New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh has never been afraid to utilize the common phrase of “iron sharpening iron” when it comes to game day.
When his Jets take on the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday at MetLife Stadium, that mantra will be put to the test in several different position groups. Whether it’s New York’s defensive line against Philadelphia’s vaunted offensive line, or two of the best special teams groups battling, Sunday evening will be an excellent test for both teams.
Perhaps no position group battle is more enticing to watch than in the Jets’ secondary. Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed are arguably the best cornerback duo in the NFL today with past examples of locking down some of the best overall groups in football.
Sunday will be the first time this year that they get a chance to face the best receiver duo in the game. Well, sort of.
With Reed not being able to pass concussion protocol Friday afternoon, the Jets will be without one of their top corner duos. The same cannot be said for their opponent’s top skill group.
A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith are two of the best receivers in the modern game. The fact that they just happen to play on the same team makes them a tough matchup for any team across the league – even if the Jets are confident in their ability to defend both at the same time.
“I’ve got tremendous confidence in our guys,” Jets defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said. “They are in my opinion the best duo in the League, and because of that, you can lean on them a lot of times, especially times like this… They’re super excited about this challenge because you’re right, it’s one of the better wide receiver tandems if not the best one we’ll see all season long.”
The duo of Brown and Smith have combined for 58 catches with over 800 yards and four touchdowns between them. Their ability to win at the point of attack while dominating the yards-after-catch stat has made them one of the more formidable groups in the modern game.
It’s not just the two receivers though that makes them so dangerous.
“They’ve got playmakers all over the place. Just their offensive, it’s as talented a group as I’ve seen in a long time,” Saleh explained Friday. “So, there’s a reason why they’re the NFC champs and that close to winning a Super Bowl. It’s going to be a challenge.”
There are a lot of ways that the Eagles offense can attack New York’s 14th-ranked pass defense. So long as Gardner and now Bryce Hall can play at a high level, the Jets can take one of Philly’s strengths away. It certainly doesn’t help Gardner isn’t fully healthy either.
Gardner missed practice Friday with an illness but isn’t expected to miss any time against Philly. He is questionable leading into the contest. Reed also was a recent scratch for Sunday because he did not pass concussion protocol, but the team is highly confident that Hall can play to where they need him to.
“He came to work every day as if he was a starter. With intent, deliberate in all that he did, and positivity, you would have never known he was a starter who got demoted.,” Ulbrich said. “Because of that, he gave himself the chance to be very successful on Sunday for us, and he was. And it was one of those things that he talked about the night before the game, and everyone knew he was going to play well because of that.”
Even without Reed, that means, truly, that the Eagles and Jets will be throwing two of their strengths at each other for a full 60 minutes. While Ulbrich explained that he wouldn’t leave his two corners on an island for the entire game, the way they have dominated this season allows them to be more creative in how to stop the rest of Philadelphia’s offense.
New York will of course need to also prepare for the skill level that quarterback Jalen Hurts brings, but taking away his top two options in the passing game can go a long way.