While the Jaguars struggled early in the season on defense, they have been turning things around of late. At this point, the Jaguars rank ninth in opponent drive success rate, 11th in points allowed per drive, and seventh in red zone touchdown rate. They are shaving 4% off the league-average aDOT and 9% off the league-average catch rate. (Only the 49ers and Patriots are better in this last category — though it should be noted that the Patriots, of course, are miles better.)
Where the Jaguars have struggled the most this year has been vs “route runners” who can do damage both underneath and in the intermediate areas of the field. Since Sammy Watkins cratered this defense in Week 1, they have allowed the following “notable” stat lines (in quotes because none represent particularly dominant efforts) ::
6-91-0 D.J. Moore
8-89-0 Mike Thomas
The player who profiles best in this matchup is Jamison Crowder who had seen 17 and nine targets from Sam Darnold before the Jets ran into the “boogeyman” Patriots defense. The Jaguars rank 28th in situation neutral pace of play when they have the ball, but they are still middle of the pack in opponent plays allowed per game — and the Jets should be able to pass the ball enough for 8+ looks to be viable for Crowder in this spot.
The player with the next best shot at producing here is Demaryius Thomas, who has 9 // 4 // 9 targets in his last three games. Thomas is not the player he once was and would need some things to break right for upside, but he’s too cheap everywhere if he sees 8+ targets again.
The player least likely to hit is Robby Anderson, but the Jags have allowed the third most pass plays of 20+ yards this year, and it only takes one play to make Anderson’s day. He’s likely in the doghouse with Adam Gase after some of the things he put on film against the Patriots last week, but he should be given a couple downfield shots (and a few other looks) to try to bail himself out.
With pricing low on the Jets across the board and only three non-Le’Veon players on whom targets have been focused, there is some appeal to this unit — though a bit of a wrench could be thrown in if Chris Herndon does indeed return this week. Herndon is a legitimate weapon (50+ receiving yards in five of his last 11 games last year — and he’s set to take a step forward this year), and he could siphon a couple looks from each of Crowder and Demaryius, so we’ll watch for reports on Herndon’s snap count if he continues to trend toward playing.
Unfortunately for Le’Veon Bell, the Jets rank 30th in adjusted line yards — though he does catch a soft matchup this week against a Jaguars team that has allowed 4.87 yards per carry to running backs. Bell is on the field all game and has target counts of 9 // 10 // 4 // 9 // 1 // 4, so there are certainly paths for a strong game here even behind this poor excuse for an offensive line.
While the Jets have a full-time back in a good matchup behind a bad offensive line, the Jaguars have a full-time back in an awful matchup behind a decent offensive line. The Jets have allowed only 3.29 yards per carry to running backs this year, with the fourth fewest yards allowed and a sixth place DVOA ranking. The Jets have allowed the most running back touchdowns on the ground — though this has been a bit fluky (i.e., this is not necessarily a weakness so much as there has been a plethora of short-yardage situations available for opponents). Consider this a bad matchup for a workload-secure back in Fournette — with obvious upside available given all his touches, but with his chances of hitting that upside a bit low for the price. Working in Fournette’s favor is the fact that the Jets have allowed the sixth most receiving yards to the running back position.
The Jets haven’t really been tested through the air much this year. Through the first two weeks the Jets allowed season-high marks to John Brown and Odell Beckham, and they have since faced the short-area attack of the Patriots (twice), the Eagles in a drubbing with Luke Falk under center, and a Cowboys team against which they tilted coverage toward Gallup after Amari went down. Brian Poole has played well in the slot for the Jets (a welcome surprise), earning an 83.5 PFF grade — but Daryl Roberts (51.9) and Trumaine Johnson (47.4) have pulled predictably poor grades while getting regularly beaten when attacked.
Over the last four weeks, D.J. Chark has target counts of 8 // 11 // 7 // 4. One of these is not like the others; and that “one” came against the Bengals — unsurprising to NFL Edge readers. Chark has a healthy aDOT of 14.4 and ranks eighth in the NFL in percentage share of team air yards. He carries volatility attached to Gardner Minshew, but his upside is for real.
Behind Chark, it will be Chris Conley on downfield routes and Dede Westbrook in the tougher matchup in the slot, which he will be hoping to crack.
JM’s Interpretation ::
The Jets offense is going to surprise people a few times down the stretch with everyone healthy, and this is a spot in which they should be able to post at least a respectable game. (Though to be honest, I’m sort of hoping they fail in this slightly below-average spot and can be targeted against a fearful field in a softer matchup down the road.) Crowder is a solid play with an outside shot at an elite score for his price, while Demaryius is also viable for the savings and the target share. Robby would be an outlier upside bet, while Herndon would be a ballsy play unless we get clarity on his snaps (with his biggest impact potentially being to make it tougher to trust any of these guys outside Crowder in cash). I imagine right now that it’s unlikely I’ll be on Bell until I see something change in his ability to produce upside behind this line (especially as ownership has stayed fairly high on him), but his volume could obviously lead to him busting out.
On the Jags’ side, Chark is the only one standing out for tighter builds (his floor is a bit rickety, but the ceiling in this matchup is attractive), while Fournette is obviously very much in play for the volume if you want to bet against the matchup. (The matchup closes off a number of his paths to a ceiling game, but the workload also makes it difficult for him to dud.)
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