Say what you will about the New England Patriots' drops this past Sunday—and there were plenty of them—against the New York Jets. If the Patriots had lost the game, they would be the ones talking about missed opportunities.
But they won. So it's the Jets who have to look back on this game and wonder what might have been. A win would have put them at 5-1, tied for first place in the AFC East with a half-game lead over the Patriots due to their head-to-head meeting.
Instead, they let one slip away. With a four-point lead and roughly 10 minutes remaining, the Jets had the Patriots in a 3rd-and-17. After giving up the conversion, it was all downhill from there for the Jets. But even with the loss, the Jets have nothing to be ashamed of at 4-2, and what's more, they still come out of this game with a positive: a blueprint for victory over the Patriots.
Make no mistake; the Jets can't count on getting 11 drops from the Patriots pass-catchers again like they did in Week 7. That being said, there are plenty of factors that are within the Jets' control that can be used in their favor when these two teams meet for a second—and possibly third—time.
|Jets offense vs. Patriots defense, Week 7|
|Time of possession||18:51||14:12|
|Plays per drive||6.7||6.6|
The Jets drew up a great game plan for their first 15 plays. Outside of the Jets' first drive, a two-play series in which running back Chris Ivory was tackled for a four-yard loss and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick lost a fumble, the Jets executed almost perfectly on their way to out-possessing the Patriots 11:14 to 3:46, converting four of five third downs and running 27 plays to the Patriots' eight in the first quarter.
When going against the Patriots, an offense must be ready for options A and B to be eliminated from the game plan, which means options C and D need to turn in strong performances. Ivory was held to 41 yards on 17 carries (2.4 yards per carry). Some of that success was due to a hamstring injury suffered by Ivory on the first series, but the Patriots linebackers were on top of him all day.
On top of that, wide receiver Brandon Marshall pulled in a season-low four catches for 67 yards and did not score a touchdown for only the second time this season.
Instead, wide receiver Eric Decker was the primary pass-catcher for the Jets with six receptions on a team-high 12 targets for 94 yards. What the Jets were missing was that second option. Wide receivers Jeremy Kerley, Devin Smith and Chris Owusu, and tight end Jeff Cumberland aren't quite there in terms of being that ultra-reliable complementary option.
Marshall was double-teamed almost all game, but who knows if that strategy would have been as effective with a fully healthy Ivory breaking through tackles.
Thanks to Ryan Fitzpatrick's efficient play at quarterback, the Jets did a great job of playing keep-away from the Patriots in the first half by possessing the ball and converting third downs. That being said, that strategy wouldn't have worked without help from a stalwart defensive effort.
The Jets took an interesting path to get there. According to Pro Football Focus, the Jets blitzed Tom Brady on 28 of his 60 dropbacks (46.7 percent), far above what we've come to expect against Brady. Initially, the plan worked. Brady completed just 20 of his first 37 passes for 205 yards in the first three quarters before rattling off 14 completions on his next 17 throws for 150 yards and two touchdowns.
It wasn't because the Jets blitzed or didn't blitz that they had success, though. It's because they mixed it up. By keeping the Patriots guessing, and by confusing the offensive linemen (many of whom are inexperienced), the Jets were able to keep the Patriots out of rhythm on offense.
Here is a look at two of their defensive play calls on the first series. These are two standard four-man rush calls, the first with a Cover 3 look in coverage and the second with a zone look that switched to man coverage.
Brady looked for open receivers but couldn't find any, which allowed defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson to get pressure on first down and the sack on third down.
The Jets didn't waste any time turning up the heat on their second defensive series, sending an eight-man rush at Brady on the third play of the drive.
Brady did a good job of recognizing the blitz and went hot to tight end Rob Gronkowski in the flat, but safety Marcus Gilchrist closed on the pass in a hurry and held the play to just one yard.
The Jets sent a five-man rush the next play, which the Patriots blocked well, but in sending the pressure at Brady on this series, they sent a message that they would not play a passive style, which is against their character.
The pressure packages continued on the third series, with two different six-man rushes that created pressure and forced another three-and-out for the Patriots offense.
The first play was a play-action pass. Linebackers David Harris and Demario Davis both crashed the line of scrimmage, and Harris pushed running back LeGarrette Blount into the backfield to create some traffic at Brady's feet. He went to Gronkowski on a crossing pattern, but the tight end dropped one of those 11 passes against safety Calvin Pryor trailing in coverage.
The second play above was on third down, and the Jets got a little creative in their rush package. Defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson looped around rookie Leonard Williams to come through the A-gap, along with Pryor on an A-gap blitz. Pryor nearly got to Brady, but he forced the Patriots quarterback to release the ball quickly, and wide receiver Danny Amendola was held to just seven yards on 3rd-and-10.
The game plan is simple. Keep the Patriots offensive line guessing, keep the ball away from Brady with an efficient offense that can execute long drives, keep capitalizing on the Patriots' mistakes when they make them and keep it going for four quarters.
Unfortunately, it's much easier to type this out than it is to actually do it all.