Six games into the 2019 regular season, the New England Patriots’ defense remains the one by which all the others in the NFL get measured: the unit has surrendered just 27 points so far, and leads the league both in turnovers as well as every major efficiency category and advanced metric. While having benefitted from playing inconsistent opposition, it still has a very strong case for currently being the best defense in the entire NFL.
Now, the group will have to go up against a New York Jets offense that has been revamped since the two teams’ last meeting in Week 3 — one the Patriots won 30-14 without giving up a score on defense. Gone is third-string quarterback Luke Falk, with regular starter Sam Darnold again taking over. And the third overall selection of the 2018 draft knows that a challenge in just his second start since returning from mononucleosis.
“Their defense is good and they have been all year,” said the 22-year-old earlier this week when talking about the Patriots’ defense and what he and the rest of New York’s offense will have to do in order to find success against it. “Just like any other team they are not unbeatable. We just have to go out there and find the weakness in the defense and keep working it. Our whole team is super excited to go out there on Monday night.”
Over his first one-and-a-half seasons in the NFL, Darnold has missed two of three games against the Patriots because of injury. The third contest did not go well either: in Week 17 last year, he completed 16 of 28 pass attempts for just 167 yards while also getting sacked four times. One of the sacks caused him to cough up the football, which was scooped up by linebacker Kyle Van Noy and returned 46 yards for a touchdown.
“When I look at these guys right now, it looks like a group that has played together, they know exactly what they’re doing going into the game, they know what they’re looking to stop, they know exactly how to play off of each other,” Jets head coach Adam Gase added. “I think they have some really good chemistry going on, to where some of that might be those guys playing together for a few years now.”
“When you’ve got guys that aren’t thinking, and they’re communicating and they’re able to play fast, it makes it really hard on the offensive side,” he continued. As opposed to Darnold, Gase has played multiple times against the Patriots over the course of his career as a head coach: before coming to New York, he went 2-4 in three seasons with the Miami Dolphins — including last December’s “Miami Miracle,” the last defeat suffered by New England.
While head coach and quarterback play an important role in the 1-4 Jets’ attempt to steal a victory against the undefeated Patriots, the rest of the offense needs to bring its A-game as well — something that was not the case when the two teams met earlier this season. The offensive line, for example, allowed Luke Falk to be pressured on 12 of his 27 drop-backs (44.4%). Needless to say that the unit knows it will again have a difficult task at hand.
“They’re a good group that works great together,” said offensive lineman Alex Lewis, who started the Jets’ last two games at left guard in place of an injured Kelechi Osemele, about New England’s defense. “They have a bunch of different looks whether it’s even, odd, over, under, all the different blitz packages they have and they can run out of either of those setups. You just have to be prepared as an offensive lineman to expect everything.”
“When you get into a jam, if it’s something you didn’t see, you have to be able to come to the sideline, make the adjustment and then go execute the next drive,” added Lewis, who missed the Jets’ practice on Friday — one of ten players who did not participate in the session — because of a neck injury. Whether he plays or not remains to be seen, but the Jets will have their hands full no matter who lines up on Monday night.