JETS // BEARS OVERVIEW
Most people probably wouldn’t realize, at first thought, that the hyped Bears have the same number of wins as the Jets — and this public perception is backed up by Vegas installing the Bears as seven point favorites at home this week. While the Bears’ three losses have come by a combined total of 11 points, the Jets’ four losses have come by a combined total of 51 points, with the Jets playing “Good Darnold // Bad Darnold” football. Darnold’s only road win came in an outlier Week 1 game in which the Jets intercepted five passes and Darnold had to throw the ball only 21 times. He has failed to top a 50% completion rate in either of his other two road games (and has in fact failed to top a 50% completion rate in four of his last five contests overall).
JETS PASS OFFENSE
The Jets are further limited by injuries, with Bilal Powell suddenly out for the season, and with Robby Anderson looking unlikely to play this week. Trenton Cannon will fill in as the pass-catching back moving forward (the last time we mentioned Cannon, I believe, was as a potential deep-sleeper in the Week 1 Showdown slate), while the Jets will likely move forward with Jermaine Kearse, Rishard Matthews, and Andre Roberts at wide receiver. Matthews will have had only a couple weeks with the playbook (and just as little practice time with Darnold), while Roberts has three receptions all season.
Making the Week 7 Kearse dud even more surprising was the fact that Darnold threw the ball 42 times, but Kearse had only two targets. For whatever it’s worth, the Jets gave Kearse a locker next to Darnold this year to be a mentor to him, and the two showed a real connection two weeks ago, with Kearse going 9-94-0 on 10 targets. Even with the Jets primarily leaning on two tight end sets last week, Kearse ran 40 of his 64 snaps from the slot, and the only place where the Bears are even moderately attackable in the short area of the field is over the middle. According to Football Outsiders’ metrics, no team has been more stingy to the short right than the Bears, and only five teams have been tougher to the short left, but the Giants are the only team in the league that has been more attackable over the short middle. Kearse will still have Darnold throwing to him, but this is a spot that should land him in the middle of his Week 5 breakout and his Week 6 disappointment.
Behind Kearse, the Jets gave at least 22 snaps to four different tight ends — and they did not give more than 32 snaps to any of those four guys. Jordan Leggett ran the most pass routes of the bunch, but saw only one target. Chris Herndon and Neal Sterling each ran 13 pass routes, with Herndon somehow seeing seven targets (going 4-42-1) on these limited opportunities. In spite of back-to-back spiked weeks, Herndon still carries a scary 0-0-0 floor that Sterling and Leggett both showed last week.
JETS RUN OFFENSE
Chicago has been awesome against the run — ranking sixth in yards allowed per carry, and standing out as the only team in the NFL that has yet to allow a touchdown on the ground. Isaiah Crowell has been extremely inefficient outside of his long runs, so it is worth noting that the Bears have allowed only one rush play all year of 20+ yards (only two teams have allowed fewer such plays). Crow has yet to top 16 carries in a game, and he has 40 or fewer yards in five of seven games. He may see a slight bump with Powell out, but with a foot injury slowing him down, there is only so much the Jets can increase his work.
Cannon stepped in for two carries and five targets last week, and even in a matchup against a ferocious Bears front that had stamped out pass-catching backs before getting beat by the great James White last week, he carries some intriguing upside. As many of you likely recall: the Jets were calling rookie Cannon their “Ferrari” during training cap, as this guy has sick speed in space and can make big things happen with the ball in his hands. His glossy Week 7 line (4-69-0 through the air) was driven by soft defense in garbage time, but he does carry that sort of upside. He likely has only one week to showcase his skills before Elijah McGuire returns, but 10 to 14 touches is reasonable in this spot. (Powell saw 10 to 14 touches in four of six fully healthy games — with more than 14 touches in his other two.)
BEARS PASS OFFENSE
The Jets have been slightly better than average against the pass on a per-play basis, but they have faced the fifth most pass attempts in the league this year, while allowing the sixth most opponent plays per game. This has led to the Jets allowing a worse-than-average 13 passing touchdowns, while ranking middle of the pack in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks. The big concern in this spot for the Bears’ offense will be that only six teams are allowing fewer yards per pass attempt — creating a difficult situation if the volume is not there. So far on the year, the Bears have leaned run-heavy whenever possible, ranking 22nd in pass play rate.
