Each week, PatriotsLife will be posting a scouting report of the
Patriots upcoming opponent, going over their playmakers, tendencies, and
how the Pats might match up. The Pats continue their regular season-ending trip around the AFC East this week with a visit to MetLife Stadium to play the hated J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets. While the Pats clearly should win, the Jets present a tougher challenge than their 3-11 record would suggest. Remember, the Pats needed to block a game winning field goal attempt to escape Gillette Stadium with a 27-25 win back in Week 7, one of their five losses in one-score games. With this game almost certainly representing Rex Ryan's last matchup against the Pats as HC of the NYJ, expect his team to fight hard for a win.
New York offense
The three words that best describe the Jets offense are as follows and I quote: stink, stank, stunk.
Of course, that isn't news to Patriots fans. We've all pointed and laughed as the Jets have bumbled their way to scoring 16.4 points per game (only the Titans, Jaguars and Raiders have been more inept). We've all seen them pull the plug on the Geno Smith experiment, only to put him back on the field when backup QB Michael Vick was somehow worse.
This incompetence from the passing game has wasted an effective rushing attack. The Jets actually rank second in the league in both yards and yards per carry (4.7), with their 441 attempts ranking fourth in the league. Pats fans should remember this, as the Jets bullied the Pats defense for 218 rushing yards in Week 7, controlling the clock in the process.
Ivory ran over the Pats defense back in Week 7
The Jets rushing success has come from a thunder-and-lightning backfield of Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson. The powerful Ivory has rushed for 739 yards and 6 touchdowns (4.2 yards per carry) and has been a load to tackle: his 47 missed tackles as a runner trails only DeMarco Murray, Marshawn Lynch and Le'Veon Bell this season. He's been joined by Johnson, who's quietly been effective in his first season as a Jet. Johnson has received fewer carries (9.6 per game, as opposed to 12.4 for Ivory) but has turned them into 613 yards thanks to an impressive 4.5 yards per carry. Both backs have also been effective in the passing game when turned to, catching a combined 39 balls for 264 yards.
The Pats aforementioned struggles to stop Jets ground game earlier in the year can partly be explained by circumstance. Not only was the team on short rest playing on a Thursday night, but they had just lost star linebacker and defensive signal caller Jerod Mayo to a season-ending knee injury. As a result, it was the team's first game in the 4-2-5 defensive alignment that has since essentially become their base defense, and both Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins struggled to plug gaps against the run.
Things have changed since then, with both linebackers settling down to play some excellent football during the season's second half. It will be up to them to ensure that the Jets aren't able to repeat their Week 7 performance. They'll surely be tested, as the Jets run-heavy approach is the most logical plan of attack against this Patriots team.
The linebackers have more help from their defensive line now than they did back in Week 7 as well. The first Jets game saw the since-released Casey Walker play 48 snaps, with the undersized Chris Jones playing 50 snaps himself. Now, the Pats boast an imposing trio of big, powerful run stuffers in Vince Wilfork, Alan Branch and Sealver Siliga.
If the Pats can do a better job against the run, they could make this game very ugly. The Patriots secondary is clearly the strength of their defense, and one merely needs to take a quick look at the stat sheet to confirm how abysmal the Jets passing game has been. The quarterbacks have combined to complete just 56.1% of their passes for a league worse 2,365 yards, 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Their 4.8 net yards per passing attempt ranks dead last in the league.
Harvin is one of the league's toughest open field tackles
While the Jets passing game has continued to be bad, they have acquired a dangerous weapon since we last saw them in Percy Harvin. Harvin's numbers don't particular jump out at you since joining the team via trade (it would be unfair to expect big numbers from any receiver playing in this dumpster fire of a passing offense), but Harvin is an explosive and versatile threat capable of turning any mundane play into a 50 yard gain.
Interestingly enough, the Jets have struggled to utilize their shiny new toy. When they've fed Harvin the ball, they've gotten results: 11 catches on 13 targets for 129 yards in Week 9, 6 catches on 8 targets for 124 yards and a touchdown back in Week 14. However, Harvin has gotten only 5 or fewer targets in four of his last five games, including getting shut out on the stat sheet after seeing only 3 targets last week.
If Harvin goes (he returned to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday's session with a lingering ankle injury), he should be a focal point of the Pats defense. I could see Darrelle Revis getting some time on him, leaving Brandon Browner to contend with de facto number one receiver Eric Decker. It's difficult to judge any receiver given the offensive issues in New York, but Decker has been decent in his first season in New York, tallying 62 catches for 720 yards and 4 touchdowns. He's also coming off his strongest stretch of the season, following up a 6 catch, 89 yard Week 14 effort with 7 catches for 100 yards in last week's win.
With Revis and Browner likely to spend the majority of their time on Decker and Harvin, the question becomes who matches up with slot receiver Jeremy Kerley. Kerley has been a thorn in the Patriots side for years now, and ordinarily be an obvious matchup for Kyle Arrington, but it's looking increasingly likely that Arrington will sit out this week to get healthy for the playoffs (a hamstring injury limited him to 12 snaps last week). If Arrington doesn't go, it will likely depend on whether the coaching staff prefers Logan Ryan or Malcolm Butler to take the shifty Kerley.
