‘Gotta bring your mouthpiece’: Patriots vs. Jets What to Watch For
November 18th, 2022
As the Patriots come out of the bye week, they’ll do so against a familiar opponent. On Sunday, they host the Jets at Gillette Stadium, just three weeks after beating them at MetLife Stadium during Week 8. Both teams have only played one game since that matchup, with the Jets also having a Week 10 bye.
The quick turnaround seemed to be something the Jets were looking forward too. Immediately following the Patriots’ 22-17 win three weeks ago, a number of Jets players and coaches quicky brought up the second matchup, highlighted by quarterback Zach Wilson brushing off a question by answering “yeah, we’ll have these guys again in two weeks.”
Speaking to the media on Monday, linebacker Jahlani Tavai set the tone for the Patriots this week. “The reason it’s so hard to beat a team twice is that they have that nasty taste in their mouth,” Tavai said. “You have that nasty taste and you want to come back for revenge. Especially since they’re coming here to play us at home. Our mentality’s got to be a bully mentality, we have to be physical at every point of attack.”
“It’s going to be a physical game. You’ve gotta bring your mouthpiece because it’s going to be that kind of game,” Tavai continued.
For both teams, that kind of tenor will be established along the line of scrimmage. It was the play of the line and front seven that decided the teams’ Week 8 meeting, and those groups come in with even more on their shoulders this time around. What will look the same and what will change from the last matchup? Here’s a line-of-scrimmage-heavy edition of What To Watch For.
Oct 30, 2022; East Rutherford,NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) scrambling in the second half against the New England Patriots at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
The biggest reason the Patriots were able to win their first matchup against the Jets was the was they handled Jets quarterback Zach Wilson – especially in the pass rush. A week after getting shredded by Justin Fields and the Bears, the Patriots showed a much more controlled plan of attack when it came to facing the Jets.
Initially, it may seem like the Patriots’ pass rush didn’t do much to Wilson. They only had two sacks, both of which came late once the game was pretty much out of hand, and didn’t record any additional QB hits.
Don’t be fooled though. Even though they didn’t sack Wilson regularly, they made their presence felt. According to Pro Football Reference, Wilson was pressured 37.2 percent of the time in that game despite the Patriots only calling nine blitzes. For comparison, the Jets’ total pressure allowed rate this year is 23.9 percent.
This is a staple Bill Belichick pass rush tactic. Against certain quarterbacks – especially younger, less experienced passers – it’s more about making them uncomfortable rather than selling all-out for a sack and allowing them to create with their legs – something Wilson certainly can do.
“You definitely have to be ready for him to run. He’s an athletic guy,” safeties coach Brian Belichick said earlier this week. “He probably more scrambles to throw than he scrambles to run but he just picked up a first down against Buffalo a couple of weeks ago. He can run for a first down if you give him enough room.”
Against the Jets in Week 8, Patriots pass rushers approached Wilson with discipline, forcing him towards the boundary without allowing him to break contain, and making him decide between throwing the ball away or taking a risk. As a result, he completed under 50 percent of his passes and threw three interceptions.
That game wasn’t an anomaly for Wilson either. His passer rating under pressure this year is a league-low 6.6, while no other player is under 27. For comparison again, passer rating for an incomplete pass is 39.58.
Even so, the Patriots are ready to get a better shot from Wilson. “I don’t think he’s going to do that again,” cornerback Jonathan Jones told reporters on Wednesday. “If you look at the Buffalo game, they kind of found the recipe of how they want to play and it’s completely opposite of how they played in our game. We definitely expect him to come out and be a different player.”
For the Patriots to repeat their pressure success from Week 8, there are a few key elements. One thing Jerod Mayo and Steve Belichick did was involve more athletic pass rushers to keep up with Wilson. Daniel Ekuale had a season-high usage rate in that game, and Josh Uche played more than usual as well.
Coverage is also a big part of this overall plan. If Wilson has receivers open, especially quickly after the snap, he can get rid of the ball before the pressure hits him. Last time out the Patriots’ corners did there part, with Jonathan Jones, Jalen Mills, Jack Jones, and Myles Bryant targeted a combined total of nine times on 91 pass attempts, allowing five catches. Garrett Wilson and Denzel Mims each broke off a long play (Wilson’s being a catch-and-run), but most of the damage came when Wilson was throwing to tight ends, including two touchdown passes to Tyler Conklin. The Patriots were without Kyle Dugger for that game, and his presence should help in that regard.
The other thing the Patriots have to be ready for is any adjustments the Jets implement to organically limit the pass rush on Wilson. Calling more quick passing concepts will certainly be a part of that, but the bigger issue could be play action, RPOs, read options, and designed quarterback runs – concepts that make pass rushers think twice before pinning their ears back. The Jets had some success with RPOs and zone reads in Week 8, but didn’t make them a major part of the game plan. That could change this time around.
