Curran's Patriots-Jets preview review
CURRAN'S PATRIOTS-JETS PREVIEW
FOXBORO – We must have taken a poll at some point in the offseason. The amount of time and effort we expended trying to figure which AFC East team was the most likely to rise up after adding players through the draft and free agency was massive. We must have all laid our chips on someone over here at CSNNE. I know my bet was on the Dolphins. Turned out to be the Jets. And now, six weeks in – after very little has gone as we thought it might back in June – the 5-0 Patriots and 4-1 Jets play in a game of real consequence. Yay, us.
Who didn’t like that game? Clearly, the Jets are plenty legitimate. It took the Patriots capitalizing on little things like field position and ill-timed blitzes and making some outstanding plays on both sides of the ball while sticking to a very specific game plan to escape while not playing their best. Nitwits who, three weeks ago, were declaring the Patriots impossible to beat will on Monday say the sky is falling because a game most thought would be close ended up being pretty close. Have fun with that. But I thought this was a fascinating and fun game.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
For both the Patriots offense and Jets defense, Sunday represents the stiffest challenge of the season. Both are at the top of the league statistically. Offensively, the Patriots are second in yards per game (422.4), second in yards per play (6.4), first in first downs per game (26), first in third-down efficiency (50.9) and first in points per game (36.6). Defensively, the Jets are first in points per game (15.0), first in yards per game (269.2), second in yards per play (4.3) and fourth in third down percentage (32.4). The Jets haven’t played an offense nearly as potent as the Patriots. The Patriots have seen some decent defenses with talented players (Buffalo and Dallas). The Jets blitz their faces off. But will they want to think hard about going bananas with blitzes against Tom Brady who is 30-for-47 with six touchdown passes when teams send more than four after him. The difference with this game is the disrepair of the Patriots offensive line and the fact that the Jets have three good corners – Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Buster Skrine – who can play up on the Patriots receivers and cause some strife. Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson, Quinton Coples, Calvin Pace, David Harris – all very good front-seven defenders. You look at them and then look at the Patriots having to move Sebastian Vollmer to left tackle, Cameron Fleming to right tackle and perhaps use Josh Kline and Tre Jackson at left and right guard respectively if Shaq Mason can’t go and think this could be a problem. The Patriots have seen very good defenses before. The Patriots have seen blitzes and Tom Brady has thrown at good corners before. So let’s not make this Jets team into the ’00 Ravens or ’86 Bears. But they are surprisingly successful under a first-year coach in Todd Bowles with a new defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers. They will find a lot of new things out on Sunday in trying to deal with the Patriots for the first time.
The Patriots didn’t bother to run the ball (9 carries, 16 yards; 4 and 15 from Brady). At times, they also neglected to catch it (Brandon LaFell had six drops by himself; Julian Edelman had one on the goal line that caused a four-point deduction). But they survived because of the little things. They took modest advantage of the field position they generated with the one turnover they caused and some first-half stops and – down the stretch – Brady used mobility and some very good edge protection from the offensive line to impose their will. The play that stood out to me was the Patriots’ final touchdown. In the first half, New England got stopped on a third-and-1 when the Jets sacked Brady with a blitz. When the Jets blitzed similarly in the fourth, Brady dropped it over their helmets to an uncovered Gronk for a touchdown. This was Gronk’s best game in a few weeks and Danny Amendola’s best game of the season. Brady wasn’t “on” for a lot of the game – remember the quality of the defense and the pressure they put on with their front-seven and their cover guys – but he was 14 for 17 late and threw two touchdown passes. The third-and-17 to Julian Edelman down the middle to extend their go-ahead touchdown drive was a brilliant throw and catch.
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
Start with the running game because that’s what the Jets will start with. They want to get Chris Ivory going. He’s carried 49 times for 312 yards the past two games, both Jets wins. Bilal Powell is out for this one so Zak Stacy will be the complementary back. Ivory is also a solid pass-catcher. He had three catches for 50 yards last week. The more effective Ivory is, the more the Patriots will be forced to creep linebackers and safeties close to the line of scrimmage. That’s where Ryan Fitzpatrick comes in. The Jets quarterback is smart, moderately accurate and has plenty of arm. He’s prone to picks, but that’s the nature of things when a team is in business with Ryan Fitzpatrick. He doesn’t shrink from challenges at the age of 33 and – if the Patriots load up to stop Ivory – he has two long receivers to get it to: Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. Rookie Devin Smith is a field stretcher; longtime wideout Jeremy Kerley is still at it but has only been targeted in one game. He was thrown to 11 times against the Eagles. Marshall and Decker will get about 15 to 20 targets between them. Unless Ivory is going off, then Fitzpatrick becomes a game manager. The absence of Jabaal Sheard (ankle) and the limitations on Donta Hightower (ribs) could factor into this one. The Jets have allowed just two sacks of Fitzpatrick so far.
After the game, Ivory lamented a pulled hamstring suffered in the first quarter and certainly that didn’t help his cause but the work of the Patriots at the linebacker level with Donta Hightower, Jamie Collins and the pit bull intensity of Patrick Chung wasn’t going to let Ivory go off either. The Patriots used the “double the other team’s No. 1; use their best corner on the No. 2” strategy they employed last season with Darrelle Revis. The doubling worked well on Marshall, holding him to six catches and 67 yards. Malcolm Butler, playing the Revis role, showed that – while he’s a good, young, ascending corner – he isn’t a shutdown guy yet. Decker had six catches for 94 yards and a fleet of big third-down grabs on the 12 passes thrown his way. Fitzpatrick played a very good game for the most part and stayed off the game-ruining pick. All things considered, probably a B-minus type game for the defense overall because of the third-down conversions (8 for 14 overall for New York).
