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Three keys to Washington getting a win over the Jets


The Washington Commanders are traveling to New Jersey this weekend to play the New York Jets on Christmas Eve. Here are three keys to the Burgundy & Gold securing a win, presented by KIA.

1. Win against man coverage.

Here's some expert analysis for you: the Jets' defense is really, really good!

In all seriousness, though, the Jets' defense has been the team's one redeeming quality in a monstrously disappointing season. What they lack in run defense -- they give up 127.9 yards on the ground -- they make up for with the second-best secondary in the league, allowing just 170.4 yards through the air. They've also given up the second-fewest passing touchdowns (15) while also forcing 12 interceptions.

Sauce Gardner and running mate D.J. Reed get most of the praise, and rightfully so. Gardner's cover grade from Pro Football Focus (89.8) is essentially the same as when he won Defensive Rookie of the Year honors last season (90.0), which is partly why he has been targeted almost 30 fewer times than he was in 2022. Reed, a six-year veteran, is playing the best football of his career with a cover grade of 82.6 and seven pass breakups.

But the Jets' safeties -- Jordan Whitehead and Tony Adams -- are also quality players who are third and fourth on the team in tackles, respectively. Whitehead also has four interceptions, which is tied for fourth in the league and third among all safeties.

Because their secondary is so formidable, the Jets can rely on man coverage more than most teams. They allow just 6.8 yards per target in man coverage and have a defensive success rate of 57%. That could play into Washington's favor, as **Terry McLaurin** and **Curtis Samuel** both rank among the top 20 in yards against man coverage (McLaurin is 11th with 308 yards on 16 receptions).

"We're going to get some [deep shot] opportunities because we know they play a little bit of flatfoot with their safeties, and sometimes their corners are aggressive," McLaurin said Wednesday. "If we get the opportunity, we definitely got to make that happen."

McLaurin faced man coverage on both of his explosive plays against the Rams and broke loose on both, one of which resulted in a touchdown. All due respect to Rams cornerback Derion Kendrick, who McLaurin faced on those plays, but Garnder and Reed are playing better football right now. If the Commanders do manage to get open against man coverage, it will make life much easier for **Sam Howell** and the offense.

2. Force Trevor Siemian to make mistakes.

The Jets have arguably had the most frustrating quarterback situation in the NFL. Their efforts to acquire Aaron Rodgers in the offseason were worth less than a quarter of action from the Hall of Fame quarterback this season, leaving them with Zach Wilson and three games from Tim Boyle.

With Rodgers unable to return from a torn Achilles and Wilson in the concussion protocol, Trevor Siemian is set to start against the Commanders. Siemian has spent the last five seasons as a backup, including a brief stint with the Jets in 2019. He's had flashes of decent quarterback play, the most recent example coming in 2021 when he threw for 11 touchdowns and just three interceptions with the Saints in 2021, but there have also been moments where he's struggled.

The latter was the case against the Dolphins last week. Three of his last four drives ended in disaster, as he threw two interceptions and had a sack-fumble on third-and-13.

The Commanders have the worst defense in the NFL from a statistical perspective this season, giving up league high in yards and points. Conversely, the Jets have the worst offense and average the fewest yards and points. Clearly, something has to give.

The best thing Washington can do is force Siemian to make mistakes and create turnovers. The defense did that against the Rams with two fumble recoveries, both on their side of the 50-yard line. Granted, the Commanders' offense didn't do much with those extra opportunities, but it did result in the game still being competitive at halftime.

Washington has let bad offenses move up and down the field before. Allowing the Jets, who have not scored a first quarter touchdown all season, to do so would be a damning indictment.

3. Lock down the Jets' play makers.

As bad as the Jets' offense has been, there are still a handful of play makers who could give Washington trouble.

At the top of that list is Garrett Wilson, who is closing in on his second consecutive 1,000-yard season. He's not the sensation that he was as a rookie, but he's still the Jets' top target by far with nine plays of at least 20 yards. He's mostly used out wide, but he's also proven himself as a quality slot player with 256 yards on 33 receptions this season.

Breece Hall is another threat that Washington will need to consider this weekend. The team numbers don't look great -- the Jets average the third fewest yards per game -- but Hall has had a strong season with 637 yards, including a league-leading 83-yard run, while averaging 4.2 yards per carry.

"They do have a really good running game," **Ron Rivera** said. "They try to control the pace and tempo. It's not like they're trying to go a hundred miles an hour. They're slowing the pace down. I think the thing that they're trying to do is just be very steady with their game. But to me it, it really starts with their running game."

But Hall has almost as potent as a pass-catcher with 52 receptions for 441 yards, fourth among all running backs, and three scores. He has the fifth best receiving grade for the position with six explosive plays as a receiver. Both his targets (68) and yards are more than double what he had as a rookie.

Washington's issues with explosive plays are well known by not, particularly in the passing game. Both Wilson and Hall, while not having similar performances as some of the other weapons the Commanders have faced this season, are still dynamic, explosive players who can break loose at any point in a game.

If the Commanders are able to bottle up either player, it should cripple an offense that is already having difficulty putting together any semblance of consistency.

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