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How NY Jets offense can expose Chargers’ lowly pass defense

NY Jets, Chargers, Zach Wilson, Joey Bosa
Zach Wilson, Joey Bosa, New York Jets, Los Angeles Chargers, Getty Images, Jet X Graphic

The New York Jets passing attack won’t get many opportunities better than this

The 2023 Los Angeles Chargers are a tale of two units.

Offensively, the Chargers have been pretty darn good. Los Angeles is scoring the fifth-most points per drive (2.31) and ranks eighth-best in offensive DVOA. Fourth-year quarterback Justin Herbert is playing at a high level, currently ranked fifth-best in EPA (Expected Points Added) per dropback.

It’s Brandon Staley’s defense that is holding the Chargers back from reaching their potential. Los Angeles ranks 26th in points allowed per drive (2.24) and 27th in defensive DVOA.

But even the Chargers’ defense itself has a stark dichotomy. LA is doing a nice job of stopping the run, ranking 10th-best with 3.8 yards per attempt allowed. The defensive culprit is a horrendous pass defense that ranks 32nd with 7.2 net yards per pass attempt allowed.

Here are some of the Chargers’ ranks against the pass:

  • 32nd in net yards per pass attempt (7.2)
  • 32nd in passing yards per game (297.4)
  • 29th in EPA per dropback (0.10)
  • 28th in opposing passer rating (99.5)
  • 26th in pass defense DVOA (19.2%)

The New York Jets are about to face this struggling pass defense at home – not to mention, on a cross-country road trip.

It’s hardly going to get easier than this for Zach Wilson, Nathaniel Hackett, and the Jets offense. If they can’t successfully throw the football in this matchup, then is it ever going to happen?

New York’s passing attack simply has to break out in this game. Here are the keys to maximizing the favorable matchup against Los Angeles’ shoddy pass defense.

Move the football between the twenties by getting chunk gains against Asante Samuel Jr.

Third-year cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. is arguably the most exploitable target in the NFL right now. Over seven games, Samuel has allowed 534 yards on throws in his direction. His average of 76.3 yards allowed per game is the worst mark of any defensive player in the NFL.

Samuel does have five pass breakups and two interceptions against just one touchdown allowed, but that hardly matters when you’re allowing a 69.4% completion rate and 15.7 yards per completion on throws in your direction. Overall, Samuel is coughing up 10.9 yards per target, which means the average throw in his direction is enough to move the chains on first-and-10. Samuel also has three penalties.

It’s not even as if Samuel’s numbers are a product of facing tough opponents. He allowed 143 yards against a Chiefs team that might have the worst wide receiver unit in the NFL and 89 yards against a Titans team whose wide receiver unit also ranks near the bottom of the NFL. Last week, he allowed 94 yards on nine targets against the Bears’ undrafted rookie quarterback, Tyson Bagent.

The Jets need to attack No. 26 aggressively. But which types of throws should they challenge him on?

Samuel is most vulnerable on downfield throws. According to Next Gen Stats, when Samuel is the nearest defender on a throw that travels at least 10 yards downfield, he has allowed 13 completions on 22 targets (59%) for 360 yards (16.4 yards per attempt) with 18.1 total EPA. That’s the most yardage allowed on such throws of any defensive player in the NFL and the sixth-most EPA.

Teams have had success challenging Samuel on go routes, even with lackluster receivers. On this play, Samuel (bottom) gets cooked for 70 yards on a go route by Treylon Burks, who has 29 yards all season outside of this one play.

Here, Samuel (bottom) gets cooked on another go route by Darnell Mooney, coughing up 41 yards. Mooney gained more yards on this one play than he is averaging per game this season (28.1).

If Burks and Mooney can cook Samuel on a go route, then you can rest assured that Garrett Wilson can do it.

While he has been vulnerable on downfield throws, Samuel is shutting down short passes. On throws that traveled under 10 yards downfield, he has allowed 13-of-19 passing for 114 yards (6.0 yards per attempt), no touchdowns, and one interception with three pass breakups, ultimately yielding -4.7 total EPA. The Jets should primarily target Samuel on downfield throws instead of short throws.

Because of his susceptibility to massive chunks of yardage on downfield throws, Samuel is the man New York should focus on exploiting when aiming to move the ball between the twenties. But he has good ball skills and is a solid tackler underneath, which has helped him thwart short passes, amass pass breakups, and keep his touchdown total low. Thus, he isn’t the best player to target if you need a touchdown.

When trying to punch the ball into the end zone, the Jets should look toward the Chargers’ other cornerback.

Target Michael Davis to score touchdowns

While Samuel is the Chargers’ yardage magnet, Michael Davis is their touchdown magnet. Davis has allowed five touchdowns into his coverage this year, tied for the second-most of any defensive player in the NFL. He is also yet to record an interception.

The Jets have been abysmal at finishing drives with touchdowns. Davis might be the perfect opponent to help them address that problem. All of Davis’ allowed touchdowns came on passes that traveled under 20 yards downfield (three from 0-9 yards, two from 10-19 yards). This makes him an ideal player to target in the red zone.

Here, the Chiefs do a good job of creating conflict for Davis (bottom, No. 43). Davis gets caught biting down on the flat and leaves Rashee Rice free in the back end zone.

On this play, Davis (top) gets beat on a slant by Nick Westbrook-Ikhine for a four-yard touchdown.

Davis’ lack of interceptions adds to the appeal of targeting him in the red zone. Not only does he have zero interceptions this year, but he only had one in each of the past two seasons, giving him two over his past 38 games (0.9 per 17 games). His inability to take the ball away means there is a low risk factor associated with targeting him. You can force the ball in his direction and feel comfortable that if it doesn’t work out, he probably won’t make you pay with a takeaway that costs you points.

