If the Jets want to secure their first win of the season and take down the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, they'll need to find a way to hinder rookie quarterback Justin Herbert.
The first-rounder has been sensational for Los Angeles this season, throwing for 2,333 yards and 19 touchdowns in eight games. He's not only a favorite to win Offensive Rookie of the Year, but Herbert has been one of the league's best at his position.
Entering play in Week 11, the Oregon product is averaging 291.6 passing yards per game. That's the fourth-highest average among quarterbacks who have played in eight games or more this season.
"I’ve been very impressed with the fact that you look at his touchdown-to-interception ratio, that’s pretty impressive for a rookie," Jets head coach Adam Gase said on Friday. "[He's] doing a good job of using the guys around him, giving those guys legit 50-50 balls that they’re coming down with quite a bit. Doing a good job not turning the ball over, really using their system to his advantage."
So, how can New York's defense—the fourth-worst unit at limiting yards through the air per game in 2020—hold this gun slinger (as defensive coordinator Gregg Williams called him) in check?
To Jets defensive end Tarell Basham, the game plan is simple.
"He's got a good arm, good on the deep ball. Makes some good decisions, makes some bad decisions. Try to take advantage of the bad ones," Bashman told reporters in a Zoom call on Wednesday.
Herbert has only thrown six interceptions this season, effectively limiting his mistakes and taking what Basham called "calculated risks." Of those six picks, his last three (each coming in the last three weeks) were thrown on third down with Herbert forcing the football into tight windows down the field.
That in mind, disrupting him with pressure from the defensive line may very well be New York's best shot to get the quarterback off his game.
"I definitely think there's going to be opportunities there. As a young quarterback, when you face pressure, you sometimes make bad decisions," linebacker Neville Hewitt said Friday. "He's having a really good year and he's a good quarterback. They throw the ball up and his guys go and get it."
It's not just Herbert and his powerful arm that New York's secondary has to worry about. They'll be tasked with containing Hunter Henry, Mike Williams and of course the ever-dangerous Keenan Allen, who ranks fifth in all of football this season with 65 catches (good for 690 yards).
Factor in the fact that the Jets are running low on defensive backs—following the release of Pierre Desir, season-ending surgery for Brian Poole and a neck injury for Bless Austin—and New York will be counting on rookies like Bryce Hall at corner and Ashtyn Davis at safety to step up and limit explosive plays down the field.
Lucky for Gang Green, Davis (who played college ball at the University of California) has some experience against Herbert.
"Justin's a big athletic guy, can make every throw on the field," Davis said Friday. "I played against him a few times in college, and I'm really excited to play against him again."
Asked if he's ever picked him off before, Davis chuckled and allowed a grin to creep across his face.
"I picked him off last year," he said. "I asked him if he would throw me one [on Sunday]. We'll see."