Things are not pretty for the pass defense of the New England Patriots. They are giving up more yards through the air than any team in the NFL. There aren't many bright spots either.
Take a look at the numbers on Football Outsiders. Against number one receivers, number two receivers, tight ends, and receivers three and below, they are in the bottom ten of the league in terms of average allowed per game.
They have significant issues in coverage. This unit has a very promising rookie named Devin McCourty, a Rutgers product. He is quietly putting together a very good rookie season, perhaps the best since Darrelle Revis in 2007. McCourty just did a fabulous job against Calvin Johnson last week. He really stuck with Jerricho Cotchery during the second week of the season. It's not pretty anywhere else. According to Pro Football Focus, every other corner who has seen at least 25% of snaps is allowing at least a completion percentage of 72% and a quarterback rating of 90.
The Patriots have a decision to make. They are going to have to put McCourty on either Santonio Holmes or Braylon Edwards. The other receiver will get Kyle Arrington, who will need safety help. My guess is we will see McCourty spend most of his time on Holmes because he is the more complete receiver. He is more apt to work underneath, while Braylon does most of his damage deep, where a safety can help take him away.
Doing this might be able to take away the top two Jets. I emphasize may because of the way Holmes is playing. The Pats would then have to deal with New York's secondary targets. Jerricho Cotchery would be up against Darius Butler, the guy the Jets abused in the first meeting, or Patrick Chung, a safety New England has dropped into the slot at times. Either would figure to advantage the Jets if Cotchery is close to 100%.
It is also unclear whether the Pats have an answer for Dustin Keller, who went for 115 yards and a touchdown in the first meeting. A big part of the rationale behind taking Keller in 2008 was New England's struggles with athletic tight ends. If New England needs a safety to occupy Edwards on vertical routes, there will be room over the middle on intermediate routes for Keller. New England's safeties and inside linebackers all have allowed a quarterback rating over 95 in coverage. Jerrod Mayo, who is so good against the run, has found coverage to be kryptonite. He has allowed 53 receptions for 481 yards.
Then LaDainian Tomlinson will become an afterthought on check downs. He could get it in space to make something happen.
On paper the Jets have an edge on the matchups. Before we celebrate this victory, however, let me remind you that games are not played on paper. The Jets need to avoid turnovers. The Pats are forcing a fair number. The offensive line needs to hold New England's front in check, particularly Tully Banta-Cain, whose 30 quarterback pressures would lead the Jets by a wide margin if he wore green. If Mark Sanchez has to throw early, it reduces the amount of time those guys have to hold coverage. The less time required to cover, the easier it is. The quarterback also needs to make the right reads and throw good balls to exploit the edges.
This does relate to my posts on how the Jets match up defensively. With Revis, Cromartie, and the guys inside against the run, the Jets might be able to scheme effectively to take away soft spots because they have players they can trust to do other jobs on their own. The Pats have McCourty to potentially take away one guy, but they might not have enough to match up with all of New York's weapons.