Each week of the NFL Season I’ll be posting a new edition of my Matchup Preview Series. That series is a comprehensive preview of how the Buffalo Bills matchup against their opponent that week. Leading up to that, I’ll be using the same format to preview all four teams in the AFC East.
These previews will look at five components of each team: Pass Offense, Rush Offense, Pass Defense, Rush Defense, and Special Teams. Each section concludes with my “patented” 👏 scale which ranges from 👏👏👏👏👏 (Best) to 👏 (Worst). The post culminates with a Floor, Ceiling, and Prediction of the team’s 2023 record.
This week, the New York Jets.
Jets Pass Offense
When a team has a top-five defense but a negative point differential (-20) you know there is a major issue with their offense. What’s the quickest way to remedy that? How about upgrading at quarterback by trading for a four-time MVP, Super Bowl-winning, future Hall of Fame quarterback? That’s precisely what the Jets did when they made the move to acquire an all-time great in Aaron Rodgers. The question for New York now isn’t if they’ve improved at the position, it’s by how much? Now 39, Rodgers is just a year removed from earning the second of back-to-back MVP awards and heads into the 2023 season with the seventh-best odds to win another one. At the same time, Rodgers is coming off the worst season of his career posting a QBR of 39.3 and a QuBeR of 44.90, each of which were still better than Zach Wilson’s respective ratings of 36.5 and 27.66. Rodgers’ 2023 campaign will likely fall somewhere between his two extremes with the side he leans closest towards depending heavily on the pieces around him.
At those skill positions, there are numerous quality pieces for the Jets. None of those pieces though will be more important than Rodgers’ first WR1 since Davante Adams, Garrett Wilson. Despite poor quarterback play in his rookie season Wilson still finished with the 13th most receiving yards ever by a rookie (1,103) while earning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. His proven ability to play both inside and outside makes him even more valuable this season given the Jets’ depth at WR. That depth includes another two former Packers in Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb, both of whom followed their QB to the northeast. Lazard comes in as a fine WR2 whose first 171 career targets resulted in zero interceptions, but in his last 88 targets, five interceptions, while the 33-year-old Cobb is a proven commodity almost exclusively out of the slot with an 80.1% Slot Snap Rate last season. The unit rounds out with deep threats in Corey Davis and Mecole Hardman, each of whom have dealt with injuries recently but should force opponents to keep at least one safety deep on any given play. Add to that two receiving threats at tight end in Tyler Conklin and C.J. Uzomah as well as a running back stable consisting of quality pass catchers and Rodgers has plenty of weapons in 2023.
But those weapons will only matter so much as Rodgers is given adequate time to get the ball to them. From 2018 to 2022, the Packers’ offensive line was top-five in Pass Block Win Rate each season while the Jets’ 57% Pass Block Win Rate in 2022 ranked 21st. That number needs to improve drastically this upcoming season and while the Jets’ interior offensive line looks more than adequate, it’s their tackles that may prevent that from happening. As of now, four players are making a run at those two starting roles with the Jets not needing good play in those spots, but borderline elite. Second-year player Max Mitchell looks out of the running for a starting role but his abilities as a swing tackle make him a valuable asset for the Jets. Billy Turner seems to be in a similar position as Mitchell, though his 1,694 snaps protecting Rodgers at RT (1,233), RG (244), and LT (217) in his two most recent MVP seasons are meaningful. That leaves the 38-year-old Duane Brown starting at left tackle and the ever-promising Mekhi Becton starting at right Ttckle, assuming both can get healthy and round back into form. Fans should be much more confident that Brown can protect Rodgers’ blindside than Becton can man his right side until he flashes more of what he did his rookie season. Until then the offensive line will be viewed as a liability and a major concern for a Jets team with their eyes on a major prize.
Jets Rush Offense
Wondering how the Jets’ run game will operate in 2023? The answer to that lay with three people: Nathaniel Hackett, Aaron Jones, and A.J. Dillon. The Jets’ new offensive coordinator, Hackett brings with him his wide zone scheme which stresses defenses horizontally to generate run lanes produced both by blockers and design. This same style was utilized by the Packers during Hackett’s tenure in Green Bay, resulting in efficient production from both Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon. Jones, the all-around talent, and Dillon, the bruiser, had a near equal carry share allowing the Packers to keep their runners fresh and targeting five-plus yard gains. This same system is expected to be used by the Jets, a system that when used properly can make great running backs look better while simultaneously exposing easier throwing lanes for the quarterback.
