More than just about any other team in the NFL this year, the New York Jets have defied analysis. Sure, they have a poor offensive line — but plenty of teams with a poor offensive line find a way to get their offense on a better track than the one the Jets have found so far; and with a quarterback who appeared to be on the fast track to success last year and a number of quality offensive pieces around him, it was fair to enter the season with higher expectations than the results this team has yielded. In games Sam Darnold has started this year, the Jets have produced point totals of 16 // 24 // 0 // 15 // 18 // 34 — and the Jets enter a road date with the 1-8 Redskins as 1.5 point underdogs with a Vegas-implied team total of 18.5.
Probably the biggest dent in potential production for the Jets is the fact that Washington is likely to have a difficult time putting up points on offense — and in spite of the lip service Adam Gase gave us this offseason, he has not built an aggressive offense this year, but has instead been looking to shorten games and hope for a way to win at the end. If Washington isn’t able to get much going (more on that offense in a moment), there is a chance the Jets continue to disappoint. The Vegas line tells you much of what you need to know from a “likeliest scenario” standpoint in this spot — but rather than digging into the reasons why the Jets might have a bad game (which has little to do with matchup and mostly to do with the Jets themselves), we can use our time more effectively in this spot by looking at the ways in which New York might be able to climb above their Vegas-implied expectations and become a sneaky-valuable piece on this slate.
The matchup actually sets up fairly well for a Jets offense that ranks sixth in pass play rate — with a number of things working in their favor.
The first thing to note here is that Darnold (like most young quarterbacks) plays much better when he is not pressured compared to when he is pressured. So far in his career, he has produced 18 touchdown passes against 11 interceptions when not pressured, while throwing six touchdowns and 13 interceptions when pressured. Washington ranks 15th in adjusted sack rate, but they come into this game with one of the lowest pressure rates in the league.
The second thing to note here is that turnovers have been a big issue for the Jets, with the fifth most giveaways in the league. Only 10 teams have forced fewer turnovers than Washington, however — and while a mistake or two is almost certain to pop up for the Jets, their own ineptitude will be a bigger hurdle than the Washington defense in this area.
The third thing to note here is that while Quinton Dunbar has had a stellar season in coverage for Washington, Josh Norman has been one of the most attackable corners in football this year, and Fabian Moreau hasn’t been much better in the slot.
Darnold has thrown 99 passes across his last three games, and primary target shares on this team in that stretch have gone as follows:
The last time we had a revenge narrative for the Jets, it was Gase facing a Dolphins team that he hates — in a game in which it was fair to expect the Jets to do well in a good matchup, and to stay aggressive throughout (which, of course, worked out poorly…); and as noted above, there are no guarantees with the Jets at this point. But Crowder has been the central piece of this passing attack of late (going for 81+ yards in four of six games with Darnold, and leading the Jets in receiving yards in two those six games), and he sets up well for another six to eight “short intermediate” targets here against a Washington defense that shaves an elite 12.5% off the league-average aDOT, but that does so while allowing a league-high 13% boost to the league-average catch rate.
Demaryius has been a steady presence with Darnold — also leading the Jets in receiving yards twice, and topping 60 yards in three of five games with his young QB. He has only three red zone targets (and none inside the 10), though this is more a function of the offense he’s in than it is of his role, as Crowder leads this team with only eight red zone looks. Demaryius’ burst is gone (making big plays tough to come by), and scoring opportunities are always in short supply on this team, but he’s been a solid, low-cost floor piece of late, and he could post some moderate price-considered ceiling by lucking into a touchdown.
Chris Herndon’s 2019 “breakout” season lasted a handful of snaps and led to one catch on two targets, with Ryan Griffin set to take over now that Herndon is headed to I.R. Griffin is a castoff-level option, but his three targets inside the 10 are (pathetically) more than Crowder // Robby // Demaryius // Le’Veon have combined to produce, keeping him in the touchdown-or-bust “cheap tight end” conversation.
Robby, of course, is the biggest disappointment on this team — though an optimist might note that he had topped 50 yards only once last year through his first 10 games before going 76 // 96 // 140 // 24 down the stretch (with three touchdowns in that span). Because of his downfield role, Robby’s touchdowns tend to come alongside his heavy-yardage games (he had six scores last year, and five of them came in the four games in which he topped 75 yards, while his only touchdown this year came in his 125-yard game). Washington has struggled with speedy receivers, opening realistic paths to a “boom” game for Robby (albeit with “bust” still his likeliest outcome).