THE KICKING GAME
With a shin injury to punter Ryan Quigley, the Jets signed former Giants and Jets punter Steve Weatherford on Saturday. Weatherford, 32, spent 2009 and '10 with the Jets and 2011-14 with the Giants. As for punt coverage, the Jets allowed a punt return touchdown to the Eagles' Darren Sproles and, even taking that one out, are allowing more than 10 yards per return. Kicker Nick Folk has already missed three field goals between 40 and 49 yards. The Patriots continue to be very good on special teams in both returns and coverage, though the injury to Matt Slater could limit or remove one of the NFL’s best coverage men.
Neither kicker missed any of his three field goal attempts. The Patriots did take advantage of a 31-yard Steve Weatherford punt in the second when they took over at the Jets 47 and scored a tying touchdown. The Patriots continue to be a pain for every opponent on punt returns. They averaged 12.7 on three punt returns. Matt Slater played and he was – as usual – a little terrier on punt coverage.
PATRIOTS MEDICAL REPORT
OUT: OL Marcus Cannon (toe), LB Rufus Johnson (illness), DE Jabaal Sheard (ankle); QUESTIONABLE: RB Brandon Bolden (hamstring), DL Trey Flowers (knee/shoulder), LB Donta Hightower (ribs), G Josh Kline (shoulder), RB Dion Lewis (abdomen), WR Keshawn Martin (hamstring), G Shaq Mason (knee), WR Matt Slater (knee)
None reported during game.
JETS MEDICAL REPORT
OUT: RB Bilal Powell (ankle); DOUBTFUL: S Jaiquawn Jarrett (knee); QUESTIONABLE: G Willie Colon (knee); PROBABLE: S Dion Bailey (elbow), LB Quinton Coples (elbow), WR Eric Decker (knee), QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (elbow), DL Damon Harrison (finger), WR Brandon Marshall (calf), Chris Owusu (knee), P Ryan Quigley (shin), CB Buster Skrine (concussion), CB Marcus Williams (hamstring).
Buster Skrine messed up his elbow and Chris Ivory aggravated his hamstring. Nick Mangold hurt his neck near the end of the game
GAME WITHIN THE GAME
You will be surprised to learn that the Jets are actually third in the league in turning red zone trips into touchdowns on offense. They are third in the league (73.68), just behind the Patriots (73.91). That’s because they have a solid complement of threats with the requisite bruiser back, two tall wideouts in Marshall and Decker and the run-catch threat of Ivory. The Patriots are 28th in red zone defense. Some of those TDs came in garbage time, but still. Stats is stats.
The Patriots got a nice stop when the Jets had first-and-goal at the 4 in the first quarter. It ended up being a big settle. The Jets were 2 for 4 in the red zone; the Patriots 3 for 5.
JETS GOTTA STOP
Dion Lewis. He’ll likely be the guy that benefits from A) the Jets’ endeavors to limit the damage of Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski and B) the pressure sent at Tom Brady which will make draws and screens a nice counter-attack.
Well, that wasn’t so hard. Lewis couldn’t play at all because of his abdominal injury. James White stood in and had three catches for 26 somewhat useful yards but you could see the difference in speed and quickness between the two.
PATRIOTS GOTTA STOP
Chris Ivory. Third down gets all the attention but first down sets up everything else. And running backs like Ivory who run with ferocity and make five yards out of what should be two-yard gains put teams in third-and-favorable. Holding down Ivory is critical to the Patriots making the Jets offense one-dimensional.
DON'T BE SURPRISED IF...
There are several legitimate whacks on Tom Brady. The combination of the Jets’ penchant for blitzing and their corners’ ability to play press-man coverage means that the ball won’t be able to come out on time at times. And the Jets will be able to get home at least a few times against an offensive line that is almost entirely reconfigured.
The Jets got to Brady for sacks three times. They got a couple of whacks on him as well but nothing ridiculous as the Patriots’ offensive line held up pretty well in pass protection.
THAT SUMS IT UP PATRIOTS STYLE
“He's a supremely talented player. He's got such a great skill set and knowledge of the game. He's just got great instincts and his ability to shadow receivers and play the ball. He's had a bunch of plays this year. He's really been a great playmaker for this team this year. It's tough to get open on him, and he usually draws the toughest matchup, so he's a great player. And I think Buster Skrine is a great player, and Antonio Cromartie is a great player, too. So, I've played against all of them, and I have a lot of respect for their secondary.” – Tom Brady, Patriots quarterback, on Darrelle Revis
Brady gave Revis a wide berth and spent more time stepping up and picking the Jets zone apart by finding Amendola and Gronk.
THAT SUMS IT UP JETS STYLE
"I really do think that if they want to stack the box, I like our matchups outside. If they want to roll the coverage and leave the box open, I like our matchups there, too." – Chan Gailey, Jets offensive coordinator, on his team’s balance.
The matchup the Jets were forced to explore was the Malcolm Butler-Eric Decker matchup. The Jets certainly got theirs but taking an offense off their main guys and forcing them elsewhere is a winning strategy for a defense if it works. Decker got his but, overall, it worked out.
THE WINNER IS...
Patriots 30, Jets 17
Patriots 30, Jets 23