The NY Jets were prepared to make an important and significant change to their defensive strategy as it pertains to star cornerback Sauce Gardner in the team's Thursday Night Football matchup with the Cleveland Browns this past week.
Gardner told reporters after the game that the Jets intended to have their All-Pro cornerback shadow Browns wide receiver Amari Cooper throughout the game. This would have been a direct departure from the team's typical defensive game plan that confines their cornerbacks to one side of the field.
Ultimately, Cooper was a surprise inactive due to a heel injury. There was optimism entering the day that Cooper would be able to play, but the Browns decided to keep him out after they didn't feel comfortable with his pre-game workout.
It didn't matter much, as the Browns cruised to a 37-20 victory over the Jets on the back of a productive day by former Jets quarterback Joe Flacco. Gardner did his part, however.
Sauce Gardner was once again dominant in Week 17
Gardner was targeted just one time in Thursday night's loss to the Browns, allowing zero catches. He recorded a pass breakup on his only target this past week. That extended a streak of 10 consecutive games with two or fewer receptions allowed by the reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Despite some premature talk of a "down" year over the first few weeks of the season, Gardner has been just as dominant in his sophomore NFL season. The only difference is that teams aren't even trying to throw his way.
Gardner has allowed just 29 catches for 251 yards this season. Since Week 3, Gardner has been tagged with surrendering a measly 19 catches for 158 yards and zero touchdowns. That's an average of less than 1.5 catches and 12.2 yards per game.
Those are Darrelle Revis numbers. Heck, with Gardner on his way to a second consecutive first-team All-Pro appearance to start his NFL career, it's worth wondering if any cornerback in NFL history has been better through the first two seasons of their career.
While the Jets have full trust in their star-studded cornerback trio of Gardner, D.J. Reed, and Michael Carter II, it might make sense for the team to consider allowing Gardner to shadow star wide receivers.
It doesn't matter who Gardner has covered this season — he's shut down them all. It would make sense to give Gardner more snaps against the opposing team's top targets on offense.
Take the Jets' Week 15 loss to the Miami Dolphins, for example. Gardner and Reed were in coverage on Jaylen Waddle for the same number of snaps in that game. Reed allowed three catches on four targets for 92 yards. Gardner allowed one catch on one target for eight yards.
This would be a significant change to the Jets' defensive scheme, which is why they've likely avoided it to this point. The fact that Robert Saleh and the Jets' staff were considering the switch this week is a sign that Gardner might start following opposing top receivers in the near future.