New England Patriots: Quick Conclusions from Win over New York Jets
The Patriots entered their match with questions all over their defense, which ranks dead last in the league in pass and overall yards per game allowed. With Jerod Mayo indefinitely out with a knee injury and safety Josh Barrett and defensive lineman Mike Wright declared inactive, the future looks a little bleak.
On the other side, the Jets' offensive line has struggled, which certainly has affected their running game, which averages just 71 rushing yards per game and had scored only two touchdowns all season. On top of that, Mark Sánchez entered the game ranking 28th among the 32 starting quarterbacks with a 75.9 passer rating.
Most analysts tipped New England as the favorite to win the game, giving them the edge thanks to their nearly-unstoppable offense, which ranks first in passing and ninth in rushing offense, giving them the first spot on overall offense with 507.5 total yards per game and scoring an average of 33.8 points per game.
Did they live up to that? What can we conclude from the game?
The Patriots Can Run
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Bill Belichick's offense features a lot of running out passing formations. However, this time, the Patriots displayed many new formations that they hadn't shown before.
While their rushing stats don't seem mind-blowing at first sight, the Patriots ran the ball effectively and kept the Jets at bay. Tom Brady took advantage of that to set an effective passing attack. The Patriots ran for 152 yards on 35 carries with two TD's, both by BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
It may be a reach to say that Belichick's squad ran the ball down the throat of Rex Ryan's pupils, but the highly effective running game of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Stevan Ridley took full advantage of a Jets defense that came to the game ready to pound Tom Brady.
Revis Island Wasn't Enough to Slow Down the Patriot's Offense
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There's no point in denying that Darrelle Revis certainly has a great impact in the game planning of any offense and that holds true even to the Patriots.
While Revis may usually be assigned to the best receiver on the opposing team, that strategy would not work effectively against Tom Brady's high-powered offense. Even if Revis was able to take Wes Welker out of the game, the Patriots have enough weapons in their offense to keep rolling. So in this case, the name of the game has to be using Revis on different defensive sets and different receivers and disguising their coverages to keep Tom Brady guessing all day.
However, Bill Belichick did a great job of isolating Revis and taking advantage of the mismatches that his coverage might create on the rest of the defense.
Mid-week, Antonio Cromartie dared Brady to throw his way and on Sunday, the Jets' cornerback proved (once again) that he couldn't back up his talk, allowing important receptions by Chad Ochocinco and Wes Welker. Even though he had an interception in the end zone to finish the first half, the truth is that he had already been beaten by Aaron Hernandez, but the second-year tight end failed to catch the ball and it fell to the defensive back more than him making a play on the ball. On the 2-yard TD pass from Brady to Branch to open the second half, Cromartie left his receiver wide open.
The Patriots' Rush Defense Also Has Some Questions
As said earlier, the Jets' running game entered their Week 5 matchup lacking the success that it has had in the last couple of seasons. However, their offensive line stepped up their game, allowing Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson to run consistently on the Patriots' defense.
During the first half, the Jets' ran the ball 14 times for 59 times, falling only 12 yards short of their game average over the last four weeks. While there was no big time run, the Gang Green was able to gain decent yards on almost all their carries. In the second half, the trend kept going.
While the rush defense didn't give up big plays, it certainly failed to make the Jets game uni-dimensional and force Mark Sanchez to throw the ball.
The Patriots' Defensive Backfield Has Made Some Minor Improvements
Yes, I know it was Mark Sanchez. And yes, the Jets didn't throw it that much. But the fact is that the Patriots only allowed a 61.5 completion percentage (down from the four previous games average of 66.1 percent), for only 166 yards and two TD's.
It may not sound like much, especially the two touchdown passes by Mark Sanchez, but it should be encouraging for a team that had allowed 1,475 yards on the last four games and managed to make Chad Henne look like Dan Marino.
Still, there's still a lot to correct on the Pats pass defense, but don't expect any significant improvement, if any, until after bye week.
Attention Should Be Placed on Special Teams
Special Teams is usually a minor concern and proper attention is not always placed, but an effective play of the special teams not only can give opposing offenses a long field to march. They can also sink a team, just ask the 2010 San Diego Chargers.
While there should be no sense of alarm regarding special teams, the kick off team has allowed some returns that have made more than one fan skip a beat. In this game, Joe McKnight returned a kick from his end zone all the way to the Patriots' 20-yard line. If it hadn't been because of the pursuit and tackle of Devin McCourty, the Jets' return man would have taken it all the way for a TD. The short field that the Jets had to cover allowed for a Mark Sanchez 9-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Kerley three plays later.
It's Execution, Not Scheme, What Has the Defense Ranked Last
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Opposing receivers are rarely wide open. Blitzes are sent when they can be effective. Offensive stars can be isolated (Antonio Gates, anyone?). So why can teams march down the field on the Patriots?
It's not an issue with the play calling on defense. It's not an issue of mismatches. It's just that players can't finish the deal. Cornerbacks can't jam their receivers at the line of scrimmage. Defensive backs are a step behind the guy who catches the ball. When an unblocked player gets to the QB, he fails to tackle him.
Take Kyle Arrington's blitz on third quarter. No one was assigned to block him and he got to Mark Sanchez. What should have ended on a sack ended as an incomplete pass by Mark Sanchez. All because Arrington got his arms on Sanchez, but couldn't wrap him around and take him to the ground.
It's all about execution.
The Defense Is Not as Bad as It Looks
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The Patriots rank dead last on overall and passing defense. But Bill Belichick will be the first one to tell you: the only stat that matters on defense is points allowed. And when we talk about points allowed, the thing looks a bit better.
While they allow 477.5 yards per game (again, dead last), opposing offenses score an average of 24.5 points per game, good for 19th place. It's not pretty, I know, but certainly a lot better than a 32nd ranked total defense in terms of yards. In comparison, the Dallas Cowboys allow only 291.8 yards per game, good for fourth place. But how about points allowed per game? They allow 25.2 points per game, which ranks 23rd among the league.
If instead of yards per game, we consider points allowed per game, it's not that easy to say which defense is better (or worse, for that matter).