The New York Jets take on the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Massachusetts this afternoon. Previewing this matchup, Bernd Buchmasser, Managing Editor over at Pats Pulpit, was kind enough to answer a few questions for us regarding the 2019 Patriots.
1. It seems like forever that people have been wondering when Tom Brady finally starts to concede to the one opponent he cannot defeat: time. Last year was, by ordinary standards, another stellar campaign for Brady; however, by Brady’s standards, it was not the best of performances, and it appeared he may finally be slipping just a bit. What is your perception of Tom Brady this year? Are there finally signs of age related decline, or are we in for yet another year of the same old Brady brilliance?
Bernd Buchmasser: Through two games so far this year, there has been no visible decline from Brady just yet: from arm strength to ball placement to decision making, he looked like his usual stellar self. Of course, Brady’s weapons this year are superior to what he had available for stretches of 2018: while Julian Edelman is still around, Josh Gordon returned from an indefinite suspension just before the start of the regular season and adds a highly talented player to the team’s receiving corps — one that was missing down the stretch last year but was one of Brady’s favorite targets when he was around. Then there is Phillip Dorsett, who will be the Patriots’ third, matchup-specific receiver in lieu of Antonio Brown’s release. Dorsett looks much improved compared to last year, which should help Brady immensely.
All in all, it appears Brady is on his way to winning another round against Father Time so I predict him to finish the season similar to last year’s — depending in part on the state of the offense around him, of course — but potentially with better numbers given the vastly improved quality of the wide receiver group. Could he suddenly start to slip midway through the season? Sure, we are in uncharted territory after all. But if there is one thing I learned in my years covering the NFL: never count out Touchdown Tom.
2. For most of the Belichick/Brady era the Patriots were dominant on one side of the ball or the other, but not both. The early Super Bowl teams were carried by the defense, and Tom Brady and the offense were not yet unstoppable. The later Super Bowl teams have mostly flipped that script, with the offense dominant and the defense less so. Now the Patriots have built a team with no apparent weaknesses. The defense has yet to give up a touchdown this season. The backfield is deep and talented. The receivers are as good a threesome as any in the NFL, and Brady is Brady. Is this the best Patriots team ever, and what, if anything, is this team’s achilles heel?
Bernd Buchmasser: Calling it the best Patriots team ever is hard to do, given that it has only played two games so far and already seen some major turnover — from Antonio Brown coming and going to Isaiah Wynn’s trip to injured reserve. On paper, however, it certainly is up there with the legendary 2004 and 2007 squads as arguably the most balanced and depth team in recent memory. If I had to point out one Achilles heel it would therefore be injuries: if Brady goes down or if the depth at one particular position gets tested, the Patriots could be in trouble.
That is the case along the offensive line: starting center David Andrews’ season ended in August, when he was diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs; starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn, as noted above, was sent to injured reserve with turf toe; starting right tackle Marcus Cannon missed last week’s game due to a shoulder injury and is again questionable this week. While Ted Karras filled in well at center, the tackle position is possibly the weakest spot on the roster right now when it comes to its overall complexion — and as the Patriots’ 2007 team found out in the Super Bowl, the offensive line can very well sink a club’s title game aspirations.
3. How would you attack this Patriots offense?
Bernd Buchmasser: If I was Gregg Williams, I would try to go after Brady at all costs — blitz packages, stunts, mixing over and under fronts, whatever comes to mind. The goal is not to confuse Brady, of course, but rather the players in front of him: the Patriots’ offensive line is lacking chemistry, with only two starters from last year returning (and a third if questionable right tackle Marcus Cannon can play). New left tackle Marshall Newhouse was pretty pedestrian last week, so attacking him will be key: he’s only been in the system for a little over a week and his feel of playing alongside left guard Joe Thuney has yet to properly develop; he is a clear downgrade from usual starter Isaiah Wynn (injured reserve; toe). If the aforementioned Cannon is out as well, the Jets should also find success going against Korey Cunningham.
As good as Brady and the skill position players are, if the line can’t hold up the Patriots will be in for a dogfight.
4. How would you attack this Patriots defense?
Bernd Buchmasser: The Patriots’ defense has not shown any obvious weaknesses over the first two weeks — it surrendered three points to the Steelers in Week 1, and none to the Dolphins last Sunday — so finding some is hard. If I had to point out one area, however, where I can see the Patriots being vulnerable it might be the linebackers in coverage. Jamie Collins Sr. is one of the NFL’s most athletic linebackers, but both Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy are not quite as good. The weakest parts, however, are Elandon Roberts and Ja’Whaun Bentley. Both are primarily run-stoppers and have shown inconsistency in pass coverage over the past. If the Jets can isolate a running back on them in coverage, the matchup would favor Gang Green. It’s not a sexy approach, but one that should work.
5. Who are some Patriots players the casual fan may not be familiar with, but should be? Who will surprise Jets fans on Sunday?
Bernd Buchmasser: The Patriots have plenty of star power — from Tom Brady and Julian Edelman to Michael Bennett and Stephon Gilmore — but the lesser known players are valuable pieces of this team as well. One is Jonathan Jones, a former undrafted free agent who grew into one of the best slot cornerbacks in all of football since 2016. Jones will undoubtedly see considerable action against the Jets, as a top-three cornerback for the Patriots. Another player to keep an eye on is left guard Joe Thuney. A three-year veteran who missed virtually no snaps since joining the Patriots, Thuney’s value as a veteran player along a makeshift offensive line cannot be understated.
As for a player who could surprise Jets fans on Sunday, I am going with Danny Shelton. The big-bodied defensive tackle was a first-round bust in Cleveland, but seems to be revitalizing his career in year two with the Patriots: New England will surely try to put the game in Luke Falk’s hands by trying to make stopping the run a defensive priority, and Shelton will be a big part of that plan. Don’t be surprised if his name is not mentioned often, but watch closely for him to be an anchor along the Patriots’ defensive line.