Allen Robinson missed practice on Wednesday and appears genuinely questionable for this week, one week after seeing only five targets (and looking less-than-100%) in the sticky coverage of Stephon Gilmore. If Robinson plays, he will continue to operate as one of the top three options in this passing attack, with recent target counts of 7 // 4 // 6 // 5, while running most of his routes on the perimeter, where the Jets have been more difficult to attack.
Alongside A-Rob in this low-volume passing attack is Taylor Gabriel, who has shown his 10-target Week 5 game to be an outlier, surrounded by target counts of 5 // 7 // 7 // 5 // 4. Gabriel has a pair of 100+ yard games and a two-touchdown game — attesting to his upside. He also has four games with 34 or fewer receiving yards — attesting to his floor. The Jets have allowed a middling 3.7 pass plays per game of 20+ yards, but most of these (as we have explored for several consecutive weeks at this point) have come from intermediate crossing routes and yards after the catch, rather than from downfield passes. Gabriel is the likeliest player to be used in this way, but it’s far from a guarantee. He should see an extra target or two if Robinson misses, but keep in mind that A-Rob is only leaving behind about 5.4 targets per game.
Anthony Miller rounds out the wide receivers, with target counts on the year of 3 // 3 // 5 // 4 // 7. In spite of his role in the slot, Miller quietly has a respectable aDOT of 12.3, and he should be locked into five to seven targets if Robinson misses.
Trey Burton popped off last week on 11 targets, though it is worth noting that A-Rob has a 14 target game on the year (with no more than seven looks in any other game), Gabriel has a 10-target game (with no more than seven looks in any other game), and Burton had not topped five targets in any game before last week. His big-target game should be viewed as an outlier, rather than as a sign of things to come, and the Jets have been magnificent against tight ends this year, allowing only 22 receptions and 290 yards through seven games.
BEARS RUN OFFENSE
Volume for all of those pass catchers is taking a hit as a result of Tarik Cohen, who has seen recent target counts of 7 // 7 // 8. Darron Lee is really the only Jets linebacker with significant speed, which should provide yet another opportunity for Chicago to exploit a defense with Cohen’s skill. If the Jets pour some points on the board and/or this game stays close throughout, Cohen should stick in his recent range of targets, while also providing a bit of value on the ground (he has four to six carries in all but one game this year — a 13-carry outlier — and the Jets are tied with the Broncos for the most rushing plays allowed of 20+ yards). Give Cohen a lower floor than he has carried the last few weeks (for the likelihood that the Bears control this game throughout, and therefore play a less aggressive brand of football), but with a similar ceiling.
Cohen has been splitting time with Jordan Howard, who has continued to look surprisingly good in the pass game (11 catches on 14 targets — with at least a couple truly impressive grabs), but who has taken a backseat in that category with Cohen becoming more involved (Howard had 11 targets the first three weeks, and he has only three targets since). Howard has topped 70 rushing yards only once this year and has averaged under 3.0 yards per carry in half of his games. As I have been saying since he entered the league: Howard is “Just a Guy” back there (nothing special to his game, but he can get what’s given to him), which perpetually makes him a usage-dependent player. With usage trickling backward lately as Cohen has earned a larger backfield share, Howard needs multiple touchdowns or a broken play in order to really pop. Howard has not broken a 20-yard run yet this year.
I won’t be going out of my way for anything in this spot (unsurprising, given how many high-total games we have on the week), as I expect the Bears to control the game, and to therefore be able to limit volume for Mitchell Trubisky and his pass catchers. While Trubisky has caught fire lately, one of those games came in a 26-attempt blowout of the helpless Buccaneers defense, and two others came in back-and-forth shootouts vs the Dolphins and the Patriots. With Sam Darnold regressing lately with very little to work with in the pass game, it seems likely that the Bears go a little less aggressive in this spot.
If targeting anything, Cohen and Cannon stand out to me the most, but I will be surprised if we get a true impact game from Cannon, and the usage for Cohen shapes up as less guaranteed in this spot — on a week with a lot to like at running back around the slate. Neither guy shapes up as a priority play for me. I could also see a solid game from Kearse and a big game in a “guess the pass catcher” setup on the Bears, but there is plenty that I like quite a bit more in other spots on the slate.