The New York Jets are not the same team they were during their last visit to Foxborough Week 15. This team is better equipped to defend the pass at the safety position.
Even before Jim Leonhard went down, the Jets really not playing terribly well against the pass at that position. Eric Smith replacing Leonhard did not improve things. He was flagged for a big pass interference penalty on Rob Gronkowski. Smith does some things well, but he is not fast enough to run all the way down the field with an athletic tight end.
Smith's concussion opened the door for the team to move Dwight Lowery to safety. It was a move made out of necessity, but it was something many of us had been hoping to see for two years. Lowery is a converted corner. Coverage is what he brought to the table.
The move also forced the Jets to move Brodney Pool to strong safety, where he has thrived. A strong safety lines up on the tight end's side or strong side of the formation. It is a more physical position that generally requires a guy better in run support that free safety. Pool has been excellent against the run, but he has also gone man to man with tight ends more, opposed to Lowery, who has played a lot of deep zone. Pool has also been very good in coverage since the move, better than Leonhard or Smith was.
Coupled with a guy who has a corner's cover skills, the Jets match up better this time against New England's athletic tight ends, Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. This duo will also allow the team to shift Eric Smith closer to the line as a linebacker and force him to cover less ground in certain packages, which he could not do as a full time starter. Smith will be more successful in limited space. He has better cover skills than the linebackers on the roster. That is something to feel good about.