The New York Jets may have suffered a setback at the hands of the previously winless Pittsburgh Steelers last week, but they have a chance to right all of their wrongs with a win over their most hated rival, the New England Patriots, in front of their home crowd.
Under Bill Belichick, the Patriots have a strong record against just about every team in the NFL—but they have been particularly successful against the Jets in recent years. The last time the Jets were able to beat Tom Brady was in January of 2011 in the AFC divisional playoffs.
As daunting as their recent history has been against the Patriots, the Jets should feel rather confident entering this game. After all, they were one throw away from beating the Patriots in their home stadium just a short month ago in what was just Geno Smith's second NFL start.
While the Jets found success with their defensive game plan in their first meeting, Rex Ryan will need to find a balance between sticking with what worked and making sure that he is not too predictable, as the Patriots will most certainly make adjustments. Plus, while Brady and his offense have not looked quite as potent as we are used to seeing, he and his young receiving corps are only getting more in-sync with each other every week.
Ultimately, How the Jets approach this game from an offensive standpoint will be the key to their success. Belichick's underrated defense got the best of rookie quarterback Smith in his second start, but Smith has exponentially more experience another month into the season.
Here is a breakdown of how the Jets should construct their Week 7 game plan.
Attack the Defensive Holes
The Patriots may have gotten a big win over the New Orleans Saints last week, but it came at a price. Having already lost Vince Wilfork earlier in the season, the Patriots defense took another big hit after losing Jerod Mayo for the season:
To make matters worse for New England's defense, star cornerback Aqib Talib left Sunday's game against the Saints with a quad injury, per Mike Reiss of ESPN.com, and his status for this upcoming week is uncertain.
If Talib is unavailable, the Patriots would be forced to move Alfonzo Dennard to the outside and involve Marquice Cole in nickel packages.
Cole, a former Jet, has carved out a nice career as a special teams ace and a dime package specialist, but he has not been tested much as a full-time slot cornerback. The Jets need to see if Cole is up to the task right away by attacking him early and often with Jeremy Kerley over the middle.
Meanwhile, the Patriots will likely fill the massive void left by Mayo by a committee basis. At their disposal are the versatile Dane Fletcher and rookie Jamie Collins. Both players are known for being strong in coverage, although they have not been extensively tested in that area—Collins and Fletcher have recorded just 52 and 11 snaps on defense, respectively.
While both players may have reputations for being third-down specialists, the Jets need to test them in every aspect of the game to see how they respond to being in more of a full-time role, especially the rookie (Collins).
By nature, these two inexperienced players may be prone to being overaggressive in their new roles. Giving them a heavy dose of read-option or misdirection will keep them on their heels in the run game.
Do as the Bengals Did
Every team that plays against the Patriots from here on out needs to take a good look at what the Bengals were able to do to hold Brady to just six points earlier in the season, including the Jets.
It is hardly a secret that the best way to get pressure on Brady to cause erratic throws is through the use of interior pressure. Unlike edge pressure where a quarterback has a chance to escape by stepping up into the pocket (especially an elite one like Brady), interior pressure gives a nonathletic Brady nowhere to escape and blocks his vision down the field.
By now, however, Brady knows that teams are trying to beat him up the middle—but the Bengals defensive coordinator was one step ahead of Brady all along.
On this third-down play, the Bengals are showing a blatant intent to blitz two rushers into the A-gap—a textbook method to get pressure up the middle.
Brady sees this, and immediately adjusts his protection. As all quarterbacks do on every snap, he makes a pre-snap read to get an idea of who will be open against this look and takes the snap.
When the ball is snapped, however, the Bengals throw a wrench into Brady's plans:
Instead of the double A-gap blitz, the Bengals back out of it and attempt an "overload" blitz to Brady's right side using five players (include a defensive back). One of the blitzing linebackers drops into coverage, along with Margus Hunt, the defensive end on the opposite side.
This is an example of a "zone blitz" that is designed to confuse rather than create positive matchups for the defense. Dropping Hunt in coverage is not ideal, but quarterbacks don't usually anticipate it coming.
Brady does get a decent amount of protection (despite having the incorrect protection call against an inside blitz, but he does not see the field as clearly.
His go-to option, the tight end running in the seam, is now covered by Hunt and the safety further down the field.
Soon enough, the Bengals are able to get to the hesitant Brady to take him down for a seven-yard loss.
After playing against Ryan's Jets so many times, Brady knows the types of blitzes the Jets are going to run. Rex should counter Brady's knowledge with a few wrinkles, just as Mike Zimmer and the Bengals did, to knock Brady off his game early and often.
Throw Early and Often
Up until last week, the Jets have adopted a pass-first philosophy, despite working with a rookie quarterback, with some success.
Last week, however, the Jets decided to take a more conservative approach against the Steelers with a heavy does of the running game in the first half.
The result? The Jets scored six points in the first half. As they were forced to pass much more in the second half, Smith threw two interceptions to cost the team at least 14 points.
Running the ball has always been billed as a sound way to go about developing a rookie quarterback because it puts the team in shorter third-down situations and tends to lessen turnovers.
While this is true to some extent, running the ball also takes away opportunities for a quarterback to make throws. While the third downs may be more manageable, they are also more abundant—throwing the ball for big chunks of yardage avoids the situation altogether.
Plus, throwing the ball only half of the time (or less) makes it difficult for a quarterback to get into any kind of rhythm, no matter how old he is.
No matter what the Jets' game plan is, they have every reason to feel extremely confident in their ability to pull off this upset. Given the Patriots' injuries and the fact that the Jets have home-field advantage, one would think that this developing Jets team has what it takes to finally beat Brady and the Patriots for the first time in over two years.
Still, as decimated as the Patriots are, they remain a one-loss team for a reason. Brady and Belichick are always going to give them a chance to win no matter the circumstances.
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