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NY Jets: Does this Sauce Gardner criticism really matter?

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Sauce Gardner, New York Jets, Getty Images

Sauce Gardner should not alter his playstyle to appease these critics

Coming off back-to-back first-team All-Pro appearances, Sauce Gardner is arguably the best cornerback in football. But there’s still one part of his game that is frequently criticized: his lack of interceptions.

Gardner had two interceptions in his 2022 rookie season, which was already a somewhat underwhelming total compared to other household-name corners. In 2023, Gardner failed to record a single interception.

Is this a true weakness in Gardner’s game that he should look to improve?

Yes and no.

To be specific, what Gardner should aim to do is convert a higher percentage of the interception opportunities that fall into his lap.

According to PFF’s tracking, Gardner had three dropped interceptions in 2023. Rivka Boord noticed a fourth dropped interception that was negated by a penalty. If Gardner simply caught half of these four (let’s assume the penalty-negated one would’ve counted), he would have matched his rookie-year total of two interceptions. So, improving his hands is definitely something that he should prioritize.

However, two interceptions is still an underwhelming number in the eyes of many casual fans. Unless Gardner were to catch all of his interception opportunities, he would likely have to jump from four interception opportunities to the 6-8 range if he wants to secure the 4-5 interceptions that are necessary to impress box-score watchers.

Does that mean Gardner should aim to create more interception opportunities?

That’s where I draw the line.

Gardner is already the most valuable cornerback in football even without takeaways being a part of the value he brings to the table. His coverage is so far ahead of his peers that the lack of interceptions doesn’t matter; he still helps his team win more than any other cornerback.

The last thing I want to see Gardner do is sacrifice what makes him special in search of more interceptions. Gardner is a patient and technically sound defender who does not take unnecessary gambles. It’s part of why he is so difficult to beat. If he were to start gambling more often in search of interceptions, he would risk compromising his air-tight coverage. It might lead to another couple of extra interceptions, but how many yards and touchdowns would he give back in exchange for those?

Many of the top interceptors at the cornerback position give back a lot of receiving production in exchange for their takeaways.

DaRon Bland led the NFL with nine interceptions last year, but he gave up 689 yards and three touchdowns, both more than Gardner has allowed in the last two years combined (612 yards, 2 TDs). The 2022 interception leader, Tariq Woolen, gave up 549 yards and five touchdowns.

Over the past two seasons, there have been 19 single-season performances of 4+ interceptions by a cornerback. On average, those 19 players allowed 3.3 touchdowns and 562.0 yards. Compare that to Gardner’s per-season averages: 1.0 touchdown and 306.0 yards.

To become a cornerback who is known for racking up massive interception totals, it is essentially a requirement to play with an uber-aggressive style. That is especially true in a modern NFL where quarterbacks are playing safer than ever.

The ball is coming out quicker and shorter every year, so league-wide interception rates are progressively decreasing. This is why all-time interception leaderboards are dominated by players from yesteryear and likely always will be. Back in the day, interception opportunities fell into cornerbacks’ arms on the regular because quarterbacks were playing with a bombs-away mentality. They don’t play that way anymore. So, to get a lot of picks as a cornerback, you have to gamble. It can work, but rarely without repercussions.

All Gardner needs to focus on is catching at least half of the interception chances that fall into his lap. If he can do that, he should get 2-3 interceptions per year with ease. And that’s perfectly fine alongside his lockdown coverage.

Gardner should not compromise his playstyle to seek out more interceptions. Let the chances come to you and capitalize on them. That’s it.

And in 2024, it’s likely that more interception chances will fall into his lap without him even trying. The Jets should be spending substantially more time in the lead than in previous years, causing opposing quarterbacks to take desperate chances far more often than they did against the Jets in previous years. There was rarely a need to take chances against a team with such an unintimidating offense. Now, there will be games where teams will have to chuck up bombs on every play in the fourth quarter to make up large deficits, naturally creating more interception chances for Sauce.

Just catch more of those chances. Plain and simple. Don’t change your game to appease the haters.

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mlesko73
mlesko73
4 days ago

well said

Jim G
7 days ago

I agree 100%. Being a lockdown CB is the most valuable asset. Sauce should not become a gambler to change that. But improving on the pure catch INTs would be great.

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