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The formula for NY Jets to contain Chargers’ most dangerous duo

Quincy Williams, NY Jets, LB
Quincy Williams, New York Jets, Getty Images

The Chargers’ two main offensive players will be the focus of the New York Jets defense

When the New York Jets take on the Los Angeles Chargers at MetLife Stadium, the biggest battle will be the Chargers’ offense against the Jets’ defense. A top quarterback in Justin Herbert takes on an aggressive, quarterback-hunting unit, which means that this primetime game, at least, should draw eyeballs (unlike Week 10’s tilt with the Raiders).

Worrying about the Jets’ offense is a weekly occurrence, but they actually have a chance to do some damage this week. The question is if they can do more of it than Herbert and Austin Ekeler. Although Keenan Allen is also a top playmaker for the Chargers, for the Jets, the game will be more about Herbert and Ekeler than Allen specifically.

How can the Jets contain this dynamic duo?

Key on Ekeler

Ekeler needs to be the main focus of the defense. Although the running back hasn’t really gotten it going on the ground in the three games since his return from injury, he posted seven receptions for 95 yards in Week 8 against the Bears.

Defending running backs out of the backfield is one of the general weaknesses of this Jets defense. Although they rank 19th in DVOA against running backs after holding Saquon Barkley to three catches for zero yards last week, it’s a bigger weakness than that. They’re allowing 46.7 receiving yards per game to backs, the sixth-worst mark in the NFL — and again, it was worse before the skewed effort against the Giants that padded the Jets’ defensive stats.

Quincy Williams needs to be that heat-seeking missile against Ekeler in the passing game. The Jets need to keep their eye on a screen rather than aggressively crashing the quarterback, especially on earlier downs or in short-to-intermediate third-down situations.

Ground threat?

With Al Woods out, there is also a significant threat of Ekeler breaking a long run. Barkley broke a 30+ yarder even though the Jets knew a run was coming. That puts the tackling onus on the Jets’ linebackers and cornerbacks since the safeties have both been very poor tacklers this season. Both have been directly responsible for many of the Jets’ worst defensive plays in the run game this season.

Still, the thing about Ekeler is that even in 2022, it wasn’t like he had a “great” season on the ground. His 4.5 yards per carry ranked 17th out of 42 qualified backs, and most of his 13 rushing touchdowns came from short range. He also had five fumbles, the second-most among running backs. His yards after contact per attempt were pedestrian (2.99, 20th).

To add insult to injury, the Chargers’ run-blocking leaves much to be desired. Per Pro Football Focus, their run-blocking as a team is the worst in football, garnering a cumulative 45.7 grade.

There’s a distinct possibility that Ekeler’s real threat to the Jets is through the air rather than on the ground. Of course, they can’t necessarily count on it, but that’s where their focus should lie outside the red zone.

Targeted pass-rushing alignment

Left tackle Rashawn Slater is the better of the Chargers’ two tackles overall. His 33-inch arms rank in the 28th percentile among tackles, but he possesses elite athleticism, posting a 9.71 Relative Athletic Score. That includes a bench press in the 91st percentile. This season, he’s been about average as a pass-blocker, allowing a 5.1% pressure rate compared to the 5.5% tackle average.

Right tackle Trey Pipkins is a fairly good athlete with an 8.86 RAS. The one area where he scored very poorly, though, was his bench press, where he scored in the third percentile among tackles. Pipkins has a 5.8% pressure rate allowed, which is somewhat worse than average.

Bryce Huff is clearly the Jets’ best edge rusher right now. Jermaine Johnson is seeing the most snaps of any edge defender on the Jets. John Franklin-Myers plays almost exclusively on the left side of the defensive formation when he’s on the edge, but the Jets have moved around both Huff and Johnson a decent amount, though Johnson is playing a lot more on the right side than the left.

In this game, lining up Johnson against Pipkins gives him a good chance to succeed. With Pipkins’ lack of strength, he may be more susceptible to a bull rush, which is what has worked the best for Johnson thus far. (Incidentally, it’s probably a solid matchup for the oversized Franklin-Myers, as well.)

Meanwhile, Huff is a great edge rusher who has beaten tackles better than Slater. It’s a good matchup for him, though. Despite Slater’s athleticism, Huff can use his speed to prevent Slater from getting his hands on.

Other matchup advantages

The Chargers’ worst pass-blocking offensive lineman is center Will Clapp, who was forced into action when Corey Linsley went on injured reserve with a heart issue. Clapp’s 4.7% pressure rate is significantly worse than the 3.1% average for centers.

In theory, that would mean trying to get Quinnen Williams lined up over him. The problem is that teams have been routinely double- and triple-teaming Williams, not allowing him to take full advantage of those matchups. Additionally, the Chargers’ guards are stronger pass-blockers, as both have a 4.1% pressure rate that is better than the 4.4% guard average.

Therefore, the best way to pressure the Chargers is likely by using T/E stunts (tackle penetrating, end looping inside). The Jets tend to run stunts and games fairly often. With a below-average center, getting through the middle should be a priority for the Jets.

Bait Herbert into throwing deep

Justin Herbert has the sixth-highest rate of deep pass attempts among quarterbacks (13.9%). You’d think he’s trying it because he’s good at it, but he hasn’t seen much success on those throws. Herbert is just 13-for-35 on passes of 20+ yards with a 37.1% adjusted completion percentage (25th), one touchdown, two interceptions, and a 9.3% turnover-worthy play rate (24th).

One reason for this is likely the loss of Mike Williams, his big contested catch and deep threat. Keenan Allen is having an excellent season, ranking eighth among receivers in receptions and yards and 11th in touchdowns. Still, his 10.6 average depth of target ranks 43rd out of 68 qualified receivers, indicating that he’s far more of an underneath threat than a go-long one.

Furthermore, Josh Palmer, Williams’ replacement as the Chargers’ No. 2, is dealing with a knee injury and has not practiced this week thus far. Even if he does play, the injury hampered him during the Week 8 game after he was questionable to play all week. If Palmer doesn’t play or is limited, that leaves athletic but raw first-round pick Quentin Johnston to line up against D.J. Reed.

The Jets should be aggressive in coverage and try to bait Herbert into throwing more deep balls since that’s where their best coverage usually is, and that’s also where Herbert has struggled. In particular, Sauce Gardner‘s make-up speed is perfect for this kind of role.

Make him pay

Herbert is tied for the sixth-lowest interception rate among quarterbacks at 1.6% — but he ranks 20th with a 3.2% turnover-worthy play rate, suggesting he’s getting away with some high-risk throws. The Jets are tied for sixth in the NFL with eight interceptions. Their defenders need to find their hands in this game.

Despite a high number of interceptions, the Jets have actually left quite a bit of meat on the bone in that area. They also have six dropped interceptions on the season, tied for the third-most in the NFL. That gives them an interception conversion rate of 57.1%, which ranks 25th among defenses.

Whether the quarterback throws a turnover-worthy ball is not always within the defense’s control. They can do their best to harass him, hit his arm while throwing, and disguise coverages to bait him into mistakes, but a good quarterback can still manage to avoid turnovers. The thing is that Herbert is putting the ball in harm’s way at a much higher rate than in the past. If he does so in this game, the Jets must cash in.

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