The NFL’s 2019 regular season is only two weeks old, but the New York Jets are already facing considerable questions on both sides of the ball — and now their toughest challenge of the young season awaits: the New England Patriots are quite possibly the best team in football after winning their first two games of the year with a combined score of 76-3, and will host a Jets team that a) has looked inconsistent on both sides of the ball, and b) is coming off a short week after playing on Monday night.
While the club’s offensive issues are well documented, its defense has also had its fair share of problems — especially in the secondary and along the defensive edge as MacGregor Wells, managing editor at Gang Green Nation, told Pats Pulpit earlier this week. Needless to say that New England’s passing attack should therefore be aggressive against the Jets. And even without Antonio Brown remaining in the fold, quarterback Tom Brady and his group of wide receivers should find considerable success.
“Attacking the Jets defense boils down to how weak the Jets are at cornerback and edge rusher,” MacGregor said. “The Jets have a pretty stout run defense. That’s not to say you can’t beat the Jets with a running attack, but the path of least resistance is to throw the ball and attack the cornerbacks over and over and over. The Buffalo Bills didn’t run a single running play to their running backs until the last minute of the first half against the Jets, and it was a very successful approach, other than Josh Allen’s many turnovers resulting in the Bills shutting themselves down.”
“I would throw, throw and throw some more. The Brady/[Josh] Gordon/[Julian] Edelman combination is one the Jets have few answers for,” he continued. “Heck, the entire league has few answers for that kind of firepower. A Jets team with poor cornerbacks and subpar edge rushers should be extremely vulnerable. Absent the Jets corners pulling a few rabbits out of their hats with career days, I don’t see how the Jets can stop the Patriots passing attack.”
So far this season, the Patriots have looked very good moving the football through the air and should find similar success against a weak group of cornerbacks — one that has shown little that would suggest they can successfully defend a pass-catching group consisting of reigning Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon and Phillip Dorsett as Brady’s top three weapons in the vertical passing game. One reason for that is that free agency acquisition Trumaine Johnson has not lived up to his prize tag so far, MacGregor pointed out.
“Last week the Jets benched expensive free agent acquisition Trumaine Johnson, who has been a big disappointment, in favor of Nate Hairston, a cornerback they acquired by trade in August from the Indianapolis Colts. Hairston was surprisingly effective in his first extended action in a Jets uniform, and the Jets hope that can continue on Sunday,” he said when speaking about the potential starter in New York’s defensive backfield — one that played 94% of defensive snaps on Monday night against the Cleveland Browns and surrendered three catches on four targets for 86 yards.
“The other outside cornerback, Darryl Roberts, is a career backup (and former Patriots cut) who the Jets inexplicably gave a fairly big contract to this offseason and decided he was now a starting cornerback,” MacGregor continued. “Roberts was also pretty effective last week, and the Jets hope that can continue, but there is little in his history to suggest Roberts can be trusted on a weekly basis to shut down opposing wide receivers.”
Heading into the matchup with Brady and company, however, New York’s questions extend beyond their group of perimeter cornerbacks: the team’s linebacker corps has also taken a hit recently as the top of the depth chart has been decimated by injury recently. Considering that the Patriots have two of the NFL’s better receiving backs in the fold — James White and Rex Burkhead — this matchup could also favor the Patriots. That being said, MacGregor pointed out that the backups have fared well so far.
“Prized free agent acquisition inside linebacker C.J. Mosley is hobbled with a groin injury and he may not suit up. The other starting inside linebacker, Avery Williamson, is out for the year with an injury,“ he said about the position. “With both starting inside linebackers compromised you’ll see a heavy dose of Neville Hewitt and fifth round rookie Blake Cashman. The two have been reasonably effective so far so the Jets linebackers may not be as vulnerable as one would expect playing backups at the position.“
So where does all of that leave a Jets team that will also likely miss defensive tackle Quinnen Williams with an ankle injury and has already ruled out linebacker Jordan Jenkins because of a calf issue? According to MacGregor, the team has only one option to combat a high-octane Patriots offense: be aggressive and try to go after Tom Brady before the greatest quarterback of all time can connect with his wide receivers against a vulnerable secondary.
“I would expect [defensive coordinator Gregg] Williams to be ultra aggressive with his blitzing packages this week, simply because the Jets don’t have the pass rushing talent to get consistent pressure without blitzing, and the Jets don’t have cornerbacks to stay with the Patriots receivers if Tom Brady isn’t under pressure,” he said. “Of course blitzing presents its own set of problems, and Brady is among the best in the business in dealing with blitzes.”
“If the blitz doesn’t get to Brady quickly the Jets secondary will not be able to hold up and we will see a bunch of big plays by the Patriots,” added MacGregor. “But I don’t really see the alternative. Rushing three or four and watching Brady have all day in the pocket to pick apart the Jets secondary is not an appealing prospect. The only chance the Jets have, in my opinion, is trying to apply maximum pressure and hope to get to Brady enough to get heavy pressure, sacks, and a turnover or two. It’s not a great option, it likely won’t work, but it’s the best option available in what looks like a mismatch.”