The mirage of the Jets’ stout secondary lifted in Week 5.
After four weeks of solid coverage play, New York’s young defensive backs were lit up by Matt Ryan and the rest of the Falcons pass-catchers in a 27-20 loss in London. Ryan finished with 342 passing yards – the most given up by the Jets all season – and rookie tight end Kyle Pitts was especially deadly after hauling in nine receptions for 119 yards and a score. The touchdown wasn’t the fault of the defensive backs, but Pitts’ monstrous game certainly is on the shoulders of the secondary.
Inexperience was the chief concern around the Jets’ defensive backfield heading into the season, but the unit staved off those worries up until this week. Bryce Hall looked like a lockdown cornerback and the corners had not given up a passing touchdown all season. The unit still hasn’t given up a touchdown – both scores came with defensive linemen covering Pitts and fellow tight end Hayden Hurst – but Ryan still sliced them up all over the field.
The key differences between this game and the previous four were the soft coverage against a veteran quarterback who had two versatile and talented pass-catchers in Pitts and Cordarrelle Patterson.
Ryan’s experience helped him up the middle. He attacked with short and intermediate passing routes and completed 73.33 percent of his attempts. He only attempted four passes at least 15 yards downfield. The duo of Pitts and Patterson couldn’t be stopped, either. They accounted for half of Ryan’s passing yards and completions.
New York’s inexperience against unique players like Pitts and Patterson made everything more difficult, too. Pitts is a 6-foot-6 tight end with speed and an almost-seven-foot wingspan. He’s a mismatch against every defender the Jets have. Patterson, meanwhile, is a veteran pass-catcher with elite speed who plays multiple positions. The best pass-catchers the Jets faced up until this week were D.J. Moore and Courtland Sutton. While those receivers are equally great, they’re easier to cover because of their more traditional style of play.
Matchup issues weren’t the only reason for the Jets’ secondary failures. There are other factors to consider, including an atypical defensive line performance and questionable defensive playcalling. The Jets’ pass rush wasn’t nearly as disruptive as usual and gave Ryan much more time in the pocket than other quarterbacks the Jets faced. Jeff Ulbrich’s gameplan also failed on multiple fronts – specifically when defensive end John Franklin-Myers found himself covering Pitts in the end zone for the tight end’s touchdown. The Jets also played a lot of zone defense – especially on blitzes – which was ineffective against Arthur Smith’s offense.
The regression is a bit alarming considering how well the young cornerbacks played prior to Week 5, but it doesn’t mean the Jets’ secondary is doomed for the rest of the season. This game was a perfect storm for failure given Ryan’s ability, the pass-catching matchups and the offensive system New York faced. The unit is still young and learning how to play against different teams and the Falcons presented a different obstacle.