New York Jets Week 3 Secondary Breakdown

Ben DiNapoli with his weekly breakdown of the New York Jets secondary

Following week 2’s frustrating loss to the Dolphins, the Jets entered week 3 with a chance to bounce back in a game many circled as a win coming into the season. In what was a tale of two halves, New York lost a tough game against the Browns, 21-17. This is one of the more up and down games you’ll ever see with the Jets going from dominating on defense, to having absolutely no answer on either side of the ball. This applies heavily to the secondary, which, as a unit, fell apart and gave the game away once Baker Mayfield entered the game. Who’s to blame for the collapse? Is it time to worry about the secondary’s inconsistent play through the first 3 games?

New Jack City started off hot against Tyrod Taylor, limiting him to only 4 completions for 14 yards. It seemed like Taylor had nowhere to go and although he missed a couple open receivers, the secondary was in complete control, forcing pressure and some ugly throws. After an injury to Taylor, Baker Mayfield entered the game late in the 1st half and immediately sparked the offense. He drove the Browns downfield with ease and finished with only 6 incompletions, a few of which were dropped passes.

The secondary looked gassed in the 2nd half, but that isn’t a viable excuse for giving up 200 yards and four scoring drives to a rookie quarterback making his first regular season appearance. The Jets played more zone coverage in the 2nd half, so the blame isn’t completely on the secondary, but there were too many receivers running free downfield. The unit’s day also would’ve looked a lot worse if it weren’t for some off target throws and dropped passes, but more on that a little later.

Let’s get into some studs and duds from week 3: 

Dud: CB Morris Claiborne

Even though it doesn’t show in the box score, it was a tough game for Morris Claiborne. He had trouble keeping up with Antonio Callaway and was bailed out by some non-calls, missed receivers and drops. Claiborne was also flagged multiple times for defensive holding, with one costing the Jets points. He was caught holding Callaway yet again as New York forced a sack on Cleveland’s failed two-point attempt. The Browns ran a trick play to Mayfield to convert on the next play and tie the game. Claiborne has struggled in two of three games thus far and must improve next week in order for the Jets to compete against Jacksonville.

Stud: S Jamal Adams

Jamal Adams has been the only consistent player in the secondary so far this season; he’s PFF’s 4th rated Jet through week 3. Adams was a difference maker, easily getting into the backfield and applying pressure to both quarterbacks. We’ve come to expect solid tackling from the second year safety, but Adams seems to have taken his coverage up a notch thus far. With that being said, he was a little late to get into position on a few plays in the 2nd half, but otherwise there weren’t any noticeable things that stuck out in coverage this week. Through three games, Adams looks the part of a top safety in the NFL and there’s no reason to think that’ll change as the season goes on.

Dud: CB Trumaine Johnson

Week 3 was another unspectacular game for the Jets’ big free agent signing. Similar to Claiborne, Johnson was helped out by some errant throws and was lucky to not give up any long touchdowns. Callaway burned him midway through the first half but a bad throw by Tyrod Taylor allowed Tru to close the gap and deflect the pass. He also had two penalties on the same drive, one being an unsportsmanlike conduct after a 3rd down stop. A couple plays later, he hit Taylor in the head trying to make a tackle, which wound up offsetting a holding call on the Browns. To make matters worse, he left the game for the second time in three weeks with concussion-like symptoms.

Dud: CB Parry Nickerson

Given Buster Skrine’s struggles to start the year, fans have been clamoring for Parry Nickerson to get some reps with the first team defense. When Buster Skrine exited in the 2nd quarter, Nickerson received his opportunity for extended action in the slot. Unfortunately, it was a disappointing performance. Nickerson often looked lost in coverage and it seemed the Jets switched to playing more zone to compensate, which hurt them as the game went on. Additionally, if it wasn’t for Trumaine Johnson pulling him away, Nickerson would’ve been in the thick of a scuffle that likely would’ve given the young corner his second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty of the year.

Dud: S Doug Middleton

Middleton has played pretty well after being thrust into the starting lineup to begin the season. However, in week 3, he was responsible for one of the key turning points that fueled the Browns’ comeback On Baker Mayfield’s third drive of the game, he fired a pass in the end zone right into Middleton’s arms. Unfortunately for the Jets, it hit right off his chest and fell to the ground; the Browns wound up kicking a field goal shortly after. Had Middleton been able to secure the interception, the Jets would’ve regained some momentum and possibly halted the comeback.

 Although things currently don’t look great for the secondary, better days are likely ahead. It hasn’t been the start many had hoped for from the Jets’ new outside corner tandem, but both Johnson and Claiborne have played at a high level in the past and the secondary as a whole should benefit from some extra rest. Additionally, coverage will undoubtedly improve once Marcus Maye is back in the starting lineup. He was spotted at practice this week and appears to be getting closer to a return, which will boost the entire defense.

After a 10-day hiatus, the Jets return to action Sunday against Blake Bortles and the Jaguars in Jacksonville. Although Bortles isn’t the most talented quarterback, he’s shown the ability to make plays and feed the Jags’ athletic pass catchers. Keelan Cole has looked great this season and Dede Westbrook is another explosive receiver that may give the Jets’ corners some trouble. While it’s true both players have played well, Jacksonville lacks true star power on offense outside of Leonard Fournette. Because of this, I expect the secondary to right the ship and get back to forcing some turnovers against an inconsistent aerial attack.