When the schedule initially came out, this game looked like an automatic check in the “L” column. A rebuilding Jets team had no business beating the mighty Patriots on the road, never mind in a short week.
The Patriots, who were already prepared to go into this game without Aaron Hernandez or Rob Gronkowski, are even thinner at the skill positions than ever before. With Danny Amendola and Shane Vereen not likely to play in Thursday's game (according to Dan Roche of CBSBoston.com), the Patriots will play against a vaunted Jets defense without any proven receiving options to speak of.
The Patriots may be as vulnerable as they will ever be this year, but that does not make beating Tom Brady in his building an easy task. After all, Brady has proven over and over that he can produce with a less-than-stellar receiving corps when the Patriots were winning championships.
Let’s take a look at how the Jets should approach Thursday night’s game to get the best of Tom Brady and put points on the board.
Elite quarterbacks, such as Brady, are all adept at avoiding edge rushers because they are able to step up into the pocket.
When interior rushers are involved, however, getting away from pressure becomes nearly impossible for athletic specimens such as Brady.
The Buffalo Bills had a lot of success making the pocket uncomfortable for Brady by making him reset his feet and throw from difficult angles. Here, the Bills perform a straight four-man rush. Kyle Williams will (deservedly) get the double team, which give Marcell Dareus a chance to penetrate in a one-on-one situation.
Using a spin move, Dareus gets enough pressure in the pocket to make Brady uncomfortable (on just the first drive of the game). Brady steps sideways to give him some space, but he has to reset his feet to an awkward throwing stance.
Now, Brady is completely reliant on his arm to deliver the ball.
As a result, the pass is inaccurate and falls incomplete.
While they may not have the same brand names as the Bills do up front, the Jets have built their defense in a very similar fashion that allows them to be just as disruptive up front.
The Jets have two players that are adept at getting pressure through the interior—Muhammad Wilkerson and first-round rookie Sheldon Richardson.
On this play, Richardson (91) is lined up at base end in a four-man front. Richardson waits until Freeman sets his protection…
…then slides in front of the center, where he is set up to do the most damage.
The Jets can use these types of fronts to throw off the Patriots offensive line and put their role players in positions to succeed. The worst thing the Jets can do is line up in the same formation every play and hope they can out-muscle the Patriots.
Based on Rex Ryan’s history of using a multitude of fronts in a single series, predictability on defense should not be an issue.
Physical at the Corners
One of the reasons why Vincent Jackson was able to go for over 150 yards against the Jets last week was because he was able to get a free release off the line much more often than he should have.
The Jets need to learn form their Week 1 mistakes and make the Patriots’ young receivers prove that they can out-muscle the likes of Antonio Cromartie and Dee Milliner on the outside.
Otherwise, the Patriots “death by paper cuts” offense will gash the Jets defense with ease, just as they did against the Bills on this play.
The play starts out with Danny Amendola lined up in a stack formation. Brady is able to make the Bills show their hand in coverage by putting Amendola in motion. Because the Bills cornerback moves with Amendola, it proves to Brady that the Bills are in off-man coverage.
Because the Bills don’t trust their ability to run with Amendola down the field, they give him a soft cushion at the line of scrimmage.
Amendola runs what looks like an option route—a commonality in New England's complex offense—that allows him to run a route based on the coverage he gets. The soft cushion gives him an easy read of a "0" route, or a "hitch" route that gives him plenty of separation.
The result is an easy pitch-and-catch for a first down.
This short completion may seem harmless, but after four or five of these in a row (which happens quickly in the Patriots’ hurry-up offense), the Patriots can move up and down the field before a team even realizes how backed-up they are.
Outside of playing bump-and-run man coverage, the Jets can counter this by disguising their coverages. For example, the Jets could drop into a zone after showing man coverage before the snap by following receivers around.
These types of techniques can take Brady out of his rhythm and keep the Patriots’ precision offense off their mark.
Use the Tight End
Somehow, the Jets will enter this game with a better set of tight ends than the Patriots, as Kellen Winslow is quickly becoming Geno Smith’s favorite target after leading the team in receiving in Week 1.
Now, it’s time to give the Patriots a dose of their own tight end-laced medicine.
The most glaring weakness in Bill Belichick’s defense is that his heavy-footed linebackers are built to stop the run, not run with tight end in pass coverage. Brandon Spikes, Dont’a Hightower and Jerod Mayo are all suffocating run-stoppers, but none of them posses the speed needed to cover in space for an extended period of time.
However, Geno must tweak his game if he is going to continue to get production from the tight end position. On this play, Geno Smith made a long completion to Kellen Winslow that set the Jets up with a touchdown, but it was far from a clean play.
Smith has Winslow breaking open in the seam. Winslow may not look open, but in the NFL, just a few feet of separation is considered to be about as wide open as it gets.
If he releases the ball at this point, an accurate throw may have resulted in a long completion, if not a touchdown.
Instead, Smith, not trusting what he is seeing, escapes a perfectly clean pocket. He now has two wide-open receivers, but he inexplicably pulls the ball down again.
Finally, Smith finds Winslow for the long completion. He looks good throwing on the run, but this play could have been made a lot more efficiently.
Moving forward, the Jets need Geno to get rid of the ball on time and not have to rely on improvisational plays. Improvisational plays are random—they may work out fine, or they can result in disaster. If Smith is going to improve, he is going to have to remove the randomness out of his game as much as possible and play within structure.
After an offseason of turmoil and existing on the butt end of jokes, the Jets have a tremendous opportunity to rebuild their reputation with a win over their division rivals on Thursday night. With the Patriots fielding their weakest offensive skill group in years, the Jets have a great chance to pull off an upset few thought was possible a few months ago.