NFL Week 1 is finally here and the New York Jets will take on the Carolina Panthers on the road at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday.
The obvious headliner is quarterback Sam Darnold, the previous savior of the franchise before Zach Wilson.
Say what you want about the ex-Jets signal-caller but he was nothing if not humble this week. “I didn’t do my job, to the best of my ability,” Darnold responded when Panthers media asked about his playmakers and protection in New York, “I think that’s really all there is to it.”
Darnold also noted that he doesn’t have any regrets, saying: “Obviously, things didn’t go our way. Wish we would’ve won more games, I think that’s pretty obvious, but I met a lot of great people in New York, have a lot of great friends there still with the organization. So, yeah, I don’t regret anything.”
Jets defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich mentioned that the quarterback’s former teammates have helped provide a scouting report on Darnold. “They’ve definitely given that insight as the week’s gone along as far as what they felt like gave him trouble, what they felt like his strengths were, so yeah they’ve definitely had a part in the conversation,” he told reporters.
Ulbrich added: “At the same time I think you’re going to see a different version of him though, from the standpoint of the system is completely different than what he ran here and they’re going to feature his skill set in a little bit different way. So, we’re going to see a different Sam Darnold.”
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Joe Brady Offense Revolves Around Christian McCaffrey
Similar to Mike LaFleur in some ways, Panthers OC Joe Brady loves to get his “playmakers in space.” When you have dynamic speedsters like running back Christian McCaffrey (‘CMC’) and wide receivers DJ Moore, Robby Anderson and Terrace Marshall Jr., that’s definitely not a bad idea.
The major difference between the two coordinators is that while LaFleur’s scheme is known for lateral agility, Brady likes to stretch the field with his wide-outs so that he can clear out space for CMC underneath.
This creates a clear disadvantage for the Jets cornerback core, which means Gang Green must dominate the trenches in order to win on defense. The Panthers’ offensive line is one of their weakest areas outside of right tackle Taylor Moton. The Jets’ D-line must keep Darnold under duress on Sunday and force him into making poor decisions.
Expect shotgun formations with a ton of motion from the star running back, ranging from spread to bunch, trips and snug sets. McCaffrey tends to play receiver almost as much as half-back, so Jets linebackers like C.J. Mosley and Hamsah Nasirildeen, or safeties Lamarcus Joyner and Marcus Maye, must be up to the challenge of guarding him in space.
That’s no easy feat, as CMC might be the most elusive player in the sport. Ulbrich told reporters that his defense must play fundamentally sound and “assume that it’s going to take all 11 players to get him down.”
This offense will go as far as he goes though, don’t expect too much ‘hero ball’ from Darnold.
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Outsmarting This Overly-Aggressive Defense
Carolina runs a 4-3 front under coordinator Phil Snow. Brian Baldinger outlines four young pillars that make up this unit in the video above, but I’d actually give them more credit than that.
This youthful group can be explosive in bursts, although they lack consistency. Baldinger’s core includes edge rusher Brian Burns, defensive tackle Derrick Brown, safety Jeremy Chinn and cornerback Jaycee Horn. Outside of 2020 second-rounder Chinn, the other three are all former first-round picks.
Burns could be trouble around the edge. Head coach Robert Saleh referred to the pass-rusher as “a problem” and Mekhi Becton, Morgan Moses and George Fant have all struggled with speed-rushers like the third-year player.
Brown and Chinn are also two game-changing talents that remind me of one current Jet and one former one. The DT had some strong Quinnen Williams vibes in the 2020 draft, although I’d argue ‘Q’ is a little faster as a pass-rusher. Chinn on the other hand plays like Jamal Adams.
The second-year player is a consistent tackler and a ball-hawk, with two fumble recovery touchdowns and an interception last season. He can play deep or shift up to a linebacker position but either way, he’s a force to be reckoned with.
The Panthers should play some press coverage at cornerback behind rookie Horn and fellow CB Donte Jackson. The area to exploit could end up being the slot, with AJ Bouye suspended and Troy Pride Jr. injured.
The secondary depth is really weak behind Horn, Chinn and Jackson. Carolina actually starts former Jets defensive back Juston Burris at free safety, which isn’t all that impressive.
This defense ranked slightly higher against the pass in 2020 but both middle-of-the-pack rankings were unspectacular. There’s a ton of speed within this group including blitzing linebacker Haason Reddick (12.5 sacks for the Arizona Cardinals last year) and the aforementioned talent.
Quick-passing and a strong rushing attack can limit Burns and company if the Jets’ wide receivers can beat the Panthers’ defensive backs off the ball.
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