A contributing factor to the Packers’ success on the ground was the existence of multiple talented running backs, something New York undoubtedly possesses. The recent signing of Dalvin Cook provided them with yet another one and a player that since 2019 ranks behind only Nick Chubb (5,345) and Derrick Henry (6,042) in rushing yards (5,024). Despite concerns of impending regression generated by his 33rd ranked Rushing Yards Over Expected (–0.08), Cook should be viewed as nothing short of a major addition to the Jets. Eventually, he will be joined by a player who might be even more talented in Breece Hall. Currently working his way back from an ACL tear, Hall led all backs that had 60+ carries with a 5.8 Y/A his rookie season. It will take time for Hall to ramp back up to where he was but the existence of Cook as well as a deep RB room should help mitigate any delays. That room includes former fourth-rounder Michael Carter, the agile Bam Knight, and rookie speedster (when healthy) Israel Abanikanda.
Whoever from that deep running back room is carrying the ball will do so behind what can be a premier interior offensive line. Laken Tomlinson is the headliner of the bunch coming to the Jets after a Pro Bowl season with the 49ers in 2021 under Kyle Shanahan’s outside zone run scheme. Looking to build off his first season with the Jets, Tomlinson is hoping to be joined by one of the most high-potential guards in the NFL in Alijah Vera-Tucker. AVT missed the final 11 games of an impressive start to his 2022 campaign when he tore his triceps in a Week 7 win over the Broncos. Those two players can be in the conversation for top-five guard pair in the league come season’s end and may even have improved play between them this season at center. Incumbent starter Connor McGovern has been battling all offseason with rookie Joe Tippmann. McGovern was solid in 2022 but it’s a position the Jets clearly thought they could improve upon when Tippmann fell to them at Pick no. 43 in this year’s draft. Tippmann came into the league viewed as one of the more pro-ready offensive line prospects whose game is based on incredibly high football IQ. An injury may stop Tippmann from earning that job but the Jets’ depth at center is amongst the best in the league and should help them keep the ball moving on the ground regardless of any injuries that may arise at the position.
Jets Pass Defense
The simplest way to describe the Jets’ Pass Defense in 2022 is elite. They finished fourth in Pass Defense DVOA (–8.2%), second in Passer Rating Against (78.2), and first in Pass Touchdowns Allowed (15). Loaded with talent, their secondary also includes the reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year and first-team All-Pro Cornerback, Sauce Gardner. The expectation for the Jets in 2023 is this unit should be as good, if not better, even if they statistically regress. That statistical regression is foretold by an abnormal number of games against QB2+ in 2022. This included six games started by backups and eight backups in total faced. In those games, quarterbacks were held to a Passer Rating of 68.4 while QB1s had a, still low, rating of 82.9. While the Jets likely won’t see that same number of backups in 2023 any quarterback that plays the Jets should expect a difficult game.
The already mentioned Gardner is the real deal. When targeting Gardner, opposing quarterbacks completed only 53.5% of their passes for a Passer Rating of just 62.7. A tight coverage guru, Gardner participated in 642 coverage snaps and was only flagged five times, only three of which were applied. He’s the unquestioned star of the Jets’ secondary but has talented players at every position around him. Their other outside corner is D.J. Reed who came to the Jets last offseason by way of Seattle only to stake his claim as one of the league’s best CB2s. This allowed Michael Carter to flourish in the slot, and like Reed, enter the conversation for top-five nickel corner in the NFL. At safety behind them, Jordan Whitehead returns as a player that can play deep or in the box resulting in him leading all Jets DBs in Tackles in 2022 with 89. He was expected to be paired with Chuck Clark, a major upgrade over Lamarcus Joyner, but after an injury will instead be joined by seasoned veteran Adrian Amos. These five starters make up one of the best units in the NFL and with players like Bryce Hall (CB), Ashtyn Davis (S), and Brandin Echols (CB) behind them, one of the deepest as well.
Double team rate at defensive tackle (x) by pass rush win rate at defensive tackle (y) for the 2022 NFL season.
(ESPN / NFL Next Gen Stats) pic.twitter.com/wXJS0c5CdV
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) January 13, 2023
That secondary is also buffeted by an above-average pass rush which should look even better in 2023. Like the secondary, the Jets have a star up front, this time in the form of defensive tackle Quinnen Williams. Williams, who also earned first-team All-Pro honors in 2022, led the Jets with 12.0 Sacks in a breakout season for the fourth-year player. His unique blend of size, speed, and strength equate to a 9.84 RAS making him one of the most mandatory double teams in the league. This helps to free up the edge as well as the interior near Williams. In pass sets that generally means the productive John Franklin-Myers lining up next to him, a player with a respectable 14.0 sacks over the past three seasons. The edge on the other hand is the biggest wildcard of the Jets’ defense entering 2023. They have the talented Carl Lawson, who after losing 2021 to injury racked up 7.0 sacks in 2022. The Jets need improvement from their other defensive end though and will look for that from second-year player Jermaine Johnson, rookie Will McDonald, and/or the surprising Bryce Huff. Two first-round picks, both boom or bust prospects, and a 2020 UDFA are going to be expected to combine for 10.0+ sacks in the coming seasons, and if they all reach their potential that number will be blown out of the water.
