The first time I knew the Jets were in deep trouble Week 13 last year was when the ESPN Monday night crew said they had talked to Tom Brady, and Brady felt like he understood the Jets defense. Remember, the lead up to that game was a long week. In addition to the extra day of preparation a Monday game brings, both of those teams had played on Thanksgiving, which meant an additional three days on top of that to prepare. Brady hit the film hard. If you rewatch that game and watch Brady change plays and his protection at the line, you almost get the impression he knew what the Jets were going to do better than some of the guys in the defensive huddle.
Leading up to last season's Playoff game, I said that I felt like the only way the Jets could stop Brady was to blitz him and hope they got to him. I was wrong, though. Everybody knows the Jets played coverage based schemes that day. It is amazing to actually examine the extent. Piecing together statistics from various websites on pass rushing attempts, I calculated the Jets had an average of 3.8 pass rushers per Tom Brady pass attempt in that Playoff game. As you might know, the standard number is four. A defense that sends four with regularity is considered extremely vanilla. The Jets did not even send that many in that Playoff game. The Jets sent 4.59 men in their Week 2 win last year when they held the Pats to 14 points. They sent an average of .72 men from their secondary per play, indicating an exotic blitz. They averaged .28 blitzers from the secondary in the Playoffs.
Going back to my thought process before the game, I equated attacking the Pats with success. This went back to the September Super Bowl in Week 2 of 2009. In that game, the Jets blitzed even more. They averaged 4.72 rushers per pass attempt and .77 from the secondary. I was wrong. The idea was not attacking. It was confusing New England up front. When the Jets blitzed heavily, they mixed things up and confused the protection. Brady had a hard time identifying what was coming. Then Brady figured out what they were doing before that second meeting.
Last year in the Playoffs, the Jets played a ton of coverage. This was new. They threw a ton of new looks at Brady. They did not blitz. In fact, it was almost more ideal since the offense was more diversified in New England. Before the Randy Moss trade, Brady was locked on to Moss and Wes Welker. After it, the Pats spread it out more so there were more one on ones New England could potentially exploit if the Jets attacked and manned up. The Jets did confuse Brady, though. This time it was based on the exotic looks they used in the back, not the front.
Whether they attack or not, the key is to mix things up on Brady so he cannot establish what is going on (easier said than done). Once he sees something enough, he figures out what is happening and can exploit the weakness. The Jets need to throw new looks. The pair of great tight ends mean the Jets will probably play coverage more than they did in the two Week 2 victories. The same thing they did in the Playoffs last year will be less effective this time. Brady has had an entire summer to study what went wrong. The offense is different as well. If Jim Leonhard is to be believed, Darrelle Revis will shadow Welker this time, a tacit acknowledgment that he is getting many more targets this year. About a third of Brady's passes are heading his way after not even a quarter went his way last season.
Just as important as the individual matchups or style of defense (attack or bend but don't break), the Jets cannot be too repetitive. They need to continue to change their looks.