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3 goals NY Jets must accomplish to prevent Giants upset

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Breece Hall, New York Jets, Getty Images

The New York Jets must capitalize on their greatest advantages to avoid a New York Giants upset

For the first time in 2023, the New York Jets are favored to win a football game. Going up against a struggling New York Giants team on a neutral site, the Jets are three-point favorites.

This is unfamiliar territory for the Jets. They’re accustomed to playing the underdog role, where they walk into the stadium each week fueled by the motivation to prove everyone wrong. Now, they will deal with an entirely different type of pressure: trying to prove everyone right.

The Jets have been a much better football team than the Giants to this point of the season. They should win this game. But playing as the favorite is oftentimes even more difficult than playing as the underdog. It’s easy to get complacent when most people think you’re the better team. Without that easily accessible fuel coming from the outside, you need to find it within yourself.

Are the Jets ready to handle the pressure of being favorites? We’re about to find out.

If the Jets are going to take care of business in the favored role, the key is to maximize the advantages that make them favorites in the first place.

Here are three goals the Jets must accomplish to ensure they will not be upset by the Giants. Each goal is based on an advantage in the Jets’ favor.

1. Get at least 7 sacks

Seven sacks? 

You’re probably thinking that’s an absurdly high number to aim for, but with how the Giants have played this year, it’s really not. The Giants have allowed 37 sacks this season, an average of 5.3 per game.

Only the Washington Commanders (40 sacks, 5.7 per game) have allowed more sacks than the Giants, but the Commanders have run more pass plays than the Giants. From a rate perspective, the Giants are the league’s worst team in the sack department. New York’s 13.8% sack rate ranks last in the NFL and is nearly double the league average of 7.1%.

The Giants allowed multiple sacks in every one of their games this season. They allowed at least seven sacks in three of them. Granted, Tyrod Taylor (this week’s starter) has done a better job of avoiding sacks than Daniel Jones. Taylor has taken seven sacks in two starts (9.7% sack rate) while Jones took 28 sacks in five starts (15.6%).

Still, the Jets’ defensive line is more than talented enough to become the fourth team to record at least seven sacks against the Giants, joining the Seahawks (11 sacks), Dolphins (7), and Cowboys (7). The Jets should fully expect themselves to join that group.

The Jets have the NFL’s second-best pressure rate, per Pro Football Reference. Even more scarily, they’re doing it without blitzing. They have the league’s second-lowest blitz rate at 18.3%. This is a testament to the quality of their four-man rush, which in itself is a sign of how talented the Jets’ individual pass rushers are.

With the Jets’ elite pass rush going up against a Giants offense that is already allowing more than five sacks per game, a seven-sack performance is easily within reach. Not to mention, the Giants are expected to be without their only top-tier offensive lineman, left tackle Andrew Thomas, in addition to multiple other starters. The Jets should aim for the stars in this matchup.

However, while the Jets have been excellent at creating pressure, they need to improve at converting their pressures into sacks. Despite their elite consistency at getting into the backfield, the Jets are just 20th with 2.2 sacks per game and 22nd with a 5.7% sack rate.

The Giants present a golden opportunity for the Jets to start turning that around. On top of their catastrophic offensive line issues, Taylor is one of the NFL’s most sack-prone quarterbacks. His career sack rate of 9.3% is the highest among the 30 active quarterbacks who have thrown at least 1,500 career pass attempts. Jones is actually slightly better, ranking third-highest at 8.6%.

So, while Taylor has taken fewer sacks than Jones so far this year, he’s due to see his sack rate increase at some point. For their careers, Taylor is even worse than Jones at taking sacks, and they’re playing in the same environment, so you’d expect Taylor to take more sacks than Jones. The Jets must capitalize on this opportunity.

Taylor is an easy guy to sack. Similar to Zach Wilson in his worst moments, Taylor will hold onto the ball too long and then try to run around instead of throwing the ball away. He’d rather get sacked than throw a risky pass, which is why he has always been a low-INT/high-sack quarterback for his entire career.

It seems likely the Jets are going to generate pressure at a high rate on Sunday. If the Jets’ defensive line can maximize its mismatch over the Giants’ offensive line by converting those pressures into a boatload of sacks, the Jets should have no problem holding the Giants below their season average of 12 points per game, giving Zach Wilson and the offense an extremely low bar to clear for the victory.

