New England Patriots

  • The Patriots need a major get-right game this week. After last week’s 33-14 upset at the hands of the Chicago Bears, it’s time to get back on track and get back to .500.

    For the better part of the last decade, a game against the New York Jets would provide the perfect opportunity to do just that. The Patriots have won their last 12 games against the Jets, dating back to 2016. They’ve also won 20 of the last 22, and haven’t lost to the Jets in regulation since the 2010 season.

    However, these aren’t the same old Jets. New York comes into this game at 5-2, and seem to be hitting a stride in the second year under head coach Robert Saleh.

    The Jets have won four games in a row heading into Week 8. The quality of opponents during that stretch varies from the Miami Dolphins to the Green Bay Packers, to the Pittsburgh Steelers and last week a Russell Wilson-less Denver Broncos team. Still, stringing wins together hasn’t exactly been the Jets’ forte, and this is their first winning streak of at least four games since late in the 2015 season.

    Given Saleh’s background as a defensive coach – his NFL resume traces back to the Legion of Boom era in Seattle – it’s not surprising to see the defense is leading this surge for the Jets. They’re allowing 19.6 points per game, which ranks 10th in the NFL. Going back to Week 3, they’ve allowed consecutively fewer points in five straight games.

    Part of what makes the Jets’ defense so effective is they have big-time playmakers at all three levels. Let’s get into who those players are, how the Patriots can counter them, plus some keys for the Patriots’ defense as well in this week’s What To Watch For…


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  • Patriots offensive line vs. Jets defensive line

    EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - OCTOBER 09: Skylar Thompson #19 of the Miami Dolphins is sacked by Quinnen Williams #95 of the New York Jets and John Franklin-Myers #91 of the New York Jets during the second half at MetLife Stadium on October 09, 2022 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Edward Diller/Getty Images)

    EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – OCTOBER 09: Skylar Thompson #19 of the Miami Dolphins is sacked by Quinnen Williams #95 of the New York Jets and John Franklin-Myers #91 of the New York Jets during the second half at MetLife Stadium on October 09, 2022 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Edward Diller/Getty Images)

    By nature of the Jets’ defense being rooted in the ‘Seattle-3’ zone system, they’re not a heavy-blitzing team. Because the defense is predicated on smothering zone coverage, pulling guys out of coverage to rush the quarterback is a significantly bigger risk than it is in other systems. So far this season, the Jets have called for a blitz on just 14.8 percent of their plays, the second-lowest rate in the league just two-tenths of a percent more than the Chicago Bears.

    Building a defense in this system means having defensive linemen that can get to the quarterback without any help, and that’s exactly what the Jets have up front. Despite their basement-low blitz rate, they’re still pressuring opposing quarterbacks 23.7 percent of the time, which ranks 12th in the NFL. Their knockdown rate ranks even higher at 14.8 percent, which is second in the league.

    Relatively speaking, the Jets don’t use much of a rotation up front defensively. The group doing most of the damage are the four starters – defensive tackles Quinnen Williams and Sheldon Rankins, and ends John Franklin-Myers and Carl Lawson. Williams and Lawson alone have combined for 30 pressures and eight sacks through seven games this year.

    This unit would be enough of a challenge for the Patriots’ offensive line in a normal week, but they’ll be working on a difficulty curve this Sunday based on personnel. Center David Andrews hasn’t practiced all week due to a concussion, and there’s still uncertainty at right tackle after Isaiah Wynn missed last week’s game with a shoulder injury. That’s also with Mac Jones back under center making the calls after playing just one quarter of game action over the last four weeks.

    That’s all just related to the passing game. On the ground, the Jets are allowing the third-fewest rushing yards per attempt of any team this season, at 3.9 yards per carry.

    Will the Patriots’ offensive line, down one maybe two starters, be able to rebound after a rough game last week? They’ll need to to keep the offense moving against this Jets defense.

  • Mac Jones vs. C.J. Mosley

    EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - SEPTEMBER 11: C.J. Mosley #57 of the New York Jets reacts after forcing a fourth down during the first half against the Baltimore Ravens at MetLife Stadium on September 11, 2022 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

    EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – SEPTEMBER 11: C.J. Mosley #57 of the New York Jets reacts after forcing a fourth down during the first half against the Baltimore Ravens at MetLife Stadium on September 11, 2022 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

    C.J. Mosley, an eighth-year linebacker out of Alabama, has the ability to defend the entire width of the field from the middle of the defense. He’ll show up in the running game, in coverage, and just constantly be around the ball.

    In the past, we’ve highlighted players the Patriots’ quarterback ‘needs to be aware of’ on the field in terms of their pre-snap alignment and tendencies. For Jones this week, that’s Mosley. He’s the key cog in the center of the Jets’ defense, so keeping an eye on him will help Jones and the rest of the Patriots’ offense have a better idea of what the Jets are trying to do defensively.

