How Can New York Jets Capitalize in Showdown with Injury-Depleted Patriots?
The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports
Not only will the Patriots be relying on a cast of unproven players in wide receivers Kenbrell Thompkins, Josh Boyce and others, they are also dealing with injuries to wide receiver Danny Amendola, running back Shane Vereen and tight ends Zach Sudfeld and Rob Gronkowski.
It looks like the Patriots offense, which had trouble moving the ball Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, could struggle again.
Shut Down the Run With As Few Players As Possible
Sounds strange to say that the focus when facing the Patriots is shutting down the run, but with so much in doubt at the wide receiver and tight end positions, the Patriots may look to play it safe against the Jets.
"To me, what I saw was a team that could really run the football," head coach Rex Ryan said of his impressions of the Patriots offense after watching the film, "and I think in the past, they've run the ball, but not with the conviction that I saw in that first week against a pretty darn good front. That's something that obviously looks like New England is going to run the ball more than they've done in the past."
With defensive linemen Muhammad Wilkerson, Quinton Coples and Sheldon Richardson, the Jets have a star-studded defensive line, and after spending heavily on the position with three first-round picks in the past three years, it's time to put it on the line to shut down the run by plugging the lanes up front.
They did a fantastic job of shutting down Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin, holding the 2012 Pro Bowler to 65 yards on 24 carries, and holding the Buccaneers as a team to just 2.6 yards per carry.
The Jets have an aggressive front seven that swarms to the football, and here, the linebackers read the play correctly and get in position to plug the lanes.
Nose tackle Kenrick Ellis and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson both beat their assignments and converged on the ball-carrier for a loss of a yard.
Without Vereen in the lineup, and with Stevan Ridley currently in Belichick's doghouse, the Patriots may be running the ball with Brandon Bolden and LeGarrette Blount.
Ryan may have spoken highly of the Patriots running game, but if the Jets' defensive line is getting into the backfield this consistently, they can make the Patriots a one-dimensional offense.
Make Tom Brady Go to His Unfamiliar Receivers
It was clear on the Patriots final drive, and over the course of the game, really, that Shane Vereen, Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman were the only receivers Brady trusted to make a play. Brady will be without Vereen and could also be without Amendola, so that doesn't leave many options.
He targeted Amendola and Vereen on all seven of his throws on the final drive. Amendola, Vereen and Edelman were targeted on 13 of Brady's 18 fourth-quarter throws.
Taking away throws over the middle is much easier said than done, especially against a quarterback like Brady, who excels throwing into that area, and against receivers like Amendola and Edelman, who have the short-area quickness to get open in tight spaces.
Things worked better when Brady went over the middle (21-of-32, 65.6 percent) than when he threw outside the numbers (8-of-19, 42.1 percent).
Don't tell Rex Ryan that Tom Brady is struggling, though.
"I don't know if I'd classify Tom Brady as struggling," he said. "I'd have to see that to believe it, I don't think he's ever struggled."
It's hard to know for sure whether Brady was struggling, or whether his receivers were struggling, but either way, the chemistry between the quarterback and his receivers needs some work.
Brady targeted Patriots wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins on a deep throw over the middle. Thompkins did a great job of getting separation on his route, winning inside leverage off the snap.
He may have taken the wrong angle out of his break, or maybe the ball was simply not thrown in the right spot. Whatever the case, the Jets have an opportunity to really slow the Patriots down if they can force Brady to rely on unproven weapons.
Cover to Rush, Rush to Cover
The relationship between Rex Ryan and his former protégé Mike Pettine may not have ended well, but the teacher should thank the student for proving that you can, in fact, slow the Patriots offense down with just a four-man rush.
The Bills sent extra defenders at Brady on 18 of his 55 dropbacks, a decent 32.7 percent blitz rate. (That's nothing compared to the ridiculous 37.8 percent blitz rate the Jets utilized in 2012.) That said, it wasn't always a straight four-man rush. The Bills would loop and stunt defensive tackles, creating some confusion on the Patriots' offensive line, which resulted in a few hits on Brady.
On this play, for example, Brady was looking to his right, but good coverage forced him to look elsewhere. He had to come back across the field to his left, where Thompkins was breaking inside and might have been open—if Brady had time to throw the ball.
Buffalo defensive tackle Alan Branch got a hand on Brady, knocking him down as he released the throw and forcing the incomplete pass.
The Patriots will have to do a better job of protecting Brady when the Jets send four men on the rush, but if we have learned anything about the Jets in the Rex Ryan era, they will bring the heat.
The Bills once again would bring the heat on 3rd-and-9 in the second quarter. The Patriots could have gotten a read on the blitz, but Brady overlooked safety Da'Norris Searcy creeping up to the line of scrimmage prior to the snap.
Not surprisingly, Searcy sprinted through the line and brought Brady down before he even had a chance to get past his first read.
So, it may be tough to confuse Brady, but if the Jets can confuse his offensive line and receivers, they'll give themselves a much better shot at pulling off the win.
Drawing up a game plan to beat the Patriots is one thing. Executing it flawlessly, is another thing entirely.
The Bills can tell you all about the opportunity they had to knock the Patriots off in Week 1 and how difficult it can be to seal the deal against such a well-coached team.
On the flip side, the Patriots aren't going to commit a litany of unforced errors like the Buccaneers, who filled up the wrong kind of stat sheet with a safety, two turnovers and 13 penalties.
So, the most important thing the Jets can do is limit their own mistakes. To beat the Patriots means they must make sure they don't beat themselves.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.
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