The Jets are coming off of another disappointing defensive performance, in which they struggled to stop the run and failed to get off the field on third downs last week against the Eagles.
Now, here come the Saints, in desperate need of a win and with reinforcements arriving. New Orleans is riding a five-game losing streak, with its playoff hopes fading by the week. The Saints’ offense has not been as high-powered with Drew Brees now in retirement and Jameis Winston out for the season. But the Saints still pose a problem for the struggling Jets.
“They’re a great challenge,” Jets defensive end John Franklin-Myers said. “Obviously, Taysom Hill is a great quarterback, does a good job running around. If [Alvin Kamara] plays, just a dynamic player, a guy who can do a little bit of everything catching passes out of the backfield, runs great, great contact balance. It’s a great challenge. On the offensive line, you’re talking about arguably the best tackle duo in the NFL if they play. Their offense is a great challenge. They have some great players.”
Kamara is expected to play for the first time since Nov. 7, when he suffered a knee injury. He has practiced all week and appears to be 100 percent. Kamara has 530 yards on 146 rushes this year and 32 catches for 310 yards and seven total touchdowns.
“He’s one of the best,” Jets head coach Robert Saleh said of Kamara. “He’s got tremendous contact balance, he’s a savvy runner, he’s very smart, he’s great out of the backfield in the pass game. So, I’m sure they’re excited to get him back and get him back involved, especially down the stretch for them. They’ve been hit with the injury bug, too, and they’re on a little bit of a losing streak and they’re a very prideful organization with a tremendous head coach, so I know they’re really chomping at the bit to get him going and to try to feed him the rock. Having him back, he’s an issue, but something that we’ve got to be excited about attacking.”
The Jets allowed 185 rushing yards to the Eagles last week and let Philadelphia control the clock in the second half. The Jets come into this game ranked 32nd in points and yards allowed in the NFL, 30th in rushing yards allowed and 32nd in rushing touchdowns allowed. They have given up 100 rushing yards or more in 10 of their 12 games and more than 150 yards in three games.
Franklin-Myers pointed the finger at the defensive line.
“We put it on our shoulders to help this team win and, obviously, we didn’t do enough,” Franklin-Myers said.
But it is not just the defensive line. Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said the Jets had 15 missed tackles against the Eagles. That was on all levels of the defense.
Saleh said the key for the Jets is keeping opponents in bad distances on third down. Too often, lately, the Jets have given up yards on first and second down and left teams with third-and-short.
“Our best defensive games are when we do stop the run, and it’s something that, obviously, everyone is locked in on trying to make sure that we do,” Saleh said. “It stems so much more than just the yardage total. It’s about the down and distances and trying to get it to where we’re living in third-and-seven, eight, nine, 10, to give our D-line a chance to get home.”
The Jets don’t have Mark Ingram, who was added to Saints’ COVID-19 list Wednesday, to worry about in this one. Hill will be starting his second game at quarterback this year. He was intercepted four times by the Cowboys last week, but rushed for 101 yards. He is dealing with an injury to the middle finger on his throwing hand, another reason to expect a heavy dose of running from him.
“Taysom runs his butt off,” Saleh said. “When he becomes a ball carrier, he’s a heavy, heavy, heavy runner. He’s hard to tackle, he’s violent. He can throw a football, he adds a different element in terms of, they still run all the same stuff that [Saints coach] Sean [Payton] has always run, that dynamic different formations, tempo in-and-out of the huddle, the explosive plays, the precision as it pertains to drop-back pass. The element of the quarterback run game comes into play with Taysom, that’s the big difference, and it’s not like zone read, it’s almost Wing T-ish where he’s going to put the ball in his right arm and its power, what Carolina used to do with Cam Newton.”