Another pass catching target to watch is rookie tight end Jace Amaro. The apple of many a Pats fans eye last spring, Amaro has emerged as an efficient target for the Jets quarterbacks, catching 74.5% of his targets. However, Amaro's catches have mostly been of the dink and dunk variety, as his paltry 8.9 yards per catch indicates. Despite playing less than half of his snaps, Amaro has more targets, catches and yards than starting tight end Jeff Cumberland, whose poor hands have kept him from capitalizing on his combination of speed and size.
When the conservative Jets offense does turn to the passing game, the Patriots will likely continue to use unpredictable pressure looks to try an overwhelm a mediocre Jets offensive line. Despite the presence of two Pro Bowl caliber players in center Nick Mangold and left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, the Jets have allowed their quarterbacks to be pressured on 33.7% of their dropbacks. The matchup of Chandler Jones against Ferguson will be a particularly intriguing one. Ferguson has one his share of those battles in the past, but Jones was a force back in Week 7 (1 sack, 1 hit, 5 hurries) and looked very good last week in his return from a hip injury.
Matt Patricia has done a fantastic job of using creative looks to create pressure without compromising the back end of his defense, and he'll have to bring his "A" game this week. The Jets aren't good, but the running ability of Geno Smith combines with the constant threat of Harvin on reverses and other gadget plays to make them a difficult team to scheme for. The Pats played excellent, disciplined team defense to prevent Ryan Tannehill from hurting them with his legs last week, and they'll have to do so again to avoid giving up cheap yards to a Jets offense that will take any gains they can get.
New York defense
The Jets have had ferocious defenses throughout Ryan's tenure as head coach, but the failure of GM John Izdik to get Ryan the talent his scheme requires at the corner position has badly hurt this unit.Despite once again boasting one of the stingiest run defenses in the league, the Jets are in the league's bottom 10 in scoring defense (allowing 25.7 points per game), thanks to a paper-thin secondary that's allowed opposing quarterbacks to shred them to the tune of 29 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions.
The Pats once again have an offense that morphs each week to capitalize on it's opponents weaknesses. That was certainly the case back in Week 7, when they threw 41 times and ran only 19, and it would be shocking if they don't go back to a pass heavy approach in this game. After all, there's no point in running repeatedly into a brick wall, and the Jets defensive front seven has held opponents to just 3.5 yards per carry, the third lowest average in the league.
While throwing the ball makes sense against the Jets weak secondary, it comes with the caveat that a one-dimensional offensive approach could open the floodgates for Rex Ryan's blitz-happy ways. For the season, the Jets have gotten a hit, hurry or sack on an impressive 41.82% of opponents dropbacks, despite not having a single player with more than Sheldon Richardson's seven sacks.
Richardson is a disruptive player against the pass and run
The Jets have accomplished this through a combination of Ryan's always creative blitz packages and talent up front. The Jets defensive line is formidable, with both Sheldon Richardson and Muhammed Wilkerson being remarkably disruptive for 3-4 defensive ends. Richardson's assertion that he's on J.J. Watt's level might be hilariously misguided (there's Watt, then there's everyone else), but his 7 sacks, 13 hits, 25 hurries and 30 run stops are nothing to sneeze at, and Wilkerson isn't far behind with 5 sacks, 7 hits, 17 hurries and 34 run stops in 11 games himself. Wilkerson is listed as questionable with a toe injury that has kept him out of the lineup since Week 12, and Leger Douzable will continue to fill his role at right defensive end if Wilkerson is unable to go. Douzable has played capably in Wilkerson's absence the past three weeks, but hasn't been able to replicate the disruption his star teammate brings as a pass rusher.
One surprising source of pressure has been a comeback season from veteran Jason Babin. Largely written off by the league after a quiet stint in Jacksonville, Babin has made a successful transition from 4-3 DE to 3-4 OLB and has become a weapon for the Jets as a sub rusher. Babin only has 3 sacks, but has racked up 23 hurries despite playing behind starters Quinton Coples and Calvin Pace, neither of whom have met expectations this year as pass rushers.
However, quarterbacks have feasted on the Jets secondary whenever they've gotten protection. Cornerback looked like a weak position going into the season, and that was before top corner Dee Milliner was lost for the season to an achilles injury. The Jets are now down to starting Darrin Walls and Marcus Williams on the outside, with former first round bust Kyle Wilson and Philip Adams as the top reserves. None of the four players have a positive coverage grade from Profootballfocus, and none of them have been good enough to hold up in the man coverage Rex Ryan's scheme requires.
As a result, spreading the Jets out and testing that depth looks to be the best plan of attack. The loss of Julian Edelman this week hurts, but the likes of Brandon LeFell, Tim Wright and Edelman's replacement Danny Amendola should have constant mismatches that Tom Brady should be able exploit. Furthermore, Shane Vereen could be a weapon for Brady to look for this week, as he has a decided speed advantage over Jets linebackers David Harris and Demario Davis.
