns have translated to issues with tackling consistency. Rousseau had six missed tackles in 2022, per PFF, and his missed tackle rate of 19.4% ranked 65th out of 88 qualified edge rushers.
These weaknesses could tilt the tide in Becton’s favor. Since Rousseau only has average explosiveness and isn’t the quickest player around the corner, Becton shouldn’t have to worry too much about Rousseau darting past him to the outside.
This allows Becton to focus on setting himself to guard against Rousseau’s speed-to-power moves. If Rousseau elects to go outside, Becton has more than enough length and quickness to recover and force Rousseau up the field.
Check out Rousseau’s strip-sack against the Jets last year. It’s very easy to picture Becton shutting this rush down.
Mike Remmers (RT #68) is far too concerned about the speed rush here. He oversets outside, opens his hips too early, and is too conservative in his set – allowing Rousseau to use his long arms to make his first contact and establish a strong bull rush. Rousseau pushes Remmers back, and with Remmers fully turned outside, Rousseau is able to easily disengage and work inside, where he meets Flacco for the sack.
Becton likely would have stopped Rousseau in this situation. Since Remmers has extremely short arms (30¼”), he has to overset to prepare for the potential speed rush; he doesn’t have enough length to recover if he gets caught by surprise with an outside rush. Becton does have enough length to recover. Because of this, Becton can stay square and guard against anything Rousseau might throw at him, rather than oversetting and leaving himself vulnerable to a particular direction.
Plus, even if Becton does make a mistake that gives Rousseau a favorable opportunity to set up a bull rush, his length would allow him to absorb the rush better than Remmers did. With arms nearly four inches shorter than Rousseau’s, Remmers had little chance of making first contact once he was on his heels and had Rousseau charging at him. Becton has enough length to make first contact even if he’s not in an ideal position.
The war between Buffalo’s 23-year-old first-round edge rusher and New York’s 24-year-old first-round tackle is going to be a fascinating matchup to watch on Monday.
While Rousseau isn’t the biggest name that Becton could have drawn in his first start since 2021, he is not a player who should be taken lightly. Rousseau gave the Jets headaches last year – and he did the same for many teams, recording eight sacks in 13 games as a second-year player. He is a breakout star candidate and Becton must rise to the challenge.
Rousseau will be a tremendous measuring stick for Becton in his regular season debut at right tackle.