It’s fascinating how much a single win can change the vibe of an entire team and its fanbase. Coming out of Oakland, the Jets were a winless mess that had done nothing to cast aside the notion they were one of the few worst teams in the league. Fast forward one week, and all feels well among the Jet faithful. Young players are thriving. The coaches are rebounding. The team is undefeated at home. The Dolphins lost.
Enter the 2-1 Jacksonville Jaguars. Crazy as it is to say, this will be a strong test to see where the Jets are. Are they back on the tank track? Or is this team a little bit better than anybody thought?
Jaguars Offseason Changes and Notes
The Jags promoted interim head coach Doug Marrone for 2017. He interviewed with the Jets a couple years ago and was a favorite choice of some fans after going 9-7 with Buffalo in 2014. They also made quite a few splashy additions. In free agency, they acquired two defensive stars, DE Calais Campbell and CB A.J. Bouye, as well as S Barry Church. Fourth overall selection Leonard Fournette, the workhorse at running back, will take on his former teammate at LSU and fellow top-six pick, Jamal Adams.
For the Jets, Jordan Leggett’s debut will be postponed yet again, while Matt Forte will miss his first game. That will leave plenty of extra opportunities for Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire. Brandon Shell and Josh Martin are doubtful. It’s a rough step back for Shell, who after two strong starts to begin the year will now follow up a poor performance by sitting out. Brent Qvale will likely start in his place. Martin has had an impressive start to the year on the edge. His absence could mean even more time for newcomer David Bass.
Jacksonville is looking healthy coming in. The only players listed as out are WR Jaelen Strong and LB Lerentee McCray.
12.6 - Jacksonville’s average scoring margin through three weeks, tops in the NFL. The Jags sandwiched a blowout home loss to the Titans in between two very impressive beatdowns of the Texans and Ravens, both on the “road” (Ravens game was in London, a technical home game.) That is a strong group to put up that high of a point differential against. How sustainable is it?
8-7 - Blake Bortles’ career record when he doesn’t throw an interception. That includes a 2-0 mark this season already. When he’s thrown at least one pick, Bortles is 5-29. Also worth noting; when Bortles throws 31 passes or fewer, he’s 7-4.
Jets Offensive Plan
This young Jaguars defense is strong and littered with playmakers across the field. They’re probably the best unit the Jets have faced thus far. After failing to go over 20 against any of their other three opponents, it’s clear that points will again be tough to come by. Josh McCown needs to continue to be as mistake-free as possible, even if that means giving Lachlan Edwards a rigorous leg day. This isn’t an opponent where you must take great risks to have a shot at winning. The Jaguars quarterback is still Blake Bortles, who has a worse career winning percentage than McCown does. Keep the ball out of the defense’s hands. That’s the main priority. Against this front, especially with Brandon Shell out, the Jets figure to continue to get the ball out quick, perhaps even quicker.
With that in mind, it’s going to be on the skill players to make noise with the ball. We know the Jets get the ball out quick and short, rarely attacking downfield. The Jaguars linebackers are known to struggle in coverage. Elijah McGuire and Bilal Powell will probably see a lot of targets with Matt Forte out, while Austin Seferian-Jenkins was a featured part of the passing game in his return. These guys need to make some defenders miss to give the Jets their best chance of moving the ball, barring a major upset by the offensive line or receivers against the talent Jacksonville has in those areas.
Jets Defensive Plan
Which Jet D shows up? The sloppy fundamental mess seen in Orchard Park and Oakland? Or the stout, disciplined, hard-hitting bunch the home crowd saw?
The Jets linebackers, specifically Demario Davis, need to keep up the smart football they showed against Miami. Nobody has run the ball more times per game than Jacksonville. They lean on Fournette (19 carries per game) and Chris Ivory (7 carries per game), two power-oriented backs. According to Pro-Football-Reference, 61% of Jacksonville’s rushing attempts have been directed at left guard, middle, or right guard, well above the current league average of 48%. Over 70% of Fournette’s attempts have come in this direction.
Throughout the first two games, the entire Jets defense was destroyed by the poor gap filling abilities of Lee and Davis. Those woes disappeared last week, and you saw the talent across the defense flash as a result. This is now an opponent as reliant on the run game as any team in the NFL, featuring two productive downhill backs and an erratic quarterback. If the Jets can take the run game away and make Blake Bortles try to figure out Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye, and some of the creative fronts Todd Bowles has thrown out, then Gang Green will have a great shot at another home victory.
Offense - Austin Seferian-Jenkins
ASJ just became the first NYJ tight end to grab 5 receptions in a game since Jace Amaro in 2014. He was featured often in his debut, and despite rumblings that he was “out of shape” looked really fluid and fresh. His athleticism and skill at the position is obvious.
The Jaguars have struggled covering tight ends. So far this season, opposing #1 tight ends facing the Jaguars defense have caught 11 of 11 passes for 119 yards and a touchdown, a 142.0 quarterback rating. This is a team whose linebackers have been known to struggle covering tight ends for a long time. With the Jets again figuring to play it safe against a strong pass rush and secondary, Seferian-Jenkins could see a lot of footballs flying at his body. Will he catch a high percentage of those balls, and what will he produce once he does? That will be a huge question for the Jets offense.
Defense - Demario Davis and Darron Lee
I listed the ILBs as the X-Factors last week, and they (specifically Davis) delivered as the Jets dominated.
I’m naming them the X-Factors yet again. Seeing how much of a difference their play makes on the team performance and how reliant the Jaguars are on the run game, it wouldn’t be right to call anybody else the X-Factor. If the Jacksonville run game is shut down, the ball goes into the hands of a quarterback who hasn’t proven he can carry a team to a win with a heavy workload. That is the goal, and achieving it relies most heavily on Lee and Davis.
The Jets are rocking white facemasks this week, like the ones they donned in their Week 2 game at Buffalo last year:
Lots of fans would like to see these full time. I’m torn on it. I think it’s a fresh, clean look. But the Jets only have one unique color besides white, their signature green. I’d like to see it stand out. Plus, the Jets would be joining a not-so-favored rival as one of three members of the white facemask club. The Dolphins. What do you think?