The New England Patriots offense functions in one of two ways: Either the passing game is quick enough to cover for the deficiencies in the offensive line, or the offensive line is able to block well enough to give quarterback Tom Brady enough time to find a receiver down the field.
The New York Jets are catching the New England Patriots at a convenient time. The Patriots passing game won't be at an optimal level with both Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola not expected to play, and the offensive line hasn't been playing well enough to compensate.
The Patriots line will have to give Brady more than two seconds in the pocket so someone can shake free of coverage (Help us James White, you're our only hope), but it's unlikely he'll get more than a couple seconds. Why?
"Everybody on the defensive line is good," head coach Bill Belichick said about the Jets. "They just basically run over the guy in front of them. The guy that gets there first hits the quarterback and the other guys jump on the pile. They're hard to block. They're all good. They're all productive. You can't just gear it towards one guy. There are too many guys. They're big, they're physical, very strong."
The Patriots need to settle on a line of Sebastian Vollmer, Shaq Mason, Bryan Stork, Josh Kline, and Marcus Cannon, because that will give the Patriots the greatest chance for survival on offense against the thousand pounds of anger on the Jets defense.
Muhammad Wilkerson is 6'4, 315 lbs with a whopping 12 sacks on the season. 6'3, 295 lbs Sheldon Richardson is even more athletic than Wilkerson and has 4 sacks on the year. First round pick and 6th overall pick Leonard Williams is 6'5, 305 lbs and has 3 sacks of his own. All three can beat double teams and all three have the athleticism and versatility to give nightmares to the offensive linemen. And they're not even the biggest players.
Nose tackle Damon Harrison, nicknamed "Snacks", is a monstrous 6'4, 350 lbs.
"Yeah, [Harrison's] really, I mean he might be the best of all of them against the run," Belichick said. "He's got great leverage, reads blocks well, hard to block, penetrates. He's not just a stay on the line of scrimmage guy. He makes plays in the backfield or knocks the blockers back into the backfield so the runner has to either give ground or cut back into unblocked guys and then they clean them up.
"He's had a lot of production - 60 tackles or whatever it is. He's made a lot of plays for that position. You see some guys playing that position that don't make many tackles. I'm not saying they're not good players, but he's not only disruptive but he's also been very productive. He's a major force."
Typical nose tackles are known for their ability to create plays for those around them. Patriots fans are familiar with the notion that Vince Wilfork had a tremendous impact on the defense, even though he only cracked 60 tackles in one season (2008). Harrison isn't the same player as Wilfork, but he's a mountain of a man that would gladly pick up rookie center David Andrews and shotput him into the sun.
How can the Patriots stop them? Well, in week 7 the Patriots dialed up 60 passing plays versus just 6 rushing plays to avoid running into the teeth of the defense. That might not be possible this time around, but the Patriots will have to capitalize on the weak linebackers in the Jets defense (James White! James White!) to take some of the heat away from Brady.