2. Hold Saquon Barkley to under 4 yards per carry

If you and I know the Jets’ pass rush has a major advantage over the Giants’ pass protection, then you can bet that Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka know it, too. The Giants will certainly do whatever they can to minimize the impact of the Jets pass rush.

Whatever the Giants choose to do to accomplish that goal, Saquon Barkley will undoubtedly be the focal point of the plan. Look for the Giants to try and avoid the Jets’ pass rush by pounding the ball on the ground with Barkley.

It’s been long proven that the Giants are a much better team when Barkley is on the field. This year alone, the Giants are 2-2 with 320.8 total yards per game when Barkley plays versus 0-3 with 222 total yards per game when he doesn’t.

Barkley is back out there, and despite his lackluster average of 3.9 yards per carry (23rd of 36 RBs with 50+ carries), he’s actually running fairly well. Barkley is averaging 0.5 RYOE (Rushing Yards Over Expected) per carry, which ranks 11th-best among 36 qualified running backs.

Despite Barkley’s solid performance, the Giants’ overall run-game production remains poor (31st in rush offense DVOA) because of the offensive line’s ineptitude. Even when Barkley exceeds expectations on his runs, he typically doesn’t generate much production because the expectations presented by the blocking are so low.

Barkley’s “expected YPC” – which is calculated on each play and estimates how many yards the average RB would be expected to gain with the same quality of blocking – is 3.4, the lowest average among 36 qualified running backs. Essentially, even if Barkley makes a man miss to gain some extra yardage, he isn’t going far because the offensive line is blocking so poorly.

Barkley has failed to exceed 4.3 yards per carry in any of his four games this season, and he was under the 4.0 mark in three of his four games. Against a Jets defense that neutralized Philadelphia’s elite rushing attack in its last outing, it’s difficult to envision Barkley having an outstanding day as a rusher behind the Giants’ makeshift offensive line.

The Jets should aim to keep Barkley under 4.0 yards per carry for the fourth time this season. If they can do that, they should give their pass rush plenty of opportunities to beat up on the Giants’ offensive line in obvious passing situations.

It’s essential for the Jets to maximize their advantage against the Giants’ run-blocking and ensure Barkley does not enjoy his breakout game on the ground. The lack of a quality run game is a big reason why the Giants’ pass protection has been exploited so easily. Their woes on the ground have constantly placed them in unfavorable down-and-distance situations, which has allowed opposing defenses to frequently tee off in the passing game on second or third-and-long.

But if the Giants can get Barkley going on the ground, the whole offense could finally open up. The Jets’ pass rush will have fewer opportunities to dominate the Giants’ offensive line, giving Taylor a better chance to succeed through the air.

Fortunately for the Jets, they match up very well against Barkley and the Giants’ run game. Barkley favors running to the inside, which is where the Jets are at their best against the run.

Barkley has run in between the tackles on 58.1% of his carries this season, which ranks 14th-highest out of 36 qualified running backs and is above the league average of 50.3% for running backs. He’s been solid on these carries, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. However, the Jets are allowing only 3.4 yards per carry to running backs on carries in between the tackles, ranking eighth-best.

This success is no surprise, as when teams try to run up the middle against the Jets, they find themselves running straight at Quinnen Williams. That’s rarely a good idea.

On carries outside of the tackles, Barkley is averaging only 2.7 yards per carry. This is great news for the Jets, as they have struggled against outside carries, ranking 26th with 4.9 yards per carry allowed.

The Giants’ inability to run outside is partially due to the fact that Darren Waller is not a good blocker for the tight end position. The Jets’ defensive backs and edge defenders should have no problem making plays against him.

The Jets are equipped to thwart Barkley’s preferred rush direction and Barkley is unequipped to exploit the Jets in the direction where they struggle to stop the run. It’s a very good matchup for the boys in green. The Jets’ primary interior run defenders – such as Quinnen Williams, Al Woods, C.J. Mosley, and Quincy Williams – must thoroughly dominate the Giants’ interior run blockers.

