It’s been quite a long time since the New York Jets began a season with three consecutive victories. Not since 2009, to be exact.
But with a win against the surprisingly winless Philadelphia Eagles Sunday afternoon, New York will cap off its best start in six years, and continue the picture-perfect beginning to Todd Bowles' reign as head coach.
So how exactly can the Jets continue to slow the sputtering Eagles offense and keep Philly’s defense, which New York offensive coordinator Chan Gailey called the “strongest” the team has faced to this point, off balance? Here’s game plan for a Jets win.
Offensive Game Plan
When facing off against the Philadelphia Eagles, you almost need to approach the game completely different than you would any other team. See, in a way, the Eagles offensive attack works against their defensive attack.
Head coach Chip Kelly wants Philadelphia to have a high-octane, uptempo attack that runs plays faster than a defense can call them. When that’s working, it’s tough to stop, if not near impossible. When it’s not? Well, it puts the Eagles defense in a very difficult situation.
Sunday afternoon, the Jets offense cannot look to get into a shootout with the Eagles because that’s not a battle the team’s going to win. The game plan on offense is simple: Wear the Eagles defense down. The best way to do that? Run the ball, methodically move up and down the field and eat as much of that game clock up as possible.
Sounds like a game plan any other week, right? Right. But here’s why it’s even more important to do it against Philly:
If the Jets defense can get a stop or two early on Philadelphia, you’re talking about offensive drives that are under a minute or two each. Right now, the Eagles are averaging slightly more than 30 seconds between plays. How’s that impact the Jets offensive attack? Because that directly impacts the Eagles defense.
Say the Jets start with the ball and open with a 10-play, 60-yard drive that eats up eight minutes and ends in a field goal. On the Eagles ensuing possession, the team goes three-and-out and punts the ball away. With 30 seconds in between plays, after two minutes, the Eagles defense is back on the field. Another eight-to-10-play drive, another six-to-eight minutes of offensive time of possession, another quick stop by the Jets defense on the Eagles next drive? You’ll be hard-pressed to find an Eagles defender who won't have his hands on his hips.
Two- or three-yard runs become five- or six-yard runs. Ten-to-15-yard passes become, well, the Eagles found that out last week.
Against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 2, Eagles cornerback Byron Maxwell admitted to getting “tired” on the field, and credited that was one of the reasons he let up a 42-yard touchdown from Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden to receiver Terrance Williams.
“You’re a human being,” Maxwell told reporters after the game. “You get tired as the game goes on. That’s how it goes.”
Even if the Eagles manage a touchdown or two, the team is still looking at drives of four or five minutes at the most. The best thing the Jets can do on offense? Use that to their advantage. If the Eagles wanna race up and down the field and put their defense back on out there, let them. Because by the fourth quarter, that takes its toll.
But if the Jets decide to get into a shootout? They won’t stand a chance. That’s what Kelly’s bunch wants to have happen. It’s up to the Jets to not let it.
The Eagles, and Kelly specifically, have made headlines over the course of the last two years with the personnel decisions the third-year coach has made. Preaching system, system, system, Kelly has traded and let go of players that don’t fit his scheme, no matter their talent level.
Gone is running back LeSean McCoy, quarterback Nick Foles, receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, offensive lineman Evan Mathis and much more. Replacing them? Kelly’s Bunch. A group he ensured Eagles ownership he could win with.
The issue? The Eagles aren’t getting victories.
Their receivers can’t create separation:
Their running backs aren’t making people miss
Their offensive line, well, they’re not blocking.
It isn’t pretty in Philadelphia, and the City of Brotherly Love isn’t showing much affection to the birds in green.
There is one aspect of the Eagles offense, though, that appears to be evidently missing, something the team has had so much success with over the last two years: the read option.
Ever since quarterback Michael Vick left town, the Eagles have never really had a “mobile” quarterback, but still, the team used the read option effectively. No, Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez never made a defense afraid of their legs, but every now and again, they’d keep the ball on the option. Maybe the run gained only three yards, five or six at the most, but it kept the defense honest.
The threat of the quarterback keeping the ball isn’t there anymore. Teams know there isn’t a chance in hell Sam Bradford keeps it.
In what appears to be a move to keep Bradford healthy, anytime the team runs a read option, it goes to the running back. As a result, the defensive ends are crashing inside anytime the ball is placed in front of a running back.
The read option is designed to make a 4-3 defensive end, or 3-4 outside linebacker’s life miserable. If that player crashes inside to make the play on the running back, the quarterback pulls the ball out and takes it around the outside himself. If that player plays contain, the ball is given to the running back who fights up the field.
The Eagles have no threat of Bradford keeping the ball. So defensive ends and outside linebackers are cheating. On the snap, inside they go.
