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The numbers behind 3 battles that could decide Jets-Patriots

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New England Patriots v Miami Dolphins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Patriots run support vs. Jets RB Le’Veon Bell

New England’s run defense has been dominant through two games. They are currently ranked third in rush defense DVOA and second in fewest yards allowed per rush attempt (2.6).

One thing that the Patriots have done particularly well in run defense is prevent big plays. They are one of only two teams that have yet to allow a run of 10 yards or more, along with the Ravens.

Great tackling is the primary reason that New England has done such a great job at preventing long runs. As a team, they currently own PFF’s best tackling grade in the NFL by a longshot, as they’ve been credited with only four missed tackles through two games. Impressively, the Patriots have not had a cornerback or safety miss a tackle yet.

Obviously, run blocking is an area where the Jets need to get immensely better. Their offensive line has been absolutely terrible thus far, creating almost nothing for Le’Veon Bell. It goes without saying that this unit needs to improve if the Jets are going to make something out of the 2019 season.

However, the most intriguing matchup in the rushing battle this Sunday is between Bell himself and the defenders he’ll be colliding with.

As previously mentioned, no team has missed fewer tackles than New England. On the other hand, Bell has been able to keep the Jets rushing attack somewhat afloat with his elusiveness, forcing a league-high 20 missed tackles through two games. Bell’s ability to create via evasiveness will be challenged this week, as he takes on a defense that has tackled at an elite level.

If the Jets offensive line doesn’t run block any better, Bell is going to have a tougher time than usual trying to get everything done by himself.

Patriots WR Josh Gordon vs. Jets CB Nate Hairston

The Jets surprisingly (and smartly) benched Trumaine Johnson against the Browns, and it was the newly-acquired Nate Hairston taking his place at left corner.

Hairston saw a good amount of reps against Odell Beckham, and handled them surprisingly well.

The former Colt will get no honeymoon period to kick off his Jets career, as he will be forced to go straight from OBJ to Josh Gordon.

Acquired for a sixth-round pick under a month ago, Hairston is an interesting player. At 25 years old and in just his third NFL season, it seems there may still be untapped potential for him. He’s got great hips and fluidity in coverage, which helped him perform at the level of a solid starter for the Colts as a rookie when he played primarily man-to-man assignments out of the slot.

Then, Indianapolis switched up their scheme and added some new pieces in 2018, moving Hairston outside and giving him more zone assignments. He struggled with the changes, eventually being benched.

It initially seemed the Jets intended for Hairston to back up Brian Poole in the slot and come in as the fourth cornerback, putting him more into his comfort zone. But circumstances have tossed him back outside, and his Jets debut in the role was promising. Given his age, experience, and athletic tools, the best may be yet to come for him, and his first game was a sign that could be true.

If Hairston can be even just an average starting outside corner for the Jets, that would be a tremendous boost for their defense. Back-to-back matchups against Odell Beckham and Josh Gordon will serve as a great measuring stick.

Patriots RG Shaq Mason vs. Jets DE Henry Anderson

Shaq Mason has generally been a stud at right guard throughout his Patriots career, but he is off to a slow start this season. He has been credited with allowing eight pressures thus far, tied for the third-most among guards.

Henry Anderson leads the Jets in pass rushes from the left side, with 54, so it seems that he is line to get the most action against Mason.

We hear it discussed every single year — interior pressure is key to beating Tom Brady. The Jets have not gotten a whole lot of that in either of the first two games this year, with Anderson and Williams combining for zero sacks to this point. Anderson racked up three quarterback hits against Buffalo, but notched one measly hurry against the Browns. Williams has a nice pressure total through two games, with eight, but that total is misleading as many of those were free pressures that should have easily been sacks.

Leo needs to turn it on, that we know. But Anderson shouldn’t be absolved from the limelight, either. He just got $17M guaranteed from the Jets, and has not done all that much in the pass rushing game. It seems he might be catching a matchup with Mason at the right time. He needs to take advantage if the Jets are going to have a shot.

Poll

Which of these three matchups do you think is most important for the Jets to win?

This poll is closed

  • 58%
    Patriots run support vs. Le’Veon Bell
    (94 votes)
  • 26%
    Josh Gordon vs. Nate Hairston
    (43 votes)
  • 14%
    Shaq Mason vs. Henry Anderson
    (23 votes)
160 votes total Vote Now

How did last week’s key matchups turn out?

Browns run defense vs. Jets run blocking - It seemed like Le’Veon Bell was dodging every tackler that dared cross him, yet the Jets were still only able to muster an average of 3.9 yards per carry (93 yards on 24 attempts). 11 of Bell’s 68 rushing yards came before contact, an average of 0.5 per attempt. That was an improvement on the zero yards before contact that Bell was given against Buffalo, but it’s still anemic. Blocking this poorly in the run game is a great way to lose games, especially with reserve quarterbacks under center. Winner: Browns

Odell Beckham vs. Trumaine Johnson/secondary - The Jets finally found an effective way to hide Trumaine Johnson — by putting him on the bench. In turn, Nate Hairston took over most of Johnson’s snaps, and he was an upgrade in his Jets debut. Hairston was victimized on an insane one-handed 31-yard catch by Beckham on Cleveland’s first drive, but after that, he did not allow anything to be completed in his direction until garbage time.

However, Beckham still got the most of the Jets secondary as a group. His 89-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the third quarter effectively sealed the game, as Neville Hewitt seemed to blow the coverage and Marcus Maye brutally whiffed on his attempt to save the six points. Winner: Browns

Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams vs. Robby Anderson and Demaryius Thomas - Thomas left this game early on, catching one pass for -1 yards before his exit. Anderson actually had a solid game, grabbing four passes for 81 yards and four first downs. He had a 31-yard play wiped out by a penalty. Anderson was open on a few other plays as well, but was missed mostly due to the ineptitude of the offensive line.

Williams played all 40 coverage snaps, and finished the game allowing no catches on just one target. Ward was targeted eight times and allowed six catches for 76 yards and two first downs, both of those to Anderson.

This one feels like a draw to me. Anderson produced at a very solid level given the circumstances, while Ward had a “meh” performance. Thomas got hurt early, so it’s hard to judge his performance, but Williams had a strong game overall.

It feels like with a healthy Thomas, adequate pass protection, and better quarterbacking, the Jets receivers may have made a good amount of noise in this one. But alas, that is a hypothetical proposition. Call this one a draw.

Winner: None

The Browns won two of the three matchups, while the other was effectively a draw. Thus, the Browns won the football game. This is the second week in a row that the Jets’ opponent won the majority of the key matchups and came out on top in the game. Clearly, this series has the power of foresight.