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Previewing the Jets’ Opposition: New England Patriots

Syndication: The Providence Journal Bob Breidenbach/The Providence Journal via Imagn Content Services, LLC

After a year out of the playoff hunt, New England is entering a new era this season, but they still run the same system under head coach Bill Belichick and have plenty of familiar faces on their roster. Both teams will be eager to avoid starting off 0-2 in the Jets’ home opener.

Quarterbacks

New England drafted Alabama’s Mac Jones with their first round pick in April and they’re already all-in on him as their starter. In fact, he was the only quarterback on the roster until Saturday but they just signed him to the roster.

In his debut, Jones only led New England to one touchdown but his statline was solid, mostly working the familiar quick passing game they’ve become known for over the years.

He was efficient on intermediate downfield throws though, going 6-for-9 on passes beyond 10 yards with two completions more than 20 yards downfield for 46 yards.

Offensive Line

The offensive line did a good job of keeping Jones upright, as he was sacked once officially. He was sacked a second time but that one was negated by a roughing penalty.

During the offseason, New England reacquired Trent Brown in a low-cost trade to start at right tackle. Brown was their starter at left tackle in 2018. However, he got injured in the first game and reserve Justin Herron got beaten a few times in place of him. Brown was downgraded to out on Saturday.

Last year, day three pick Michael Onwenu stepped in and did a solid job at right tackle but he’s now been moved to left guard. Re-shuffling at some point could be an option though.

Isaiah Wynn is back at left tackle, having had some injury issues so far in his career. He gave up three quarterback hits on Sunday.

The other two starters are center David Andrews and right guard Shaq Mason who have been lining up next to each other for several years. Mason had some issues adjusting to Herron entering the game last week, leading to some pressure off the right side.

Ted Karras is a reliable reserve at center or guard and Yasir Durant was acquired by trade to provide added depth. They also have tackle Yodny Cajuste on the roster but he was inactive in week one.

Running Backs

On opening day, Damien Harris rushed for 100 yards as he got the majority of the workload having led New England in rushing last season.

James White remains the third down back although his production was down last season. He contributed six catches for 49 yards on Sunday.

Fourth round rookie Rhamondre Stevenson might have got more work but he lost a fumble on his second touch and didn’t see the ball again. Other than their top two picks, Stevenson is the only Patriots 2021 draft pick that played in the first game. Their last four picks didn’t make the roster.

Brandon Bolden and JJ Taylor - who was inactive on Sunday - also provide depth, while Jakob Johnson is the fullback.

Pass catchers

New England gave Nelson Agholor a surprisingly big contract during the offseason but the veteran produced well in week one with five catches for 72 yards and a score. Last season, the other starter, Jakobi Meyers, emerged as New England’s most productive receiver and he led them again with six catches on Sunday.

Kendrick Bourne and Malcolm Perry were brought in during the offseason to add depth, although Perry is currently on injured reserve.

Gunner Olszewski and Matthew Slater will contribute primarily on special teams. With former first rounder N’Keal Harry also on injured reserve, the Patriots could elevate Tre Nixon or Kristian Wilkerson from the practice squad for extra depth or just run a lot of multiple tight end sets.

Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith were big offensive additions at this position in the offseason. Smith is listed as the starter and caught five passes in week one, but Henry should emerge over the course of the season having missed some time in camp. Smith was listed as questionable after missing practice time with a hip issue during the week.

Former third round pick Devin Asiasi is the third stringer but he was inactive in the season opener.

Defensive Line

On defense, New England still operates a hybrid scheme that operates with a mixture of four and three-man fronts.

The Patriots boosted their depth upfront during the offseason by signing veteran Henry Anderson from the Jets and Davon Godchaux from Miami. They also drafted Christian Barmore in the second round and still have Carl Davis, who they picked up at the end of last year.

Anderson is listed as a starter on the team’s unofficial depth chart but came off the bench on Sunday. Godchaux started alongside returning starters Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise.

Wise and Chase Winovich are both listed as defensive linemen and will operate as edge rushers most of the time. The pair combined for 23 quarterback hits last year as Winovich led the team with 5.5 sacks.

Linebackers

Matt Judon and Kyle Van Noy are both listed as starting linebackers but will also come off the edge most of the time. Judon was signed to a four-year, $56 million deal in the offseason. The two-time pro bowler has never had double digit sacks but had 9.5 in 2019. The versatile Van Noy returns after a year in Miami but missed practice with a throat injury during the week and will not play on Sunday. New England elevated Tashawn Bower from the practice squad for cover.

The other listed starter is Dont’a Hightower, who opted out last season, but he’ll have Ja’Whaun Bentley lining up alongside him a lot of the time.

Josh Uche, Brandon King, ex-Jet Harvey Langi and rookie Ronnie Perkins can provide depth off the bench, but when New England had a ton of injury issues at linebacker last year they mostly overcame them by going defensive back-heavy. Uche was the only one of these four to get any defensive reps on Sunday. He and Perkins also play on the edge.

Defensive Backs

New England’s best cornerback is JC Jackson who was one of the league leaders last year with nine interceptions and brings physicality at cornerback. He will probably match up with Corey Davis.

The other starter is currently Jalen Mills, who was signed during the offseason, while Jonathan Jones also gets a lot of playing time in the slot. Jones intercepted a pass against Miami. Stephon Gilmore will return to the starting line-up when he’s healthy but he is on the PUP list right now.

Joejuan Williams and rookie Shaun Wade provide depth, although Wade was inactive on Sunday. Williams saw some time in the rotation though.

At safety, Adrian Phillips was the team’s leading tackler last season. Devin McCourty, the other starter, led New England in tackles in the opener.

Kyle Dugger also started the opener as the team will often play with three safeties on the field. Justin Bethel and Cody Davis are primarily just special teams contributors though.

Special Teams

Rookie Quinn Nordin won the kicker role for New England but ex-Jet Nick Folk was elevated off the practice squad to kick in week one and made all three of his field goal attempts. Folk has been elevated again for Sunday’s game because Nordin has been dealing with an abdomen injury during the week and was just added to injured reserve.

One key to New England’s special teams unit is their excellent punt gunners - Slater and Bethel. Primarily thanks to them, Jake Bailey led the NFL in net punting average in 2020. Cody Davis is also productive in kick coverage.

In the return game, Olszewski handles both punts and kickoffs with Taylor, Bolden and Dugger also being options. Olszewski had a punt return for a touchdown last season and McCourty also scored on a blocked field goal.