Jets Rush Defense
To have an elite defense in the modern NFL, you need to have a top-tier pass defense and pair it with an above-average run defense. The Jets have an elite defense. That top-tier pass defense was paired with the 10th-ranked Run Defense by DVOA (-12.5%) in 2022 holding opposing offenses under 100 yards in 11 out of 17 games. With backs like Saquon Barkley, Austin Ekeler, Josh Jacobs, Bijan Robinson, and Nick Chubb on their schedule in 2023, it will be paramount that they consistently stop the run. This will be a requirement to compete in a dominant AFC East and a stacked AFC. There should be optimism the Jets can handle the run this season as they have paired excellent play in the trenches with players that can bring down any runners in the second level.
Quinnen Williams doesn’t just represent the Jets’ best pass rusher, he’s also their best run stuffer. He finished last season tied for the team lead with an impressive 12 Tackles for Loss despite being among the league’s most consistently double-teamed players. The Jets also believe they have improved next to Williams on running downs by moving on from Sheldon Rankins in favor of seasoned veteran Al Woods. The 330lb Woods is a block-soaking tackling machine who has been one of the most consistent defensive linemen in the NFL during his time in the league. Drafted in the same draft as Sam Bradford, Dez Bryant, and Tim Tebow, Woods, now 36, still has a lot left in the tank. Behind them, the Jets have some of the best depth in the league with Solomon Thomas and Quinton Jefferson on the inside while their youth and speed on the outside should allow them to maintain contain on running backs, or quarterbacks, that jump to the edge.
Behind their front is a dynamic linebacker corps with a good mix of experience and athleticism. C.J. Mosley is entering his 10th year since being drafted. In that time, he’s been named second-team All-Pro five separate times including last season as he looks every bit the player that reset the off-ball linebacker market back in 2019. Mosley is in line for another productive season flanked by two athletic outside backers. The most consistent is the speedy sideline to sideline linebacker, Quincy Williams. Williams has been an impressive asset since joining the Jets in 2021 accounting for 216 tackles in that span. The final linebacker role was left vacant by the departure of Kwon Alexander and will likely be filled by either Jamien Sherwood or Zaire Barnes. Sherwood has mostly been a Special Teams player in the first two seasons of his career while Barnes enters his rookie season as a complete prospect out of Western Michigan that has the potential to turn into a very good NFL player.
Jets Special Teams
The Jets roster is an interesting mix of youth and age, but in the kicking game, it’s all age. Greg “the Leg” Zuerlein enters his second season with the Jets at the ripe age of 35. He’s put together one of the more consistent NFL careers dipping below an 80.0% Field Goal Rate and 95.0% Extra Point Rate only three times in his 11-year career. At Punter is their other aged ace in 37-year-old Thomas Morstead. Morstead is coming off an impressive season with the Dolphins that saw him play well even when heading north for cold-weather games late in the season. Morstead will be an important part of one of the worst punt coverage teams in the NFL from last season that saw them be the only team to give up two-plus punt return TDs and the 30th-ranked Y/PR (11.3).
The Jets didn’t go with age in the return game, however, as they instead elected to go with young experience. Enter Mecole Hardman, who will have some impact on the offense but a massive amount of impact on Special Teams. In his four seasons with the Chiefs, he was their primary Punt Returner producing a respectable 9.0 Y/PR while participating in Kick Return duties at times to the tune of a 23.8 Y/KR. In his rookie season, his play as Kick Returner earned him second-team All-Pro honors and a reputation as one of the most dangerous players in the open field in the league. Hardman can alter games with his return ability in 2023.
FLOOR: 7-10, CEILING: 13-4, PREDICTION: 11-6
The Jets are either a dream team or the reincarnation of the Dream Team. When you bring in Aaron Rodgers, and now Dalvin Cook, there is no other way to look at it. If Rodgers can even remotely approach what he was back in 2020 and 2021 the Jets aren’t just eyeing the AFC East or a couple of playoff wins, they are eyeing a Super Bowl. Of course, there’s the other possibility, that the Rodgers we saw in 2022 is the beginning of the end for one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Here’s where I am: the Jets are a better team in 2023 than they were in 2022 but I don’t think the offense around Rodgers is better this year than it was last. The Jets make the playoffs, but they aren’t the juggernaut many want to believe, for one reason and one reason only…that offensive line is not good.