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Previewing the Jets’ opposition: New England Patriots

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NFL: New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The last time these teams met, the Patriots blew the Jets out 38-3 in New England in December, but this was supposed to be the year when the Jets finally challenged them for supremacy in the AFC East. Clearly, it isn’t panning out that way, as the Patriots are 0-2 with two blowout wins while the Jets are winless having lost key contributors like Quinnen Williams, CJ Mosley and Sam Darnold. Anything other than a comfortable win for the Patriots would be unexpected. Are we overestimating the gulf between the teams right now, though?

Quarterbacks

Tom Brady is off to another strong start. In the first two games, he’s completed 64 percent of his passes for 605 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s had a quarterback rating of 124+ in each of the first two games, something he’s only done in the first two games of one other season in his never-ending career.

Brady was most recently seem griping on social media about roughing the passer calls in the Thursday night game. If only his pocket awareness were as bad as his self-awareness.

Rookie Jarrett Stidham is Brady’s backup, not that they saw fit to give him any reps in either of their blowouts so far. He had a decent preseason, completing 68 percent of his passes and posting a quarterback rating of 102.6. Stidham has some dual threat abilities as he also rushed for 88 yards in preseason.

Offensive Line

The Patriots have had excellent continuity on their offensive line in recent seasons, but that’s all fallen apart this year. Center James Andrews is on injured reserve and left tackle Isaiah Wynn just joined him after suffering a turf toe injury. Wynn, who missed his rookie season with an Achilles injury, was the only new starter, replacing the departing Trent Brown.

In addition, right tackle Marcus Cannon has missed some time with a shoulder injury, although he’s returned to practice on a limited basis this week. He’s listed as questionable officially.

Replacement center Ted Karras has plenty of experience as a backup but Sunday’s game will mark the first time in his career he’s started three games in one season.

With Wynn out, the Patriots are listing the recently-acquired Marshall Newhouse as their starting left tackle. New England are Newhouse’s eighth team since 2013. He stepped in for Wynn when he was injured last week. Another recent addition, Korey Cunningham, filled in for Cannon at right tackle. Cunningham was a seventh-round pick last year and started a handful of games for the Cardinals but was traded to New England in late August.

At least the guards are unchanged. Shaq Mason is arguably the team’s best run blocker and Joe Thuney might be their most consistent pass protector having gone through the entire 2018 season without giving up a sack. Mason is off to a slow start in pass protection, as he’s given up eight pressures in two games, having only given up 20 all season in 2018.

Other reserves include James Ferentz, the son of Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz who was a former Bill Belichick disciple. Former fifth-round pick Jermaine Eluemenor and recent addition Caleb Benenoch round out the rotation.

Running Backs

Last season, Sony Michel and James White combined for over 200 rushing yards in the November win over Jets in Metlife Stadium.

This year, New England needs to get their running game going, as Michel has been held to less than three yards per carry so far this season. Michel ended up 69 yards short of a thousand-yards season in 2018.

The other running backs have been having more success on the ground with Rex Burkhead averaging 4.5 yards per carry and White averaging over five. White caught 87 passes last year and he and Burkhead have combined for 15 receptions so far.

James Develin is the fullback, but he’s been ruled out for this game due to a neck injury. Brandon Bolden and third-round rookie Damien Harris provide depth off the bench.

Receivers

The big news at wide receiver is Antonio Brown’s release on Friday having controversially joined the team earlier this month. He caught four passes including a touchdown in his only game as a Patriot but they’ll move on from him due to the ongoing off-field distractions.

Phillip Dorsett and Julian Edelman are listed as the starters. Edelman leads the team with 10 receptions, while Dorsett has two touchdowns. Edelman caught 74 passes for 850 yards last year despite being suspended to begin the season. Dorsett caught 32 passes.

Josh Gordon is listed as a backup having recently been reinstated, but he had a big game in week one with 73 yards and a touchdown.

New England drafted a wide receiver - N’Keal Harry - in the first round in April, but he’s on injured reserve. However, two undrafted rookies - Jacobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski stepped up in preseason and ended up on the roster instead.

With Rob Gronkowski retired - for the time being, at least - New England lists Matt LaCosse as their starting tight end. LaCosse was briefly in camp with the Jets a few years ago. Ryan Izzo is LaCosse’s backup. The pair have just three receptions for 36 yards between them so far. Both are listed as questionable with LaCosse having missed practice on Friday, so they may use need to Brown’s roster spot to add another body. They don’t have a tight end on the practice squad they can elevate, though. Using some six-man offensive lines is an option.

Defensive Line

New England’s depth chart lists the defense in a 4-3 configuration, although the addition of veteran Michael Bennett, who is capable of playing both inside and out, gives them a lot of flexibility. The Patriots are hoping some younger players will step up too, with their best pass rusher, Trey Flowers, having departed in free agency.

The Patriots are relying on Deatrich Wise Jr. to provide some pass rush off the edge, although rookie Chase Winovich - who was, of course, drafted after Jets bust Jachai Polite - has already shown some flashes in preseason and the first two games. Winovich has 1.5 sacks already, while Wise had 4.5 last season.

Former Indianapolis Colt John Simon also returns to provide some experience and versatility off the bench.

Danny Shelton and Lawrence Guy are listed as the starters on the interior, but Adam Butler has been rotating in and already has two sacks in two games.

Fifth-round rookie Byron Cowart backs up on the inside, while New England also has Shilque Calhoun in reserve to play some reps off the edge, although he’s been listed as questionable.

Linebackers

New England has a strong group at linebacker with Ja’Whaun Bentley and Jamie Collins only listed as backups. Collins is the leading tackler for the team so far and also has two interceptions.

The versatile Kyle Van Noy led the team in tackles last year and had a touchdown on a fumble return against the Jets.

Elandon Roberts and Dont’a Hightower are the other two listed starters but Roberts is probably the weakest player in this group and should ultimately be reduced to reserve status.

Defensive Backs

New England’s cornerbacks have played well so far this year, as their top four have allowed a completion percentage of less than 50 percent between them when targeted.

Pro bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore had a great year in 2018, although he gave up a team-high six touchdowns in coverage and had 10 penalties. Veteran Jason McCourty is the other starter and he had a solid 2018 season despite giving up over 800 yards when targeted.

Reserve Jonathan Jones and JC Jackson each had three interceptions last season and so far have been keeping second-round rookie Joejuan Williams on the bench in 2019.

At safety, Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung are the starters. The pair has plenty of experience together. Duron Harmon is the third safety, having led the team with four interceptions last year. Ex-Jet Terrence Brooks has also been getting some reps.

Special Teams

Stephen Gostkowski remains as the placekicker for the Patriots, but he’s off to an uncharacteristically shaky start with two missed extra points and one missed field goal so far. He only missed seven kicks last year, with three of those from beyond 50.

New England’s new punter is rookie Jake Bailey, who they drafted in the fifth round. He has only had to punt six times so far, but has done a solid job.

Seven-time pro bowler Matthew Slater and reserve safety Nate Ebner are key contributors in coverage. Jakeem Grant had a 39-yard kickoff return against them last week, though.

Although their depth chart lists Edelman as the punt returner and Slater as the kickoff returner, it’s actually been Olszewski and Bolden in those roles so far. Bolden is not very experienced in a return role but Olszewski beat out current Jet Braxton Berrios in preseason and had a 20 yard return in week one.