The New England Patriots as well as the New York Jets are both coming off disappointing losses against teams they could have beaten. The Jets lost because their rookie QB struggled until he found a rhythm in the second half and it was too late by then, while the Patriots lost because of bad situational defense in spite of a strong rookie debut under center. New York is a wounded team, battered with injuries across most positions and possibly a good “get well” game for an angry New England team.
#1: Keep Jones clean in pass protection this time
The Patriots did an absolutely poor job in pass protection, exposing Mac Jones to a lot of hard hits and pressure. The offense kept moving the ball despite the offensive line looking more like the entrance to Disney World than a wall, in large part to Jones putting up Herculean numbers against pressure. The exploitable flaw in the Patriots offensive line is that David Andrews and Justin Herron can be bullied in pass protection, although the Jets don’t necessarily have the horses in the pass rush to exploit that. In conjunction, the team cannot afford mistakes by the running backs when asked to pick up a blitz. If Jones is able to sit in the pocket, he’ll shred the Jets’ secondary without very many issues.
Nine hits and 18 pressures is bad offensive line play and something that cannot continue week to week because Jones may end up like Joe Burrow at that rate. Fortunately, I think it’s not a long-term issue, provided the right guys are in the lineup up front and there’s more chemistry with the unit that is seeing significant changes at right tackle and left guard. Trent Brown being able to play in Week 2 despite a calf injury would be a big boost to the unit. If not, expect the team to turn to either Herron or Yasir Durant depending on how they evaluated the Week 1 game.
#2: Front seven must slow down Jets ground game
The Patriots got decent play from their front line in Week 1, but their second-level defenders (Ja’Whaun Bentley and Dont’a Hightower) were non-factors against the run. Hightower looked rusty after a year off and Bentley’s lack of speed and athleticism was a problem. The Patriots will be dealing with a scheme very familiar to them, the Shanahan wide zone scheme. Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur comes out of a similar system as his older brother. It will be paramount that the defensive ends set the edge in the ground game and force runs inside to help their linebackers and safeties be able to fill gaps and make tackles.
The Patriots cannot afford to let the Jets dictate the pace and tempo on this side of the field, as that would allow Zach Wilson to get comfortable and not have to make too many reads. If they can get them to third-and-6-plus, it would allow Bill Belichick to create looks to confuse the rookie QB.
#3: Pass rush must keep Wilson contained in the pocket
Wilson is a lot like Patrick Mahomes in this case, where he has the agility and arm strength to make things happen if the defense lets him escape the pocket. Like the 2018 NFL MVP, the No. 2 overall pick also isn’t necessarily great at dissecting defenses and has a tendency to hold onto the ball despite the play breaking down in front of him. That’s a fatal flaw the Patriots could potentially exploit with a backup left tackle lined up across top offseason signing Matt Judon on Wilson’s blindside.
It will be paramount to keep Wilson inside the pocket with the interior DL collapsing the pocket and forcing the Jets QB to make a decision and throw with traffic around him. Even with amazing arm strength, it will affect his accuracy because a bit off could mean a passing sailing 10 yards over the head of the receiver.
Jets offensive player to take Away: WR Corey Davis
Davis led the Jets in receiving for Week 1 and caught both of Wilson’s touchdown passes. The Jets paid him over $12 million per year to be their top receiver and give Wilson a reliable target. Whether or not Davis is a legit No. 1 is up for debate, but the fact remains he is capable of giving the Patriots problems. A combination of J.C. Jackson with a safety helping over the top should put the breaks on the former Top 5 pick. If they can get Wilson to his second, third and even fourth reads I think they will be able to get home on the rush and cause some bad decisions.
Patriots offensive X-factor: RB James White
I expect the Patriots to open up a bit more of the offensive playbook and allow Jones to throw more. That could also mean a larger role for White, although teams have been putting an extra defensive back on the field against him. Given the struggles that Rhamondre Stevenson had last week, I wouldn’t be surprised if second-year back J.J. Taylor is active over the rookie for a few games. The Jets are more exploitable when you spread out their defense, which means we could see the backs having strong days in the passing game. White could easily see 10-plus touches in this game and put up close to 80-90 yards, which would be good news for the Patriots.
Patriots defensive X-factor: EDGE Josh Uche
With Kyle Van Noy out, the Patriots could turn to the second-year outside linebacker out of Michigan as their other starting edge. Chase Winovich is another option to turn too, but there is a pattern of bad football IQ from last season that would limit his role to pass-rush situations only. Early down run defense will be a concern with two young players lining up on the other side of the defense from Judon. When unleashed in pass rush situations, Uche is a tough block due to low center of gravity, absurd athleticism and diverse array of pass-rush moves. I would like to see Belichick move him around the front to keep the Jets guessing on those downs.
Final score prediction: Patriots 27, Jets 16
The Patriots are a bit vulnerable on run defense, especially in regards to who is replacing Van Noy, but I think they have the edge on passing downs. Expect Belichick to have something special planned for Wilson if the defense can force long third-down situations like they were able to in Week 1. While Robert Saleh is a good defensive coach, the Patriots style of attack matches up well against the type of defense he likes to employ. Jones never went three-and-out against a tougher Miami Dolphins defense that matched up way better against the Patriots’ offensive line and receivers. Expect Jones to air it out for his first 300-yard passing day and three touchdown. Nick Folk will miss an extra point against his old team for the 27 points, after a redemption TD by Damien Harris on the Patriots’ opening drive.