In preparation for this week's game in New England I’ve been taking a look at some Patriots film over their last 3-4 games and one player has stood out above anyone, and that’s running back turned receiving running back Rhamondre Stevenson.
The Jets got a close-up view at Metlife as Stevenson led all Patriots with 72 receiving yards (a season-high), he had 7 catches on 7 targets and moved the chains when Mac Jones couldn’t, and let's be honest, Mac Jones struggled.
Something has happened to Stevenson over the last couple of weeks, through the first 6 weeks of the schedule he had 21 targets in total, over the last three games he’s had 22. The Patriots have found a system they like and Stevenson who caught just 14 passes for 123 yards during his rookie campaign has already caught 35 passes for 227 yards in year two.
If the Jets want to win they have to find a way to contain Stevenson, in the running game of course but also from leaking out of the backfield and giving Mac Jones an easy option.
Belichick has been full of praise for Stevenson lately and it’s easy to see why:
“Yeah, Mondre just gets better every day,” Belichick said during a Zoom call. “He’s one of the guys that I’ve coached that really has shown just continuous improvement almost every day he walks into the building. Just in every phase of the game. This kid’s really come a long way in just every part of his game. You mentioned some of the things in the passing game, awareness, route running, blitz pickup, recognition, getting out on fake blitzes, versus reading the difference between fake blitzes and blitzes. In the running game his patience and setting up blocks, running on the second level, stiff arm and contact balance, ball security. You name it.
“I have a ton of respect for the way he’s worked at his game, improved his training habits. He’s still got a ways to go. But he just gets better at all the things he works at every day. He’s got a long list of them. But he’s made significant progress in so many areas. He’s really been impressive.”
If you look at the statistics you’ll find a very impressive back. His 12 missed tackles forced on receptions rank him 4th in the league and his 240 yards after contact rank him 7th. At 6 feet and nearly 230 lbs he obviously isn’t an easy man to bring down, but the Jets have the pop in the linebacking unit to stop him, even if they didn’t show that ability in the first matchup.
Stopping the running game is important every week, turn a team one-dimensional, and its easier to beat them, but taking away that short game is even more important when you’re playing a QB who’s so limited down the field. Mac Jones has only had one TD pass that was 10+ yards through the air, but has thrown 7 interceptions at the same depth. He completes 78.9% of passes between 0-10 yards and 3 of his 4 touchdowns have come here, his comfort zone is within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.
Bill Belichick is adept at taking away your main strengths and forcing your weaknesses to beat him. He’ll do his best to take the running game away from the Jets and force Zach to throw downfield and he’ll do his best to ensure Mac Jones can stay in his comfort zone. I don’t expect him to ask Mac to throw to the boundary all that often, targeting Sauce and Reed is usually a good way to get beat. But forcing the Jets linebackers to cover and make plays in space on guys like Stevenson is how I expect the Patriots to attack us come Sunday.
If the Jets can stop Stevenson, I expect the Jets can stop of the New England offense.