Throughout the offseason, NewYorkJets.com reporters Eric Allen, Ethan Greenberg, Randy Lange, Caroline Hendershot and John Pullano will each give their predictions to a series of questions regarding this year's Jets.
Today's question: What's the under-the-radar matchup in Jets-Vikings?
EA: The marquee billing matches the Jets elite defense vs. the Vikings explosive offensive attack. How many times will rookie CB Ahmad 'Sauce' Gardner, who leads the NFL with 14 PDs, get matched up with WR Justin Jefferson, who has 100+yards receiving in six of his past eight games? If Gardner, D.J. Reed and company make Kirk Cousins hitch as Robert Saleh likes to say, the Jets are going to make the Minnesota QB awfully uncomfortable in the pocket. But let's fly under the radar. After watching Pats TE Hunter Henry (3-63-1TD) have success against the Vikings on Thanksgiving, I think former Minnesota TE Tyler Conklin and C.J. Uzomah could factor big in this one both in the receiving and running games. In the Vikings' two losses, the Eagles (34-163-2TD) and the Cowboys (40-151-2TD) averaged 37 carries, 157 yards and 2 TDs. In last week's win over the Bears, the Jets rushed 32 times for 158 yards with 1 TD. If the Jets hit 30 and 150, they'll move to 8-4.
EG: All eyes will be on the Vikings WRs and the Jets CBs, but the Green & White's running backs is a position to watch. In the Vikings' two losses, they've allowed 314 combined rushing yards to the Cowboys and Eagles. RB Zonovan "Bam" Knight, in his first NFL game last week, totaled 113 scrimmage yards. RB Ty Johnson had 78. QB Mike White has thrown shown, despite a small sample size, he targets the backs frequently. He completed 6 passes to the running backs last week, 14 in his first start against Cincinnati last season and 9 vs. Buffalo two weeks after. If the Jets can establish the run, they can use play action effectively. This season, no defense has been worse against play-action passes, per TruMedia, than the Vikings. They're allowing a league-high 9.17 yards per play when opposing teams use play action. And they're giving up first downs on a league-worst 53.3 percent of snaps when opposing teams use play action.
RL: I'm going with a classic double matchup in the trenches. John Franklin-Myers at one end faces RT Brian O'Neill, a fifth-year starter and Pro Bowler in '21 whom JFM says is "one of the top right tackles in the NFL, and what a great challenge for me to go against a guy like that and prove myself worthy of my contract." At LT, fellow edge Carl Lawson would be going up against Christian Darrisaw, a second-year tackle and former first-round pick, although Darrisaw sat out last week with a concussion. Whether Darrisaw or Blake Brandel at LT, the Jets' double-edged task will be the same: for Lawson, JFM and friends to crash Kirk Cousins' pocket from the outside, pressure him, hit him and bring him down, or even just soften up the protection for the interior rush of Quinnen Williams & Co. Cousins has suffered 22 strip sacks in the last three seasons, most in the NFL, and has lost eight of those strips, tied for second-most. His nine INTs and two lost FUMs this season present the Jets defense, led by the edge rushers, with a way to keep a lid on the dangerous Cousins-to-Justin Jefferson connection.
CH: While most people may be looking at the matchup of Justin Jefferson and the Jets cornerback duo, I think the most under-the-radar matchup this Sunday will be the Vikings running backs vs. the Jets run defense. The Jets rush defense ranks No. 12 in the NFL, allowing 111.3 yards per game while the Vikings rank No. 26 in rushing offense with an average of 99.4 yards per game. If the Jets cornerbacks are locking down the Vikings receiving group -- the Green & White has allowed the second fewest receiving yards per game to WRs in 2022 -- the Vikings may have to lean on the run game. RB Dalvin Cook leads the Vikings with 841 rush yards, 4.7 yards per rush and 6 rushing touchdowns. The cornerback and receiver matchup may be the flashiest, but this game could be dictated by the Jets run defense.
JP: Soaring under the radar is the matchup between the Vikings top edge rushers – Za'Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter – and the Jets offensive tackles – rookie RT Max Mitchell and veteran LT Duane Brown. Smith and Hunter have been one of the league's best pass rush duos combining for 16.5 sacks – the third most for a pair – and 28 QB hits this season. The Green & White tackles have been equally as impressive. Mitchell, in his return against the Bears in Week 12 from a knee injury sustained in Week 4, he did not give up a sack, QB hit or pressure according to Pro Football Focus. Brown was put on IR with a shoulder injury before the season and since returning has surrendered 1 sack and no QB hits in 7 games. When Jets QB Mike White was kept clean against the Bears, he delivered a near-perfect performance completing 20-of-26 attempts for 245 yards and 2 touchdowns. How well Brown and Mitchell hold up against Smith and Hunter could go a long way in leaving U.S. Bank stadium with a win Sunday.