They Can't Run
If you just look at total rushing yards the Patriots have had decent success running the ball this year, ranking 18th in the NFL. However, that success is somewhat deceiving. The Patriots have the 9th most rushing attempts in the NFL. This makes their rushing totals somewhat less impressive than the already mediocre 18th ranking they have achieved. In terms of yards per carry the Patriots rank 26th in the NFL at a paltry 3.7. With bell cow back Stevan Ridley lost for the season last week, the Patriots are now also undermanned at the running back position. This should all add up to an advantage for the Jets run defense, which ranks 6th in the NFL in yards per carry at 3.5. If the Jets can shut down the Patriots' running game and turn them into a one dimensional offense, it is not clear Tom Brady is still capable of carrying the Patriots' offense on his shoulders week in and week out anymore.
They Can't Pass
The Patriots currently rank 15th in the NFL in passing yards and 11th in the NFL in passer rating. While that sounds decent, it is a far cry from the days of the Brady Bunch dominating opponents through the air. It is even less impressive when you consider the Patriots have only faced a single pass defense ranked more than 1 point better than NFL average in terms of passer rating allowed. The Patriots have faced four pass defenses ranked 19th or lower, and overall the pass defenses they have faced have allowed an aggregate passer rating of a whopping 92.2. Tom Brady in prior years could have been expected to decimate such a lineup of mediocre to awful pass defenses. But this isn't the same Brady. This Tom Brady has only passed for 300 yards once in 6 games. This from a QB who averaged 300+yards a game just two years ago. This Tom Brady has a passer rating only 3 points better than the average pass defense he's faced. In short, this Tom Brady is decidedly unimpressive. He is a shadow of the once feared Brady who would routinely carve the Jets up. This Tom Brady can't throw deep anymore, can't consistently work the intermediate to deep sidelines. This Tom Brady is just OK. Not that he's bad; he's not. It's just that he's not all that great anymore. He can't be counted on to carry a team anymore. He shouldn't be and isn't really feared anymore. This Tom Brady can be dealt with. And this Patriots passing attack doesn't keep anyone up all night worrying about how to stop it. The feared, nearly unstoppable Patriots offense of years past is a relic of history now. If the Jets can bring something resembling the kind of defensive effort mustered in the Broncos game this Thursday, this Patriots offense can be shut down.
They Can't Stop The Pass
The Patriots spent a lot of money importing cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner to try to fix a porous pass defense this year. But Browner has yet to play, and Revis, while still good, bears little resemblance to the all time great level he briefly achieved playing for Rex Ryan and the Jets. Still, on paper the Patriots appear to be a reasonably stout pass defense, allowing an 84.3 passer rating so far this year, good for 9th in the NFL. Looks can be deceiving. The Patriots have achieved that ranking playing a succession of the worst pass offenses in the NFL. The Patriots in 2014 have faced one above average pass offense, Cincinnati. Other than the Bengals' 4th ranked pass offense, the Patriots have faced the 19th, 24th, 26th, 28th and 32nd ranked passing offenses in the NFL. So while that 84.3 passer rating allowed, 9th rated passing defense looks good on paper, in fact the Patriots have allowed that 84.3 passer rating against teams that have a combined 83.0 passer rating. In other words, Patriots' opponents have done better against the Patriots than they have against the rest of the NFL. Put in this perspective, the Patriots pass defense looks decidedly mediocre.
They Can't Stop the Run
The Patriots' run defense in 2014 has been just about average, ranking 17th in the NFL at 4.2 yards per carry, matching the league average for yards per carry allowed. However, on the two occasions when the Patriots have faced a top 10 running team, like the Jets, the Patriots have been annihilated. The 8th ranked Kansas City Chief s running attack hung 200+ yards on the Patriots on the way to 41-14 destruction of the Patriots on national television. The 3rd ranked Miami Dolphins running game hung 190+ rushing yards on the Patriots in a decisive 33-20 win. Throw in the fact that the Patriots have just lost their leading tackler Jerrod Mayo for the season, a linebacker who has twice as many tackles as the next closest Patriot, and you're looking at a team that can and should be run on by the Jets.
On paper Thursday's game does not look like a favorable matchup for the Jets. However, the Patriots present a very different challenge than Patriots teams of old. Although their 4-2 record, top 5 defense and future Hall of Fame quarterback would appear to present an overwhelming mismatch on paper, all is not as it seems. The Hall of Fame quarterback is well into his declining years and no longer consistently plays at a level much above league average. The top 5 defense has been built on facing one mediocre to awful offense after another, with a parade of bad quarterbacks. This Patriots' team is in fact mediocre on offense, mediocre on defense, and missing several of their best players. This is a game the Jets can win. As long as the quarterback matchup is Tom Brady vs. Geno Smith the Patriots have a decided advantage, but it is no longer an insurmountable one. This game will likely be decided on turnovers. With the Patriots taking up their usual spot atop the league standings in turnover differential, and the Jets taking up their usual spot at the bottom of the league, that bodes ill for the Jets. But if the Jets can somehow avoid turning the ball over and get the running game going against a weak running defense, we could see a Jets upset Thursday night in Foxboro.