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Jets-Jaguars Preview: Key Matchups to Watch

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NFL: Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Jaguars WR DJ Chark vs. Jets secondary

Chark has had a breakout second season for Jacksonville. He entered Week 8 fourth in receiving yards (581) and tied for third in receiving touchdowns (5).

The LSU product has been one of the league’s premiere big play threats. Chark came into the week placed just 40th in receptions per game (4.7), but sixth in receiving yards per game (83.0). That’s because Chark has averaged an absurdly good 12.1 yards per target. Chark, Amari Cooper, Stefon Diggs, and Chris Godwin are the only wide receivers who have over 500 receiving yards and are averaging at least 12.0 yards per target.

What is most impressive about Chark’s start to the season is the way he has been combining explosiveness and consistency. He ranks eighth in yards per reception, with an extremely impressive mark of 17.6, but also has a strong catch rate of 68.8%. If he kept up his current pace over the rest of the season, Chark would become just the second player to post over 1,000 receiving yards and 10 receiving touchdowns while averaging over 17.0 yards per reception and posting a catch rate over 65.0% (since targets were first tracked in 1992). Jordy Nelson did that for the Packers in 2011.

Chark has 12 receptions of 20+ yards this season, tied for third-most in the league. That does not bode well for a Jets defense that has allowed 4.2 receptions of 20+ yards per game, which ranks sixth-worst (25 such receptions in total).

If Trumaine Johnson covers Chark, the Jets defense is probably going to have a bad time. However, I can see Nate Hairston handling Chark well.

Hairston was impressive earlier in the season against the Browns and Patriots. His fluid hips in coverage stood out, a tool that is necessary for a corner to stop deep routes. Chark has averaged 12.2 air yards per reception, which ranks 11th among wide receivers. His total of 403 air yards ranks seventh in the league. Having a cornerback with the athleticism to run stride-for-stride down the field is necessary to stop a player like him. Johnson cannot do that. Hairston just might be able to.

Hopefully the Jets come to their senses and bench Johnson in favor of Hairston (so long as he’s healthy).

Jaguars pass rush trio vs. Jets offensive line

The Jaguars have one of the beastliest front seven trios in football, and Calais Campbell leads the charge. He has racked up 36 pressures, tied for eighth-most in the league.

Campbell has done damage from every spot on the line over the course of his career. He’ll beat the center’s reach block to make a five-yard stuff, rip underneath the guard for an immediate sack, or dominate the tight end to blow up a run play.

Teams need to have Campbell accounted for in the run game as well. Since 2018, he has collected 34 tackles in the run game for no gain or a loss, tied with Luke Kuechly for the most in the league. Sam Darnold and Le’Veon Bell may be having nightmares thinking about Ryan Kalil trying to block Campbell.

Josh Allen has had a solid start to his career. His total of 23 pressures is tied for 24th among edge defenders and 32nd among all defenders.

Yannick Ngakoue is overdue for a breakout game. From 2017 to 2018, Ngakoue ranked second in quarterback hits (56) and was tied for 11th in sacks (21.5). Through six games in 2019, Ngakoue has only two sacks and four quarterback hits. In the pressure department, he is averaging just 3.0 per game after putting up 4.6 a contest over his previous two seasons.

Ngakoue has dominated the Jets in the past. He has three sacks and a total of 14 pressures over his two games against them in 2018 and 2017, picking up seven pressures in each game. Brandon Shell in particular had a tough time with Ngakoue when the Jets headed out to Jacksonville last year.

Jaguars run defense vs. Le’Veon Bell

The Jaguars have missed 8.6 tackles per game (60 total), third-worst in the league. This has hampered their run defense, which ranks 25th in yards per attempt (4.8) and 27th in DVOA.

Le’Veon Bell has gotten zero help from his offensive line this year. The chart below showcases yardage before contact numbers for each of the top 20 running backs in carries heading into Week 8. The final two columns show each player’s average yards before contact per attempt and the percentage of their rushing yards that have come before contact.

8.3 inches before contact is... pretty bad. That’s about the width of a standard sheet of notebook paper.

Fortunately for Bell, it appears he will be going head-on with one of football’s worst tackling defenses. He could have a good opportunity to break quite a few tackles and get things going for the Jets offense entirely on his own.

Rookie linebacker Quincy Williams (brother of Quinnen) has been credited with 10 whiffs, fourth-most in the league. Fellow linebacker Najee Goode has five missed tackles in about half as many snaps as Williams. Campbell (five), Ngakoue (four), and Allen (four) have been surprisingly prone to misses as well.

Bell has been credited with 37 total avoided tackles, an average of 6.2 per game that ties him with Christian McCaffrey and Josh Jacobs for third-most in the league. Alvin Kamara and Chris Carson narrowly top the leaderboard at 6.33 and 6.28, respectively.

Eventually, the Jets offensive line needs to start blocking at a competent level for the Jets to have a quality run game. We are seeing firsthand that a terrible offensive line can make it impossible for even the best of running backs to get going.

I don’t think the Jets will have any chance at run blocking competently until Kalil leaves the lineup, but even that might not be enough. Most likely, it will take an offseason (or two) of building to kickstart the return to legitimacy up front.

Until the line can get it together, it’s up to Bell to keep the run game churning forward at a respectable level. He posted season-bests of 70 rushing yards and 4.7 yards per attempt last week. If he can continuously average those marks behind this line, it would be a huge boon for the offense.


How did last week’s key matchups turn out?

Stephon Gilmore vs. Robby Anderson - Anderson caught one pass for 10 yards across eight targets, marking his fifth consecutive silent performance against Gilmore. Winner: Patriots

Patriots rushing attack vs. Jets run defense - The Jets held the Patriots to 74 rushing yards on 34 attempts, a very low average of 2.2. However, Sony Michel scored a trio of touchdowns from within three yards. Prior to New England’s final three drives, they had picked up seven rushing first downs on 25 attempts, a 28% rate (league average: 22.7%). Despite picking up some stuffs, the Jets did not stop the run when they most needed to. Winner: Patriots

Kyle Van Noy vs. Chuma Edoga - Van Noy’s rushes were split nearly evenly between the left and right sides, as he rushed 10 times from the left and 12 from the right. He had his quietest game of the season, registering just one pressure (he had at least five in each of his past four games). I guess we can give this one to the Jets, although the offensive line was bad overall. Winner: Jets

The Patriots won two of the three matchups, winning the majority of the key battles and thus the football game. For the seventh consecutive week, the team that won the key matchups board also won the game. The fire keeps burning.