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Michael Carter II sparked major change in NY Jets’ defense

Michael Carter II
Michael Carter II

The New York Jets’ defense reached new heights in 2023 due to one player’s improvement

The linchpin of the New York Jets is their defense. Even with Aaron Rodgers at the helm, the team’s core philosophy is to stop the opponent as much as possible. As Jermaine Johnson put it on NFL Network, “I mean, [the] goal every single game is to pitch a shutout… So regardless of what the offense was going through, we know as a unit on defense that we had a standard we had to uphold that we set for ourselves, and that’s zero points on the board.”

After a rough first year under Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich, the Jets’ defense broke out in 2022. They ranked fifth in defensive DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, an efficiency metric adjusted for opponent and game context) at -9.5%.

In 2023, though, the Jets’ defense was even better. Their DVOA rank rose to third at -14.2%. Given their historically terrible offensive output, the defensive aptitude was that much more remarkable.

One interesting change the Jets made with their defense in 2023 was a steep increase in man coverage usage. Per NFL Next Gen Stats, in 2022, they ranked 23rd in the NFL in man coverage rate (24.6%). In 2023, that rate rose to 33.3%, tied for the 10th-highest in the league.

Statistically, it’s easy to trace the origins of that change. The Jets’ defense was well below average in man coverage in 2022, while they were superior in 2023.

  • 2022: 99.0 targeted passer rating (22nd), 2.3% completion percentage over expected (26th), 7.1 yards per attempt (24th), 50.6% blitz rate (12th), 34.6% pressure rate (21st), 0.07 EPA per dropback (24th), 59% defensive success rate (14th), 16% explosive play rate (16+ yards, 27th)
  • 2023: 80.4 targeted passer rating (2nd), -3.9% CPOE (7th), 5.7 yards per attempt (T-4th), 39.3% blitz rate (30th), 49.8% pressure rate (1st), -0.19 EPA per dropback (5th), 65.2% defensive success rate (2nd), 10.4% explosive play rate (5th)

The Jets improved significantly in every single area of man coverage. Part of this can certainly be attributed to heavily increased pressure despite a significantly decreased blitz rate. Clearly, the Jets were playing man coverage not just on third down, which is when they normally blitz. This stat certainly shows how pressure impacts coverage statistics.

Still, from a player perspective, it’s interesting to explore which Jets defenders may have been the drivers of this improvement. From 2022 to 2023, the Jets’ main personnel changes in coverage were from Kwon Alexander to Jamien Sherwood at linebacker and from Lamarcus Joyner to Tony Adams at safety. Neither of those adjustments caused a significant change in man coverage statistics, though.

Therefore, the main force behind this improvement had to be a player with the Jets in both seasons.

D.J. Reed had a better season in man coverage in 2023 than 2022. He improved his EPA per target from 0.10 to -0.14 and his coverage success rate from 50% to 58.1%. Surprisingly, Quincy Williams was not any better in man coverage in 2023 than in 2022.

The biggest improvement in man coverage, though, came from nickel cornerback Michael Carter II. From Year 2 to Year 3, Carter II took a monumental leap. While Jets fans know that he is one of the most underrated players in the NFL, this jump in his man coverage production largely escaped the eye test.

  • 2022: 11-for-18 (61.1%), 200 yards, 1:0 TD:INT, 117.8 rating, 5.8% CPOE, 0.83 EPA per target, 50% tight window %, 44.4% coverage success rate, 2.0 yards per cover snap
  • 2023: 10-for-28 (35.7%), 86 yards, 1:0 TD:INT, 56.5 rating, -8.4% CPOE, -0.47 EPA per target, 60.7% tight window %, 75% coverage success rate, 0.7 yards per cover snap

Across the board, Carter’s numbers improved tremendously. This directly correlates with the Jets’ overall success in man coverage in 2023. As teams shied away from Sauce Gardner in man coverage, they turned toward targeting Carter, and he delivered.

This is yet another reason that the Jets should extend Carter this offseason. He is entering the final year of his deal and has shown clear ascension as a player. He is even more important to the Jets’ defense than initially meets the eye. In many ways, Carter is the best draft pick Joe Douglas has made.

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