In Week 15, the Detroit Lions are traveling to MetLife stadium to take on the New York Jets in a battle between two teams hoping to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Let’s take a closer look at the key things the Lions need to do against the Jets in order to keep their winning streak going. Check out the odds for this game courtesy of our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook.
Jets’ base schemes
On offense, offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur (a Mount Pleasant, Michigan native and younger brother of Matt, Packers head coach) brings a run-first, quick passing offense rooted in Kyle Shanahan’s base concepts which are influenced by his father Mike.
On defense, defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich (who played linebacker for the 49ers for a decade) connected with Jets’ coach Robert Saleh during their time as assistant coaches in Seattle, and bring Pete Carroll’s 4-3 (Wide-9) Cover-3 zone-based scheme with him—basically the same one Saleh ran with the 49ers.
At its core, the Jets’ defense wants to stop the pass, so they typically rush four and drop seven into coverage, living in subpackages 85-90 percent of the time. To keep their secondary from getting burned, they deploy an aggressive front, loaded with talent—both the starters and depth—and roll as many as 10 players through the formation in order to keep them fresh.
On the back end, they are a bit more static in their player deployment, typically sticking with their starting seven, but they are equally talented players who are comfortable working in space and aggressive in their pursuit of the ball.
“Well, the style at which they play is exactly what I see out of Coach Saleh,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said of the Jets’ defensive scheme. “I mean, they (are) mixing a lot more coverages than I remember. And a lot of that is – Coach Ulbrich over there, who’s done it while he was at Atlanta and played a number of years. I’ve known him from afar a long time, I’ve got a lot of respect for him, and so his influence on it too. It’s kept the foundation of, get upfield, create disruption, don’t allow the double teams. And then, run and hit, man.”
The Jets' defense carries a sixth-ranked DVOA rating, is ninth against the run, and sixth against the pass.
Lions' offensive line needs to bring their A-game
Power vs. power, this game is going to be won in the trenches, and the best strength-on-strength battle will be when the Lions are on offense and the Jets are on defense.
Jared Goff has been cooking as of late and a big reason for that is that his offensive line has given him the time to sit in the pocket. He has shown that he trusts them to do their job, often sticking it out and making the tough throw.
Over the last six games, Goff has dropped back to throw 206 times. During that span, he has been pressured just 60 times (29%) and only sacked six times (less than 3%), including three games where he was never sacked. Essentially, Goff is pressured on less than a third of his throws and only sacked on 10% of those pressures.
In the run game, the Lions gap-power scheme is the ideal counter to a Wide-9 aggressive front. With the Lions shifting/pulling their offensive linemen, it can allow them to use the Jets’ aggression against them, making it easier to move them out of the gap where the run is designed. The key for this to work is getting better efficiency and production on the ground.
Re-establish ground efficiency
D’Andre Swift hasn’t looked like the back he was at the beginning of the season, but as he has regained his health, he is starting to acclimate to the pace of the game again. Jamaal Williams remains a force at the goal line, but he struggled in between the 20s against the Bills and Vikings. Justin Jackson has been inconsistent but is coming off his best game as a Lion.
“We’ve got to get better in our run game,” Campbell said on Monday. “We have to have better run efficiency on offense. That’s a definite. It doesn’t mean we have to run the ball more, it means we need to be much more efficient, and we can be those with guys we’ve got up front, our tight ends, our backs, everything.”
Against the Jets' stout run defense, the Lions will need to find some early-season magic from at least one of their backs, because they won’t want to get in a position where they are forced to throw against the Jets’ drop-seven-into-coverage defense.
Don’t stray too far away from what’s been working
While the Lions will want to make a point of establishing their running game so that they don't become too one-dimensional, they also need to continue to roll with what has been working over the last six weeks.
“We have plays and we have concepts that we feel like are our backbone,” offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said on Thursday, “and regardless of the opponent, we want to make sure we have them up, and we make them work, and they’re good and efficient for us. And when push comes to shove, we’re able to move the ball with those. But I think we – every week — we have a nice balance between gameplan plays that are a little bit unique to the style of defense that we’re facing, and then leaning on those concepts that we’re good at, and we can do in our sleep.”
Johnson has been a very creative play-caller and it’ll be important to take shots downfield like they have been doing. By utilizing the speed from their outside receivers—namely DJ Chark and Jameson Williams—the Lions can stretch the Jets’ zone which will open things underneath for Amon-Ra St. Brown and, ideally, the running backs. The Jets' scheme can be susceptible to running backs catching passes out of the backfield and all three of the Lions' backs can do that with efficiency.
Play field position with Jack Fox
Jack Fox has been a field-flipping weapon of late, and while it’s fun to see the fourth-down fakes/conversions, the Lions would be wise to lean on their superstar punter in this game. This game is expected to be a tight contest and points will be at a premium, so it’ll be important to not let the Jets get a short field and a potential easy score. Instead, the Lions would be wise to play the field position game and lean on their offense to come through when it matters.
Hold the Jets under 90 yards rushing
The Jets are a run-first team but they struggle when an opponent takes that option away from them.
- In the five games the Jets have been held under 90 yards rushing, they are 0-5, and average only 10.6 points per game.
- In the eight games they rushed for over 90 yards, they are 7-1, and average 26.4 points per game. That’s a startling contrast.
Making things even more challenging is that the Jets are without starting running back Breece Hall. In his stay, they have turned to UDFA rookie Zonovan Knight and second-year back Michael Carter to carry the load over the last six games, and while they have found some success, the Jets are 2-4 over that span.
In the past four games, the Lions have held three of their opponents under 95 yards rushing and won each of those three games. If the Lions' defense can continue to be efficient against the run, they’ll have a chance to force the Jets into an uncomfortable position where it’s tough to score points.
Make Mike White earn his throws
Jets’ quarterback Mike White earned a lot of respect in the locker room returning to last week’s game not once, but twice, after needing to exit due to a rib injury. White has been limited all week in practice but insists he will start against the Lions.
Rib injuries are challenging for quarterbacks to play through. They limit body rotation and that impacts throws, often resulting in less velocity or even the occasional overthrow. They also take their toll as the game wears on, making it more challenging to complete throws later in the game.
The Lions would be advantageous to make White earn his throws and punish him when he does. Let me be clear, I am not advocating for them to target White’s ribs, but if they can get home on their pressures—the Lions are averaging 24 pressures per game over the last month—he’s going to feel their presence.