Blessuan Austin vs. DeVante Parker
Since Week 10, nobody has more receiving yards than DeVante Parker, who has racked up 454 yards on a ridiculous average of 11.1 yards per target over that span. Parker hauled in nine grabs for 20-plus yards from Weeks 10-13, most in the league.
Over the same period, Blessuan Austin is Pro Football Focus’ No. 2-ranked cornerback (behind Shaquill Griffin). Austin has yielded just four first downs on 21 targets over the first four games of his career. He has allowed the sixth-fewest yards per cover snap (0.55) among corners since his debut against the Giants four weeks ago.
Five weeks into the season, these teams were a combined 0-8, owning the league’s two most anemic offenses and two of its shoddiest cornerback groups.
Who would have thought that, a couple of months later, a Jets-Dolphins game would feature one of the most interesting cornerback-vs.-receiver battles of the week?
Yet, here we are.
Parker has taken full advantage of the target boost afforded to him by a barren roster, finally looking like the guy who was taken 14th overall in the 2015 Draft.
Austin has beaten all of the odds. He has played at a high level in his first four NFL games after being tossed into the fray mid-season (and mid-game!). He did not play a snap in the preseason and did not even get to practice with the team until October. He played one game in his final college season and four the season before that, coming into the NFL having already battled two ACL surgeries.
And now, here he is, stabilizing a Jets cornerback group that has been lacking any sort of reliability since a guy wearing No. 24 was in his prime over a half-decade ago.
It has only been four games, and the competition has not been the greatest. Gregg Williams is also doing a nice job taking responsibility away from the cornerbacks. Austin is far from a sure thing. No player can be declared a stud this early in their career.
But what he has done so far is nothing short of remarkable. If Austin can maintain this level of play over the final quarter of the season (or even just come close to it), Joe Douglas will have one less starting spot to worry about filling in the coming months.
Folorunso Fatukasi and Quinnen Williams vs. Miami run game
The Jets have allowed 2.89 yards per rush attempt, which is 1.4 yards lower than this season’s league average of 4.29.
Fatukasi and Williams have been driving forces behind the Jets’ elite run defense. They have combined for 35 run tackles without being credited for a single missed tackle between them. Williams entered Week 13 ranked ninth among interior defensive linemen in run tackles without a miss (20). Fatukasi came in at 16th (15).
The Dolphins’ passing attack has greatly improved thanks to Parker’s emergence and a classic stretch of hot play from Ryan Fitzpatrick, but their run game remains abysmal. Miami is ranked last in rush offense DVOA, rushing yards per game (62.8), and yards per rush attempt (3.1).
It starts with the offensive line. Miami is ranked last in adjusted line yards per carry and PFF’s team run blocking grade, each by an extremely wide margin.
Miami is also limited at running back, where an injury (Kalen Ballage), a trade (Kenyan Drake), and an arrest (Mark Walton) leaves undrafted rookie Patrick Laird as the team’s top man in the backfield. Laird got a season-high 10 rush attempts against Philadelphia last week, and gained only five yards (0.5 per rush). His average of 1.4 yards after contact per attempt ranked 34th out of the 35 backs with at least 10 rushes in Week 13.
Fatukasi and Williams have both been great against the run. They have a chance to assert their dominance even further against the league’s most atrocious ground game, but there is an opportunity to bust out in the passing game as well. Miami has yielded the fourth-highest adjusted sack rate, while Fitzpatrick has taken the fifth-highest pressure rate among the 29 quarterbacks with at least 250 dropbacks.
Fatukasi isn’t expected to produce much as a pass rusher, but Williams is, and he has gotten off to a slow start in that phase. Williams has been better in the passing game than many have given him credit for (some good examples here), but the dominance we expected to see out of the third overall pick has not been there yet. A large part of that is the way Williams has been used in this defensive scheme, but he has still been quieted on a larger portion of rush opportunities than would be ideal.
Williams made a lot of noise against Cincinnati’s bad offensive line. Now he needs to start stringing together quality performances. Miami’s horrendous offensive line (perhaps the only one worse than the Jets’) gives him an opportunity to do that.
The Jets finish up the season with the Ravens, Steelers, and Bills, three teams that have fielded quality offensive line play this season. Before heading into that stretch, it would be a huge stock-booster for Williams to assert some dominance with back-to-back strong games against the exploitable Bengals and Dolphins offensive lines.