Jets’ young cornerbacks played surprisingly well against tough Panthers offense

By Tyler Greenawalt

One of the Jets’ biggest question marks all offseason revolved around their inexperienced cornerbacks.

The quartet of Bryce Hall, Brandin Echols, Michael Carter II and Javelin Guidry started a grand total of nine games combined in their careers. All of those starts came from Hall and Guidry in 2020.

But the young group held up well against the Panthers’ offense in their first game together. The unit didn’t stymie Sam Darnold or contain the Panthers’ pass-catchers, but the corners weren’t the reason the Jets lost, either. Darnold targeted the Jets’ cornerbacks on 15 of his 35 attempts in Week 1, according to Pro Football Focus, and he only completed nine passes for 77 yards.

Individually, Hall played the best. He allowed just nine yards and one first down on 1-of-2 attempts in 37 coverage snaps, according to Jets X-Factor’s Michael Nania. He is clearly the Jets’ top cornerback and manned the right side of the field against the Panthers.

Echols, the Jets’ No. 2 corner, allowed 26 yards and one first down on 3-of-5 attempts in 26 coverage snaps. Carter II, who played in the slot on 20 coverage snaps, allowed three passes on five targets for 17 targets and one first down. Guidry only played 12 coverage snaps, allowing 25 yards and a first down on 2-of-3 attempts.

None of the cornerbacks allowed a touchdown.

 

While all these numbers are extremely encouraging, they’re also extremely limited and situational. Darnold rarely targeted the sidelines and instead exploited mismatches in the middle of the field with Christian McCaffrey or blew the top off the Jets’ weak safeties with deep shots to Robby Anderson and D.J. Moore. Darnold went 18-22 in the middle of the field or at the line of scrimmage, according to NextGen Stats, and completed all of his passes within 10 yards. He only completed 1-4 passing attempts outside the numbers between 10-20 yards.

Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich and defensive backs coach Tony Oden deserve credit for their game plan, though. They took a squad of players with an average age under 24 years old and coached them into quality contributors. The foursome also didn’t miss a tackle or commit a penalty. Hall, Echols and Carter II ranked in the top-40 of all cornerbacks in Week 1, according to Pro Football Focus.

This won’t be the hardest challenge the young group faces this year season. They’ll see Julio Jones and A.J. Brown in Week 4, Calvin Ridley in Week 5, Mike Evans, Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin in Week 16, and Stefon Diggs twice in Weeks 10 and 18. Those are all significantly tougher matchups with better quarterbacks on offenses that attack cornerbacks often.

Week 1 was a solid start for the inexperienced defenders, but not one that spells success for the rest of the season. The group must correct some of the minute mistakes; Robert Saleh specifically mentioned zone coverage looks and winning one-on-one matchups.

But for a unit deemed among the weakest in the NFL, the Jets cornerbacks looked on their way to becoming a strength for the defense this season.


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