Can the New England Patriots Running Game Succeed vs. New York Jets?
After a week in which both teams defied the status quo, the Jets are out to prove that their lights-out performance against the Colts wasn't a fluke or a product of a bad opponent. The Patriots, on the other hand, have to prove that their down week was either a fluke or a product of a dominant opponent.
Whichever side is able to validate itself could have a huge bearing on the outcome of the game, so let's take a look at the matchup piece-by-piece in this week's breakdown.
Patriots Running Game
Where it once was clear that the key to slowing down the Patriots offense was to get good pressure on quarterback Tom Brady with a four-man rush and to get receivers off their routes on the outside, the Patriots have begun to employ a more balanced offense that is forcing defenses to respect the running game.
They got away from that balance last week against the Seahawks, which led to Brady throwing a career-high 58 pass attempts.
What looked like a dominant running game just a week ago (4.3 YPA through Week 5) was stifled by the Seahawks, who held the Patriots to 87 yards on 26 carries (3.3 YPA).
Judging by the fact that the Seahawks give up a season average of 3.3 YPA and 70 yards per game, that's right around par for the course.
Between Brandon Mebane and Red Bryant, the Seahawks have two of the better run-stuffing defensive tackles in the game.
They may have struggled against a stingy Seahawks run defense, but they did more than their share of damage against the Broncos.
Some of the no-huddle principles helped the Patriots catch the Broncos off balance in the running game, so look for them to use a similar strategy here.
Just look at how little time the Broncos had to get set before the Patriots had snapped the ball on this play.
Jets Run Defense
As one of the league's stingiest run defenses from 2009-2011, the Jets have slid significantly to start the 2012 season.
The Jets played an improved brand of run defense in the second half against the Texans; since conceding 112 yards on 13 carries in the first half, the Jets have given up 98 yards on 39 carries in six quarters of football.
They had given up 4.9 YPA on the ground through Week 5, before shutting down the Colts' 30th-ranked rush attack (3.6 YPA through Week 5).
A look back at the film reveals some missed opportunities for the Colts, though.
There weren't many of those missed opportunities, and the Jets played more stout in run defense as a whole.
They got much more movement off the snap against the run than they had against, say the San Francisco 49ers.
Here's a few post-snap screen shots to give you an idea.
The Patriots running game isn't the same style as the 49ers, but it's nearly as aggressive. As we learned above, the Patriots are capable of running against both light and heavy personnel.
Joe Caporoso of TurnOnTheJets.com brings up a good point:
New England thrives in their no huddle because they take advantage of a team’s inability to substitute and then gash them with their running game when they have personnel on the field to defend the pass. This is what makes having the personnel to run a "big nickel" that much more important. Rex Ryan seems to recognize that and smartly brought up hybrid safety/linebacker Antonio Allen last week and now this week has brought up another hybrid in Marcus Dowtin.
These are the type of players you need to defend the Patriots, guys with coverage skills but who have the ability to play in the box and make tackles. Considering Eric Smith’s injury, look for extended reps for Allen and for Dowtin to be thrown right on the field like Allen was last week. At linebacker, Demario Davis should see a big chunk of Bart Scott’s playing time because of his speed and coverage skills.
He has a great point; the Jets will need to be able to stop the run from their nickel and dime packages because the Patriots have been more willing to run it against those formations this year than in year's past, and have also been more effective doing so.
Who Holds the Edge?
The Patriots running game has been consistent up until their game against the Seahawks. The Jets run defense has been up-and-down all season long.
The Jets have had problems dealing with New England's no-huddle attack in the past, and now that they're back at home, you can bet they'll be looking to get back to it after leaving it behind a bit in Seattle.
Look for New England to come out swinging with a similar up-tempo offensive attack to what they ran against the Broncos, and from there, it's up to whether the Jets can get in position quickly enough to stop it.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.
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