Panthers vs. Jets: 3 keys to victory for Gang Green
By Ryan Patti
Believe it or not, the New York Jets are just one game out of the sixth spot in the AFC playoffs. They’ll need a Week 12 win to stay alive.
The New York Jets are off their Week 11 bye looking at a must-win scenario against the Carolina Panthers. Gang Green sits at 4-6 while Ron Rivera‘s men hold a record of 7-3. The last time these two met, the Panthers came out on top 30-20 in Charlotte. However, eight years ago, the Jets were victorious in this exact same spot.
New York had an ugly Week 10 showing in Tampa Bay. They lost 15-10 and their touchdown came on a desperation heave in garbage time. John Morton‘s offense totaled a mere 15 first downs and three third-down conversions. Ryan Fitzpatrick got the last laugh.
The Panthers, on the other hand, trounced Miami 45-21. Their offense was 11/14 on third down, racked up 30 first downs, 548 yards and averaged a whopping 7.7 yards per play. The defense was also stout as they held Miami to 17 first downs.
Carolina enters this contest as a heavy favorite. They have the better coach, quarterback, skill position players and you could even make a case for their defense. The Jets are historically poor off the bye, so it’ll take a phenomenal effort to get back in the win column. Here are the three things they have to do to get it done.
Next: 3. Contain Christian McCaffrey
3. Contain Christian McCaffrey
Now that Kelvin Benjamin is a Buffalo Bill, it’s safe to say Christian McCaffrey is the Panthers’ most explosive offensive player. He’s a do-it-all back and making a strong case for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Even with the return of All-Pro tight end Greg Olsen, the Stanford product will lead the pack like he has all season.
Through the air, he has 57 receptions for 433 yards and three touchdowns. He has 206 yards and two touchdowns on 69 attempts on the ground. Blocking isn’t a challenge for him either as he’s never afraid to go after a defender on a designed quarterback run. His 5’11,” 205 frame doesn’t hold him back.
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What New York needs to do to keep him in check is load the box. When you have a lot of defenders near the line of scrimmage, check downs and dump-offs in the flat are minimized. The safeties and corners have to be alert as well because offensive coordinator Mike Shula occasionally sends him in motion and lines him up in the slot. You have to prepare for everything against McCaffrey.
Next: 2. Test Carolina's secondary
2. Test Carolina’s secondary
It’s nearly impossible to run the ball on Carolina. They’re ranked third in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (80.6) and second in total rushing yards allowed (806). On Pro Football Focus, only three front-seven members who have earned more than 100 snaps have a run defense grade less than 72. The other eight are above that mark.
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Where the Panthers are vulnerable is in their secondary. They surrender a completion percentage of 64.3 and a passer rating of 91.7, per ESPN Stats & Info. Their individual grades on PFF don’t help their cause either. None of their four corners have overall grades higher than 49. The highest coverage grade is Daryl Worley‘s 48.4. Veteran Mike Adams is the lone bright spot at safety (81.5 PFF grade).
What Morton and the offense have to do is fire away. Robby Anderson and Jermaine Kearse should be running many of their routes 10+ yards downfield. ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen need to see more targets as well. Austin Seferian-Jenkins has a brutal matchup with one of the best linebackers in the league in Luke Kuechly, so it’ll have to be the wide receiver show.
Next: 1. Keep Cam Newton in the pocket
1. Keep Cam Newton in the pocket
A threat that Bowles’ defense can’t afford to overlook is Cam Newton’s ability to escape the pocket. He’s arguably the best running quarterback in the NFL and won’t slide to give himself up. He has juked and bulldozed his fair share of defenders in his seven-year career. His physicality makes him as special as he is.
Newton is on pace for one of his best rushing seasons yet and the past few weeks showed his legs are a huge part of Shula’s game plan. In Weeks 6-10, he had 45 rushes for 346 yards and two touchdowns, which rounds out to just south of 7.7 yards per clip. Don’t expect him to cool down anytime soon.
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What the Jets can do to slow him down is limit their blitz packages. Sending the house against a mobile quarterback is the worst possible idea. One block from the tackle or tight end on the edge and it’s an easy six points. The pressure is on Leonard Williams and company to establish a pass rush because it can’t come from the linebackers, unfortunately.