First round rookie safety Pryor is a physical hitter, but up-and-down in coverage
That's before even factoring in Rob Gronkowski, who is a mismatch for every defense in the league. Gronk should be able to have his way again on Sunday, even though the Jets have gotten solid safety play from the trio of Dawan Landry, Jaiquawn Jarrett and first round pick Calvin Pryor. Pryor has been excellent in run support but inconsistent in coverage, and it wouldn't be surprising to see Brady try to exploit the rookie's aggressiveness through play fakes and looking off of his primary target. Jarrett is listed as questionable with a shoulder injury, but Landry has given the team solid all-around play throughout the season.
While the passing game is the ticket to success against these Jets, any offense will be more successful if they have a semblance of balance in their play-calling. The Pats best bet to establish a ground game will likely be exploiting the Jets lighter nickel packages, but running could be tough sledding even if Wilkerson doesn't go. Nose tackle Damon "Snacks" Harrison has become one of he league's top run stuffers and will be a load for the Patriots interior line to handle, especially if they are without Dan Connolly, who is listed as questionable with a knee injury and left last week's game with what the team called a neck injury. If Connolly doesn't go, Josh Kline will likely get the chance to prove that his solid play in relief of Connolly last week wasn't a fluke.
Interior line play should really be the key to Sunday's outcome. Quick pressure up the middle has prove time and time again to be Brady's kryptonite. If the Jets have their way with the interior combination of Connolly/Kline, Bryan Stork and Ryan Wendell, they could disrupt Brady's rhythm and throw the normally excellent Pats passing attack into a tailspin. Otherwise, there's little on tape to suggest the Jets secondary will be able to handle the Pats pass catchers without serious help from the pass rush.
The Jets trade for Percy Harvin meant adding a significant playmaker to their special teams as well as their offense. Harvin is a nightmare to tackle in the open field and a threat to take any play the distance, a skill that makes him very dangerous on kick returns. He's averaged 25.1 yards a return since joining the Jets, with a team long return of 65 yards. He's joined on kickoffs by fellow return man Walt Powell, who has been no slouch himself with 29.1 yards per return and a 62 yarder to his credit.
Given the danger of those two, the onus will be on Stephen Gostkowski to limit their chances of making a momentum swinging play. Gostkowski is one of the league's best outdoor kickers at producing touchbacks, and will be looking to limit the Jets chances to make a return despite the success his coverage units have had this year.
The Jets are less dangerous in the punting game, where lead return man Jeremy Kerley has only managed 7.2 yards per return. The Pats punt return game takes a hit with Edelman sitting out, but the downgrade from Edelman to Danny Amendola is minimal. Amendola will also look to continue his solid work returning kickoffs against a Jets team that's held opponents to just 21.9 yards per return.
The Jets kicking game is in the reliable hands (or feet) of Nick Folk and Ryan Quigley. Folk has been accurate and has a big enough leg to make 50+ yard kicks, while Quigley has only had 30.6% of his punts returned all season. In fact, Quigley has downed as many punts within the 20 (22) as he's had punts returned.
Other factors to watch
The Jets may stink, but history tells us to predict a closer game than the talent disparity between these two teams would suggest. While the Pats have still dominated the win column of the rivalry during Rex Ryan's tenure (Belichick is 8-4 against Ryan's Jets), most of the games have been close, including Week 7's 27-25 squeaker. Simply put, the Jets are built to do things that give the Patriots trouble: run the ball with authority, bring pressure up the middle and clog up the short passing zonesthat Brady typically feasts on. As a result, they've always been able to make the Pats earn their wins, and it wouldn't surprise me if Sunday's score is much closer than the blowout most fans are surely expecting.
Nothing to lose
The Jets have absolutely nothing to lose in this game. Nothing, not even a big win over Belichick's Patriots, can save Ryan's job at this point, and the game's only long-term ramifications for the Jets will be it's effect on their draft standing. However, this is a proud team that has continued to play hard throughout a miserable season, and the guys that have ridden with Ryan throughout his never-dull tenure will surely be up for his last game against their hated rivals.This is the type of opponent that could throw any trick out there, ranging from a fake punt to all out blitzes to a surprise onside kick. The Pats must be on their toes in this one, as the Jets could suddenly throw them into any situation.
Yeah, it may still be Week 16, but we're talking about playoffs. The NFL postseason is right around the corner, and the ramifications of that will impact this game in two noteworthy ways. For starters, the game is still very important for the Pats standings-wise. A win coupled with a Broncos loss on the road against Cincinnati will sew up the AFC's top seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs, but a loss coupled with a Denver win will see the Broncos leapfrog the Pats for homefield with only one week left in the season.
While the Pats clearly still have plenty to play for, they've reached the point of the season when injury maintainance starts to become a concern. We've already seen some of that, with Julian Edelman not making the trip to New York after spending the past few weeks battling through a number of injuries. It wouldn't be surprising if he's joined on the gameday inactives list by a few other noteworthy players who have gutted it out through injuries this year, including Kyle Arrington and Dan Connolly.