Until last week’s victory over the NFC North leading Minnesota Vikings, the Detroit Lions recent success had flown under the national radar. After all, the steady improvement of a team that started the season 1-6 doesn’t exactly make for the most exciting story in the NFL. But the convincing win over Minnesota in Week 14 has propelled Detroit into the national spotlight, and now they’re loitering for an NFC Wild Card spot.
This week, Detroit is faced with a test they haven’t found success against over their recent string of great football: beating a top flight defense—and the New York Jets are just that, one of the league’s best defenses. Led by head coach Robert Saleh, one of the most respected defensive minds in the NFL, their 7-6 record in just his second year at the helm is analogous to Dan Campbell in Detroit. But how each has arrived to Week 15 is two very different stories.
In order for the Lions to keep their playoff hopes alive, they’ll have to head into New Jersey and beat a Jets team that’s also desperate for a victory to get back into the final Wild Card spot in the AFC.
Let’s dig a little deeper into who this Jets team is in our Week 15 scouting report.
2022 New York Jets
2022 season thus far (7-6)
Week 1: Lost to Ravens, 9-24
Week 2: Beat Browns, 31-30
Week 3: Lost to Bengals, 12-27
Week 4: Beat Steelers, 24-20
Week 5: Beat Dolphins, 40-17
Week 6: Beat Packers, 27-10
Week 7: Beat Broncos, 16-9
Week 8: Lost to Patriots, 17-22
Week 9: Beat Bills, 20-17
Week 10: Bye
Week 11: Lost to Patriots, 3-10
Week 12: Beat Bears, 31-10
Week 13: Lost to Vikings, 22-27
Week 14: Lost to Bills, 12-20
- 22nd in points scored (20.3 PPG), 6th in points allowed (18.7 PPG)
- 9th in overall DVOA
- 19th in offensive DVOA (23rd in pass DVOA, 12th in run DVOA)
- 6th in defensive DVOA (6th in pass DVOA, 9th in run DVOA)
In Robert Saleh’s second year as head coach, the Jets have started to figure who they are as a football team: one that prides itself on being able to stop opposing offenses. The Jets are one of the best defenses in the NFL by nearly every statistical measure, but what might be most impressive is how New York, despite having a negative turnover differential (-2), is still situated in the top ten in points allowed per game—the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-2) are ninth. The Jets stingy red zone defense, tied for seventh in points allowed (114), is a testament to the team’s ability to limit the damage from turnovers.
The Jets record of 7-6 is even more impressive when you consider they’ve faced the toughest schedule in the NFL through Week 14—mostly a product of playing in the AFC East—but their four-game win streak from Week 4 through Week 7 saw them blow out a Miami Dolphins team without Tua Tagovailoa (40-17) and pick up another convincing win over the Green Bay Packers, 27-10. However, since their bye week, the Jets are 1-3. Their only win over that stretch is against the Chicago Bears (31-10) who were missing Justin Fields.
And that seems to be a theme for a good chunk of the Jets games this year: winning matchups against teams like the Dolphins, Browns, Bears, and Bills who were either without their starting quarterback, or in the case of the Bills game in Week 9, a quarterback playing through injury.
Quinnen Williams. Force of nature.— Jets Videos (@snyjets) December 11, 2022
(via @nyjets) pic.twitter.com/nlKJi6yZiw
Still, the Jets defense has shut down opposing passing attacks (5.4 net yards gained per passing attempt; fourth in NFL) because of their ability to get after the passer without blitzing: New York blitzes 15.1 percent of time—dead last in the NFL—but is 10th in the league in quarterback pressures (239) according to Pro Football Focus. When you have the power and technique of Quinnen Williams in the middle at your disposal (45 pressures, 11.0 sacks), veteran EDGE defender Carl Lawson playing at a high level (36 pressures, 6.0 sacks), and the emergence of John Franklin-Myers (36 pressures, 4.0 sacks) on the other side of Lawson, you don’t need more than four players to get after the quarterback.
And while the Jets pass rush has a lot to do with their success in bringing opposing passing attacks to a halt, the play on their back end is earning some well-deserved attention and credit. Sauce Gardner, the current odds-on favorite to win Defensive Rookie of the Year, is establishing himself as a lockdown cornerback in Year 1. The term “island corner” shouldn’t be thrown around lightly, but Gardner is showing he has all the makings of earning the moniker. Gardner is PFF’s No. 1 ranked cornerback in coverage (89.1 grade), first in forced incompletion per target (27 percent), total forced incompletions (16), and reception percentage against (44.1 percent) while toting the third-best passer rating against (48.8). On the other side, D.J. Reed is proving to be stifling in coverage as well with a 55.1 percent completion percentage against (14th among qualifying cornerbacks) and 9.7 yards per reception allowed (tied-7th).
