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Week 12 Patriots vs Jets: Two running backs are New York’s biggest offensive weapons

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

New York Jets v Miami Dolphins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The New York Jets defense has been disappointing over its first 10 games of the season. The group ranks as the seventh worst in the NFL with an average of 18.7 points scored per game and behind first-round rookie quarterback Sam Darnold has struggled with consistency: New York was able to hang 42 points on the Indianapolis Colts in week six but scored just 43 total in the four combined games since.

Turnovers, injuries and bad play calling have all contributed to the Jets’ recent offensive struggles and led to the team losing four games in a row entering its week 11 bye. The worst of the defeats happened right before the bye: New York was blown out 41-10 at home against a Buffalo Bills team that started its fourth different quarterback this year and has previously been downright putrid when it comes to playing offensive football.

“The effort that the Jets put forth against the Bills heading into the bye week was one of their most embarrassing defeats ever, and as you and all Patriots fans should know, that is saying quite a bit,” Michael Nania said about the last game the Jets played. 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 don’t think the team is necessarily going to dog it every single game like they did in that one, but it’s clear Todd Bowles has worn out his welcome,” he said about the performance the team put forth in week 10. Now, the Jets will face a far bigger challenge: a New England Patriots team that is sitting at 7-3 and thus in the middle of the AFC’s race for playoff positioning. That being said, the Patriots know a thing or two about inconsistency.

New England, after all, has had issues with it all year long and especially on defense has been unable to string plays together. Luckily for the group, it faces a favorable opponent today — one that will have to start its backup quarterback Josh McCown in place of an injured Darnold. And the rookie passer, who is dealing with a foot issue, is not the only question mark on the Jets offense.

“The Jets have battled injuries at wide receiver all year and still are,” Michael said about the group. “Jermaine Kearse has been the most healthy but his effort and performance has flown out the window compared to last year. Quincy Enunwa is a very good player but he has been cold over his past few games and might still be recovering back to 100%.” Robby Anderson, meanwhile, is expected to have a limited role today due to a recent ankle injury.

New York’s offensive problems go beyond the health of the wide receiver group, though. “Everything around Sam Darnold is in shambles,” Michael noted about the unit. “The offensive line is poor. The Jets get solid pass protection at the bookends from Kelvin Beachum (left) and Brandon Shell (right), but their interior trio is awful. Left guard James Carpenter is not a fit in the Jets’ zone scheme and seems washed. Right guard Brian Winters is very poor in pass protection.”

“At center, the Jets’ free agent pickup Spencer Long from Washington has been a colossal disappointment,” Michael continued. “He’s been banged up and in turn has been a downgrade at a position the Jets were already terrible at. He’s even had issues snapping the ball, launching over 15 inaccurate shotgun snaps against the Dolphins back in Week 9. That’s not a typo. 15. And Todd Bowles didn’t even sit him down until the final two drives of the game.”

“Long’s backup is Jonotthan Harrison,” Michael said about the depth behind the Jets’ interior offensive line (one that will likely be without the aforementioned Carpenter, who is dealing with a shoulder injury). “He is a healthy player who can actually snap the ball, which is a major plus that apparently Bowles overlooked. Past that, he is exactly what you would expect out of a backup. He’s allowed even more pressure than Long and struggles in the run game.”

Despite the issues at quarterback (health and inconsistency), wide receiver (health) and up front (disappointing performances on the interior), not all is bad for the Jets offense. As Michael pointed out, the team’ running back group features two solid players to keep an eye on — even with Bilal Powell on injured reserve: Isaiah Crowell, who leads New York with 663 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns and Elijah McGuire.

McGuire in particular is an intriguing player despite touching the football just 18 times so far this year and gaining a combined 117 yards from scrimmage. “Keep an eye out for McGuire,” Michael said. “A day three draft pick in 2017, he flashed in spurts as a rookie but missed the first 8 games of 2018. He’s come back looking fresh and is now on fire. He’s taken the team lead in snaps at running back, out-snapping Crowell by 13 in each of the last two games.”

“In those two games, McGuire has generated 10 first downs — six receiving, four rushing,” Michael continued about the LSU product that was selected 188th overall during last year’s draft. “He was already a receiving weapon last year, as his elusiveness in the open field is sublime, but he looks far more polished as a runner. It’s going to be interesting to see if McGuire can extend his efficiency over time.”

Of course, the main weapon in the Jets’ backfield is the aforementioned Crowell — despite running a bit hot-and-cold this year. “Aside from his outburst against Denver in which he set a team rushing yardage record and an all-time NFL record for YPC with at least 15 attempts, Crowell has struggled,” Michael said about the first-year Jet that was signed to a three-year, $12 million free agency contract in March.

“In the pass game, he produces little as a receiver and is a terrible blocker,” continued Michael. “Ideally, McGuire seizes his opportunity and maintains effectiveness as the new lead back. Crowell is a boom or bust runner. He’s as good as anyone at turning a well-blocked play into a huge run, but he is someone who brings you little if the offensive line is creating huge holes for him take advantage of.”

New England’s defense has to be ready for both Crowell and McGuire today. If it is and in turn forces the Jets to turn to McCown and the passing game to generate momentum, the Patriots should be in a good position: despite being up and down all year long, the team’s secondary should be favored in a matchup against what Gang Green has to offer at the pass catcher positions.