NY Jets have to maximize a major mismatch to defeat Vikings

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By: Michael Nania

The New York Jets need one of their best players to go bananas in Minneapolis

In the standings, the 9-2 Minnesota Vikings have a two-game advantage over the 7-4 New York Jets, but these teams are closer than their records indicate. As a matter of fact, the Jets (+34) have a better point differential than the Vikings (+5) despite having a more difficult strength-of-schedule (.524 to .490).

Minnesota has some advantages over New York and New York has some advantages over Minnesota. Whichever team does a better job of maximizing its respective mismatches will be the winner.

While both teams have their share of tasty mismatches to exploit, it can be argued that the biggest mismatch of this game lies in the Jets’ favor: defensive tackle Quinnen Williams against the Vikings’ interior offensive line.

Minnesota’s offensive line is an enigma. While the Vikings have two excellent tackles in Christian Darrisaw (LT) and Brian O’Neill (RT), their interior trio of Ezra Cleveland (LG), Garrett Bradbury (C), and Ed Ingram (RG) is one of the NFL’s worst when it comes to pass protection.

The Vikings’ interior offensive linemen have combined to allow 100 pressures this season, which is the most of any IOL unit in the NFL. From an efficiency perspective, they have combined to allow pressure on 6.79% of their pass-blocking snaps, which ranks 31st ahead of only the tanking Houston Texans.

These are not the numbers you want to have when the league’s most efficient pass-rushing defensive tackle is coming to town.

Quinnen Williams is having an All-Pro caliber season. No interior pass rusher in the NFL is creating pressure on a play-to-play basis like he is. Williams leads all defensive tackles in sack rate (2.97%) and is second in pressure rate (12.54%), collecting 9 sacks and 38 total pressures over 301 pass-rush snaps this season.

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What makes Williams’s production even scarier for the Vikings is that he has accumulated it against a very difficult schedule. He hasn’t faced an IOL nearly as bad as Minnesota’s. If he can consistently wreak havoc against quality competition, it’s frightening to think about what he will do against the Vikings’ sputtering unit.

Williams has played 10 of his 11 games this year against a team whose IOL has allowed a pressure rate below the positional average of 4.26%. Ten of eleven! That includes six of 11 games against teams whose IOL is ranked top-8 in lowest pressure rate allowed.

In other words, Williams has spent nearly the entire season playing against above-average competition and more than half of it playing against elite competition. This only adds to the impressiveness of his resume.

The lone game that Williams played against a below-average pass-blocking IOL was actually his most recent game against the Chicago Bears, whose IOL ranks 26th with an allowed pressure rate of 4.85%. Williams had a quiet game by his standards, picking up only one pressure (although it was a bone-shattering QB hit to force an incompletion), but he also played a season-low 20 pass-rush snaps since the Jets were getting off the field so quickly, so it was a limited sample size. Most likely, things will balance out and Williams’s numbers will soar in future games against subpar competition.

And we probably shouldn’t even be comparing Chicago’s IOL to Minnesota’s. As bad as Chicago’s IOL is, it comes nowhere close to the ineptitude of Minnesota’s. The 1.94% disparity between 26th-ranked Chicago (4.85%) and 31st-ranked Minnesota (6.79%) is nearly equal to the disparity between Chicago and 3rd-ranked New England (2.93%).

Minnesota and Houston’s interior offensive lines are in their own stratosphere of badness. Here is a look at the bottom of the pecking order when it comes to IOL pressure rate:

  • 20. Titans (4.27%)
  • 21. Falcons (4.40%)
  • 22. Seahawks (4.46%)
  • 23. Cowboys (4.70%)
  • 24. Lions (4.74%)
  • 25. Cardinals (4.79%)
  • 26. Bears (4.85%)
  • 27. Raiders (5.48%)
  • 28. Commanders (5.57%)
  • 29. Giants (5.69%)
  • 30. Rams (6.01%)
  • 31. Vikings (6.79%)
  • 32. Texans (7.21%)

If you’re wondering, the Jets are 16th at 4.17%.

Long story short: the Vikings’ offensive line is extremely bad in pass protection and Quinnen Williams has not seen anything like it this year. Considering that he’s accumulated essentially all of his elite numbers against good opponents, there is no telling what he could do against an abysmal opponent.

It is essential for the Jets that Williams takes advantage of this mismatch and enjoys a dominant game – and not just because of the talent gap.

Yes, Williams needs to play well simply because he is so much better than the players who will try to block him. That goes without saying.

But Williams’s performance is especially crucial in this particular game because he holds the keys to shutting down Minnesota’s greatest strength: Kirk Cousins taking shots from inside the pocket.

The primary reason the Vikings are 9-2 is an explosive passing attack that ranks seventh-best with 240.9 yards per game. And Cousins’s downfield prowess on inside-the-pocket throws is the primary reason the aforementioned passing attack is so good.

Cousins ranks second in completions (64) and fourth in passing yards (1,382) on passes from inside the pocket that traveled at least 10 yards downfield. He’s gained a whopping 50.1% of his total passing yards on these plays, which is the second-largest portion among qualified quarterbacks behind only Tua Tagovailoa. This is the bread-and-butter of how Minnesota wins games: Cousins standing tall and bombing it to Justin Jefferson.

And how can the Jets shut that weapon down?

By creating interior pressure that eliminates room for Cousins to step up in the pocket.

It’s not a stretch to say the Jets’ Minneapolis fate rests in Quinnen Williams’s hands.

Here’s some more good news for the Jets: Williams might be getting some extra help this week. Defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins returned to practice in a limited capacity on Wednesday and could return from a two-game absence in Minnesota. Rankins is enjoying a strong season and would take some pressure off Williams, giving him even more room to operate.

If the Jets upset the Vikings on Sunday, there is a high chance that Williams’s dominance will be one of the main reasons why.

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