Will Hernandez, Jon Halapio, and Kevin Zeitler vs. Folorunso Fatukasi and Quinnen Williams
To date, I have mostly focused on matchups that are crucial towards winning the game. Going forward, I will be emphasizing matchups that highlight players who are a crucial part of the Jets’ future.
Things are getting interesting on the Jets defensive line. Two young Mike Maccagnan draft picks are getting regular playing time. One has been dominant. One has been so-so at best. Of those two, one was a sixth-round pick. One was the third overall pick this past April.
We as fans would probably feel a lot more comfortable if it were the other way around, but it has been 2018 sixth-rounder Foley Fatukasi dominating with regularity, while Quinnen Williams has been just okay for the most part.
Of course, age and experience need to be taken into account here. Fatukasi is nearly three years older than Williams. He also has one more year of NFL experience and played 20 more games in college.
Still, domination was expected from Williams out of the gate, who posted some amazing tape during his redshirt sophomore season at Alabama. Flashes of that talent have been there. Williams has had some of the most impressive reps on the entire team, like this play against the Cowboys where he sheds Zack Martin and Travis Frederick to stuff Ezekiel Elliott.
It’s an overused cliche, since it is obviously crucial for any athlete, but consistency is the key for Williams. We have seen him make the dominant plays he was drafted third overall to make, so we know he is capable of dominating in the NFL. He just has to make those plays on a more frequent basis. Hopefully he can prove capable of that over the next eight games.
Williams has been pretty good for the most part in the run game, but not quite as dominant as Fatukasi, who has been tremendous in that area. However, both players need to give more as pass rushers.
Fatukasi has five pressures over 81 pass rush snaps. Williams has six over 144. Among the 122 qualified interior defenders, Fatukasi and Williams rank 84th and 89th, respectively, in pass rush productivity (per-snap pressures with more weight to sacks).
They will have an interesting matchup against the Giants’ interior offensive line. They are solid at guard with a pair of premium pickups. On the right is Kevin Zeitler, picked up from Cleveland in the Odell Beckham deal. On the left is Will Hernandez, the 34th overall pick in 2018. Among the 63 qualified guards, Hernandez and Zeitler rank 15th and 20th in pass blocking efficiency.
Center Jon Halapio is the weak link. He has given up the fourth-most pressures among centers (18) and is ranked eighth-worst in pass blocking efficiency. He has been battling a hamstring injury and most likely will not play this week. Should he miss the game, it would be the first start missed by a Giants offensive lineman this season.
Halapio would be replaced by Spencer Pulley. Over the course of his three-year career (2016-17 with Chargers, 2018 with Giants), Pulley has been credited with an allowed pressures once every 17.7 snaps, a brutal rate for a center (would be fourth-worst among qualified centers this season).
Going forward, let’s hope to see Fatukasi maintain his current high level of play and Williams match it — in addition to more pass rushing impact from each.
Alec Ogletree and Antoine Bethea vs. Chris Herndon
Chris Herndon suited up in Week 9, but did not play any snaps.
It appears he may finally be ready to take over the tight end position this week. If so, it would be a tremendous boost for the Jets offense in both the pass game and the run game.
Ryan Griffin’s blocking has been horrendous. His failures in that phase are a huge reason the run game has been so ineffective.
Herndon blocked impressively in his rookie season. His pass protection was clean throughout the year, but his run blocking was a process from the beginning of the season to the end. He started out as a liability in the run game, but over the second half of the season, he looked much more refined and began to make a positive impact.
In the pass game, it goes without saying how big Herndon’s return would be. From Weeks 6-17 of 2018, Herndon ranked eighth among tight ends in receiving yards (455) and tied for fourth in touchdown receptions (four).
Herndon seemed poised for a breakout 2019, as his rookie production was among some of the best by a tight end in the 21st century. He became just the 11th rookie tight end since 2000 to post over 500 receiving yards. The only other rookie to do it last season was Mark Andrews, whose production was neck-and-neck with Herndon’s throughout the season.
Here in 2019, Andrews has risen to sixth among tight ends in receiving yards per game. In addition, his blocking has been one of the driving forces behind a historically great rushing attack.
Time to find out if Herndon can do what Andrews has done. Will he establish himself as one of the league’s elite tight ends over the second half of the season?
The Giants have defended tight ends well, allowing the seventh-fewest yards per game to the position (40.9). However, they have faced a weak slate at the position. Only two of the current top-20 tight ends in receiving yards have faced the Giants, with the highest ranking of the pair being Jason Witten at 10th overall (T.J. Hockenson is the other, at 13th).
Linebacker Alec Ogletree and safety Antoine Bethea have had a rough time in coverage. The pair has combined to allow 31 catches on 35 targets for 427 yards (12.2 per target), five touchdowns, and one interception.
Last week, the Giants allowed Witten to grab eight of nine targets for 58 yards and a pair of first downs. Ogletree busted a coverage that allowed Blake Jarwin to score a 42-yard touchdown on his only target of the game.
If Herndon is good to go, the Jets should be looking to isolate Herndon against those two often, and Darnold needs to be aggressive in that direction when the matchups are there.
Darnold and Herndon had a strong camaraderie brewing towards the end of last season, especially in the scramble game. The pair combined for four improvised first down connections totaling 76 yards.
The off-schedule playmaking magic that became Darnold’s trademark last season has not been there over his five starts in 2019. Perhaps the return of Herndon will help him revitalize that aspect of his game.
How did last week’s key matchups turn out?
Dolphins offensive tackles vs. Jets edge defenders - The Jets’ edge rushers were silenced by Miami’s terrible offensive line, collecting a total of five pressures. In total, Fitzpatrick was pressured on just 21.4 percent of his dropbacks, the second-lowest rate of the week. That number was buoyed by an extremely fast release time, as Fitzpatrick got the ball out in 2.2 seconds on average, second-fastest of the week. Still, it was a silent afternoon for the Jets defense against a brutal offensive front. Winner: Dolphins
Dolphins defensive front vs. Jets offensive line - Darnold was the third-most pressured quarterback of Week 9, with a rate of 44.2 percent. Winner: Dolphins
Dolphins secondary vs. Robby Anderson - Anderson was quieted, catching two of four targets for 33 yards and two first downs. He was narrowly missed on a deep corner route that would have been a huge gain, and had a nice grab on a scramble drill wiped out due to Darnold crossing the line of scrimmage. Winner: Dolphins
The Jets were swept with ease, losing the above battles to perhaps the three worst position groups on the least talented team in the league. Yikes.