Coming off their worst loss of the season, the New England Patriots will take on one of the most surprising teams in the NFL: the 5-2 New York Jets, who are entering the AFC East clash having won four straight games.
In order to get a better understanding of New England’s Week 8 opponent, we exchanged questions with MacGregor Wells of Pats Pulpit’s sister site Gang Green Nation — the SB Nation community for all things Jets.
Here is what MacGregor told us about the team, and here are the odds for this week’s game from our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook.
1. How much growth are you seeing from Zach Wilson this season? Do injuries seem to have hampered his development? Or is starting to look like the player Jets fans hoped for in Year 2?
Zach Wilson is still very much a work in progress, and the jury is still out on whether he’s the right guy to lead the Jets for the next decade or more. Certainly injuries have played a part in hindering Wilson’s progress. The less reps you get the less you develop. But I don’t think injuries will matter much in the long run, unless he gets many more, and many more serious, injuries.
Wilson has done a better job avoiding turnovers lately. He makes fewer bad decisions. He has gotten better with his pocket presence and with navigating the pocket under pressure and avoiding sacks. That’s the good new for Jets fans. The bad news is that he still struggles with accuracy, his mechanics are still a work in progress, he still takes too long to process what is in front of him and get through his progressions, he is among the worst in the NFL when under pressure, and he has yet to show he can actually carry, rather than be carried by, the team. Time will tell if he develops to where these are not significant issues for Wilson. In the meantime Jets fans are just along for the ride, hoping for the best.
2. Elijah Moore has been vocally unhappy with his role in the Jets’ offense through his first two seasons in the league. Is there a reason he hasn’t been more involved? And who has been the offense’s most consistent playmaker outside of what Breece Hall brought when healthy?
I think it’s a misperception that Moore has not been involved enough in the Jets’ offense. Moore has the same number of targets per game as Corey Davis, who leads the Jets in every significant receiving stat other than targets. Only rookie Garrett Wilson has significantly more targets per game. The problem is with Wilson under center the Jets are very much a run-heavy team, and there just aren’t many targets to go around. In addition, before Breece Hall went down with a torn ACL, the Jets had two backs, two tight ends and four wide receivers who all were legitimate threats in the passing game
If you’re only throwing the ball 20-25 times per game and you’re spreading the ball around to up to eight guys, the math just doesn’t add up to many guys getting a ton of targets. Moore came into this year expecting to be the leading receiver on the Jets, and it hasn’t worked out that way, mainly because Garrett Wilson and Corey Davis both have simply been better than Moore. So Moore is frustrated he’s WR2B instead of WR1.
It’s understandable he’s frustrated, but things are not likely to get significantly better for him as long as the Jets are running the ball so much, and Moore has handled this poorly with his public trade request.
As far as who has been the Jets’ most consistent playmaker other than Breece Hall, that honor goes to Corey Davis, who has been outstanding in a bounce back year for him. Davis leads the Jets in every significant receiving stat other than targets, and he has consistently been the guy Zach Wilson turns to with the game on the line. Davis, unfortunately for the Jets, is suffering from an unspecified knee injury, and he may miss Sunday’s game.
3. How big of a loss is versatile offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker? How do you think the team will adjust to his absence?
The loss of Vera-Tucker is very unfortunate for the Jets. He has been the Jets’ best offensive lineman, as well as filling in at 3 different positions along the line when injuries took out the starters. He will be missed. It’s not clear who will be starting in Vera-Tucker’s place, as the Jets have a couple of options. Could be Mike Remmers, could be Cedric Ogbuehi. Both are journeyman, solid backup types of player. Neither is likely to give the Jets anywhere near the level of play Vera-Tucker would have. I expect no matter who starts at right tackle that position will be a problem spot for the Jets going forward.
4. This Jets’ defense is tough, physical, and athletic across the board. How do you expect the Patriots to move the ball and (hopefully) punch in a score or two against this formidable unit?
The easiest way to move the ball against the Jets is to avoid throwing against the cornerbacks. In Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed the Jets have one of the best outside cornerback duos in the NFL. Best to avoid them as much as possible. That means focusing on the short and middle distance stuff in the middle of the field. Target the linebackers with backs, tight ends and slot receivers and you’ll have success. This has the added benefit of keeping the quarterback on time with shorter developing routes, neutralizing the Jets’ pass rush in the process.
Some teams have also had success running the ball against the Jets, though that has been hit or miss, with the Jets run defense overall quite good, despite some bad games sprinkled in. The Patriots have a good offensive line and backs so they might have success running the ball, but the easiest way to attack the Jets is by targeting the Jets’ linebackers in coverage. The Jets don’t have any good coverage linebackers.
5. DraftKings has the Jets as 1-point underdogs following the Patriots’ blowout loss to the Bears on Monday night. How can New York hand New England its second consecutive upset?
Well first of all, I don’t think a 5-2 Jets team at home against a 3-4 Patriots team should really be considered an upset. No doubt the past history is being factored in here with bettors. I get it, the Jets have been horrible and the Patriots have been superb the past decade. It takes time for perceptions to change. But these are not the same Jets or the same Patriots. At worst I see these two teams as equals, which would mean the Jets should be favored at home. We’ll see how this plays out.
The keys to the Jets winning this game are as follows:
On defense the Jets’ can’t allow the Patriots to run all over them. This will force Mac Jones to make some plays, and that is where the Jets should have the advantage, with superb cornerbacks and a good pass rush. The Jets should be able to force some sacks and perhaps a turnover or two.
On offense the Jets need to have success running the ball and avoid getting Zach Wilson in constant third and long situations.
If the Jets have success with these things I believe they will win on Sunday.