Throughout the season, NewYorkJets.com reporters Eric Allen, Ethan Greenberg and Randy Lange will each give their predictions to a series of questions regarding this year's Jets.
Today's question: What are your thoughts on the Jets initial 53-man roster?
EA: The QB matchup has been talked about since the schedule was announced, but I have my eye on both lines of scrimmage. The Jets strength on defense is the middle and that starts up front at defensive tackle with Quinnen Williams, Sheldon Rankins and Folorunso Fatukasi. The Panthers will counter with Matt Paradis at center and he'll be flanked by Pat Elflein, who started six games for the Jets last season, and Dennis Daley, a starter because John Miller is on the team's Reserve/Covid-19 list. The Jets should win/have the potential to dominate that matchup and they could make Sam Darnold's afternoon uncomfortable with that penetration up the middle. Christian McCaffrey is going to get his yards, but the Jets will have to limit the explosives and it will be interesting to see if they attempt to bracket him in coverage. On the other side of the ball, this Panthers defense is built on speed. The Jets are going to lean on the run game, forcing the Panthers defensive linemen to move laterally. Watch the Jets' left side with T Mekhi Becton and G Alijah-Vera Tucker, who didn't take a preseason snap, against the Panthers right side consisting of RDE Moran Fox and ROLB Hasson Reddick. Both Reddick (12.5 sacks in Arizona last season) and Brian Burns (16.5 sacks in 2019-20) are pass-rushing threats, but that is negated when the ground gain is effective. Zach Wilson has to play well and I think he will. C Connor McGovern refers to the rookie as a "gamer" and the moment won't be too big for him.
EG: The path is up front and defensively, it's up the middle. If the Jets can apply pressure, particularly with DTs Quinnen Williams and Sheldon Rankins, they'll have a chance to open the season 1-0. Panthers WRs D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson each had 1,000-yard seasons in 2020, not to mention RB Christian McCaffery became the third player in NFL history to have at least 1,000 rushing and receiving yards in 2019. If the Jets can apply pressure on QB Sam Darnold, he'll have less time to find Moore, whose 2,368 receiving yards since 2019 are fifth-most by a wideout in the NFL, and Anderson, who can blow the top off a defense. Containing McCaffery is no easy feat for any defense whether that's in open space on a checkdown or against the run. He accounted for 52.5% of the Panthers' touches in 2019 and the Jets need to contain him to have a chance to win on Sunday. Offensively, the Jets need to establish the run. Carolina's bookend pass rushers – Brian Burns (9 sacks in 2020) and Haason Reddick (12.5 sacks with Arizona in 2020) – could be contained if the offense can run the ball. We won't know the starter at RT until the Green & White take the field in Charlotte, NC. If it's Morgan Moses, it's important to note he had the sixth-highest run-blocking grade (85.9) among tackles in the NFL in 2020, according to Pro Football Focus. Establishing the run will allow the offense to try and execute on play action. It starts up front for both sides of the ball.
RL: I'll get way down in the weeds here and say that the team with the most effective ground game will pull this one out. For the Jets, that's Tevin Coleman, with career averages of 4.2 yards/carry and 10.5 yards/catch — second-best by an NFL back with 100 catches since 2000 — plus the contributions of Ty Johnson, Michael Carter and, for those "dirty yards," La'Mical Perine. Effective running will open up a no-doubt conservative playbook for rookie QB Zach Wilson to find his wideouts, Corey Davis, Jamison Crowder and rookie Elijah Moore, downfield often enough off of play action to score points. For the Panthers, they get Christian McCaffrey back healthy after a painful and short 2020 as he tries to duplicate his 1,000/1,000 rushing/receiving season in '19. That should help the Panthers' new QB, Sam Darnold, work his play action to another familiar name, WR Robby Anderson (21 completions of 20+ yards by the twosome for the 2018-19 Jets), downfield against the Jets' young corners. We know Darnold can find Anderson and it'll be up to the Jets run defense and then pass rush to keep Darnold one-dimensional and help produce an opening-day victory for first-year Jets HC Robert Saleh & Co.