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Analyzing matchups Sam Darnold, Blessuan Austin will face in Washington

Can Sam Darnold build momentum against touchdown magnet Josh Norman?

New York Jets v Washington Redskins Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Redskins pass defense vs. Sam Darnold

Easily the most crucial goal for the Jets over the rest of this season is to get Sam Darnold on track. There is still plenty of time for Darnold to prove he has taken significant steps forward from his rookie season.

The Jets are in the midst of a six-week stretch of games featuring bad pass defenses. From Weeks 9-14, the Jets schedule includes the teams currently ranked 32nd (Bengals), 30th (Dolphins), 29th (Raiders), 28th (Giants), and 25th (Redskins) in pass defense DVOA.

Washington’s pass defense has given itself a bit separation from the basement by doing a solid job getting to the quarterback. They rank ninth in pressure rate (25.5%) and 15th in sack rate (6.9 percent).

Their problems lie in coverage, where quite a few players who have yielded brutal numbers. At cornerback, Josh Norman has allowed 55.3 yards per game, 11th-most at the position (one spot behind Darryl Roberts). He has allowed the fourth-highest passer rating (135.4) and fifth-most touchdowns (five) among cornerbacks.

Among linebackers with at least 150 cover snaps, rookie Cole Holcomb has allowed the third-most yards per cover snap (1.67), third-most yards after catch per reception (9.8), and the fourth-highest passer rating (135.3). He ranks one spot behind Neville Hewitt in yards per cover snap and YAC per reception.

Holcomb and Jon Bostic have combined to allow 584 yards over 65 targets (9.0 per target), four touchdowns, and zero interceptions.

There is one Redskin who has been anything but a liability in coverage, and that would be right cornerback Quinton Dunbar. On the strength of three interceptions and just one touchdown allowed, Dunbar has allowed a 52.6 passer rating, tied for fifth-lowest at cornerback. He has given up just 6.3 yards per target and a first down rate of 28.9 percent.

Dunbar has been strong overall, but he has been hot and cold, consistently alternating between phenomenal games and decent games since the first week of the season.

On the positive side, Dunbar had two games in which he did not allow a first down, and those came against the Giants (matching up vs. Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram) and Vikings (Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph). On the downside, Dunbar gave up his first touchdown of the season to Cole Beasley in his most recent outing.

At safety, Landon Collins has done solidly in coverage, but he has missed seven tackles in the passing game, tied for the most at the position.

Darnold will have plenty of enticing matchups to pick on as he aims for his first thorough road performance of the season. Proving he can get it done on the road is one of the biggest things Darnold can do over the final seven weeks to boost his long-term promise. His home/road splits remain stark:

This week’s game is one of four remaining road games for the Jets. Washington and Cincinnati present two of 2019’s easiest road environments. After that, Baltimore and Buffalo will present two of 2019’s toughest. Building some momentum against the Redskins and Bengals would be huge for Darnold going into those difficult December road games.

Terry McLaurin vs. Blessuan Austin/Arthur Maulet

With Darryl Roberts missing his first game of the season and Nate Hairston hitting the bench after giving up six first downs on 16 cover snaps, the Jets turned to Arthur Maulet and Blessuan Austin at cornerback ⁠— and enjoyed surprisingly good results.

Maulet had been a special teams regular throughout the season, never playing more than three defensive snaps in a game. Against the Giants, he played 69 snaps out of 70, leading the Jets with 53 snaps in coverage. Over that lengthy time, Maulet was tagged with allowing four catches on six targets for just 35 yards and one first down. On the downside, he did take a bad angle on a screen pass to Golden Tate that led to a 61-yard touchdown (Marcus Maye and Brandon Copeland were also at fault).

Active for the first time in his career (including preseason), Austin played 48 snaps in relief of Hairston. He was tagged with one 14-yard first down on four targets over 38 snaps in coverage, logging two pass deflections and a forced fumble.

The fumble came on the last play of the game as Tate was trying to find someone to throw the ball to, but the deflections were impressive. On the first, Austin made a great read from his underneath zone and leaped for what could have been an easy interception on a pass intended for Darius Slayton. On the second, which came on the second-to-last play of the game, Austin made a well-timed break on a Slayton curl route.

For Washington, rookie wide receiver Terry McLaurin has been perhaps the biggest bright spot of the season.

A third-rounder from Ohio State, McLaurin leads the Redskins with 62.1 receiving yards per game (second-most among rookies behind Marquise Brown) and five touchdowns (tied for most with D.K. Metcalf, Mecole Hardman, and Slayton). He could become the first third-round rookie to average over 60 receiving yards per game since Keenan Allen in 2013.

McLaurin started hot, averaging 81.6 yards and catching five touchdowns over his first five games. Over his last three games, McLaurin has averaged only 29.7 yards while going without a touchdown.

The Redskins faced the 49ers (2nd-ranked DVOA defense), Vikings (8th), and Bills (13th) over that stretch ⁠— but McLaurin impressed against tough defenses earlier in the season. He put up a 5/125/1 line on Philadelphia (9th) and a 5/65/1 line on Chicago (5th) in Weeks 1-2.

McLaurin has only played one game against a bottom-10 DVOA defense, facing the 31st-ranked Dolphins in Week 6. He put up 100 yards and two touchdowns in that game.

The Jets surprisingly rank 11th in defense DVOA, but that’s thanks to their second-ranked run defense. Against the pass, the Jets are 24th in DVOA and continuing to tumble as the issues in the back end have worsened in recent weeks.

That is. . . they were worsening. Until New York heroes Arthur Maulet and Blessuan Austin came along!

It remains to be seen whether Roberts will return or if Hairston will be given his starting spot back. If neither occurs, we can assume Maulet and Austin will get a chance to follow up their impressive starting debuts.

Cornerback is one of many positions where the Jets could desperately use a surprise emergence. Could either Austin or Maulet break through as an unexpected building block? We can dream. (It seemed like Hairston was on that path, but alas. . .)

How did last week’s key matchups turn out?

Will Hernandez, Spencer Pulley, and Kevin Zeitler vs. Foley Fatukasi and Quinnen Williams - The Jets enjoyed a great day from the interior defensive line against the Giants’ interior offensive line. Nathan Shepherd, who had two tackles for loss and a sack (plus a cancelled out one) was a surprise member of the party. Fatukasi had some dominant reps against Hernandez. Williams drew a ton of attention to open up one-on-ones for Shepherd, and created a few pressures of his own. Winner: Jets

Alec Ogletree and Antoine Bethea vs. Chris Herndon - Herndon was held to a tight pitch count in what will go down as his sole appearance of 2019, playing just 18 snaps. He only grabbed one seven-yard catch, but had a 30-yarder wiped out. Despite quieting Herndon, Bethea and Ogletree were taken advantage of by others. They combined to allow eight catches for 85 yards and three first downs, one of those a touchdown to Jamison Crowder allowed by Ogletree. Draw