How the Eagles’ Ground Game can fly high against the Jets

This Sunday, the Philadelphia Eagles will face off against the New York Jets in what seems on the surface to be quite an inconsequential contest. In truth, for the Eagles, a win means a shot at the top spot in the NFC East and for the Jets, this game is a fantastic opportunity to right the ship after a damning 0-3 start. A Jets offense without a consistent quarterback has been at the crux of their slow start, which has overshadowed their much-improved defense.

With the offense unable to keep the football, the Jets’ defense has been on the field for 30:58 minutes per game, 7th longest in the league. This has exacerbated problems for a defense with some new faces still trying to put the pieces together. Still, the Jets’ defense has allowed a middling 375.3 yards per game (13th) and 23.3 points per game (15th). Hidden in those inflated numbers are a surprising 20.0 first downs allowed per game (18th lowest, tied with the Chicago Bears) and a 40% 3rd down conversion rate (13th lowest). NYJ also house the 8th best run defense in the league, allowing just 88.7 yards per game and 3.6 yards per carry (6th lowest).

It is the ineptitude against the pass that has been the fatal flaw on the defensive side of the ball for the Jets. Allowing a 5th highest 286.7 yards per game looks even worse when considering they opened their season against the Bills and an up-and-down Browns offense. Nevertheless, there are underlying positives even against the pass. The Jets have allowed only 4 touchdowns through the air and have added 4 interceptions. The team has only allowed two pass plays of more than 40 yards and opposing quarterbacks have been held to an 83.2 average passer rating. All this is to say, passing the ball against the Jets isn’t as easy as Tom Brady made it look.

Nevertheless, the Eagles should have success through the air on Sunday. Carson Wentz has been otherworldly at times and has shown no signs of slowing down. Even with a depleted receiving corps, Philly has enough playmakers on offense to give any defensive coordinator fits. This could be a game that lays some lingering demons to rest for the Eagles’ offense. If all goes well, the team should be able to 1) jump out to an early lead and 2) complete some longer passes against a defense that has allowed 16 pass plays of 20+ yards in just 3 games.

And yet, this is an article about the fantastic opportunity the Eagles have in front of them to dominate on the ground. Facing a defense ranked 28th against the pass and 8th against the run, it may seem counter-intuitive. However, Philadelphia is coming off a game in which the run game showed some serious teeth despite playing a pretty porous Green Bay run defense. The team finally leaned on Jordan Howard for a boost and allowed Miles Sanders to settle into a change-of-pace role. The offensive line also seemed to find a new gear, exploding off the football and finding secondary blocks down the field. Hoping to build on that success, you have to imagine Doug Pederson would like to stick with his ground game and pound the ball. Coming into a clash against a very potent front seven, simply put: something’s gotta give. Here’s why you should bet on the Eagles.

Other Teams vs. the Jets

To better understand how the Jets’ run defense has done so far, let’s look at their first three games:

AVG/gRankvs. NYJ
Bills147.24th128
Browns115.014th70
Patriots91.224th68
Eagles118.813th

In week one, the Jets lost to the Buffalo Bills and their 4th ranked run game. In what was mainly a defensive clash, rookie Devin Singletary ran for 70 yards on four carries — a whopping 17.5 yards per carry. What Singletary unearthed, something we’ll look at more below, is that there is a lot of space to be found at the 2nd level of the Jets defense. Josh Allen also had a lot of success escaping the pocket and using his feet.

The Jets’ second game was dominated by a man with whom the Eagles are very familiar. Jumping out to an early lead thanks to Odell Beckham Jr.’s 161 yards receiving, the Browns never really had to depend on their run game. Nick Chubb carried the ball 18 times for 62 yards, and while the Jets did a good job of bottling him up, he too found some room at the second level for a rushing touchdown (below). It’s important to keep in mind that while the Browns currently stand at 14th, up until last week’s offensive explosion against the Ravens — in which they registered almost 200 yards on the ground — their run game hadn’t been that impressive.

Against the Patriots, the Jets again allowed an early lead. Brady and Belichick moved the ball so easily through the air that the Pats didn’t really press the issue on the ground. In recent memory, the Patriots aren’t known for their potent run game and its usage fluctuates greatly from week to week. Apart from a very mediocre performance from Sony Michel, New England actually ran the ball quite efficiently. Rex Burkhead managed 4.3 yards per carry as the team’s top rusher. Importantly, despite only registering 68 yards on the ground, NE averaged almost 3 yards per carry from their backs (including 1.2 y/c from Michel).

In both the Cleveland and New England games, the Jets’ pass defense was so bad their opponents never really had to hand the ball off. Both teams rocketed to early leads and never looked back. (This may be the case against the Eagles as well . . .) Knowing that the opposing teams would try to run the clock, the Jets front seven was able to tighten up and restrict running lanes. Therefore, the numbers may favorably reflect what is actually an otherwise average run defense. Despite an 8th overall ranking, the Jets are 11th in efficiency against the run. Holes continue to jump off the page with a deeper look at the numbers.

The Proof

Interestingly enough, the areas in which the Jets’ run defense has been particularly strong parallel with the Eagles’ offensive success. While that seems like an issue on the outset, Philly’s offensive line has repeatedly found ways to win the day when they weren’t meant to. To reiterate: something’s gotta give.

Jets Defence vs. Eagles Offence#Rank#Rank
Adj Line Yards3.374th4.4612th
RB Yards3.724th4.3216th
Power Success Rate50%6th (tied)93%2nd
Stuff Rate24%6th15%8th
2nd Level Yards1.2823rd1.3218th
Open Field Yards0.7613th0.8619th

Strengths: With three stout defensive linemen, New York excels in stopping the run before it even gets started. Highlighting exactly what we saw from them in their first three games, the Jets’ defensive line can be difficult to penetrate, but there is space to be exploited behind it. They won’t allow much push up the middle and have no trouble digging in their collective heels. The Eagles will have a tough time trying to overpower the Jets’ three linemen. New York doesn’t allow many yards after contact and frequently make tackles in the backfield. In addition, C.J. Mosely spearheads the linebacking room and has been consistently stout against the run throughout his career.

Weaknesses: Per Football Outsiders: “a team with a high ranking in Adjusted Line Yards but a low ranking in Open Field Yards has a strong defensive line but its linebackers and secondary have difficulty in pursuit and tackling.” This can be extended to some extent to 2nd level yards. The Jets have a talented pair of young safeties, which limit opponents’ open field yards, but it is in their linebacking corps where the team is vulnerable. The team added Mosley to the middle of their defense this off-season, but, as you’ll see below, the interior has not been the problem. In a 3-4 over, teams are especially susceptible behind the walked-up linebacker. The Jets have a tendency to bring pressure from one of their outside backers and drop the other. Therefore, if the Eagles can correctly identify the blitzing backer, the run game could have a field day.

Continued on the page below.

Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

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