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Week 12 Patriots vs Jets: New York’s defense is a mixed bag outside of standout safety Jamal Adams

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We spoke with our colleagues from Gang Green Nation about the upcoming game between the Patriots and Jets.

NFL: Buffalo Bills at New York Jets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The last time the New England Patriots entered the field they were blown out 34-10 by the Tennessee Titans. What could be worse than getting beat in all three phases before heading into the bye week? How about getting blown out at home 41-10 by the Buffalo Bills and their previously anemic offense? This is what happened to the New York Jets two weeks ago: the team was outmatched in every aspect of the game and had to pay the price.

On Sunday, the Jets will host a much bigger challenge: the aforementioned Patriots are coming to town, looking to get back to the win column after their loss in Tennessee. Despite both teams losing last week, the Patriots are the clear favorites to win — they are, after all, sitting at 7-3 compared to New York’s 3-7 record. “It would be very homer-ish of me to actually think the Jets can beat the Pats this week,” Michael Nania said about the game.

Michael covers the team for our sister site Gang Green Nation and spoke to Pats Pulpit about the two AFC East rivals’ first meeting of the season. “I do think the Jets will compete in this game, simply based on their history against the Pats at MetLife in recent years, but I would be shocked if they won,” he continued. “This team is ice cold, playing incompetently offensively, battling injuries, and seeming broken from the top down.”

Despite their record and the recent game against Buffalo, however, not all is bad. Take the defense, for example, which ranks very well on a per-drive average: the unit leads the NFL in plays (5.3) and time per drive (2:22), is fifth in yards (27.5), and ninth in points (1.83) — all that despite having the 30th worst average starting field position. Safe to say that the unit is doing something right, and some of the talented players might be a reason for that.

The first that needs to be mentioned is strong safety Jamal Adams, who was drafted sixth overall by the Jets last year. “Adams is living up to his draft position and looking like a megastar,” Michael said about the 23-year old. “Will fans ever stop complaining about passing on Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson for him? Only if Sam Darnold comes into his own. Regardless, Adams is this team’s best player and not a person on this earth who has followed them this year would think twice about it.”

What makes the second-year man so good? According to Michael it is a combination of different things. “He’s an excellent run defender, especially off the edge,” he said about a player that has been on the field for all but defensive snap so far this season (694 of 695). “He always finishes with shellacking authority and is doing a much better job cleaning up the easy stuff he was missing last year.”

“In coverage, he is drastically improved,” Michael continued. “You might remember Rob Gronkowski narrowly beating him for two touchdowns last year in the first meeting between these two teams. So far this year, Adams has yet to allow a touchdown in coverage and has been lockdown all over the field. His zone coverage in the middle of the field is a little spotty, but in man coverage he has quickly developed from a liability into a stud.”

Adams is clearly the best defender on the team, and one the Patriots need to be aware of at all times. He is not the only one worth mentioning, though. “The inside linebackers are interesting,” Michael pointed out. “Avery Williamson, the every down Mike linebacker signed from Tennessee, is a great run defender who has improved in coverage, where he primarily plays simple zones in the middle of the field.”

“His running mate, Darron Lee, has taken a big step up,” Michael continued. “Previously a major sieve in every facet, Lee has become a very strong cover linebacker, locking down the flat zone and looking solid in man coverage. He still struggles a bit in run defense, though.” All in all, he sees the duo as above-average when compared to the rest of the NFL: “[They are] a nice inside duo that I would probably say is in the better half of the league.”

The other players in the Jets’ front seven — a unit continuously praised by the Patriots’ coaching staff this week — are also steady contributors albeit not on the same consistent level as a player like Adams or the aforementioned linebacker duo. “Up front, the Jets are solid if not dominant,” Michael said about the group before turning his attention to some of its most important players.

“Headliner Leonard Williams has not lived up to the ‘best player in the draft’ billing placed upon him back in 2015, but he’s a pretty good pass rusher and run defender,” Michael said about the former sixth overall selection. “He’s extremely strong, but just doesn’t have the quickness we thought he did, limiting his sack and big play production. While not an excuse for his lack of production, he draws a fair amount of attention that helps out other teammates.”

Henry Anderson, formerly of the Colts, is a beneficiary of playing with Williams. He is the best interior pass rusher on the team. He’s undersized but quick and shifty. Steve McLendon is a very good run stopping tackle, while Mike Pennel is a pure nose tackle who does his job well,” continued Michael before moving from the interior to the edge defenders in New York’s base 3-4 defensive alignment.

“Outside, the Jets are led by some decent slightly above replacement level players,” said Michael about the team’s edge players. “Brandon Copeland is a high motor guy who plays solid run defense but isn’t a pass rusher. Jordan Jenkins has a career high 5.0 sacks and is flashing a little bit more as a pass rusher than usual, but until he can be consistent with that he is limited to just a decent edge setting outside linebacker.”

While Jenkins and Copeland are no standouts by any means, they are far from the disappointments some of the other players on the Jets defense are. “Rookie Nathan Shepherd (already 25 years old!) has disappointed,” Michael said about the third-round selection. “He’s been extremely unproductive in both phases all year. He has no go-to pass rush moves and doesn’t get penetration in the run game.”

It is no surprise to see mid-round rookie players fail to adapt to life in the NFL quickly. It is, however, another thing to see a seasoned veteran struggle — especially if it is one that was signed to a five-year, $72.5 million free contract just eight months ago. Such is the case with Trumaine Johnson, who was acquired to be the Jets’ number one cornerback but has been a major disappointment 10 games (of which he spent five injured) into his first season wearing the green and white.

“I would keep an eye on Johnson and hope the Pats test him out as much as possible,” said Michael about New York’s highest-paid player. “The big-money corner formerly of the Rams has been flat out awful this season. He’s missed half of the year, and in the other half, has been toast more often than not. Previously a strong press corner who took away the deep ball, his speed has seemingly evaporated and he is getting beat with great regularity.”

With Morris Claiborne and ex-Patriot Darryl Roberts having a solid season in the Jets’ defensive backfield, Johnson certainly could be a player that New England might try to isolate in unfavorable matchups — possibly against Josh Gordon or shiftier players like Julian Edelman or Phillip Dorsett. But no matter what Josh McDaniels and the offense try to do when it comes to attacking Johnson and the rest of New York’s defense, the matchup appears to favor the reigning AFC champs.

As we have learned in the past, however, this might not mean much when it comes to a division rivalry like this one.