NFL Week 7 is upon us and the New England Patriots, fresh off a spellbinding, miraculous, death-defying, last-second victory over the New Orleans Saints, travel to New York to face the rival New York Jets.
OK, maybe it wasn’t death-defying, but to use the local vernacular, it was pretty freakin’ sweet. The Patriots never dwell on wins, though, so to use Jay-Z’s vernacular, it’s "on to the next one."
Earlier this season, the Jets contained, bottled up, clamped down and otherwise restricted the Patriots’ formerly high-flying offense. It seemed like a new low-water mark at the time, at least until the Pats went into Cincinnati and were shut down more emphatically than the United States federal government.
So how can the Patriots use what they learned in Week 2 to avoid a similarly disappointing offensive performance this week?
For starters, don’t expect the Patriots to waste much time on slow-developing plays. The Jets generate quarterback pressure very well, ranking fourth in the NFL with 20 sacks. That number ties them with the Saints, who you may recall sacked Tom Brady five times this past weekend.
Unlike the Saints, however, the Jets force virtually no interceptions. By virtually no interceptions I mean they have exactly one on the season.
So, while Brady won’t have a whole lot of time in the pocket, he also won’t need to worry about an active, ball-hawking secondary like the ones he faced against the Saints and in Cincinnati. Instead, he’ll face a defense that’s vulnerable on the back-end, yielding 10 touchdowns, thus far, against that lone interception.
The Jets compensate by allowing the fewest yards per carry of any run defense in the NFL, at 3.0 yards per attempt. Only the Denver Broncos allow fewer rushing yards per game than the Jets’ 75.7.
Essentially, the Jets prefer to dominate at the line of scrimmage, pressure the quarterback and clog running lanes, which occasionally leaves their secondary exposed. The Patriots capitalized when the two teams faced in Week 2, using the Jets’ aggressiveness against them to spring Aaron Dobson for a wide-open touchdown.
Brady attacked that same weakness several other times as well, although the Patriots couldn’t convert those opportunities.
To help counteract the Jets’ outstanding front seven, the Patriots used a host of quick-hitting pass plays. Their short-passing attack functioned essentially as their running game. Julian Edelman caught a whopping 13 passes for a meager 78 yards, working underneath routes to supplement the Patriots’ 54 total rushing yards.
The Patriots should once again employ a variety of quick outs, slant screens to create space for their receivers.
On the ground, don’t expect anything crazy this week. Stevan Ridley managed just 40 yards on 16 carries earlier this season in what is starting to look less like a bad game for Ridley and more like a typical effort from the Jets defense.
Teams that attack the line of scrimmage and penetrate upfield as well as the Jets do, however, leave themselves vulnerable to delayed handoffs and misdirection. If New England notices the Jets over-pursuing, this week could be the perfect opportunity for some trickery. Don’t be surprised if Edelman busts out with a big gain on a reverse in that case.
However they go about it, the Patriots must play better offensively than they did the first time these two teams met. They can’t expect to hold the Jets to just 10 points again, and they certainly can’t expect to score 13 points and win.
With Danny Amendola once again injured, the biggest matchup to watch this week is Aaron Dobson vs. New York’s secondary. I’ve reached the point where I won’t believe Rob Gronkowski is playing again until he’s already caught a touchdown. Even if he does suit up, I can’t imagine the Patriots throwing him out there full-time right away, so in the event he does play, I’m not expecting a whole lot.
No, New England’s make-or-break player this week is Dobson, and here’s why.
The Jets have been beaten badly by the deep ball this season. Here’s how they’ve fared against their opposition’s top downfield threat this season:
For those keeping track at home, that means the Jets have allowed a completion of 50 yards or more in two of their last three games. They’ve given up a completion of at least 40 yards in three straight games and a 39-yarder in two other contests.
The big play will be available downfield, just like it was in Week 2, when Dobson not only scored on a 39-yard touchdown, but he also dropped another bomb from Brady.
Obviously, Dobson isn’t on the same level as Julio Jones or Vincent Jackson, but he’s certainly got the tools to join the ranks of Johnson, Washington and Sanders. Like Washington and Sanders, Dobson isn’t the leading receiver on his team and, like them, he should enjoy less coverage with the Jets focusing their efforts elsewhere.
Given Kenbrell Thompkins’ high level of play and production in key situations, he seems the most likely candidate for the Antonio Cromartie treatment. With Thompkins working against the Jets’ top cornerback and Julian Edelman operating underneath, those downfield opportunities should fall to Dobson.
He needs to actually catch the football—a task which, at times, seems daunting to him—but if he can leave his drops behind and execute when opportunities arise, Dobson will be the key to Brady and the offense improving on Week 2’s uninspired performance.