As a side note, the Jets also must be prepared to stop Barkley in the passing game. Barkley is the centerpiece of the Giants’ offense, so they are going to find ways to get him involved one way or another. Considering their porous run-blocking, the Giants will likely dial up some screen passes for Barkley to give him a better chance of making plays. This is also another great way to counter the Jets’ pass rush.

Barkley’s pass-catching has been an important difference-maker for the Giants this season. He already has two receiving touchdowns in four games, and in both of the games where Barkley caught a touchdown, the Giants ended up winning by one score. The Jets have to keep him out of the end zone in what figures to be a close, low-scoring game.

The Jets have had some issues defending running backs in the passing game. They are allowing the fourth-most receiving yards per game to running backs (53.0) and have given up two touchdown receptions to running backs, including one to D’Andre Swift last week. Look for the Giants to attack this weakness.

Still, if the Jets can keep Barkley quiet on the ground, their pass rush should be able to take over the game, keeping the Giants off the scoreboard even if Barkley picks up a few chunks through the air.

3. Rush for at least 150 yards

Thanks to their recent improvements, the Giants’ pass defense is actually quite respectable. They rank 15th in pass defense DVOA. However, the Giants are still 30th in rush defense DVOA.

As I broke down yesterday, this should be a bona fide Breece Hall game for the Jets. Against a blitz-heavy Giants defense that is improving against the pass and could certainly cause problems for the Jets’ depleted offensive line, the Jets need to have a huge day on the ground if they are going to succeed offensively – at least to whatever degree is necessary to outpace the Giants’ measly offense.

The Jets’ rushing style is ideal for exploiting the Giants defense because Nathaniel Hackett loves to utilize heavy personnel packages. The Jets have used either 12 personnel, 13 personnel, or 21 personnel on 36% of their offensive snaps, ranking 10th-highest. The Giants have been bullied by heavy personnel packages in the run game – they’re allowing 6.0 yards per carry when the opponent uses one of those three aforementioned personnel packages, which is the worst mark in the NFL.

Another reason the Giants defense is an enticing matchup for the Jets is their susceptibility to allowing breakaway runs. The Giants have allowed 12 rushes for 15+ yards (fourth-most) and a total of 311 yards on those plays (third-most). Breece Hall is the perfect running back to exploit that weakness. Hall is fourth among running backs with six rushes for 15+ yards and second with 259 yards on 15+ yard runs.

Exemplifying both of the weaknesses we just discussed, the Giants allowed a 76-yard touchdown to Miami’s De’Von Achane on a play where the Dolphins had a 21 personnel package on the field.

You can see how the defense’s reaction to the fullback’s pre-snap motion helps to open the running lane; look for the Jets to use Nick Bawden to create similar advantages against this Giants defense. In addition, watch the movement that tight end Durham Smythe generates on Giants edge defender Kayvon Thibodeaux to help open the hole used by Achane. The Jets’ tight ends will have a great chance to pave the road for Hall to make big plays.

Finally, at the third level of the defense, you can see how the secondary’s poor tackling (specifically Xavier McKinney) allowed Achane to turn a great play into an enormous one. Hall has been making DBs miss in this same fashion all season, so the Jets should be incredibly excited about what Hall could do if they can successfully use their heavy personnel packages to give him lanes into the open field.

In this particular game, the Jets offense shouldn’t have to do too much to win. That means it’s a great day to focus on using the run game to control possession and protect the football. Toss in the Giants’ weaknesses against heavy personnel packages and home-run-hitting backs, and this is a dreamlike matchup for Hall and the Jets’ run game.

If the Jets fully maximize their mismatch on the ground by running for at least 150 yards, it’s hard to envision the Jets offense not doing enough to outperform the Giants offense.

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Jets71
Jets71
7 months ago

More weather on Sunday. Rain. Not good, I don’t like this at all. We need our own stadium with a retractable roof, and those grass fields that grow underground. I’ve said it before, gone are the days where foul weather = football. The age of mud, snow, 3 yards and a could of dust are over. We now have fantasy stats, and prop bets. Nobody wants to see a sh**ty, 15-10 mess like we had vs. NE. That’s exactly what I expect tomorrow.

Jonathan Richter
7 months ago

Good analysis. Jets 20, Giants 0.

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