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3 NY Jets games that could be more difficult than expected

NY Jets Schedule, Sam Darnold, Kyler Murray
Sam Darnold, Kyler Murray, New York Jets, Getty Images

These games will not be freebies for the New York Jets

With the New York Jets’ schedule release, most of the focus is on the difficulty of the opening game at San Francisco and the seven stand-alone games in the first 11 weeks. Lost in the shuffle is the fact that the Jets’ schedule could end up tougher than expected. Some of the teams on the schedule underachieved in 2023 and have a chance to rebound. Others feature new stars and a chance to improve significantly.

In 2023, the Jets’ tilt with the Eagles was easier than expected, while the Texans matchup was more difficult due to C.J. Stroud’s emergence as a rookie. Here are three games on the Jets’ schedule that could pose a bigger challenge than fans might think.

Arizona Cardinals

With a fully healthy Kyler Murray and the addition of Marvin Harrison Jr. in the draft, the Cardinals have a potentially elite quarterback-to-receiver connection. They still have tight end Trey McBride, who broke out to post 81 receptions for 825 yards in 2023. Wide receiver Michael Wilson also flashed in several games as a rookie before injuries derailed his season. The Jets also struggle at times against running quarterbacks.

Running back James Conner is one of the league’s most underrated backs, and he is joined by rookie Trey Benson, the second back off the board in the NFL draft. Conner was one of only five backs (min. 120 carries) to average at least 5.0 yards per carry in 2023. More importantly, he led the league in yards after contact per attempt (3.93). Given the Jets’ struggles with tackling, he could be a menace against them. Furthermore, Conner had the seventh-most rush attempts in gap concepts (115), which could hurt a Jets defense predicated on speedy penetration.

There isn’t much else on Arizona’s team to inspire fear, but don’t underestimate the power of Harrison Jr. to elevate the offense.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans’ success in 2024 largely hinges on Will Levis, who had an uneven rookie season. Levis completed just 58.4% of his passes, and though he had a high big-time throw rate (5.9%, 2nd out of 33 qualified QBs), his 4.5% turnover-worthy play rate was the third-worst. Levis spent most of his time chucking the ball downfield to DeAndre Hopkins. His 11.1 average depth of target was by far the highest in the league, almost two yards higher than the next-closest passer.

Still, with the additions of Calvin Ridley and Tyler Boyd, the Titans have the makings of a quality passing offense. First-round pick JC Latham is moving to left tackle and could anchor their line in both phases of the game, although rookie struggles are to be expected. Peter Skoronski struggled in his rookie season but has potential. Center Lloyd Cushenberry was a splash addition in free agency and is excellent in both phases of blocking. While the right side of the line still leaves much to be desired, the Titans’ pass-blocking should be better than in 2023 when Levis was pressured on 44.5% of his dropbacks.

Losing Derrick Henry is tough, but the tandem of Tony Pollard and Tyjae Spears could do a passable job replacing him. Pollard showed in 2023 that he is better as a complementary back than as a full-time starter. The Titans like Spears, who averaged 4.5 yards per carry to Henry’s 4.2 in 2023, posting 3.15 yards after contact per attempt (would have ranked 9th out of 41 qualifiers), and had a 109.8 elusiveness rating (would have ranked 3rd).

On the defensive side of the football, L’Jarius Sneed and Chidobe Owuzie completely remade the Titans’ cornerback room. T’Vondre Sweat may have been overdrafted but is an intriguing option next to Jeffery Simmons.

The Titans have holes, certainly, but they’re a far more talented group than the pathetic 6-11 showing they put up in 2023. The Jets should beware, particularly with the game in Tennessee on a short week.

Minnesota Vikings

With the game in London, both teams could be beset by jetlag. Still, the Jets should not underestimate the Vikings. Justin Jefferson shredded Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed in their 2022 matchup, although they were saved from ugly-looking numbers by a bad day from Kirk Cousins. The Jets are lucky that they may miss T.J. Hockenson, who tore his ACL on December 24 and has no timeline for his return. If Hockenson is there, he will be dangerous, having posted back-to-back 900+ yard seasons. Jordan Addison had a strong rookie season with 911 receiving yards and is a strong No. 2 threat opposite Jefferson. Aaron Jones is a two-way threat at running back.

Of course, the quarterback position makes a big difference, and it’s unknown whether the Jets will face Sam Darnold or J.J. McCarthy. Regardless of the passer, the Vikings have two excellent tackles (Christian Darrisaw and Brian O’Neill) and a lot of skill position talent. Either passer could step in and find Jefferson and Co. regularly.

Defensively, Jonathan Greenard and Dallas Turner could potentially form an excellent pass-rushing tandem from the edges. Defensive coordinator Brian Flores got a lot out of a talent-deficient group in 2023, and the talent has improved since then.

It’s easy to overlook Minnesota given their 7-10 finish in 2023, but they have good coaching and a receiver who can win a game on his own.

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