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Jets-Patriots Preview: Key Matchups to Watch

New England Patriots v New York Jets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore vs. Jets WR Robby Anderson

If Gilmore is not the best cornerback in football, he has to be at the forefront of the conversation. He is having another great season, yielding a 48.3 passer rating and allowing a first down just 28.5 percent of the time on throws in his direction.

Gilmore has had Robby Anderson’s number. The two have battled four times since 2017, and Gilmore has dominated the matchup each time.

Over his four games against Gilmore, Anderson has hauled in 9/21 targets for 59 yards (a horrifyingly bad rate of 2.81 yards per target), no touchdowns, and two first downs. That’s an average of just 14.8 yards per game, as Anderson picked up no more than 25 yards in any one game against Gilmore.

Against the Cowboys, Anderson continued building upon the rapport he began to cultivate with Sam Darnold at the end of 2018. Over his last six games with Darnold, Anderson has caught 31 passes for 484 yards and four touchdowns. Those totals would put him on pace for 83 catches, 1,291 yards, and 11 touchdowns over 16 games.

New England’s secondary has been dominant. They have allowed a passer rating of 42.6 this season, nearly 20 points better than the second-ranked 49ers. It’s the best mark through six games since the Super Bowl-winning 1996 Packers.

Gilmore is at the core of that dominance. If Anderson can get the best of him for the first time, it would be a tremendous boost to the Jets’ chances of victory.

The Jets don’t even need Anderson to consistently dominate Gilmore ⁠— just one big play over the top could change the tide of the game. Against a Patriots defense that has allowed one touchdown pass all year, the Jets will take anything they can get.

Perhaps the budding Darnold-to-Anderson connection will be the first weapon to deal some serious damage upon the 2019 New England defense.

Patriots rushing attack vs. Jets run defense

Even without C.J. Mosley, the Jets have again (for seemingly the 80th year in a row) found a way to field a strong run defense. They have allowed the fifth-fewest yards per rush attempt (3.5), while ranking sixth in rush defense EPA (estimated points added) and ninth in rush defense DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average). With Mosley returning on Monday night, the Jets can climb even higher in those rankings so long as he stays healthy.

The run game has been one of New England’s few weaknesses. They are ranked 18th in rush offense DVOA, 28th in yards per rush attempt, and 31st in rush offense EPA.

A lack of elusiveness from Sony Michel has limited the explosiveness of New England’s ground game. Among the top 32 backs in rush attempts, Michel ranks last in yards after contact per rush (2.0). He also ranks third-worst in rush attempts per avoided tackle (12.5).

One thing the Jets have done consistently well this year is finish tackles with consistency. According to Pro Football Reference, they average the fourth-fewest missed tackles per game (4.6).

This matchup looks like the only one across the board that the Jets have a realistic chance to dominate. Getting some first and second down run stuffs, especially early in the game, can give the shaky cornerback group more room to work with on third down against Tom Brady and his strong receiving group.

Patriots edge Kyle Van Noy vs. Jets RT Chuma Edoga

Chuma Edoga has showed a lot of potential over his first two NFL starts at right tackle, building off of his impressive preseason.

I did initially list Edoga as a slight dud in my weekly stackup, but I had a change of heart and decided his performance was not worthy of being labeled as a dud. I do think Edoga lost slightly more often than you would like a starting tackle to, and that Sam Darnold did a good job mitigating the pressure. He also struggled a bit in the run game. But after thinking it through some more, I believe Edoga had enough high quality reps against DeMarcus Lawrence to make up for those losses.

Edoga’s tally of losses (four pressures allowed each of last two weeks) should not take away from the potential that he has shown, and the fact that he held up decently well against two elite fronts in his first two career starts (not to mention after being thrown in mid-season). Against the Eagles, it was tough to evaluate any of the offensive linemen with the way Luke Falk was managing the offense. Against the Cowboys, Edoga did a solid job pushing rushers up the arc (behind the pocket), doing the best he could to minimize the impact of his losses.

The Jets just might have turned Teddy Bridgewater into puzzle piece No. 1 of the five they will be looking to put together on the offensive front over the next few years.

After taking on the Eagles and Cowboys, Edoga will get another test against Kyle Van Noy and the Patriots defense.

New England leads the league in sack rate (10.6%), and Van Noy has been one of the driving forces behind that production. He is tied for sixth in the league with 23 pressures rushing from the left side ⁠— where he will see Edoga on a regular basis come Monday night.

How did last week’s key matchups turn out?

Randall Cobb vs. Brian Poole - Cobb ended up missing the game, but Poole had a mostly good performance. He was credited with allowing four catches on four targets for 34 yards and two first downs. The Cowboys’ primary slot receiver was Tavon Austin, who grabbed two passes for 39 yards over 26 slot snaps. Poole also made some nice tackles in space throughout the afternoon. Not his best game, but another win nonetheless for Poole. Winner: Jets

Cowboys offensive line vs. Jets defensive front - The Cowboys were missing starting tackles La’el Collins and Tyron Smith, presenting the Jets with a golden opportunity to get their defensive line back on track. They were able to do just that. Despite picking up only one sack, the Jets knocked Prescott down eight times and pressured him on 54.8% of his dropbacks, making him the most frequently pressured quarterback of the week. Winner: Jets

Sam Darnold vs. The World - Yes. Winner: Jets

The Jets swept the board, winning the majority of the key matchups for the first time. Turns out they won their first game as well! Clearly, this Key Matchups to Watch series is the most prophetic prediction advice you will find on Planet Earth.