This is contrary to Samuel, who has six interceptions in 36 career games. That gives him 2.8 interceptions per 17 games, which means he is about three times more likely than Davis to snag an interception. You can accept that risk between the twenties as the price of doing business to exploit his enormous yardage susceptibility, but when you reach the red zone and you have points in your back pocket, you’d prefer to keep the turnover risk as low as possible.

Trust the offensive line to hold up. Favor sending the RBs and TEs out on routes instead of keeping them in to block

Yes, I know this sounds insane considering the current state of the Jets’ offensive line. But if the Jets want to fully exploit the Chargers defense, they need to gamble that their offensive line can hold up against a struggling Chargers pass rush so they can send out as many receiving options as they can.

If the Jets overcommit to keeping their tight ends and running backs in to help as pass blockers, they will make life much easier for the Chargers’ poor secondary, negating their weaknesses in that area. The more players you keep in to block, the fewer players you have running routes, giving a greater advantage to the secondary. The Jets need to apply maximum stress on the secondary by sending out as many receivers as possible.

Despite having the name-brand duo of Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa, Los Angeles’ pass rush has not performed well this season. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the Chargers are 25th in pressure rate at 33%. This is largely due to a struggling four-man rush. The Chargers blitz on 27.6% of pass plays, slightly below the league average of 29.6%, so they rely on their four-man rush to win most of the time. However, their pressure rate with a four-man rush is just 29.4%, ranking 26th.

Mack and Bosa are not playing up to their usual standards. Bosa’s pressure rate this season is 11.8%, a career-low and only slightly above the positional average of 11.3%. Mack has also been mediocre outside of one game against the Raiders where he exploded for six sacks. Outside of that game, Mack’s pressure rate is 10.8%.

Beyond Mack and Bosa, the Chargers don’t have anyone to write home about in terms of pass rushing. With the star duo playing underwhelming football, this simply isn’t a fearsome pass rush. Because of this, the Jets should come out in the first quarter with the intention of testing the waters to see if the offensive line can win against this unit.

If things don’t work out, the Jets can adjust as the game goes along. They don’t have to stick with the same game plan for four quarters.

But to start, I think the Jets would be making a mistake if they didn’t challenge this Chargers pass rush. Yes, the Jets’ pass protection has been poor, but so has the Chargers’ pass rush. Don’t bow down to them without making them prove themselves first. Drop back, give Zach Wilson multiple reads to scan through, and send out your running backs and tight ends to maximize the stress you’re placing on Los Angeles’ dismal secondary.

Here is what the Chargers have allowed when using a four-man rush this season:

  • Stat line: 129/185 for 1,663 yards, 6 TD, 2 INT, 30.9 total EPA
  • 9.0 yards per attempt (32nd)
  • 104.0 passer rating (30th)
  • 0.15 EPA per dropback (30th)
  • 1.1% interception rate (31st)
  • 30.8% wide-open target rate (31st) – Classified as 5+ yards of separation between target and nearest defender when pass arrives

To exploit this, the Jets’ offensive line has to win in pass protection without too much help. If the Jets have to keep two skill-position players in to help block, they simply don’t have the route-running talent to win with three receiving options against seven players in coverage.

But if the Jets can consistently go four-on-seven or five-on-seven, they can pick this secondary apart. As shown by their 30.8% wide-open target rate with a four-man rush, they will leave people open, and the Jets can maximize the odds of Los Angeles leaving receivers uncovered by sending more targets downfield.

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7 months ago

Jets71 is right when he points out that all of the weaknesses pointed out here are meaningless if we can’t keep Zach upright and protected. Everyone talks about Bosa, but Morgan Fox is also a threat (5 sacks).
These stats are also meaningless if Hackett can’t find a way to exploit them. I fear that we have another OC who fears using the middle of the field (between the hashes). The majority of routes/throws in his system are outside the numbers. These are longer more difficult throws. If you recall, this site questioned LaF’s use of E Moore given his skill set. All the throws to Conklin last week were”outs”. We’ve seen film on this site where Conklin makes LB’s look silly with square-ins. Slants, drags, curls and pick plays etc seem to not be in Hackett’s system.

7 months ago
Reply to  mlesko73

I wonder if some of the play design is because Zach’s vision gets a bit cloudy looking over the middle? He’s not all that tall, and I have often wondered if he has trouble seeing guys…just a thought. I agree, I’d like to see more from Hackett trying to get some guys going. That being said, other than Garrett, the WR’s have been a bit underwhelming creating space this season.

7 months ago

This would all make sense if the Jets’ OL wasn’t in complete disarray. A terrific breakdown but in the end if a team can’t block it doesn’t matter. The best we can hope for on the OL this week is: Brown, Tomlinson, Tippmann, Turner, Becton? It will be their first game playing together, and Brown has been nothing short of atrocious. And, in my opinion, that’s the best case scenario. I don’t think that will be the starting OL. I’m not sure Tippmann can go, and …Tomlinson showed up on the injury report yesterday with a hammy.

The number of OL injuries for the Jets over the past what…6/7 seasons is absurd. Yes, I know teams have injuries but the numbers are the numbers the Jets’ injury rates are near the top of the league. I’m not a fan of automatically blaming the turf. Cousins, Dobbins both tore Achilles on grass, Bourne tore an ACL on grass last week, Breece tore his knee on grass. I’m sure the surface comes into play on all injuries but if that was a grass field last week it would have been a mud fest, and I’m not sure that’s any safer than turf. Ask RGIII, who lost a career on mud.

Anyway…I hope the passing game gets going but in my mind it’s not as simple as, the Charger pass D is bad. The if the OL can’t block, that includes the run game as well as pass pro, it won’t matter.