Protecting Mac Jones
EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – OCTOBER 30: Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots makes an adjustment at the line of scrimmage during the second half against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on October 30, 2022 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
As stated above, the main reason the Patriots beat the Jets in the first meeting was because they were able to get after New York’s quarterback. Yet the reason the game was as close as it was is they couldn’t protect their own QB.
In that game, Mac Jones was pressured on 40.9 percent of his drop backs. That’s the most he’s been pressured in a game this year, and significantly above the Patriots’ season pressure rate of 19.7 percent. In fact, it was the 16th highest single-game pressure rate in the NFL so far this year.
Just like with Wilson, pressure has been an issue for Jones this year. He’s completing 44.7 percent of his passes when under pressure, compared to 72.3 percent from clean pockets.
The Jets can bring that kind of pressure again too, and often do so without overexerting themselves. Thanks to their stellar defensive line highlighted by star defensive tackle Quinnen Williams and defensive end John Franklin-Myers, the Jets have the fourth-highest pressure rate in the league at 25.3 percent despite also having the NFL’s second-lowest blitz rate at 14.9 percent.
So what will be different this time around? The Patriots’ lineup will have one key difference with David Andrews returning at center. Andrews missed the first meeting after suffering a concussion the week before. This Sunday will be his first game back.
“David’s a great leader on our team,” Jones said on Wednesday when asked what Andrews’ return brings to the offense. “He’s played against a lot of different defenses, played on some really good teams, so he provides that positive energy and obviously is a great football player, but it’s a lot of the other things too. He’s kind of the bell cow of that whole deal. He does a great job.”
“David does a great job for us,” Bill Belichick added.
Sep 18, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; New England Patriots center David Andrews (60) pass blocks at the line of scrimmage for quarterback Mac Jones (10) against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second quarter at Acrisure Stadium. Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Getting Andrews back won’t just provide the individual boost, but his absence seemed to impact the players around him as well. Over the first seven weeks of the season, rookie left guard Cole Strange had an average PFF pass blocking grade of 70.8. Against the Jets his grade was 32.3 before falling to a flat 0 the next week. Strange was benched in both of those games.
While his drop-off wasn’t as extreme, right guard Michael Onwenu – who has been the Patriots’ best offensive lineman and one of the best in the league this season – appeared to be impacted as well. His 71.9 pass block grade against the Jets was his second-lowest of the season.
Andrews’ return to the lineup won’t solve all of the Patriots’ problems – they still have real questions at right tackle. But it also shouldn’t look as messy up front as it did three weeks ago.
There’s been a lot of talk this week about what kind of adjustments the Patriots potentially made to the offense during the bye week. Any adjustments in the passing game though will only work if the Patriots can give Jones and his receivers time to execute them. Sunday will be a big test in that regard.
DeVante Parker’s impact
GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN – OCTOBER 02: DeVante Parker #1 of the New England Patriots scores a touchdown during the third quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on October 02, 2022 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
On the first play of the first game against the Jets, the Patriots threw a quick slant to wide receiver DeVante Parker. That was Parker’s only play of the game, as he tweaked his knee and hasn’t played since.
The fact the Patriots threw to Parker right away suggests they were confident in that matchup. With Parker projected to return this week, will they look that way again now that he’s on the field.
Throwing at the Jets’ boundary cornerbacks has been a challenge for every NFL team this year. Rookie Sauce Gardner has been targeted 51 times in nine games, breaking up a league-high 13 passes. Opposing quarterbacks have a 54.9 rating when targeting Gardner. Things don’t get much easier on the other side. D.J. Reed is allowing an opposing passer rating of 69.2. Both players are ranked top 10 by PFF in terms of overall coverage grade.
The thing about the Jets defense though is that it allows the offense to dictate the coverage matchups. Based on the old Seattle-3 system that head coach Robert Saleh worked under during his time with the Seahawks, the cornerbacks don’t travel. Gardner handles the right side of the field (from the defense’s point of view), and Reed takes the left.
When the Patriots threw the slant to Parker in Week 1, they had him lined up on Reed’s side of the field. That’s a logical matchup for them to go to, with the 5-foot-9, 188 pound Reed forced to work through the box out of Parker’s 6-foot-3, 219 pound frame.
Again, this is a matchup the Jets will likely give the Patriots all game. Gardner has tremendous size for the position at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds with long arms, but as long as the Patriots don’t throw to the boundary on that side of the field they won’t have to deal with him. In fact, that was generally their approach when facing the Seahawks with this same defensive scheme back when they had Richard Sherman in his prime.
Given Parker’s size advantage and the dictated matchup, it would make sense for the Patriots to get him involved – especially on contested catch concepts like quick screens, back-shoulder throws, and jump balls down the sideline and in the end zone. Keep an eye out to see if that’s their approach.
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarthor via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.