The New England Patriots have moved on from their victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and have shifted focus to the New York Jets. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia spoke about a surprising Jets offense that is more versatile than in previous years.
“It's Jets week and we've got to get on top of this and get going,” Patricia told the media on Monday’s conference call. “I think this team is doing a really good job right now of playing good team football. All sides of the ball [are] playing complimentary. I think the offense, Coach [John] Morton coming from his background with the Saints where he's pretty familiar with us too, it'll be a big challenge for us from that standpoint. I think he's doing a great job of really using his weapons that he has.”
Morton served as the Saints wide receivers coach in 2015-16 after holding the same role for the 49ers from 2011-14. He was offensive coordinator for the University of Southern California from 2009-10. He uses a lot of short combination routes to try and draw players out of passing lanes for a second receiver to swoop in for a potential gain.
“The quarterback, [Josh] McCown, is doing a good job of dispersing the ball. He has some good weapons in the skill positions,” Patricia continued. “They do a good job of mixing formations with some shifts and motions. Obviously the run game really steadies the entire offense, allows them to use that and then push the ball down the field. But they also do a great job with the controlled passing game, kind of the short passing game that spreads you out horizontally also. I think [Bilal] Powell obviously is running extremely well. [Elijah] McGuire, you see him in there too. He does a good job of really – those guys just continually running the ball and the guys up front block very well.”
Running back Matt Forte has only played three games this year as he’s been limited with a toe injury. The heavy lifting has gone to running backs Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire and they’ve both proven capable of running and receiving. They rank #1 and #2 on the Jets in yards from scrimmage with 312 yards and 231 yards, respectively.
They must be covered out of the backfield, but the Jets also enjoy using the running backs as a decoy out of the backfield to draw away the linebacker, leaving open space for Jeremy Kerley and the slot receivers to pick up yards after the catch.
“The tight ends are a big part of the offense right now so you're going to see them in different roles,” Patricia added. “And like I said, between [Jeremy] Kerley and [Jermaine] Kearse and [Robby] Anderson, [ArDarius] Stewart will be in there will his speed [and] his versatility and really can come at you from a bunch of different directions. They're going to mix personnel. They'll go from big people to smaller groupings and try to attack you in different ways.”
Kearse, acquired from the Seahawks, leads the receivers with 22 receptions and is tied with Robby Anderson for the team lead with 220 receiving yards. Kerely has caught all 17 of his targets for 132 yards out of the slot, while Austin Seferian-Jenkins has 15 catches for 106 yards and a touchdown. In previous years, it was a shock for the Jets to involve their tight ends in the passing game; now tight ends are averaging between 4-5 catches per game.”
“He's doing a good job of just keeping them very balanced,” Patricia said about the Jets offensive coordinator. “This is a very balanced offense run-pass wise. They're very balanced throughout the course of the game and I think when they find something that they can attack you with week in week out, they will game plan different looks and different plays that when they can get after you with that standpoint in a game, then they're just going to keep coming with it.”
Seven Jets players have more than 100 yards from scrimmage in 2017, although Forte might not be active. And since Powell and McGuire play the same position, that means the Jets have a running back as a focal point, along with Kearse and Anderson outside at receiver, Kerley in the slot, and Seferian-Jenkins as the in-line blocker.
In previous years, the Patriots could simply defend the running back and then watch out for Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. This year, while the offense is less potent, all five players on the offense are nearly equal threats to touch the ball.
Patricia noted that the Jets like to use Seferian-Jenkins and Powell to force the defense to declare their coverage responsibilities and that they draw elements from the Saints offense.
The Patriots are capable of matching up against the Jets with man coverage, if desired. Stephon Gilmore is a good match for Robby Anderson, while Malcolm Butler is no stranger to Jermaine Kearse as the two battled in Super Bowl XLIX. The Patriots can use a combination of Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty, Eric Rowe, and Jonathan Jones to cover Kerley, Seferian-Jenkins, and the running back.
Despite the clear changes in the Jets offense, the New England defenders still match-up well. Powell is a big threat to defend, while Kearse and Anderson are solid players. Fortunately, Josh McCown is prone to throwing a few interceptable passes per game. If the Patriots defense can capitalize, they’ll be able to flip the field and put up points and the Jets won’t be able to keep up.