  • Matt Patricia vs. Robert Saleh/Jeff Ulbrich

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 25: Offensive Line Coach Matt Patricia of the New England Patriots looks onward during during the second half against the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium on September 25, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – SEPTEMBER 25: Offensive Line Coach Matt Patricia of the New England Patriots looks onward during during the second half against the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium on September 25, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    In order to discuss the secondary, we’re going to spotlight the coaches. Matt Patricia – we believe – is calling plays for the Patriots’ offense. Saleh obviously plays a hand in the Jets’ defense, but the actual defensive coordinator is former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Jeff Ulbrich.

    One thing about the Seattle-3 defense is that it can be predictable, especially in the secondary. It’s not as much about disguising what the defense is doing, but operating similar calls at a high level of execution and making the other team reach that level.

    A position where that’s especially prevalent is in how the team handles its outside cornerbacks. In this system, those boundary corners don’t travel. Instead, they lock on one side and play there the heavy majority of the time. For instance, during the peak years of his career Richard Sherman lined up on the left side of the field well over 90 percent of the time.

    Playing Sherman’s role in the Jets’ version of the Seattle-3 is rookie fourth-overall pick Sauce Gardner. At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, and with a 6-foot-7 wingspan, Gardner can use every bit of his length to take away windows in the passing game.

    While playing 97 percent of all of the Jets’ defensive snaps this year, Gardner has been targeted just 42 times, allowing 22 completions for 201 yards. He currently leads the league with 12 pass breakups.

    When the Patriots used to face Sherman’s Seahawks, they’d make it a point of operating their offense away from Sherman’s side. This is where Patricia comes in. It will be on him to limit Gardner’s impact on the game, which is easier to do than with some star cornerbacks because he sticks to a certain side. Look for the Patriots to run offensive plays designed to go away from Gardner’s side, especially in the passing game.

    In particular, it will be interesting to see how the Patriots use DeVante Parker. Over the last month, deep shots and 50-50 balls to Parker have become the best shot play in the Patriots’ arsenal. If they want to turn to that this week, they should design calls that put Parker on the other side of the field, in a more favorable matchup against veteran 5-foot-9 corner D.J. Reed.

  • Patriots coverage players vs. Jets pass catchers

    GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - OCTOBER 16: Tyler Conklin #83 of the New York Jets runs for yardage after a catch in the fourth quarter of a game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on October 16, 2022 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)

    GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN – OCTOBER 16: Tyler Conklin #83 of the New York Jets runs for yardage after a catch in the fourth quarter of a game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on October 16, 2022 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)

    Now time for one thought on the Patriots’ defense. The Jets’ rushing attack gets most of the attention on the offensive side of the ball, but it’s the passing game that could give the Patriots issues. In a way, that’s similar to what happened last week against Chicago.

    It’s his second year in the NFL, but Jets quarterback Zach Wilson is still struggling to figure out how to beat a blitz. On plays where he’s blitzed he has a 43.9 passer rating, which is the second worst in the league among qualifying quarterbacks. When throwing the ball under pressure this season, Wilson has completed just five of 31 passes with no touchdowns and two picks.

    Blitzing Wilson should be a big part of the defensive game plan. Not only will it throw him off his game, but help against the run as well. Plus, the Patriots’ pass rush has been the one element of the team has has looked consistently good through the first seven weeks of the season.

    For that game plan to work though, the secondary has to do its part. Blitzing means one-on-one man coverage assignments on the back end. Being able to hold those up while Wilson scrambles and try to extend plays is bound to lead to turnovers, as it did last year.

    When it comes to the wide receivers and cornerbacks, it feels like the Patriots should have an edge. The Jets will be without their top wideout in Corey Davis due to a foot injury. That leaves Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones, Jack JonesMyles Bryant, and Marcus Jones to cover a receiver room lacking depth. It’s Elijah Moore, who didn’t play last week, rookie Garrett Wilson, Braxton Berrios, and then likely Denzel Mims stepping in for Davis.

    However it’s tight ends that could be an issue, especially with Kyle Dugger unlikely to play after missing the first two days of practice this week with a knee injury. When Dugger hasn’t been on the field this year, the Patriots have seriously struggled against tight ends this season. In the lone game he missed this year against the Baltimore Ravens, Mark Andrews caught eight passes for 89 yards and two scores. Games against the Packers, Steelers and Bears when he was limited also saw the team get burned by tight ends when he was off the field.

    The Jets completely overhauled their tight end room this past offseason, signing Tyler Conklin and C.J. Uzomah in free agency and drafting Jeremy Ruckert out of Ohio State in the third round. Conklin and Uzomah get most of the reps, with Conklin the team’s second-most targeted pass catcher. So far this season he’s caught 26 balls on 38 targets, for 230 yards and a score. With two of the team’s top five most-targeted receivers out in Davis and running back Breece Hall, that volume figures to increase on Sunday.

    In past games without Dugger on the field, the Patriots have tried using Devin McCourty in man coverage on tight ends, something he’s struggled with as a size matchup. Jabrill Peppers has also seen some snaps in that role, with mixed results. Adrian Phillips could be a guy to get a look, as he’s had success manning up tight ends in the past. However, he left last week’s game early and has been listed as limited on the injury report all week with a shoulder injury. If none of those options work out, the Patriots could pull one of their bigger corners like Mills or Jack Jones in for the assignment, assuming the other corners are holding the receivers in check.

  • 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 @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.