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The Cheat Sheet: Lions must beat Jets’ blitz-heavy defense

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Everything you need to know to get ready for Jets vs. Lions Week 1.

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New York Jets Blitz Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The first thing the Detroit Lions should do as they head into Week 1 is prepare for the New York Jets to blitz.

And blitz a lot.

Todd Bowles’ team is built around the idea of disrupting opposing offenses with five or more guys rushing on pass plays.

In 2017, the Jets stuck to this philosophy, blitzing on 35 percent of plays (fifth most in the NFL). In fact, the Jet were a top five blitzing team on every down last season.

new york jets blitz rate 2017

All that blitzing didn’t always lead to success though. The Jets were just 18th defensive DVOA rank according to Football Outsiders.

That should change this year as the Jets went out and signed the top free agent cornerback this offseason. They brought in former Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson on a whopping five year, $72 million deal—hoping it’s enough to turn around a mediocre defense.

Johnson isn’t coming off his best season though. He had his worst season by both yards allowed and yards per reception per Pro Football Focus. And he ranked 35th in completion percentage (57.3 percent) and 36th in passer rating (79.8) while in coverage.

But that doesn’t mean he still can’t be an elite cornerback.

Despite middle-of-the-pack numbers in other areas, Johnson only gave up one touchdown last season and he continues to break up more passes each year over the past four seasons.

This should make for a great matchup against Marvin Jones Jr. Jones, who emerged as one of the league’s top deep threats last season, boasted elite numbers on contested targets in 2017.

The key matchup this week is if the Lions offense can take advantage of an aggressive, blitz-heavy team right out the gates. I could see the Lions offense starting slow and then putting together a nice second half once they see what the Jets’ strategy is on defense.

Opponent snapshot

Todd Bowles is just 20-27 with no playoff appearances after three seasons with the Jets. This is most likely his make-or-break season as the head coach. If he can’t turn around the Jets this year, he’s mostly like going to be ousted for a young, up-and-coming offensive mind to pair with the Sam Darnold.

Jets’ biggest threat

Sam Darnold

I know he’s a rookie and he’s playing in his first NFL game, but he’s also the Jets’ best hope of winning the game. If the Lions let Darnold beat them with his arm, they’re in for a long night.

And the rookie signal caller has been outplaying his peers so far this preseason.

After joint practice sessions against the Jets earlier this summer, Washington cornerback Josh Norman came away impressed, and compared Darnold with some of the better young quarterbacks in the NFL.

”It’s like, dang,” Norman said. “You get rookies in here, and you try to mess them with a little bit and bait them a little bit into thinking they’re throwing a route, and you can make a play and he’s not having it. It’s so crazy to see that at an early age. Dak [Prescott] has that, Carson [Wentz] has that...and he’s so far impressed me and I didn’t want him to.”

The Lions don’t have much NFL film on Darnold, but I fully expect Patricia to dial up some looks to try and confuse the rookie. Look for offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates to add rollouts and bootlegs to the game plan in order to give his young quarterback only half the field to read.

Jets’ weak link

No defined pass rusher

The Jets lack a true pass rush at defensive end and outside linebacker. They just signed former 2014 second-round pick Jeremiah Attaochu, who was recently cut by the 49ers. There are a lot of similarities between the Jets and Lions here. The only difference is the Lions can (for now) tout a healthy Ezekiel Ansah.

The Jets are going to struggle to create pressure with their front four and will almost certainly be forced to blitz to force the ball out of Stafford’s hand early.

Bottom line

If the Stafford is given time and the Lions can stay out of third-and-long situations, they can move the ball and score on the Jets’ defense. The keys for the Lions will be stopping the blitz and rattling Sam Darnold. If they can do those two things I expect Lions fans to go to sleep happy on Monday night.

Prediction

Lions 24 Jets 16