The Patriots travel to New York this week for a rebound matchup with the Jets. New England suffered its more embarrassing loss of the season to the Titans two weeks ago. The hope in New England is that the bye week reset the reigning AFC champs.
J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS
After selecting The Chosen One, Sam Darnold, third overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Jets were sure that they were set to take over the AFC East. The season hasn’t turned out quite like they hoped. New York is 3-7 this season, with some impressive wins mixed with miserable, inexcusable losses. They’ve taken out the Lions, the Broncos, and the Colts, but have also been embarrassed by the Jaguars, the Bears, and the Bills. This has all been due to a combination of a lack of offensive talent, defensive struggles, and coaching mistakes.
The Chosen One hasn’t played well so far, throwing for just under 2000 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions at a 55% completion rate. However, the offensive struggles can’t all be laid at the feet of Darnold. Jared Goff and Carson Wentz were not overly impressive in their rookie campaigns, but have since set the league on fire. Darnold needs time to develop. He also needs better weapons. Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa, and Jermaine Kearse are not exactly elite wide receivers. Isaiah Crowell is a decent running back, but not enough to carry a struggling passing game.
The Jets defense has a number of impressive players at every level. Leonard Williams anchors the defensive line. Darron Lee is a force at linebacker. Jamal Adams is a personal favorite of mine at safety. He is helped out by Trumaine Johnson, Morris Claiborne, and Buster Skrine. Despite that talent, New York’s defense has been underperforming. They rank in the bottom half of the league in nearly all defensive statistical categories. It’s unclear where the disconnect it, although it is fair to assume that there is a flaw somewhere along the coaching staff.
The Patriots need to do a lot of things better offensively than the last time they played. However, the most important thing will be to get meaningful yards on first and second down. While the Jets defense has struggled in many areas, they have been phenomenal on third down, with the second best opponent third-down conversion percentage. If the Patriots get themselves into third and long situations, they may encounter some issues.
Establishing the running game will be important. Getting Sony Michel involved early will be the best way to grind the Jets defense down. Michel did not blow anyone away in his return against the Titans, but he only played in a limited capacity. The Patriots should be able to give him a full workload and gain big chunks of yardage on first and second down. New England’s interior offensive lineman need to do a good job of blocking Williams and controlling the line of scrimmage.
The Patriots also need their receivers to perform better. Chris Hogan has been ineffective for the majority of this season, and Josh Gordon struggled to catch the football against Tennessee. Both need to have rebound performances against New York.
Most importantly, the Patriots need their elite players to play like elite players. Rob Gronkowski has missed nearly half the season with injuries, and Tom Brady has looked both brilliant and disappointing. Managing Gronk’s health has been a smart strategy for another playoff run, but he still needs to be able to make an impact in the regular season. The Jets are a good warmup before he has to play against the Vikings and the Steelers. Brady has struggled mostly due to some unfamiliarity with his receivers. Instead of making his reads, he’s been forcing the ball to Gordon, James White, and Julian Edelman. His actual throwing has been as good as always, but he has been more afraid to make certain plays. He needs to reassert himself against a Jets team he has owned for two decades.
The Patriots defense had an extremely disappointing performance against a Tennessee team that has struggled to put up points all year. Stephon Gilmore has been fantastic all year, but he looked absolutely terrible against Corey Davis and the Titans passing game. Considering how well he has played in each of the other games this season, it doesn’t seem like something to worry about just yet. He should be able to have a top-tier performance against a weak Jets receiving corps.
The Patriots safeties are also going to need to pull in a better performance. The Jets love to take the top off of defenses with speedsters like Anderson. Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon need to ensure that they do not bust their assignments.
The Patriots secondary also has almost no excuse not to create turnovers in this game. Darnold is a turnover machine and should throw the ball into the Patriots hands at least once.
Plugging holes and forcing Isaiah Crowell to run the ball outside is going to be the key for the Patriots front seven. Crowell is an explosive runner who gets through running lanes quickly. If they can close holes quickly and force him to try to get outside, they will be able to slow him down.
Getting pressure on the quarterback is going to be the key to whether this game remains close or not. If Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise can get consistent pressure on Sam Darnold, they will be able to force turnovers. The problem is that a consistent pass rush has been completely absent from the Patriots defense all year. If they can’t create one against the Jets, their prospects at winning another championship will look even bleaker.
The Patriots are still a top team in the AFC, despite a bad loss to the Titans. They need to prove that with a thorough beatdown of a Jets team that is reeling from a disappointing season.
New England 31 New York 10