3TFO: Saints @ Jets, Week 9
Right before going into their bye-week, the New York Jets host the New Orleans Saints in a game that fits how the home team plays at his best. The underdog role suits the Rex Ryan team, as they proved in their wins against the Falcons and Patriots. At 6-1 the Saints are probably the best team the Jets have faced this season and they travel to New York after an impressive win against the Bills. Drew Brees is making the most of all his offensive weapons and Rob Ryan has made the defense competitive again.
According to the Jets’ trajectory, this game should be a win, but the Saints aren’t going to make it easy. Let’s take a look at three key matchups.
Drew Brees vs. Jets Cornerbacks
The Jets’ secondary was the most talked about topic after the unit got beaten up by Andy Dalton and the Bengals last Sunday. Brees comes to New York in what could be an even bigger disaster if the secondary repeat the same mistakes. Considering how much the Jets struggled against Dalton because of his quick release, 2.15 seconds, it’ll be interesting to see if the Saints accelerate things offensively as Brees is averaging 2.73 seconds per drop-back (ranks second in QB Rating (119.5) when Time in Pocket is under 2.5 seconds). Of course, that’s not the only thing to hurt the Jets secondary, Brees also ranks in the Top 10 in deep passing, with 14% of his throws traveling over 20 yards in the air. He has the fifth-most yards (525) and the most touchdowns (8) on deep passes.
Rookie Dee Milliner will start again despite being benched for the second time this season after surrendering 108 yards and one touchdown in 19 coverage snaps in Cincinnati. That was more than enough to receive his worst coverage grade of the year (-4.1) and make it to the ‘Had a Bad Day’ Team of the week. Milliner ranks 107th out of 108 cornerbacks and surprisingly there’s a Jets cornerback ranked lower and therefore the worst-graded cornerback in the league.
Of course that’s Antonio Cromartie. Last game was a great example of what his season has been so far. He was targeted four times allowing only one completion for 53 yards. What happened in the three incompletions? Cromartie defended one of them — Dalton underthrew A.J. Green allowing the cornerback to recover and break it up from behind — another was flagged for pass interference (fifth PI penalty of the season), and Green dropped the last one. This is the kind of performance a quarterback like Brees can take advantage of and destroy a defense. Milliner and Cromartie definitely need to step up his game this Sunday.
Battle in the Middle
As usual, the matchup between the Jets’ front three and the opposite interior offensive line needs to be highlighted because they have shown the ability to dominate games just by themselves. After a slow beginning of the season, Muhammad Wilkerson is finally playing like he did last season. In the past four weeks he has accumulated an overall grade of +15.7, 10 defensive stops, and 14 total pressures. The scariest thing is he isn’t the only Jets’ defensive linemen playing at that level. Damon Harrison (+21.7) practically coming out of nowhere is the second-highest ranked defensive tackle in the league, with the best grade in run defense. The leader in our Race for Rookie of the Year Sheldon Richardson ranks 5th (11.0%) in Run Stop Percentage among 3-4 defensive ends.
So the three Saints interior offensive linemen will have their hands-full all game long starting with Brian De La Puente who comes off his worst game of the season against the Bills. He graded at -2.0 in run blocking and -2.3 in pass blocking, both season-low numbers for him, and now he’ll be playing another dominant defensive line. In the left guard position, Ben Grubbs (+8.3) is the fifth-highest graded offensive guard in the league but, like his teammate, had a rough game against Buffalo allowing four pressures and grading out at -1.9 in run blocking. If these two can’t bounce back from that performance the battle in the trenches could get ugly for the Saints.
Geno Smith had his ups and downs in the first half of the season and while the positives have been good enough, the Jets might need to ask a little less of him to avoid the negatives. The question is if they can be successful at establishing the run game from now on because they weren’t in the previous weeks. As a team, their run blocking grade is the fourth-lowest in the league with none of their offensive linemen grading positive in this area — D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Willie Colon and Nick Mangold all ranked among the 10 worst blockers in their respective positions. That doesn’t help at all, but the running backs aren’t making a lot on their own either. Chris Ivory (-4.3) and Bilal Powell (-2.7) have forced 23 missed tackles combined but averages less than 2 yards after contact and both are among the worst-rated RBs in running grade.
One of the Saints’ goals defensively should be putting the game in Smith’s hands by shutting down the run. On the line, Akiem Hicks and Cameron Jordan are opposite in terms of stopping the run as Hicks ranks fourth in Run Stop Percentage among 3-4 defensive ends at 11.4 while Jordan is last at 3.6. Jordan’s grade is actually better than it looks (+4.5) but it’s mostly because of the first games of the season- in the last four his total grade against the run is -2.0 with only two defensive stops. In the linebackers group the biggest concern is Curtis Lofton and his 11 missed tackles. He has the most missed tackles and the third-worst Tackling Efficiency among inside linebackers. The Saints will be able to control the line of scrimmage in running plays and if they avoid mistakes in this task, they could be in position to win the game just by forcing the rookie quarterback to make his own mistakes.
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