The Patriots (2-5) enter Week 9 in a critical must-win situation against the New York Jets (0-8), if there is to be any salvaging of this season. The Patriots have lost 4 straight games in every painful way possible, but will get the chance to rectify things against a team that can’t get out of its own way. The Jets haven’t been particularly competitive in their 8 losses and feature one of the most anemic offenses in the NFL. However, we can’t discount the possibility of the players playing out of their minds given it’s still the Patriots and Jets players may be playing for a job on another team.
Here’s the game plan for how the Patriots can come away with a win tomorrow:
Player to Take Away: Slot Receiver Jamison Crowder
The Patriots match up well against the Jets receivers on the boundary, with or without Stephon Gilmore in the lineup. J.C. Jackson has continued to be one of the most consistent cover corners in the NFL this season, so he’ll draw the assignment of the speedy Denzel Mims on the boundary. Where this game could be won on 3rd downs will be the match-up of Jonathan Jones vs. Jamison Crowder in the slot.
Crowder is the Jets’ most relied upon player when they need to move the chains, so taking him away will force Sam Darnold and the Jets offense to have to move onto the second and third reads to try to beat the Patriots defense through the air.
Overwhelm the Jets offensive line with Cover 0 looks and blitz packages until they can adjust
The Patriots have faced off against the Jets with Sam Darnold behind center. The combined score of those two games are 71-3. In both games, the Patriots heavily exploited an inexperienced Jets offensive line with different Cover 0 looks. The Patriots aren’t necessarily built to dominate teams from that look with the losses they’ve suffered at linebacker in the past year due to free agent losses and COVID, but they should test the Jets’ ability to block one-on-one and communicate. The Jets don’t have a game-breaking player in the passing game to worry the Patriots defense, so putting more players into pass rush shouldn’t burn the team as much.
In order to maximize the effectiveness of these Cover 0 looks, the Patriots must win on first and second down. They’ve been particularly vulnerable to the run game this season due to a massive drop-off in linebacker play, so they’ll need to slow down the ageless Frank Gore to get the Jets in 3rd and 7+ situations. When they get in longer 3rd down situations, the Patriots will be able to throw exotic looks to confuse whoever is the signal caller for the Jets and force him to make bad decisions.
With Darnold’s status listed as doubtful, they’ll likely face old time nemesis Joe Flacco instead. Flacco is more experienced against those looks due to his 10 1⁄2 year run as the starter for the Baltimore Ravens, although the Patriots may still opt to blitz a poor offensive line anyway.
Keep riding the hot hand of Damien Harris/Sony Michel on the ground
The most consistent part of the Patriots offensive attack has been their running game with a pretty solid offensive line and the running of 2nd year back Damien Harris. Harris is averaging 5.7 yards per carry and has a pair of 100 yard games in the first four meaningful games of his career. The Jets aren’t a threat to put up a ton of points, so there will be opportunities for the Patriots to assert themselves in the ground game. A repeat performance by the OL and Harris will allow the Patriots to establish the time of possession advantage as well as finish drives against the Jets.
Harris has been limited all week with an ankle injury, so if he’s not able to go then the Patriots will likely turn to Sony Michel as their lead ball carrier. Michel had come off a 9-carry, 117-yard performance against the Raiders in Week 3 before spending the next five weeks on injured reserve for a foot injury. With Harris and J.J. Taylor limited in practice this week, Michel may be the team’s healthiest option at the running back position.
RB Sony Michel: Michel’s activation off IR seems likely for this week given the banged up state of the position. If activated, I expect him to take 15+ carries against the Jets. A good bench mark for him will be roughly 70 yards given how well the OL has performed in the run game all season.
CB Jonathan Jones: Jones will have the task of covering Jamison Crowder in the slot. Crowder is particularly dangerous on option routes, a staple in the Patriots offense so he’ll get plenty of preparation for that. If they can limit Crowder to under 5 receptions and 50 yards, I think they’ll have an easy time slowing down the Jets air attack.
LB Josh Uche: The 2nd round rookie will be in his second career game and his speed will be a factor if he sees time on the field. With the Patriots likely trying to exploit Cover 0 match-ups, Uche could be the Patriots most movable chess piece on defense where he attacks the Jets weakness on the OL.
WR Jakobi Meyers: Meyers has looked solid in back-to-back games taking over Julian Edelman’s Z receiver role. He’s caught 10 passes for 118 yards and likely will be the #2 receiver behind Damiere Byrd. HIs ability to move the chains will be critical for sustaining drives on a Patriots offense that lacks a big play threat.
Final Score: Patriots 27, Jets 17
Expect a boring, defensive slugfest with a lot of turnovers. I expect the Patriots defense to make a stand in this game, including a defensive score on a Darnold turnover in the first quarter. I believe the Patriots will lead this one from start to end, with good red zone defense keeping the Jets from making it close and the offense salting the game away with a good running performance from Michel and Newton.