Le’Veon, meanwhile, continues to (hilariously) find himself priced near the top of the running back position in spite of having posted a total of zero games that have justified his price tag. He has zero games over 70 yards on the ground and only three touchdowns in this inconsistent offense.
Another interesting layer to this game is that these teams rank 31st (New York) and 32nd (Washington) in plays per game, while ranking 28th (New York) and 32nd (Washington) in time of possession. These two teams have combined for an unbelievably low 54:05 in average time of possession — and as there are still going to be 60 minutes in this game, this opens opportunities for about 12 additional plays compared to the ultra-low 109 these teams have combined to average on the year. These won’t necessarily be effective plays, but extra plays are obviously well worth noting.
When Washington has the ball, the breakdown is quite a bit more straightforward, as this team has thrown the ball on only 50.4% of their plays across their last three games. Now — this team is coming off a bye, and is taking on a team that ranks second in DVOA against the run and 24th against the pass, which creates some alternate scenarios in which Washington leans a bit more heavily on their aerial attack. But the last time we saw this team, they were throwing the ball 22 times (and running 20 times) in a game they lost 9 to 24. Bill Callahan is not exactly the type of coach to back down from a challenging run game matchup, and it’s likely that Vegas has expectations for this game pegged appropriately — with Washington banging their running backs against the stout Jets front and only throwing on occasion.
The backfield this week should be some split of Adrian Peterson and Derrius Guice (who is returning from I.R. this week and will likely be eased in), while the aerial attack for Washington will consist primarily of Terry McLaurin, Paul Richardson, and Trey Quinn. Richardson has topped 42 yards only once this season, while Quinn has not topped 36 yards this year, making each a “close your eyes and hope for the best” type of play, even in a winnable matchup — but McLaurin deserves at least a moment of discussion.
The Jets rank 24th in DVOA against the pass and have allowed four different wide receivers (John Brown // Odell Beckham // Chris Conley // Darius Slayton) to post season-best games against them. JB picked up 123 yards on only seven catches (with a touchdown), OBJ picked up 161 yards on only six catches (with a touchdown), and Conley picked up 103 yards on only four catches (with a touchdown). (It took Slayton 10 catches in a shootout to get to 121 yards — but he picked up two touchdowns along the way.) McLaurin is not seeing his targets as far downfield as he was seeing them earlier in the year (his aDOT sits at an upside-driving, but no longer top-of-the-league mark of 13.7), but he ranks fourth in the NFL in percentage share of team air yards and is averaging 15.5 yards per catch. He has six targets inside the 10 (only nine players have more), and he saw six targets on 22 Haskins pass attempts in Week 9. (Haskins, of course, was McLaurin’s college QB — where McLaurin picked up 11 touchdowns and 20.0 yards per reception on 35 catches last year.) Downfield passing has been all but eliminated under Callahan (with only one pass attempt more than 20 yards downfield in their last three games), and Haskins has looked very raw so far and could have trouble with Gregg Williams’ pressure looks even if the Jets don’t have the secondary pieces to hold up in coverage. But while the floor is low, the upside on McLaurin certainly remains intact.
JM’s Interpretation ::
Realistically, that was a lot of digging to find out things we probably could have guessed from simply glancing at this game: the likeliest scenario has neither team doing a whole lot, with maybe one or two solid scores emerging, but with no “have to have it” production coming out of this spot. But there are at least a few pieces to keep in mind, and there are a few paths to the Jets producing at a higher level than Vegas is expecting.
Crowder and Demaryius are interesting price-considered floor pieces (with Crowder having clear paths to a price-considered “ceiling” game as the central piece in this passing attack), while Robby remains a low-floor bet with thin (but realistic) paths to slate-winning upside. Bell remains a near-every-down piece with a central role in this offense — and while he is priced much higher than his production has warranted to date, this role (as noted every week) at least keeps some of his upside paths intact.
On the Washington side of the ball, McLaurin is the player with the best shot at hitting — though some of his paths to a big game are closed off by Haskins’ raw play and by the unaggressive nature of this new Washington offense.
Everything else in this game is guessing-and-hoping — with a 38.5 game total…but with at least a handful of slim paths to this turning into a more exciting game than that.