Dustin Keller gives the Patriots matchup problems. He went for 115 yards in Week 2 against the Pats. That is why it was frustrating seeing him only get 4 targets in Week 13. The Jets should make a point of targeting him on Sunday.
It looks like the Patriots are pretty good defending the tight end. Football Outsiders says they actually allow only 41.1 yards per game against tight ends, compared with a league average of 49.7. That's actually second best in the league. Numbers don't tell the whole story, though. The Outsider statstic DVOA, which takes into account game situation as a measure for success, rates them as 12% worse than the league average against tight ends.
What the heck does that mean? It's kind of a complicated formula, but it accounts for every play. Say there's a game where Dustin Keller makes a catch on 3rd and 5 for 6 yards. Say there's another game where he makes a pair of 6 yard catches but both come on 3rd and 22. Game 2 looks better on the stat sheet, but Game 1 was a more significant contribution because the catch actually extended the drive. It's the same concept here.
The New England defense isn't ranked last in the league against the pass like it was the last time the Jets visited, but it is ranked 30th. Part of it is due to the Pats playing from ahead so frequently lately that teams have had to throw, and New England has been willing to give up yardage to avoid the big play. I'm still not sure they really have a great unit in coverage, though, outside of Devin McCourty, a rookie from Rutgers playing corner at a high level.
Part of the reason the Pats have not given up much yardage to the tight end is that they give up a lot more than the league average to receivers 2 and below on the depth chart. Good DVOA scores indicate this again might be due to giving up yardage to avoid big plays, but I'm focused on how it relates to tight ends. Teams do not need their tight ends to get down the field, and generally seem to use them more as a safety valve. That has been my perception watching them, and the numbers seem to back this up.
The benefits of focusing on Dustin Keller are evident even before we talk about matchups. He usually is running a simple and safe route near Mark Sanchez. Passes to him are high percentage ones that move the chains, give the quarterback confidence, get him into the flow of the game, and keep Tom Brady off the field. Starting progressions with Keller gives wide receivers more time to complete their routes. With receivers as talented as the Jets have, this will make them more effective.
Now let's talk about the matchups. Braylon Edwards is the flanker on the roster. That means Braylon is not on the line because standing on the line would "cover" Dustin, making the formation illegal. He often lines up next to Keller in the base offense. That gives the Pats a problem. If they cover Edwards with Kyle Arrington, they will need to provide safety help. That means Keller probably gets covered with a linebacker. He is more athletic than Jerod Mayo or Brandon Spikes and would have an edge. If the Pats cover Edwards with McCourty, that leaves Arrington on Holmes. There might be safety help on Holmes deep, but Santonio would have a big edge on short routes. If they leave Edwards alone with Arrington, the Pats are vulnerable to the deep ball because Edwards can beat the corner deep. Maybe the Pats want Mark Sanchez to prove he can hit it after how off target he was last week, but I tend to think they'll want Sanchez to have to put together long drives to score instead of daring them to hit a cheap long pass for a score. If the Pats put an extra defensive back in to play Keller, the Jets' offensive line gains a big edge in the run game.
You have read many posts this season from me begging the Jets to revolve the passing game around Keller. There are reasons why I do so. He is a consistent matchup problem.