After an offseason that produced little hope of contention, the Jets have added some unexpected intrigue to their year with three straight victories following an 0-2 start. To begin a stretch that includes nine consecutive games against teams currently sporting a .500 or better record, they will host the rival Patriots with first place in the AFC East on the line. Here are some facts and notes to get you ready.
Patriots Offseason Changes and Notes
The Patriots took quite a few hits on the offensive side this offseason. Michael Floyd, LeGarrette Blount, and Martellus Bennett all found new homes, while wide receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Julian Edelman are both on IR.
Their biggest move to offset these losses was trading for former Saint Brandin Cooks. They also added running backs Mike Gillislee, formerly of the Bills, and Rex Burkhead, formerly of the Bengals.
Defensively, the Patriots watched Chris Long, Logan Ryan, Jabaal Sheard, and Barkevious Mingo skip town while Rob Ninkovich hung up his jersey. Their biggest free agency addition on this side was former Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Interestingly, they also traded down from the second round to the third round to acquire an edge defender who is now one of the best playmakers on the Jets: Kony Ealy. He was released only a couple weeks before the season.
The Jets are looking a little healthier this week. Kony Ealy, Matt Forte, Darryl Roberts, and Juston Burris are all poised to return after missing the game in Cleveland. Josh Martin, who had a strong start to the season, will be back after missing the previous two games.
Bilal Powell and Muhammad Wilkerson are listed as questionable and have been called “game-day decisions” by Todd Bowles.
Cornerbacks Eric Rowe and Stephon Gilmore will miss the game for New England, while Rex Burkhead is questionable. Rob Gronkowski will return after missing last week’s game. Tom Brady will play after being bothered by a shoulder injury.
31 - Number of teams who, at the moment, rank better than the Patriots defense in each of the following:
Yards per play allowed
Passing yards per attempt allowed
Passing yards allowed per game
Total yards allowed per game
It’s been a very rough start for the Pats on defense, but do keep in mind they’ve played a tough slate featuring Kansas City, Carolina, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, and Houston. A lot of solid offenses in there.
11 - Consecutive wins away from home for the Patriots. They haven’t lost a game outside of the Bay State since the 2015 AFC Championship in Denver. Pats-Jets has been tightly contested at MetLife Stadium, though. The last four meetings played in New Jersey have been split, with each game decided by one score and two of them (both of the Jets’ wins in 2013 and 2015) going to overtime.
Jets Offensive Plan
The Jets haven’t scored more than 20 points in regulation yet this season. Despite the noise, this is still the same Tom Brady and Bill Belichick-led New England offense. They have the unique distinction of being ranked last in defensive yards per game and first in offensive yards per game. Bottom line, the Jets are probably going to have to finally break out against this New England defense to have the best chance at winning this game. Since Tom Brady became the regular starting quarterback, the Jets have played the Patriots 33 times. Only 2 of those games were Jets wins in which they scored fewer than 20 points, with the last occurrence coming eight years ago.
So, where do the Jets attack? Well, while the Pats have seen struggles across the defense, the main problem seems to be the secondary. Prior to last Thursday’s game against Tampa Bay, Pro Football Focus put these numbers out:
Passer rating allowed by Patriots CBs:— PFF NE Patriots (@PFF_NewEngland) October 5, 2017
Stephon Gilmore 101.8
Jonathan Jones 103.6
Eric Rowe 107.9
Malcolm Butler 109.2
Watching some of the Patriots defense, I noticed a few things. Number one, like the above statistic showed, there isn’t one guy on this defense in particular who seems to be the problem. I saw quite a few different Patriots corners responsible for big plays. Bouncing off that, many of the issues were on communication. A good portion of this secondary’s struggles looks like it could be chalked up to these mental issues, as receivers were often wide open finding (very) soft spots in the middle of zone coverages. All of these struggles happened while the Pats rarely brought more than four pass rushers.
How do the Jets go at them? Let’s see them open it up and take some risks. The Patriots have yielded 4.6 passing plays of 20 yards or more per game this season, third most in the league. The Jets’ 5 passing touchdowns have been an average distance of 28.0 yards, third highest in the league. Josh McCown’s best work this season has come on the deep pass, where he has had made a few impressive connections with Jermaine Kearse and Robby Anderson. The Jets should look to get those two, in addition to Austin Seferian-Jenkins, lots of work down the field and keep attacking to give Elijah McGuire and Matt Forte room to work underneath in the run and pass game. They should look to do this early, as last week the running game was stalled and tossed aside quickly when it wasn’t working. They survived that deficiency against Cleveland, but likely won’t against New England.
Jets Defensive Plan
The Patriots have looked to move the ball down the field much more often than usual this season, with new acquisition Brandin Cooks being a big reason for that. If the Pats continue to attack in this way, the Jets will need their aggressive blitzes to hit home. Giving Brady time to throw the ball deep against fewer defenders is not a very good recipe for a win. This is a New England line that has struggled a bit to start the year. The Jets really need to get consistent 1-on-1 victories along the line to bail out some of the mismatches the Pats might have in the back end.
Luckily, there are some much-needed reinforcements coming back this week. Kony Ealy should be extra motivated to play against the team that cut him. Josh Martin was a playmaking machine early in the year and returns after a short hiatus. And, as unfortunate as it is to say, Muhammad Wilkerson’s missing the game could open up the opportunity for another player who has been more efficient, like Mike Pennel. Leonard Williams is the anchor of all of this. The more dominant he is, the better everyone else will look.
Now, Tom Brady is going to get some footballs out of his hand regardless of how much pressure the Jets get. There are quite a few matchups to like if you’re New England. They love to get their backs and tight ends involved. Darron Lee and Demario Davis have upped their games recently with more chances to attack downhill, but their biggest task this week will be handling the Pats in coverage, specifically at running back. James White is second on the team with 35 targets this year.
Jamal Adams could see lots of time against Gronkowski, and this could be the most entertaining battle of the game. Adams was outplayed last week by David Njoku. Can he turn it around this week?
Offense: Robby Anderson
Anderson is quite the mixed bag. While he has showcased some development this year, he has still lacked consistent production when the big play hasn’t been there. This week he draws an enticing matchup against a breakdown-prone defense that has yielded plenty of highlight bombs down the field. Anderson might not yet be a complete wide receiver, but he still has special speed and deep ball ability. If he can bust out at least 1-2 major plays down the field, that would go a long way towards setting the tone for the Jets offense. If he remains silent and shut down 1-on-1, that would go a long way towards shrinking the field for the New England defense and making the Jets offense less versatile.
Defense: Jamal Adams
Tom Brady makes a living off of fooling and exposing defenders, proving he is the most intelligent football player on the field snap after snap.
For sixth overall pick Jamal Adams, you could swap his name into that sentence, switch “defenders” to “offenses” and it would still sound very true. Adams will play a huge role in some of the most intriguing battles in this game. The rarely duped rookie will have his hands full with Tom Brady. Who will blink first in this battle of brains in the back ends?
In addition, Adams could draw quite a few routes from Rob Gronkowski. When healthy, we know Gronk is one of the hardest players to defend in football history. While Adams’ instincts, passion, and fundamentals are undeniable, we saw him out-muscled a bit by Browns tight end David Njoku last week. Hopefully Adams made some adjustments, and if not, the Patriots will have an easy route to neutralizing one of the most dangerous players on the Jets defense.