New York Jets offense has a chance to feast with two Philadelphia Eagles stars on the sidelines
After both players did not practice on Friday, the Philadelphia Eagles announced that cornerback Darius Slay (knee) and defensive tackle Jalen Carter (ankle) will both miss Sunday’s game against the New York Jets. Safety Justin Evans (knee) and wide receiver Quez Watkins (hamstring) are also out, but Carter and Slay are the biggest losses by far.
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) October 13, 2023
On Thursday, before it was even known that Carter and Slay would be out, we already labeled the underperforming Eagles defense as a sneaky favorable matchup for the Jets offense.
The Eagles have been particularly disappointing against the pass, ranking 25th in yards per game allowed, 23rd in interceptions per game, 19th in sack rate, and 17th in EPA per dropback allowed. However, the Eagles are still dominating against the run, ranking first in yards per game allowed and fourth in yards per attempt allowed.
Considering their struggles against the pass and their success against the run, we concluded that the Jets would be best served using a pass-heavy approach early in the game on first and second down. This would allow the Jets to fully exploit the Eagles’ coverage woes by throwing the ball in favorable situations – where the run is still a threat and the Jets are not backed into obvious passing situations on third-and-long.
In addition, this would allow them to avoid running into walls against the Eagles’ elite run defense and constricting Zach Wilson into mainly throwing from unfavorable third-and-long situations.
All the while, a pass-heavy approach on early downs could set up success in the run game later on. The Jets could wait to rely more heavily on the run until later in the game when they have demanded respect through the air, therefore forcing the Eagles into opening up more room in the box as they back off to cover up the holes in coverage.
Philadelphia is allowing the fewest yards per carry in the first half (2.7) but gives up the eighth-most in the second half (4.3), so this theory carries weight.
This game plan seemed enticing even with Carter and Slay in the fray. How do the losses of Carter and Slay alter the plan?
Let’s discuss how the Jets’ game plan should change based on the absences of Carter and Slay.
With the creation of a gaping hole in the middle of Philly’s defensive line, your first thought might be that the Jets will have an easier time running the ball and no longer have to utilize the pass-heavy game plan that previously seemed ideal.
Nope. In fact, the loss of Carter should only incentivize the Jets to dive even deeper into that pass-heavy game plan. This is because Carter’s absence is going to hurt the Eagles in the pass game far more than the run game.
Philadelphia’s run defense should remain stellar without Carter. The Eagles are actually allowing more yards per carry with Carter on the field (3.6) than they are when he is off the field (3.3).
Carter has been good against the run, but not outstanding. He has only recorded two run stops this season. Obviously, his impact goes beyond raw tackle stats, so losing him will definitely hurt in that phase, but there just isn’t much clear evidence that he has massively affected the Eagles’ run defense. The same cannot be said about the other phase.
It’s in the passing game where Carter has been an instant superstar and an enormous game-changer for Philadelphia. He might already be the league’s best interior pass rusher. The Eagles’ pass rush will not be the same without him.
Carter is tied with Aaron Donald for the most total pressures among defensive tackles (23) despite playing 35 fewer pass-rush snaps than Donald. He is the team leader in both sacks and total pressures on a squad that has Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat, Fletcher Cox, and Brandon Graham. Simply put, whoever assumes Carter’s vacated snaps is not going to replicate the pass-rush impact that Carter would have had.
While running the ball is likely still going to be extremely difficult for the Jets without Carter, passing the ball is going to be a whole lot easier. Therefore, the Jets’ plan should not only remain the same, but they should emphasize it further.
The Jets still have to trust Zach Wilson and avoid playing scared if they want to upset a superior opponent. If the Jets stay aggressive through the air, they will have a very good chance to succeed against this Eagles defense. That was the case with Carter. Now that the Eagles’ best pass rusher is out, this is suddenly a mouth-watering matchup for the Jets’ passing game.
As we covered in yesterday’s breakdown, Slay has fallen off a cliff this season and would have been an intriguing player for the Jets to attack if he were on the field.
With that being said, losing Slay will still hurt the Eagles because his backup, Josh Jobe, has been playing even worse this season.
Whereas Slay ranks 50th out of 85 qualified cornerbacks with a 102.7 passer rating allowed on throws into his coverage, Jobe ranks 65th with a 116.0 passer rating allowed. Jobe has allowed three touchdowns and committed two penalties in limited playing time (161 snaps).
The primary area where Jobe will be a downgrade compared to Slay is tackling. Slay has tackled well this season, ranking 25th-best out of 85 qualified cornerbacks with a missed tackle rate of 7.7%. He’s only missed two tackles. Jobe, on the other hand, ranks 82nd with a 26.7% missed tackle rate, whiffing four times despite making only 11 tackles.
The Jets need to make it a point to test Jobe early on, especially if they can find ways to make him come down and tackle. Running some screens in Jobe’s area, especially to Garrett Wilson or Xavier Gipson, seems like a great idea to get the passing game off to a smooth start.
And, hey, it’s not too late to dust off Mecole Hardman and cook up some designed touches for him. With the whiff-prone Jobe out there, now is the perfect time to test the waters with Hardman before tossing him to the wayside.
Overall, the Jets’ game plan shouldn’t change too much without Carter and Slay. They still need to put the game in Zach Wilson’s hands and trust him to make big plays on first down. The only difference is that Wilson’s odds of success are significantly greater now that Philadelphia will experience large downgrades at both defensive tackle and cornerback.
As a result, the main takeaway from these injuries is that it should now be easy for the Jets to have faith in Wilson. Philadelphia’s run defense remains intimidating sans-Carter, but an already underwhelming pass defense is suddenly looking highly exploitable. If it wasn’t clear before that this is a game where Wilson needs to run the show, it definitely is now.
If Nathaniel Hackett can’t see that, well, let’s just say he better hope that Breece Hall and an AVT-less offensive line can somehow muster up a great game against a run defense that is still allowing 3.3 YPC without Carter. That sure doesn’t sound like an enticing plan to me, but Hackett has stubbornly adhered to a run-run-pass approach for most of the year, so he needs to prove to me that he has the guts to go pass-heavy before I can just assume that he’ll do it.
Nevertheless, all signs point to this being a game where Hackett lets Wilson loose – for better or worse. And that’s the right way for New York to play football against elite teams. Don’t. Play. Scared. Make aggressive choices that maximize your ceiling, even if it means accepting a greater risk factor.
That mentality nearly allowed them to take down Kansas City. And they’ll need to bring the same mentality back – this time from the start of the game rather than waiting until they’re down by 17 points – to pull off an upset over the other Super Bowl LVII participant.
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