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3 primary goals NY Jets defense must hit to silence Justin Herbert

Justin Herbert, Sauce Gardner, NY Jets, Chargers, MNF
Justin Herbert, Sauce Gardner, New York Jets, Los Angeles Chargers, Getty Images, Jet X Graphic

The New York Jets will aim to make Justin Herbert the next elite quarterback to falter at MetLife Stadium

The pungent stink of the swampy Meadowlands has swallowed every elite quarterback who has dared step foot within its boundaries to take on the vaunted New York Jets defense.

New York has already hosted three of the NFL’s current top 10 quarterbacks in passing yards per game: Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, and Jalen Hurts. Here is how their numbers at MetLife Stadium compare to their numbers in all other games:

  • 3 games @ Jets: 3 TD, 8 INT, 239.7 YPG, 6.2 Y/A, 61.7 passer rating, 2.7 sacks per game, 17.7 points per game
  • 24 other games: 47 TD, 17 INT, 300.5 YPG, 8.5 Y/A, 102.7 passer rating 1.6 sacks per game, 27.0 points per game

Allen (62.7) and Hurts (59.5) each posted a passer rating against the Jets that still stands as their worst of the season. Mahomes (63.6) had a passer rating that stands as his second-worst.

Currently ranked seventh-best with 270 passing yards per game and sixth-best with a 101.1 passer rating, Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert is the next top 10 passer to walk into the Jets’ temple of doom.

Can the Jets force Herbert into the same fate as his elite peers?

To pull it off, the Jets defense must focus on achieving these three goals.

Completely eliminate the deep game

Herbert loves to chuck up deep bombs. He’s thrown 35 deep passes (20+ yards downfield) in seven games, an average of 5.0 per game that ranks second-highest behind only Derek Carr (5.9). Overall, 13.9% of Herbert’s pass attempts are deep passes, the sixth-highest rate among qualifiers.

Herbert’s affinity for deep passes plays right into the hands of the Jets, who have defended deep passes better than anybody.

When throwing the football at least 20 yards downfield against the Jets, opposing quarterbacks have completed 3-of-20 passes for 83 yards, no touchdowns, and four interceptions. The Jets have allowed the fewest completions, lowest completion percentage (15.0%), and lowest passer rating (4.8) on deep passes.

Herbert’s success on deep passes has been a vital factor in determining his success this season. Across his four best games of the season in terms of passer rating, Herbert completed 9-of-20 deep passes for 270 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions. That’s 2.5 completions per game on a 45% completion rate. Across his three worst games, Herbert completed 4-of-15 deep passes for 162 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions, which is only 1.3 completions per game on a 27% completion rate.

Considering the Jets are allowing 0.4 deep completions per game this season, it’s completely realistic to aim for allowing no more than one deep completion tonight. It’s not even out of the question for them to believe they can pitch a shutout and hold Herbert to zero deep completions.

New York must prevent Herbert from using his rocket arm to take the top off the defense. If the Jets can force Los Angeles into consistently trying to string together long, methodical drives, they should be able to hold the Chargers in check due to their shoddy run game.

The Chargers rank 22nd with 3.9 yards per rush attempt and 28th with a 35.3% rushing success rate (percentage of runs generating positive EPA). With such an inconsistent run game, marching down the field will be difficult against this Jets defense. Lackluster rushing production could force Los Angeles into plenty of third-and-long situations, which is where the Jets’ electric pass rush is at its most dangerous.

Los Angeles is averaging only 3 minutes and 34 seconds per drive on touchdown drives that started inside of their own 30-yard line, which ranks fifth-fastest in the NFL on drives of that nature. This proves they are the type of offense that leans on its ability to generate big plays through the air to move the football.

Make the Chargers walk all the way down the field and don’t let them flip the game in one or two plays. That’s the primary goal. Pull it off and the Jets should be able to force plenty of punts and field goal attempts.

Quiet the tight ends in the red zone

The Chargers seldom use their tight ends to move the ball between the twenties. Their tight end unit has combined for 34 receptions and 282 receiving yards (4.9 receptions for 40.3 yards per game).

However, Herbert has relied heavily on his big-bodied targets near the goal line. Six of Herbert’s 13 touchdown passes were caught by a tight end – four by Donald Parham and two by Gerald Everett. All six of those came in the red zone.

The Jets have had some trouble with keeping tight ends out of the end zone, tying for the NFL lead with five touchdowns allowed to tight ends. Since they’ve played the fewest games in the league, they are allowing the most touchdowns per game to tight ends (0.7).

Outside of tight ends, the Jets have done an incredible job of protecting the end zone through the air. The Jets have allowed only three touchdown receptions outside of the tight end position, tied with Houston for the fewest in the NFL. That includes an NFL-best of just one touchdown allowed to the wide receiver position.

If the Jets focus on dialing up concepts that are designed to thwart any potential red-zone throws to the tight ends, they should be able to keep the Chargers out of the end zone. They have the pure talent at cornerback and linebacker to match up with the Chargers’ wide receivers and running backs. The key is to prevent OC Kellen Moore from scheming the tight ends open.

Use an extremely low blitz rate against Justin Herbert

The Jets are not a heavy blitzing team, ranking 30th with a 19.6% blitz rate this season, per NFL Next Gen Stats. Their light-blitzing approach makes them a great matchup against Herbert, who is one of the NFL’s best at shredding the blitz. This means Jeff Ulbrich should feel comfortable about sticking with his usual mentality in this area.

When facing at least five rushers this season, Herbert has completed 69-of-96 passes (71.9%) for 802 yards (8.4 yards per attempt), 10 touchdowns, and two interceptions. Among 33 qualified quarterbacks, Herbert ranks second in passer rating (122.8) and fifth in EPA per dropback (0.14) when facing at least five rushers.

Herbert has not been as effective against four rushers or fewer, completing 104-of-156 passes (66.7%) for 1,088 yards (7.0 per attempt), three touchdowns, and two interceptions. He ranks 18th in passer rating (87.8) against four rushers or fewer, although his 0.10 EPA per dropback still ranks sixth-best.

In fact, Herbert actually gets sacked more frequently when he isn’t blitzed. Herbert has been sacked on 5.7% of his dropbacks when facing fewer than five rushers compared to 4.8% when facing at least five rushers. He is one of only eight qualified quarterbacks with a higher sack rate when not blitzed than when blitzed.

Considering Herbert’s stark splits, the Jets should consider utilizing a blitz rate that is even lower than their season average of 19.6%. They’ve done this with success multiple times this year, especially against top quarterbacks. New York blitzed Patrick Mahomes on 17.1% of his dropbacks and went even lower with a 16% blitz rate against Jalen Hurts.

Ulbrich would be wise to rely strictly on his four-man rush and only pull out blitz packages in extremely rare cases. This is already his philosophy with blitzing, but he should take it to another level tonight, just like he did against Mahomes and Hurts.

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8 months ago

My concern is Ekeler. Those screens, dump off passes, wheel routes are all things that present problems for this defense. Delayed handoffs, such as draws etc are also something that I worry about. Yes, getting Herbert in 3rd and long encouraging him to take deeps shots is what we want but if they don’t do a good job on 1st down, those check downs and Allen in the short game will eat them up.