Pass breakup on the deep ball by @iamSauceGardner— NFL (@NFL) December 11, 2022
: #NYJvsBUF on CBS
: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/7FXORqYuVi pic.twitter.com/wiS09sjokC
As for the offense, the Jets are in the midst of an identity crisis. Zach Wilson’s flippant attitude after scoring just three points in a loss to the New England Patriots put him on the bench—and last week he was inactive against the Bills. Mike White, Wilson’s replacement, is questionable after taking a beating against the Bills in Week 14 that forced him to leave the game on two occasions. Saleh expects White to start against the Lions despite the rib injury, but Wilson is jumping veteran Joe Flacco as the team’s backup quarterback, and would be called upon to play if White can’t go.
White briefly got the Jets offense back on track against a listless Bears defense, completing 78 percent of his passes for 315 yards and three touchdowns. Against the Vikings the following week, White did put up 369 passing yards, but threw the ball 57 times including two interceptions in the 22-27 loss.
In retrospect, not elite anticipation by Mike White on this 4th down throw to Braxton Berrios at Vikings. Nor accuracy. This a type of throw you have to be early on. #jets pic.twitter.com/T8PW6NW815— QB Film Room (@qbfilmm) December 14, 2022
The Jets passing offense is really a product of some talented pass catchers more than anything else. Rookie Garrett Wilson is making a play for the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year with 63 catches, 838 receiving yards, and four touchdowns while veteran Corey Davis has found a role as the team’s other big play threat, albeit on a limited workload—17.7 yards per reception (fourth in the NFL) on 26 catches and 48 targets.
Earlier in the season, the Jets were a team who controlled the game with a ground attack spearheaded by dynamic rookie Breece Hall. Hall scored five total touchdowns while averaging 5.8 yards per carry on 80 carries and 11.5 yards per reception on 19 catches before suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 7 against the Broncos. Since Hall’s injury, the Jets have averaged just 4.3 yards per carry, a considerable drop off from the 4.7 yards per carry the team averaged over their first seven games.
In the aftermath of Hall’s injury, the Jets traded for former Jaguars running back James Robinson, but he’s struggled to gain his footing after returning from an Achilles injury (2.9 YPC), so the team has recently turned to undrafted free agent Zonovan Knight. In his three games, Knight has breathed some life into the Jets ground game, averaging 5.0 YPC on 46 carries and earning PFF’s second-highest grade among running backs over that stretch.
Zonovan Knight breaking all the tackles! The @nyjets tie it up in Buffalo. @knight_zonovan— NFL (@NFL) December 11, 2022
: #NYJvsBUF on CBS
: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/7FXORqYuVi pic.twitter.com/kdcwvYCSK0
- IR/PUP/NFI: RB Breece Hall (IR), OT Mekhi Becton (IR), OG Alijah Vera-Tucker (IR)
- Other injuries: DL Quinnen Williams (calf), WR Corey Davis (concussion), CB Brandin Echols (quadriceps), DE John Franklin-Myers (illness), S Will Parks (not injury related), QB Mike White (ribs), OT Duane Brown (shoulder), OT George Fant (knee), DE Michael Clemons (knee)
The Jets are one of few teams in the NFL where a defensive player’s availability is more important than that of their signal caller. Quinnen Williams calf injury hasn’t allowed him to practice yet this week, and according to Saleh, Williams is “50-50” to play against Detroit.
Davis seems to be making his way through concussion protocol and Saleh thinks he’s “on target” to play Sunday, and as mentioned earlier, Mike White figures to be the Jets starter barring any sort of setback this week. The health of Franklin-Myers is something to monitor as well as he’s been one of the most important pieces for the Jets pass rush and he did not practice on Wednesday.
Strength and Weaknesses
Biggest strength: Pass defense
Saleh has finally cultivated a group up front who can pressure the quarterback without blitzing, and it’s made life tough for teams who want to air it out—just ask the Buffalo Bills. Josh Allen’s average over his two games against the Jets this season:
- 55 percent completion percentage
- 66.7 passer rating
- 176 passing yards
New York has allowed just five teams to throw for more than 200 yards against them, and not a single team has eclipsed 300 yards through the air against this pass defense. The Jets have the third-best pass rush grade (79.7) and the second-best coverage grade (89.4) per PFF. Should Williams and Franklin-Myers suit up on Sunday, Jared Goff and Ben Johnson are in for their biggest test of the season.
Biggest weakness: Quarterback
The Jets do have some playmakers at the wide receiver position including the aforementioned Garrett Wilson and Corey Davis—and Elijah Moore—but there’s little evidence to prove the Jets have a quarterback capable of maximizing their talent. A 315-yard, three touchdown performance against a Bears team who lost Eddie Jackson that game isn’t impressive beyond face value, and 369 yards on 57 attempts against the Vikings should be the new Dr. Pepper Challenge.
New York owns the second-worst passing grade (52.6) and the tenth-worst receiving grade (70.0) according to PFF, so Detroit’s defense has another opportunity to step up and keep them in this game to the end.
Vegas line for Sunday: Jets by 1