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X-Factors: Patriots vs. Jets

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The players who have the potential to swing this game in the Patriots favor.

NFL: New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots will be hosting the New York Jets this week, a team that many expect the Patriots to wallop this Sunday. Division games are never easy on paper, even if the Jets are playing a third-string quarterback and have very little offensive firepower. The Jets have the capability of slowing down the Patriots’ offense, which helps the Jets if it’s a lower scoring game.

It’s important the Patriots continue to iron out the kinks in their offense as new pieces get mixed in.

Offense: Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, Matt LaCosse, Phillip Dorsett

The Patriots could be dealing with a potential problem on offense. The offensive line is in flux and the Jets have a very good pass rush. While they are 0-2, the Jets harassed both Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield in both games. When dealing with that type of problem, there are two ways to slow down that rush:

  1. Run the football effectively to keep the pass rushers on their heels
  2. Get rid of the ball quickly so the rush has no time to get home

Fortunately, the Patriots have the players to execute that and it starts with Michel. A repeat of last week’s performance will help although I’d like to see more production and no turnovers. Burkhead will see some time at RB as well both as a rusher and receiver, where his versatility could be useful for exploiting a Jets defense that is expected to be missing its top draft pick in Quinnen Williams and biggest offseason splash signing in C.J. Mosley. If the Patriots can rush 30-plus times for north of 125 yards against the Jets’ defense, the offense will be on schedule and opens up the play-action passing game. Once the run is established, they can hit Julian Edelman and Matt LaCosse on deeper crossing routes over the middle of the field off the fake-run action.

The second key to slowing down a tough pass rush is get the ball out fast. No quarterback is better at that than Tom Brady, who has a plethora of quick-win match-up players to choose from. The aforementioned Edelman as well as top receiving back James White will likely carry the passing game from the receiver perspective. At some point the Patriots may find themselves in a long yardage situation, but the presence of Phillip Dorsett as the No. 3 option in the offense gives the Patriots a reliable target late in the progression. Like in Miami, Dorsett converted a third-and-17 that extended a drive that resulted in points. I have a feeling he’ll have another one of those plays this week. The only reason he won’t is if the offense is on fire all game long.

Defense: Jamie Collins, Danny Shelton, John Simon

The Jets will be playing Luke Falk at QB, so the onus will be on the Patriots to make sure that Falk has to beat them. That means taking away Le’Veon Bell and/or Robby Anderson. I’m not sure how the Patriots plan to defend Anderson, although last season they used Stephon Gilmore to erase him. Anderson is more a speed receiver who’s best used as a vertical threat, which in theory makes him a more compatible fit for Jones. However I could see them dropping Gilmore on Anderson because Bell might be the only Jets pass catcher that would require extra attention.

In regards to stopping the run, that means the front seven needs to do its job. I listed a player from all three positions in the front: defensive tackle, edge, off-Ball linebacker. Collins, Shelton and Simon are all coming off a great performances against Pittsburgh and Miami and are pretty much X-factors on the defense for the entire season. Stout interior player combined with hard edges and good linebacker pursuit will leave Bell and Co. with nowhere to run and put Falk in third-and-long situations, which favors the Patriots due to their ability to scheme pressure from nickel and dime looks.

Score Prediction: Patriots 27, Jets 9

I like the Patriots defense a lot in this matchup. Take away Anderson and Bell, the Jets have very little options to go with the ball. They have the players to make that happen on defense with Gilmore taking away Anderson plus a bracket that involves Patrick Chung, Jonathan Jones or Devin McCourty helping a linebacker on Bell. Offensively, there will be some frustrating plays and drives that lead to red-zone field goals, but the Patriots are able to move the ball consistently enough to get a massive time of possession win (predicting 38:22 in that department). The Jets’ defense is solid, but they lack the secondary depth to handle what the Patriots can throw at them. This will resemble the MNF game with the Buffalo Bills last year where it’s a defensive slugfest over three quarters before the offense puts a drive together and the defense gets a huge turnover that leads to points to seal it. Jets score a pity TD at the end to end the Patriots streak of 15 quarters without a touchdown allowed.