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Analyzing matchups key young Jets will face against the Raiders

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

Sam Darnold vs. Raiders pass defense

Sunday’s game against Oakland marks the fourth game in a six-game stretch in which the Jets will face a team that is currently ranked bottom-six in defensive DVOA. The Raiders come into Week 12 placed 29th in the category, ahead of only the Cardinals, Bengals, and Dolphins.

Oakland’s defense has had a rough time against the pass (23rd in pass defense DVOA). The Raiders have allowed the seventh-highest passer rating (102.8), second-highest passing touchdown rate (7.0%), and the most passing plays of 20 yards or more per game (4.8).

A quiet pass rush is part of the problem. The Raiders rank 28th in quarterback hits per game (4.5) and 29th in pressure rate (19.5%).

The Raiders have also been particularly bad on the road. Granted, their four road games came against the Vikings, Colts, Packers, and Texans, but the production they have given up away from Oakland is still staggering. On the road, the Raiders rank 31st in sack rate (2.8%), 31st in yards per pass play (8.2), 32nd in passer rating allowed (118.5), and 32nd in passing touchdown rate allowed (8.6%). Ultimately, they check in at 31st in points per game allowed on the road (31.8).

So far, Darnold has done a mostly solid job beating up on weaker competition. In his four games against bottom-half DVOA pass defenses this season, Darnold has gone 3-1 with eight touchdowns, three interceptions, 280.3 yards per game, 8.6 yards per attempt, and a 104.9 passer rating.

Don’t scoff at whatever Darnold might accomplish over this stretch because the competition is weak. Putting up good production against bad teams is not something that should be looked down upon.

Obviously, a strong performance against a great defense is far more impressive than an equally strong outing against a weak one. But every opponent has a bar to clear. Against a bad team, that bar is higher. When a quarterback faces a bad opponent, he should be expected to shred them at least as much as other good quarterbacks previously have. Anything less is a disappointment (such as Darnold’s game in Miami three weeks ago).

Clearing that bar with consistency is an important goal for Darnold to reach over these final few weeks. A crucial part of becoming a consistently competitive franchise is establishing that you will win a superbly high rate of the softer games on the schedule year after year. Having one good performance against a bad team is not necessarily impressive, but dominating bad teams 75-80 percent of the time surely is.

The past ten teams to reach the Super Bowl have gone a combined 77-12 (.865) against teams that did not finish with a winning record. The Jets’ record against those teams over that span? 21-21, fifth-worst in the league. Since 2016, they’re 12-18 (.400) in those games, better than only the Browns.

If Darnold can use this second half to prove he can dominate the teams that he should, that would be a huge boost to his stock going into 2020.

The Raiders are not a losing team at the moment, but their defense is highly exploitable. Darnold will be facing them at home in an early afternoon game that they have traveled across the country to play. He needs to continue showing that he can take full advantage of favorable matchups like this one.

Jets defensive front vs. Raiders offensive line

The Raiders are 6-4 because of their top-tier offense. They are ranked seventh in offensive DVOA.

Derek Carr has been strong (currently 11th in QBR), but it’s in the trenches where the Raiders have been the most dominant.

The Jets defensive line will see one of its toughest challenges of the season both in run defense and in the pass rushing game. Oakland’s offensive line has been great, ranking near the top of the league in most categories. In the passing game, they have done a great job keeping Carr clean, allowing the fourth-lowest adjusted sack rate (5.2%).

Behind them, Josh Jacobs has ran the ball phenomenally. Jacobs leads the league in broken tackles (62) and ranks fourth in yards after contact per rush attempt (3.6).

Gregg Williams’ unit might catch a break, as Jacobs, left tackle Trent Brown, and center Rodney Hudson were all limited in practice on Thursday. The Jets got a similar break back in Week 6 when Tyron Smith and La’el Collins could not go for the Cowboys, and they took advantage.

If all three of those stars can go for the Raiders, it will be a great measuring stick for the entire group. Foley Fatukasi’s incredible run defense will be tested. Nathan Shepherd, who has taken advantage of favorable one-on-ones, will take on some of the better interior pass protectors in the league. Henry Anderson is coming off his best game of the season, as he was solid on the edge. Quinnen Williams is still looking for a breakout performance, and there would be few better teams to get it against than Oakland.

Blessuan Austin and Arthur Maulet vs. Raiders passing attack

With Carr playing at a high level, an offensive line protecting him excellently, and a deep group of young pass-catchers, the Raiders are seventh in pass offense DVOA.

Blessuan Austin and Arthur Maulet have stepped up over the past couple of weeks, staying silent in coverage across two favorable matchups against rookie quarterbacks.

According to Pro Football Focus, over the last two games, Blessuan Austin and Arthur Maulet have allowed:

  • 8 catches on 16 targets
  • 58 yards (3.6/target)
  • 2 first downs (13% of targets)
  • over 164 combined cover snaps (0.35 yds/snap)

That is spectacular production.

Have Austin and Maulet actually covered that dominantly? Not exactly, as the Giants and Redskins both prioritized targeting more enticing matchups against Nate Hairston and the Jets’ paper-thin linebacker core. It’s not like they have been on an island locking people down start-to-finish, Revis style. The Jets have hid them well with various coverages, many of which have directed targets towards the linebackers (with predictably poor results).

But the pair still has looked plenty good, executing their roles in zone coverage with consistency and winning key man-to-man reps that have forced the quarterback to move on to his next read. Maulet has not seen many targets in his direction (usually a great sign), but Austin has played the ball well when it has come his way.

The Raiders will present a much greater challenge than the Giants or Redskins did. They will force the defensive backs to come up and make some tackles ⁠— the one area where Austin and Maulet have made a few obvious mistakes over their hot starts.

Carr ranks second in completion percentage (72.3%) and 10th in yards after catch per completion (5.5), but just 24th in air yards per completion (5.6), a display of Oakland’s favoring of high-floor, low-ceiling pass plays. They are tied for fifth with 16 gains of 20-plus yards on “short” passes (as categorized by the play-by-play, generally 15 yards or less downfield).

Austin and Maulet have started hot, but their next opponent presents a completely different challenge. We’ll learn a lot about them on Sunday.