New England Patriots: Breaking Down the Best Way to Attack the Jets Defense
That was certainly the case in the 2010 playoffs, when New York sat in the nickel, bracketed the Pats' weapons, crowded the middle of the field and dared New England to run. It was also true in Week 7, when the Jets mixed coverages, dialed up blitzes and put speedier players on the field (like LB Demario Davis) to help in coverage.
The Jets are 4-6 and fighting for their playoff lives. Even on a short week, New England can expect a sound defensive game plan from their AFC East rivals.
So how do the Pats counter? Let's take a look at the best ways for QB Tom Brady and the New England offense to put up points on the Jets defense.
Run the Ball Between the Tackles
It's no secret that the New York Jets defense can't stop the run. They're the 30th-ranked run defense in terms of total yardage, and 26th in yards allowed per-attempt.
With TE Rob Gronkowski officially ruled out this week, it's even more important for the Pats to be aggressive with their fifth-ranked rushing defense.
If recent history is any indication, the Jets will employ a heavy dose of nickel defense to slow the Pats' pass-catching weapons. They'll likely cover Pats WR Wes Welker with nickel CB Isaiah Trufant, who played well in the slot in Week 7.
Bringing in an extra defensive back helps the Jets in pass coverage, but it leaves the Jets undersized when trying to defend the run.
That's exactly why the Pats must exploit the Jets' weakness with a heavy dose of Stevan Ridley between the tackles.
One thing working against the Pats is the loss of Gronkowski, one of the league's best run-blockers. That negates some of their rushing ability off the edge. But the Jets' biggest weaknesses in run defense aren't located outside the hashmarks.
According to Football Outsiders, the Jets are just below league-average in defending outside runs—they're ranked 18th in Adjusted Line Yards (ALY) on runs to the left end, and 16th in ALY on runs to the right end.
But between the tackles, the Jets are awful. They're 29th in the league on runs inside the LT, and 30th on rushes inside the RT.
That means a physical inside game with Ridley (who has shown great burst, balance and decisiveness up the middle) will wear down the Jets' front and force them back into their base defense.
Utilize 3-WR Sets to Open Up the Middle of the Field
Without Gronk's versatility, the Pats' "12" formation (one RB, two TEs) is less of a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.
The Pats have an embarrassing wealth of talented TEs in reserve—Visanthe Shiancoe, Daniel Fells, and Michael Hoomanawanui can all contribute with Gronk hurt—but none of them provide the elite pass-catching and blocking that Gronk does.
That means that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels might want to rethink his offensive game plan for the upcoming weeks.
Twin-TE sets without Gronk might provide the Jets D with too much of a clue as to what the Patriots are doing. If Fells and Hoomanawanui are lined up tight, then it's probably going to be a run.
If it's Shiancoe and Hernandez on the field, a pass is more likely.
So perhaps it's best for the Pats to employ more three-WR sets to spread the defense out. With WR Julian Edelman—who had a monster game against the Colts that included five catches for 58 yards and a touchdown—out wide on one side of the field and Brandon Lloyd on the other, the Pats will have options.
They'll have the ability to execute quick screens and slants, as well as effective outs along the sideline. A lot is said about the value of stretching the field vertically, but what these two players can help the Pats do is stretch it horizontally. The shiftiness of Edelman on quick screens and the balance of Lloyd around the sideline can compel OLBs and safeties to cheat outside to support the corners in coverage.
That opens up the middle of the field for Wes Welker and the TEs on crossing routes and up the seam. That's key, because per Football Outsiders, the Jets are 26th in the league in defending No. 2 WRs, and 23rd in covering TEs.
Get the Ball to Playmakers in Space
It's amazing how greatly the absence of Gronkowski affects the game plan for this matchup.
Without him, the likelihood of the Pats getting the one-on-one matchups they want is significantly decreased. Gronk's absence allows the Jets to bracket Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez, making Tom Brady's reads much tougher.
So how do the Pats take some of the burden off of Brady?
Short, quick strikes that get the ball to playmakers and force the defense to come up and make tackles.
The Jets aren't an elite tackling team—this is a quick and dirty statistic, but according to my count, the Jets miss a tackle for every 7.33 tackles they make. That's just 20th in the NFL.
To give that stat some credibility, the top 10 ranked teams in missed-tackles-per-tackle-made include Houston, San Francisco, Chicago and Pittsburgh. Those are four of the top five teams in total defense.
Anyway, if the Pats can get the ball to Edelman, Welker, Hernandez and former Jet Danny Woodhead with room to spare, they'll rack up the YAC and tire out the pursuing defense.
Running quick screens, checkdowns, short curls and dumpoffs into the flat will help simplify Brady's reads against a swarming D.
A few big plays in space may also slow down the pass rush and bring the corners and LBs up in press coverage. That will open up holes in front of the safeties for Welker and the TEs.