On Sunday, the Jets will need to continue doing what others have done to keep Kelly’s high-octane offense in first gear. Play tight coverage on the outside, don’t let the receivers get separation and control the line of scrimmage.
Key Players and Matchups
Jets receivers vs. Byron Maxwell
One of the biggest criticisms of the Eagles defense last year was the team’s secondary. The unit didn’t have a true No. 1, shutdown cornerback. So, during the free agency signing period, ex-Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell put pen-to-paper on a $63-millon contract.
Problem solved, right? Wrong.
Through the first two weeks of the season, Maxwell has been abused in near criminal fashion by opposing receivers. According to ProFootballFocus.com, teams have thrown at Maxwell 19 times.
They've completed 15.
For 240 yards.
And two touchdowns
And a quarterback rating of 153.8.
That’s bad. Really bad. He’s PFF’s 89th-ranked cornerback.
|Byron Maxwell PFF Grades Last 3 Seasons|
|Year||Team||Coverage Grade||Completion %||Touchdowns||QB Rating|
The puzzling thing about Maxwell’s struggles is the fact it’s not like he’s been shadowing an opposition’s best player. Against the Atlanta Falcons, Julio Jones only caught four of his nine passes when matched up against Maxwell. The Cowboys didn’t even play Dez Bryant.
This Sunday, if the Jets are smart, Maxwell could see a heavy dose of Brandon Marshall.
Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has been targeting Brandon Marshall quite a bit through the season’s first two games. Having already caught 13 passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns, Marshall could be in for another big day.
And if Maxwell struggles again? Philly is in trouble.
Willie Colon, Nick Mangold and James Carpenter vs. Eagles Inside Linebackers
On the outside, the Eagles defense is as good as any. Fletcher Cox is one of the game’s best 3-4 defensive ends, and outside linebacker Connor Barwin is coming off a season in which he recorded 64 tackles and 14.5 sacks.
Inside? Things aren’t quite as strong.
Philadelphia is expected to be without inside linebackers Mychal Kendricks (hamstring) and Kiko Alonso (knee.) That means it’ll be DeMeco Ryans and either Brad Jones or Jordan Hicks getting the nod.
Expect the Jets to be running the ball right up the middle. And often.
After running for 90 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the team’s regular season opener, Jets running back Chris Ivory was held in check by Indianapolis, partially because he was dealing with various leg injuries. Ivory hasn’t practiced at all this week, and is listed as questionable. If he can’t go, that means Bilal Powell will get the start.
Powell is a much different runner than Ivory. He’s got a bit more speed, a little extra burst and is more of a shifty runner than north-south. He’ll need help from his offensive line if he wants to have success Sunday. That means Colon, Mangold and Carpenter stepping up.
Watch on Sunday how the interior of the Jets offensive line matches up with the middle of the Eagles defense. Priority No. 1 for New York is to establish a run to set up the pass. The top goal for Philly is to not let that happen.
With a Jets win
It’s been a long time since the New England Patriots had a legitimate threat in the AFC East. But with a victory over Philly, New York would be right on track to compete for the divisional crown.
After the Eagles, the Jets have two very winnable games against the Miami Dolphins in London and the Washington Redskins, after the bye, at home. A victory in each of those games and you could be looking at an undefeated showdown against those same Patriots on Oct. 25.
With a Jets loss
It would be hard to find someone who wouldn’t have taken a 2-1 start to the season for the Jets when the NFL schedule was released. Even with a loss to an NFC team that really doesn’t impact the playoff picture, the Jets would still be in good shape with Miami and Washington up next.
Taking apart the Eagles and Jets rosters, the Eagles have the better team. Position-by-position, aside from one or two, the Eagles have an advantage.
Bradford is a notch better than Ryan Fitzpatrick, DeMarco Murray is better than Chris Ivory, Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham are better than Calvin Pace and Quinton Coples. There are a few spots (secondary) where the Jets are better, but for the most part, Philly has the edge.
But when you break it down to matchups? The Jets are the clear-cut favorites.
New York has the offensive line capable of opening holes against an Eagles defense without Alonso and Kendricks. New York has receivers capable of getting open against Maxwell and Nolan Carroll.
The Jets have a defensive front that can shut down Philly’s run and pressure Sam Bradford. The Jets have a secondary that can go one-on-one with Philly’s receivers and keep them in check.
The Eagles may be better position-by-position, but matchup wise? It’s all Jets.
On Sunday, expect the Eagles offensive woes to continue, and the Jets to do enough on offense to pull out a victory.
Jets 23, Eagles 19
Connor Hughes is the New York Jets beat writer for the Journal Inquirer and Scout.com. All quotes and advanced stats referenced and used are gathered firsthand.