Jets young cornerbacks exploited in loss to Falcons

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Olamide Zaccheaus makes catch over Brandin Echols
Olamide Zaccheaus makes catch over Brandin Echols

It was the one-off season gamble that was always likely to be second-guessed if the Jets struggled against the pass. Their decision not to add a veteran cornerback and to, instead, rely on rookies and inexperienced youngsters raised eyebrows, but Robert Saleh has reiterated his confidence in those players and his system.

Until Sunday, that confidence had been repaid, as the young group had held up better than most expected. However, on a day when Matt Ryan passed for 342 yards and two touchdowns despite Atlanta being without their top two receivers, questions were always going to be asked about whether this is a sign of things to come.

All three starting cornerbacks – Bryce Hall, Brandin Echols and nickelback Michael Carter II gave up multiple first down catches in coverage, as tight end Kyle Pitts and running back Cordarrelle Patterson bolstered the short-handed receiver rotation by filling in on the outside or in the slot.

Pitts posted a 100-yard game and the first touchdown of his career, while Patterson caught seven passes and also had over 100 yards from scrimmage. The Falcons' reserves also chipped in with some key plays too, though.

This was one of the first times a quarterback has gone after these youngsters in key situations and the Falcons had good success in doing this. Linebacker C.J. Mosley was quick to point out that the Jets’ inability to get off the field was not all on the cornerbacks though, saying he and his fellow linebackers take responsibility for some of the completions over the middle.

The Falcons also attacked the Jets in zone coverage a few times, including on the crucial big pass to Pitts in the fourth quarter, which flipped the momentum back to the Falcons after the Jets had pulled within three. Pitts ran down the seam on that play, splitting Echols and Hall, who were both responsible for the downfield routes.

After the game, Hall spoke about how important it is for the defensive backs to execute their assignments and said that when they do that they're going to be “really, really good”.

Saleh shares this confidence, reiterating something he spoke about on Friday when asked if he was concerned that the team was yet to intercept a pass this season. “We're one step away,” he said, citing the example of Hall almost picking one off before halftime on what looked like a potential pick-six as the ball was in the air.

Hall said the same thing. “We're right there,” he noted, “but it's just the little things”. Saleh says the defensive system is predicated on forcing opposing teams to get the ball out quickly to mitigate the kind of pressure the Titans were forced to endure last week.

In that respect, it worked, but he acknowledged they're still learning how to exploit this at the cornerback positions.

On another second half third down conversion, Hall made a diving attempt to get his hands on a pass to the outside and Carter was also right there on a couple of completions over the middle. If the Jets can start making these kinds of plays, it will give the Jets the kind of momentum swings they've been lacking through the first five games.

Hall, who has been getting his hands on a lot of balls with five pass breakups in the last two games, is certain he won't need too many more opportunities to make this happen. “The next one,” he said, “it’s going down.”