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After a frustrating start to the season, Jets WR Robby Anderson broke out in a big way last week.
With 3:46 left in the second quarter, Anderson got behind the Cowboys defense for a 92-yard touchdown to give the Jets a 14-3 lead. They clung on for a 24-22 victory, improving their record to 1-4 as they seek to defy the critics and get themselves back into the postseason hunt.
Coming just one play after a fourth down stop by rookie Quinnen Williams, the Anderson play saw him throw cornerback Chidobe Awuzie off-balance with a double-move, as he streaked down the field. He tracked Sam Darnold's deep throw all the way into his hands at midfield, catching the ball in stride and racing into the clear before the deep safety could get across.
Evidently, there was some pre-snap communication between Anderson and Darnold, perhaps realizing the opportunity to isolate Anderson one-on-one with Awuzie rather than speedy pro bowl cornerback Byron Jones, who was on the other side of the field. Darnold instructed Jamison Crowder to motion across to the left side of the formation so that Anderson was the only receiver on that side of the field to set up the long connection.
There's been talk that Anderson's slow start to the season was in large part affected by the quarterback play with Darnold out of the lineup. Head coach Adam Gase had observed earlier in the week that Anderson had been getting open, but that they had been unable to get the ball to him. Sunday saw Anderson rack up 125 receiving yards after having entered the game with just 131 in four games.
In the season opener, Anderson got behind the defense three times for potential big plays. Had Darnold thrown those as accurately as he did the touchdown pass on Sunday, we might already be talking about Anderson's season differently. However, what we didn't know at the time was that Darnold was compromised and not feeling close to 100 percent. Jets fans will therefore hope that their inability to connect downfield in that game was an aberration.
The Jets and Anderson have been eager to point out that he is not just a one-trick pony. While he's definitely a deep threat -- and the recipient of Darnold's five longest touchdown passes in his career so far -- the Jets believe Anderson can be a more well-rounded receiver who also contributes in the intermediate passing game.
In the Packers game last season, Anderson posted a career-high nine catches for 140 yards without catching a single deep ball. Statistical analysis also showed that Anderson's catch rate and production compared favorably with the league's top big-name receivers on intermediate passes last season and that he should probably be featured more on such plays.
Anderson's developing skillset as a route-runner was on display in the Cowboys game. While we've seen double-moves from him before, he also had an impressive play in the second half. Anderson lined up in the slot and ran a sharp route that saw him jab step to the inside to get the slot corner on his heels then break for the sideline where Darnold was able to hit him on a back-shoulder timing route. He also had an easy first down catch with Awuzie playing too far off him, presumably influenced by the earlier play.
The challenge for Darnold and Anderson, having seemingly re-established the chemistry they appeared to have cultivated between them at the end of last season, will be to sustain it.
Last month, Anderson was held to just 11 yards on three catches against New England, as Stephon Gilmore -- a player some believe is currently the league's best cornerback -- was primarily matched up with him. However, that was again with Luke Falk at quarterback rather than Darnold, so there may have been some missed opportunities.
Nevertheless, Anderson hasn't had any first down catches against Gilmore in their past three matchups, so he'll be keen to prove he can have some success against his physical brand of play when the two face off again on Sunday.
If Gilmore covers Anderson, then the other receivers will have easier matchups. Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones and, to a lesser extent, JC Jackson, have played well this year, but none present the challenge Gilmore does.
Also, if Gilmore finds himself on Demaryius Thomas, then the Jets might try to test that matchup because Thomas had three first downs and a touchdown against Gilmore in their last meeting back in 2017.
If Gilmore is indeed the league's best, then Anderson won't face a tougher challenge the rest of the way, so if he can produce on Monday, optimism will be high that he can continue to be productive for the rest of the year.