This year, the Patriots defense has seem to have gotten progressivelybetter throughout the season, as without it they wouldn't be were they were now, sitting 14-2 with the best record during the regular season.
The Patriots defense against the Jets on Sunday night featured rookie linebacker Brandon Spikes, rookie cornerback Devin McCourty, rookie linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, and rookie defensive end Kyle Love. For the exception of seven year veteran Vince Wilfork and 10-year veteran Gerrard Warren, the Patriots defense was a fairly young bunch heading into the game against the Jets.
This same defense, who ranks 25th in the NFL in total defense held the Jets to just three points and accounted for three Mark Sanchez turnovers in their 45-3 victory over New York in Week 13. However, on Sunday night the Jets offense got their revenge, and really showed how inexperienced this Patriots defense really is.
On Sunday night, the Patriots defense only managed 55 total tackles and no sacks on Sanchez and gave up three passing touchdowns, something they haven't allowed Sanchez to do in their previous meetings. The Patriots secondary was unable to keep up with the New York receivers and the front seven were flat out dominated by the Jets offensive line, as they allowed 118 rushing yards from LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene.
Compared to their Week 13 total domination of the Jets offense, they were really exploited as one of the weaknesses of the Patriots Sunday night. Even though I still believe that the game is mostly on Brady and the lack of execution on offense, the Patriots defense still has to carry some of the blame:
The Jets Offensive Line Opened Up Holes For The Tomlinson And Greene
The Pats knew coming into their game with with Jets that their offensive line was going to be a big challenge, however they never imagined struggling this much.
The defensive line, which was without Myron Pryor, Mike Wright, and Ron Brace this time around struggled all night on getting penetration towards the Jets runningbacks. The Jets offensive line was able to make the necessary blocks against the Patriots front seven and allow LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene space to run for four to five yards. Tomlinson averaged 4.3 yards per carry while Greene averaged 4.5 per carry.
The Patriots just could not make tackles when Tomlinson and Greene had the ball, as they allowed them to break off for rushes as long as 16 yards and 20 yards, respectively.
Even though the Patriots haven't been able to stop the Jets running tandem all season, it certainly was a big factor on Sunday night. The rushing defense did play well on the Jets three and out with about four minutes lft to go in the game to give the offense the ball back.
With the Patriots defense being unable to stop the run, it took away a lot of time and allowed the Jets to move the ball effectively, something they did effectively against the Colts last week.
The Jets Offensive Line Protected Mark Sanchez All Night
Last night, the Jets offensive line made Mark Sanchez look like one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
It seemed all night that the offensive line gave Sanchez more than enough time to deliver deep throws down the field to Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery. Against the Patriots, Sanchez probably had his best playoff game as a quarterback, throwing three touchdowns on very well thown balls.
The Offensive line limited the Patriots to no quarterback pressures and sacks on Sunday night. Tom Brady had great protection all night long from his offensive line, but the difference was that Sanchez was on the same page with his receivers as he hit Edwards and Santonio Holmes on terrific throws for touchdowns.
We all know that Mark Sanchez has had his struggles against the Patriots, because of the pressure they applied on him. However, with little to no pressure applied, the Pats defense could not create the three turnovers they did in Week 13, which allowed Sanchez the necessary time to make the right throws and not the bad throws Brady was making all night long.
Because of this offensive line, Sanchez successfully outplayed Tom Brady. Something you don't here very often when these two teams meet.
The Patriots Secondary Was Overmatched Against Jet Receivers
In addition to Sanchez having all day, the Jets receivers were able to get open down the field to create more options for Sanchez, something the Brady really didn't have the luxury of last night.
Sanchez was able to connect with Braylon Edwards at the end of the half for a Jets touchdown. Edwards was covered by pro bowl cornerback Devin McCourty who blanketed Edwards in coverage, but because of the size of Edwards, he was able to almost drag McCourty into the endzone. McCourty had a pretty good game, but was outmatched by the 6'3 Edwards on that particular play.
In addition to the botched fake punt play, Patrick Chung was very outmatched as the nickleback, as he and Darius Butler accounted for Cotchery's five catches for 96 yards. Cotchery was lined up in the slot, and has developed into Sanchez's favorite target in the playoffs dating back to last year.
Cotchery was able to create separation from Chung and Butler in pick up key third down conversions for the Jets. The Patriots were unable to stay with a guy who's struggled nearly all season, and paid because of it. Cotchery's best performance of the regular season came against New England in Week 2, and he was able to pick up where he left off on Sunday.
Kyle Arrington kept Santonio Holmes in check for most of the game, until he allowed a touchdown by Holmes early in the fourth quarter. Holmes made a spectacular catch on a great throw by Sanchez, making the game more out of reach than it already was.
Some of the burden has to fall on the linebackers for not picking up the Jets crossing routes, but as a whole, the Jets pass protectors looked overmatched against the Jets receivers.
Brian Shottenheimer's offense was able to exploit the Patriots defense as young and inexpereineced, as it looked on paper. Coming into Sunday night's game, the Patriots thought they would surrender between 14 and 21 points--as they have all season. Although the Pats offense did not show up like we wanted to, the Ravens last year and the Jets this year showed the Patriots that they have to have a solid defense in order to go far in the playoffs.
Heading into the offseason, the Patriots certainly have a lot to address on the defensive side.