- Leonard Fournette is going to be a tremendous X-factor in this game - but in which direction? The Jaguars are 4-1 without him, averaging 82 more yards of offense when he is in sweatpants compared to when he is wearing a helmet and shoulder pads.
However, that one loss was this past Sunday when the Jaguars only mustered 6 points on their own field in a loss to a Titans team hard-pressed for competent quarterback play.
Fournette was obviously drafted to be the centerpiece of this offense. They want him to allow them to take care of the ball, control possession, and take pressure off of Blake Bortles to allow the defense to win football games. After their most recent loss, they need him to do those things now more than ever.
Last season, Fournette struggled in his two games returning from injury, averaging 41.0 yards per game and 2.3 yards per carry. Is this something tangible that could continue, or simply a fluke?
Either way, the Jets’ front absolutely needs to shut down Fournette and this run game to have a chance. If they can do that, and force Blake Bortles to carry the load, they could have a shot.
The Jaguars are already down their starting left tackle in Cam Robinson and their starting center, Brandon Linder, should go but has been limited in practice this week. His loss or struggles through injury would be huge - the Jaguars are 7th in rush attempts up the middle this season and that’s without Fournette there for two games. Jacksonville led the league in rush attempts up the middle last season with 210, and touchdowns up the middle with 12, 4 more than any other team.
Darron Lee and Avery Williamson need to keep up what they did last week against Cleveland in the run game. After combining for 1 run stuff over the first two weeks, they had 4 apiece against the Browns, a tremendous output. Steve McLendon has also been very much on his game thus far, playing excellent football up front. Those three in partciular really need to bring it to hold down Fournette and this Jaguars run game in the A gaps and straight up the gut. Since last season, the Jaguars are 1-4 when rushing for less than 100 yards and 13-4 when hitting the century mark.
The Jets are 14th in rushing defense by yards per carry (3.9). That 3.9 average will have them much higher by the end of the season if they maintain it (due to early season inflation), but on the whole the Jets certainly are very much capable of being better than a middle-of-the-pack rush defense.
- Conversely, the Jets need to win the run game on offense, and fortunately run defense is the Achilles’ heel of this otherwise superb unit. The Jaguars allowed the 7th highest yards per carry average in 2017 and are middle of the road this season at 16th.
To beat them, you have to take it outside of the tackles. It’s a similar gameplan that I thought the Jets needed to beat the Lions defense. They ended up carrying it out, running the ball outside plenty and having a lot of success when they did.
The Jaguars are allowing 6.7 yards per attempt on rushes outside of the tackles this season, 29th in the league. Conversely, they were allowing only 2.7 yards per attempt otherwise, 4th best in the league. I really want to see the Jets integrate some tosses and use some stretch zone concepts to get the Jags defense moving lateral and give Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell the chances to utilize their elite big-play abilities. Let Eric Tomlinson and Jordan Leggett try to match their run blocking from Cleveland. Get Brandon Shell out in space.
Since last year, the Jaguars are 5-7 when allowing 100 rush yards or more and 9-1 when allowing less than 100.
The Jets are currently 25th in yards per rush at 3.7. The interior of this line must do a better job in the run game. This offense will be hard-pressed to produce without a running game for its rookie quarterback to lean on to attain high-leverage situations. There could barely be a tougher challenge than the one they are facing this week, but the Jets had an insane output running the ball on this same defense last year picking up 256 rushing yards, including two 60+ yard scores. Can they do it again?
- Turnovers are always extremely essential but it is even more crucial when you are facing a team that does not have the quarterback or offense to mitigate their own turnovers, and does have a defense that will very much force you to make mistakes and pay for them.
Since last season, the Jaguars are 4-6 when forcing 1 turnover or less, and 10-2 when they force 2 or more. This component of the game is crucial and very worrying. The Jets lead the league in turnovers with 8. The Jaguars are still playing elite defense as they rank in second in scoring defense with only 44 points allowed, but they have only 3 takeaways, including just one interception. They are way overdue for the takeaways to start flooding in. Could they ask for a better matchup than the league’s turnover leaders coming into their own house?
I really want to see the Jets commit to the ground game and play very safe in this game. If the Jets can avoid turning the ball over a single time, I think they could have a good shot. Obviously, it’s crucial to actually have success on the ground and not just be stubborn with a “ground and pound” approach just for the novelty of it. Of course the Jets need to adjust and change things up if it isn’t working - something that this staff really needs to prove it can do. However, I think the best shot the Jets have going in is to emphasize forcing Blake Bortles to beat them without giving him an ounce of help, while focusing on beating the Jaguars defense where it is weakest. If the Jets are successful on the ground, 1-on-1 opportunities should open up outside. The defense will respect the run and receivers will be open downfield, even against this ridiculously talented secondary. It happened against Cleveland. Sam Darnold was just extremely gun-shy. If you are patient enough with the run game, and of course, successful enough, deep opportunities will present themselves. It is then up to the quarterback to take advantage, which Darnold struggled to do against Cleveland.
On the other side, the Jets have a matchup they can win against this Jaguars offense. The Jets allowed a combined 37 points to the Lions and Dolphins offenses that have been much better than Jacksonville’s so far.
Will the Jets play it safe?
- Blake Bortles has a weird knack for bouncing back victoriously after a rough game. He threw for only 155 yards on 34 attempts against Tennessee, 4.5 yards per attempt.
Since 2015, Bortles has an 8-2 record in the game following an outing in which he threw for less than 5.0 yards per attempt. He was 4-0 in those games last year.
- Neal Sterling could be back this week. He’d give the Jets a legit receiving weapon at the position in the middle of the field and replace a struggling Chris Herndon. However, the Jags’ defense against tight ends has been one of their very most impressive achievements this year.
The Jaguars have allowed the second fewest receiving yards to tight ends this year (the Jets are the only team that has allowed fewer). That’s having faced both Evan Engram and Rob Gronkowksi. Gronk collected 15 receiving yards on 4 targets. Among his 88 career games with at least 4 targets, that was tied for the fewest receiving yards he had ever gotten with at least that many looks.
- I’m really pumped to have Marcus Maye back. Doug Middleton has just been a beat slow back there, and has allowed a ton of production in the middle of the field.
Having Maye back should not only provide a sizable upgrade in performance at the deep safety position, but also allow the Jets to feel more comfortable with Jamal Adams playing in the box. He thrives there. He makes a huge impact off the edge and defending the run. However, against Cleveland, the Jets tended to be exposed in the pass game when Adams wasn’t in coverage down the field. When he was in coverage, the Jets were getting overly exotic with their blitzes and were easily exposed as receivers found completely uncovered areas.
Maye’s return finally brings this entire defense together the way the team envisioned it before the season. Finally having some extra rest as a unit and now completely whole, I’m excited to see what they are capable of. With all of the timely mistakes they’ve made, all of the coaching errors, you name it - the Jets have the league’s #2 defense so far according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA. The seeds of something are there.
Can Todd Bowles allow them to grow?