New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels spoke with the media on Monday to evaluate the New York Jets defense and to highlight their strengths and weaknesses. While there are some old faces- “They know us very well,” McDaniels said. “We know them.”- there are also new players in the secondary worth discussing.
So let’s analyze the whole Jets defense.
“I’d say I’d start with the fact that the last four times we’ve been there, the game has either went to overtime or come down to the last possession,” McDaniels said. “It’s a tough place to play. They’re a tough, really hard-nosed, tough, physical team.”
From 2013-16, the Patriots were 2-2 on the road against the Jets with the average score of 21.5-22.25; that’s right, over the past four games in New Jersey, the Jets have outscored the Patriots. And while both of the Patriots losses were in overtime, the Jets have often given the Patriots all they could handle.
“They’ve got a physical front,” McDaniels continued. “They’ve got a very talented front. They’ve got speed at linebacker. They’ve got length on the edge. They’ve got some really, really talented inside players with [Leonard] Williams, [Muhammad] Wilkerson, [Steve] McLendon. Those guys are tough to block and do a really good job for them inside.”
Both inside linebackers Demario Davis and Darron Lee are athletic marvels. They’re 6’2, 235 pounds with blazing 4.5s 40 yard speed that can make plays all over the field. Both Davis and Lee are capable of covering running backs out of the backfield and they’re active at the line of scrimmage. They rank first and second on the Jets in tackles.
On the defensive line, they have a pretty solid rotation. Steve McLendon is the nose tackle on early downs (look for the Patriots to exploit this with the hurry-up), while Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams play roughly 80% of the defensive snaps.
These defensive interior players are joined by pass rushers like Kony Ealy, Jordan Jenkins, and David Bass to rush the quarterback.
Still, teams have been able to run against the Jets as they rank 25th in rushing yards allowed per attempt (4.6) and 30th in rushing yards allowed (715).
“Then they’ve got some new guys in the secondary that this will be our first opportunity to play against them and get to know them this week with [Marcus] Maye and [Jamal] Adams,” McDaniels added. “[Morris] Claiborne we’ve played against before but not as a Jet. So, it’s a new group, a physical bunch.”
Buster Skrine is the only returning figure of note in the Jets secondary, with Morris Claiborne coming from the Cowboys and Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye coming from the draft. These four players never leave the field, with a rotation of Juston Burris, Darryl Roberts, and Terrence Brooks coming on as the fifth defender.
The Jets deploy a tight man-coverage scheme with the linebackers and oftentimes a defensive lineman dropping into the middle to clog up passing lanes. While Williams, Wilkerson, and the other pass rushers don’t generate much of a pass rush with just four, quarterbacks still have struggled to find open receivers in such a short span of time.
Chris Hogan and Brandin Cooks will draw coverage from Claiborne and Skrine, while Adams could be asked to cover Rob Gronkowski. If the Patriots put Danny Amendola on the field, then he might draw Skrine’s coverage, leaving Cooks or Hogan with a much easier responsibility. Look for the Patriots to test the depth of the Jets secondary, but also to lighten up the Jets defense for the sake of bolstering the rushing attack.
And if you’re hoping the Patriots might be able to exploit the rookie safety duo, McDaniels has some words of caution.
“We’ve been able to see them over the first quarter of the season here, but you can obviously tell that they’re talented,” McDaniels said. “They’re not out of position. The communication has been good, which is always something you look for in younger players – see if the defense is lined up properly, if they’re out of position, if there’s some miscommunications and all that – but that’s not been the case with them. They’ve been on the same page, good disguise – I mean, there’s a lot of good things to like about these two young players.”
Don’t be surprised if the Patriots test their coverage abilities early, but if there isn’t any headway, look for the Patriots to try and crack the Jets defense with Mike Gillislee and Danny Amendola.